HOLMBERG: Historic canal wall must go back up, but why did it come down?

Posted at 12:32 AM, Jul 12, 2013
and last updated 2013-07-12 07:01:48-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) - Richmond city officials have decided that no criminal charges will be filed in the mysterious and mistaken demolition of a 100-foot section of a historic brick wall beside one of the nation’s oldest and most ambitious canal projects.

The contractor who knocked it down will have to put it back up, on its own dime.

[CLICK: HOLMBERG: Hanover contractor accepts blame for demolition of historic canal wall]

What remains a mystery – almost nine months later – is why any of the pre-Civil War wall was taken down and who hired the contractor, J. A. Liesfield of Rockville, to do the demolition on October 16, the day before work began on the adjoining Second Street connector road leading to the river and the Tredegar Iron Works museum.

Oregon Hill resident Charles Pool, who frequently comes to the canal site to make sure it’s being preserved, was there the day the wall was knocked down.

“When I came down here a little Bobcat bulldozer was pushing as hard as it could to push this Tredegar wall down,” he said while standing on the wall’s foundation. “And as you can see from the rubble that’s left, this was not a wall that accidentally fell over, as alleged.”

Pool wants answers, and is suspicious that some of Richmond’s most powerful people are or were involved in the property and the Second Street connector project.

“If you or I did that, we’d be sitting in the pokey right now,” Pool said of the destruction of historic property.

There’s no question of the valuable history that snakes through the northern shoulder of the James River.

Slaves toiled for 66 years, starting in 1785, to dig a canal that would link the Atlantic with the Mississippi – a project championed by George Washington. That canal ran right through Richmond, bypassing the rapids that stopped the original sailing settlers and led to the founding to Richmond.

As Pool said, it was the interstate artery for freight traffic at the time.  Mules pulled barges on the towpaths beside the brick wall.

The vast canal project stalled during the Civil War and it was finished off by the advent of moving freight by rail.

Parts of the canal system have been restored and celebrated in the city. But much of it has been destroyed or is shrouded by woods or all-but forgotten beside rail beds.

Pool notes that when the Second Street connector roadway was built, the city spent $385,000 to protect the clay-lined canal.

The portion of the wall where the roadway went had been taken down months earlier. The wall that mistakenly came down was off in the woods, dozens of yards away, in an area frequented by homeless people.

A week after the wall came down, Liesfield’s attorney told CBS 6 the contractor was hired to take down a portion of the wall, and the rest of the 100-foot section toppled and was dismantled because it was unstable.

City spokesman Mike Wallace said Liesfield was not hired by anyone working on the new roadway. There is no answer why the demolition was even began. Two calls to the contractor were not returned.

Pool said he and others who cherish Richmond’s history deserve a straight answer as to why that wall fell, along with seeing it go back up.