Richmond in the 1890s

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Richmond in the 1890s


What was Richmond like in the 1890s? We can glean some knowledge from a further look at Arthur K. Aker’s manuscript mentioned in earlier columns.

Under religion, Aker lists the downtown churches which I also remember — Baptist, Methodist, Christian (Campbelite), his own Presbyterian, Episcopal and Catholic. Since First Presbyterian was Southern, there was a Second Presbyterian (Northern). I remember Second’s building, downtown on East Main Street. It later was occupied for a time by Immanuel Baptist, formed after a split at First Baptist. Seemingly, First Presbyterian had the only pipe organ in town. Aker mentions there were Baptist and Methodist churches for African Americans, but provides no details.

One of the things that impressed Aker was the large number of women dressed in black. This was in memory and honor of their husbands and sweethearts that had been killed in the Civil War. That event was, at the time, only 25 years in the past. Also impressing him was the use of Wednesday night prayer meetings for the confession of one’s sins. And last, there was no cooking on the Sabbath, cold cuts for all!

Moving on to the performing arts in the 1890s, Aker did not think much of the local opera house. He described it as a dingy place, with dull performances. The stage had gas burning footlights. Better shows were given by traveling companies, who arrived by train (L&N;) and who stayed in boarding houses near the depot on east Main Street. Occasionally, Berea College would have an outstanding literary personage speak and a special train was scheduled to take people to Berea from Richmond.

There were no movies, but there were magic lanterns and stereopticons. This latter machine took two pictures, and showed them together so as to create a three dimensional effect.

The best entertainment of all was the arrival of the circus, the street fair or the carnival. Young boys would go out to the train tracks to see the animals unloaded. There were elephants, camels, lions, monkeys and wolves. A band and a steam calliope led a parade down the main street. Side shows featured dancing girls, man-eating snakes and the “Wild Man from Borneo.” Children were discouraged from attending street carnivals. Circuses and carnivals in my day (1938-1951) set up in empty lots — one at the “Y” formed by East Main and Big Hill Avenue and one out on Big Hill Avenue at the edge of town.

Aker mentioned the bandstand that stood at the South west corner of the courthouse square. In his day, the Richmond Silver Cornet Band gave concerts once a week. The band wore uniforms. I remember the band stand, but not the band concerts. In my day, the stand was only used for fiddling, singing and hog-calling during the street fair at Halloween. The band stand was torn down and the metal went into a scrap drive during World War II.

This then is one view of Richmond in the 1890s.

Memo: Ledell Curry called and said there was a school located between Cane Springs Baptist Church and the river. It was called the Cane Springs School. Thank you, Mrs. Curry.


Dr. Fred Engle




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Dr. Fred Engle, “Richmond in the 1890s,” Madison's Heritage Online, accessed May 28, 2022,