Great Ship Lock Park (AREA 1-E)

Park Parcel Map, Boundary and Features:Exhibit CE 001
Map Title:   Property South of Dock Street at the City Locks
Common Park Name:   Great Ship Lock Park

Description of Location

The Great Ship Lock Park is the eastern-most James River park parcel in the city, located on the southside of Dock Street, below its intersection with Pear Street.  It is a small waterfront parcel, adjacent to but not including the easternmost Canal Lock of the James River Canal, which is part of several locks within the eastern end of Chappell island, owned by the City’s Dept of Public Utilities.  It is bounded to the northeast by the raised railroad trestle of the Norfolk Southern system, and on the northwest, by a ground-level Northern Southern railroad track which crosses the canal onto Chappell Island by an old single-arm railroad draw bridge (currently frozen in its down position).  The southeastern boundary of the park is privately owned.

Existing Conditions

The Great Shiplock Park, comprised of 1.53 acres in a historical setting, is next to a functioning canal lock and the nearby remains of a ship-launching facility and a lift bridge.  It includes the remnants of the turn-of-the-century Trigg Shipyard and is adjacent to the historic Basquille lift bridge owned by the Norfolk Southern Railroad.  Most of the rather small site is devoted to a 24 space parking lot, with trash cans and a few trees.  The southeastern portion of the park contains a kiosk and several informational signs – adjacent to this, however, is city DPU property which for all intents and purposes, is part of the larger Great Ship Lock Park complex.  In this vicinity is an arrangement of large historic artifacts, with signage (remnants of the turn-of-the-century Trigg Shipyard?).  The park parcel includes an old railroad access right of way

DPU also owns the historic great ship lock (constructed 1850-1854 with granite blocks, granite stems and commemorative markers, the canal and two large movable lock gates, and all of Chappell Island (the western portion of which is mostly devoted to sanitary and stormwater management facilities).  This DPU property contains several water access areas, some large wooded areas, a rich collection of historic canal, early railroad corridors, and other transportation infrastructure, and a path and trail system.  It should be incorporated into the City park system, by property transfer or co-usage arrangements, as soon as possible.

Buildings and structures

The site’s major structure is the parking lot, an information kiosk, and several park signs.  At its southeast end are several remnants of the turn-of-the-century Trigg Shipyard and some trash receptacles.   According to the season, it may contain a temporary portapotty. A USGS monitoring tower is located next to the east end of the canal.


There may be sewer lines running parallel to Dock Street in the park, and there may be old utility service into the park.  There may also be larger DPU easements in the property.  These are several railroad easements, shown on CE- 001, and possibly old VEPCo easements too.

Conservation Values

Natural Resources Values:  Because of the park’s small size, its Natural Resources value is small, but considering that this park provides invaluable access to the historic Canal system and Chappell Island, its value is very high.  Elaboration on these adjacent resources is currently beyond the scope of the BLD for this parcel.  Good access to fishing.  The Capitol Trail bikeway under construction will run beside this park parcel. 

Scenic Values: Excellent views of and access to the great Ship Lock, canal system, and wooded Chappall Island.  Very good views of the eastern James River and Ancarrow’s landing, and a noteworthy view up the canal to Richmond’s downtown, framed by the old railroad trestle on the north shore of the canal and Tobacco Row.  The old drawbridge nearby is visually interesting. 

Also, there are views from this park to the north and west of the tall slopes and crown of Libbie Hill and its park, historic houses and commemorative marble column and soldier.  Incidentally, the viewshed from this hill gave Richmond its name, because the view, looking east and south at the bend in the James River reminded early settlers of the bend in the river at Richmond-upon-the Thames.  This is a threatened viewshed, with  the Great Ship Lock Park and parts of Chappell Island contributing to it significantly.

Landscape Values: Park needs improvement along canal.  Also, interesting transition into park under old railroad trestle.

Historic Values: High but needs further research.  Probable Native American, early English, and early colonial trading settlements in area. Active waterfront and waterway in first three and a half centuries of Richmond’s development.  Extensive lock and canal system from 16th to 20th centuries, railway system from 19th and 20th, industrial and commercial uses, etc.  Surrounding late-19th and early 20th century transportation and industrial architecture still largely intact and very impressive as ensemble.  

Other BLD Materials

  1. GSL I –E: Pictures & Captions: 2 pages, 8 pictures with captions
  2. GSL Appendix E: GIS coord points, photos, captions and/or descriptions
  3. GIS map with major features identified, 8 GIS photopoints.

Not in BLD doc, but available: Additional photographic inventory with geopoints performed for most notewothy features on Chappell Island, owned by City DPU.