We loudly proclaim that Richmond IS a river city. In 2012, Outside Magazine named Richmond the Best River Town in America. And Richmond is where it is precisely because of the James River.
From the Chesapeake Bay, sailing ships loaded with Europeans and cargo routinely sailed into the brackish waters of the lower James River to explore the banks of young Virginia. The Falls of the James stopped westward travel, spurring the creation of markets and trading posts in what became Richmond’s capitol city.
The James represented a source of trade, food, and power.
In 1901, construction was completed on the VEPCO Levee Dam which diverted water into the Haxall Canal. That water generated power at the 12th Street Power Station, supplying the City of Richmond.
The footers for that decommissioned dam form the foundation of what is now the T. Tyler Potterfield Memorial Bridge, or the “T-Pott.”
A student of architecture, Tyler Potterfield came to Richmond in 1991 and became one of our staunchest advocates of documenting and preserving Richmond’s history. In examining how our city’s society was stratified around the James River, he became even more of an advocate for linking the James River Park to our future. Many of the ideas and initiatives we discuss about the James River Park Master Plan came from the mind of Potterfield.
One of his goals was to connect more visitors to the James River Park. And the bridge named in his honor is a fitting example of that. While there are many areas to leisurely splash in the James, some might bore the adventurous kayaker. Many of the trails that are exciting for mountain bikes may frustrate the casual walker. But the Potterfield Bridge offers a bridge for all.
The Potterfield Bridge is eagerly used by cyclists, walkers, joggers, bird-watchers and more. Where it meets Brown’s Island and Manchester, visitors gaze upon quiet waters, but venturing towards the middle puts one right on top of roaring rapids, and you can readily experience the power of the James River. It’s also wheelchair accessible, making it a welcoming point of entry for Park visitors of all ages and abilities.
We’re not done improving the access points to the James River Park, and the Potterfield Bridge won’t be our last river crossing.
We’ll continue to work to realize the incredible vision and attain the goals set forth by T. Tyler Potterfield.