Friday, August 7, 2015

Petersburg's Bollingbrook Street - Then and Now



Last Saturday I was fortunate enough to take in a walking tour given by Petersburg National Battlefield ranger and curator Emmanuel Dabney. The subject of the tour was Petersburg's enslaved and free black communities before and during the Civil War. Emmanuel has researched extensively in primary sources and has developed a fascinating tour.

Our last stop was on Bollingbrook Street to discuss several commercial businesses and individual homes and their ties to slavery. One surviving home, the Nathaniel Friend house, stands at the corner of Bollingbrook and Cockade Alley. Behind the home and along the cobblestoned Cockade Alley are what used to be the Friend House's kitchen, slave quarters, and smoke house, all connected. The slave quarters part of the contiguous structure is now the popular restaurant, Brickhouse Run.

Across Cockade Alley is what used to be Farmer's Bank. Behind the bank building, and built on the original foundation, is a structure that was reconstructed where an urban slave quarters stood. Wrapped around it and a recreated smoke house is a high brick wall, a common site in Southern urban slave settings.

Just a few steps west down Bollingbrook and on the south side of the street was the slave jail of Henry Davis. The building, although altered somewhat over the years, still stands. Back on the north side of Bollingbrook is a small grassy vacant lot where William Tench's auction house once stood. Owners could have Tench sell their surplus slaves here, or those needing additional laborers could find them here.

Although I had walked these streets numerous times, almost all of the information was new to me. It is difficult to understand the deep impact slavery had on the economy, society, and culture in Southern cities like Petersburg until one takes the time to hear and learn thes storied behind these places.

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