HENRICO COUNTY, Va. — On the site that one day will tell the history of Henrico County under a single roof, a small wooden hut serves as an unofficial welcome center for guests.
“And over there is the restroom,” says Henry Nelson, chuckling as he points to a single portable toilet across the parking lot.
Nelson, clad in a signature black cowboy hat and black leather jacket, surveys the landscape on an overcast morning here, at Four Mile Creek Park in Varina, with eyes that can see into the future, thanks to a vision of the past.
For 40 years, Nelson has led the push for Henrico County to fund and build a history center – a facility that would recount the county’s 405-year story to citizens and tourists alike.
But despite some progress in years past (the county included the center as part of its master plan for the 400-acre park, funded a schematic plan and renderings of the facility in 2006 and organized a study committee in 2011), time has marched on, and the center remains only a concept.
No funding source exists to pay the $20 million construction costs for the 30,000-square-foot center and a smaller visitors center on the site.
To Nelson, it’s a missed opportunity to promote Henrico – the second-oldest English colony in the United States but a place whose wealth of history is unknown by many of its own citizens, much less others in the state and nation.
“The county can afford to do this,” he says. “The question is, can it afford not to do this?”