Looking Back, 150 Years Later

The sesquicentennial of the Civil War launches in 2011. Richmond — the onetime capital of the Confederacy and a center of the nation’s slave trade — is slated as a vital destination for tourists of U.S. history or family origin

Bourne stands along the James River at the
Bourne stands along the James River at the “April 1865,” an exhibit on Brown’s Island that tells of the burning and evacuation of Richmond, April 4, 1865.

As program manager for the Future of Richmond’s Past (FRP), Anedra Wiseman Bourne works with the initiative’s steering committee as well as with University of Richmond’s president Dr. Ayers and The American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar’s president Christy Coleman-both instrumental in the development of the initiative [see ‘The Future of Richmond’s Past Sparks Fresh Ideas & Insight’ Richmond Grid Spring 2010].

With the sesquicentennial of the Civil War officially kicking off this year, Bourne explains FRP entails “a collaboration of more than 20 individuals and institutions throughout metropolitan Richmond-ranging from the Virginia Historical Society and Museum of the Confederacy to the Elegba Folklore Society and the Richmond Slave Trail Commission.”

Similar to The American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar’s efforts, the FRP initiative, with the inclusion of Emancipation, seeks to present the whole story of the Civil War-from the viewpoints of those who fought, tended to life on the homefront, and of those who were enslaved.

In addition to its own efforts, FRP will co-sponsor various events including the 2011 Community Conversation series hosted by the Valentine Richmond History Center. April 15-17, 2011 will mark the 2nd Annual Civil War & Emancipation Days citywide initiative. A free day of activities ranging from Richmond River Cruises Canal Boat rides by Venture Richmond to free admission to more than 15 area attractions.

Asked if she expects an increase in attendance at institutions like The American Civil War Center for the sesquicentennial, Bourne says, “It’s difficult to determine the scope of increased visitation for a commemoration that happens once every 50 years. I believe that the Richmond Region historic institutions anticipate an increase in attendance. By including the theme of Emancipation, the story broadens, too, and so does the audience. It helps that both local and national media have already focused on the history through special sections, blogs-and Richmond naturally gains attention.”

She points out that Richmond was ground zero for the Civil War and was touched by the war throughout 1861-1865. “Many tourists flock to our region annually to experience our authentic history and landmarks. As the Gateway to the Civil War, the staff at Historic Tredegar (a partnership of the Center, the National Park Service’s Richmond National Battlefield Park, and the Richmond Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau) will orient visitors to the region.”
Since the American Civil War Center opened in October 2006-welcoming more 18,600 visitors just in the first three months-attendance has grown each year since.

“Last year we welcomed nearly 31,000 people. The Civil War & Emancipation Day event brought in more than 4,000 people citywide as well,” Bourne says-some of which came from the Washington, DC metro area and North Carolina.

To keep current with the upcoming programs, Bourne recommends FRP’s social media. “Friend us on Facebook to stay tuned.”

FRP’s Biz Boost
Vice President of Marketing for Richmond Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau (RMCVB), Jennifer Carnam says, “The Buzz surrounding the 150th Anniversaries of the Civil War and Emancipation has already begun to focus increased attention on the Richmond region as a must-see destination during the four-year commemoration period.”

And that can mean a financial windfall for the area. Carnam notes, “Nationally, even in a down economy, tourism continues to grow. Because the Richmond region is affordable, accessible, historic and authentic, it has enjoyed strong visitation consistently for many years.” She points out that tourism is a powerful economic engine in the region, where “nearly 6 million visitors spend almost $2 billion annually.”

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