Back in Richmond, you should get out of the car and see the city on foot. Tom McCaskey, vice president of Colonial Williamsburg and director for tourism there, once did a study of Richmond tourism and concluded that it is a sleeping giant since it is a difficult city in which to sightsee. In an effort to get around this, Richmond on the James will offer, after Memorial Day, two-hour guided walking tours concentrating on special areas. You can pick up tours at 10 a.m. at the equestrian statue of George Mason at Capitol Square. The Visitor Information Center (358-5511) will also help with guide service.
However you go, what you see is the past keeping company with tomorrow. The John Marshall, with an eye on conventions, has dressed itself up in the most modern chrome and plush, while the old Jefferson Hotel, in which the current movie, "My Dinner With Andre," was shot, is awaiting funds for renovations. Shockhoe Slip has blossomed with new shops and restaurants only a few blocks from the beautiful 1785 state capitol, where the oldest continuous English-speaking legislative body in America still gathers. In the outlying districts, tumbledown houses sporting Richmond's distinctive iron porch trim sit side by side with neighboring houses restored by young families.
The greatest restoration efforts have probably been in Church Hill, high above the river on a bluff. Start your tour here with the Mathew Brady view of the city in 1865, a view framed in a marker set on the hillside for comparison with the modern city spread below. You can see several surviving landmarks that made it into the 20th century, including the 19th-century railroad station now awaiting restoration as a sort of Harborplace and the 1780 Adam Craig house where the first city clerk lived.
Two blocks away is St. John's Church, built in 1741 and open ever since. This is the setting in which Patrick Henry delivered the famous "liberty or death" speech, pacing up and down by pew 47 while Washington, Jefferson and other convention members listened attentively. Outside in the graveyard lie several illustrious dead in the wonderful above-ground tombs of another era. George Wythe, a signer of the Declaration, was laid to rest here after he was poisoned, and over in the corner near the fence is Poe's mother's second grave. Her first was unmarked because she was an actress.
Poe, master of the macabre, spent more of his life in Richmond than anywhere else and, though the city tore down the house he lived in with his foster parents, there are places he frequented everywhere--most particularly the house of his childhood sweetheart. He lived and worked in the Slip and must certainly have attended his mother's performance in what is now Monumental Church, which is built over the tomb of 72 victims of an 1811 theater fire. Tucked away next to the Old Stone House, oldest in Richmond, is a museum to his memory.
The Poe museum is full of rather peripheral relics of his life--his boot jacks, a portrait of his mother, a trunk that might have been his--but the little garden outside with his bust at the end is alone worth the trip. Upstairs is the other interesting draw, the Raven room, painted scarlet and dominated by a bust of the bird itself. On the walls are the Carling illustrations that wonderfully evoke the atmosphere of the poem. You can also see a slide show about his life and buy a quill pen like the one he used at the gift shop below.
Richmond is a city of clubs where Richmonders prefer to dine, thus elegant traditional restaurants are in short supply. Miller and Rhoads' tearoom still serves spoonbread and the kind of traditional southern fare one might expect in the Confederate capital, but the newer Richmond restaurants evoke Georgetown. The Tobacco Company is one of the hits, a cross between Clyde's and the Foundry, with its stained glass, old tobacco advertisements and a birdcage elevator that ascends majestically three stories in the atrium. Le Chef's, on 12th and Main streets, is French and decorated like a French bistro, cheerful with color. The restaurants of Richmond are cheap compared with Washington's.