At the "Point of the Appomattox" is the ancient commercial heart of the Lower Appomattox region. To this place, in the 17th and early 18th centuries, trading parties of Appomattox Tribesmen and English "woodsmen" brought large quantities of deerskins for the English market. As the 18th century progressed, and millions of acres of Southside Virginia and northern North Carolina saw English settlement for the first time, Petersburg, the natural entrepot for that enormous region, became the center of the North American tobacco trade. During the American Revolution, Petersburg was the principal staging point for operations on the southern front.
President Madison bestowed the name "The Cockade City of the Union" upon Petersburg after reviewing some of her troops on their way home from Fort Meigs in the War of 1812. They were men of Patriotism, Courage and Enterprise. The name came from the colorful cockade they wore on their hats.
By the 1820s, Petersburg was developing into a major industrial city. The backbone of the city's workforce was enslaved labor. At the highly visible Old Towne intersection known as Corling's Corner, local manufacturers, railroad companies, building contractors, and private individuals inspected and rented enslaved people to work for one-year terms in their businesses and homes. Petersburg's tobacco factories were probably the largest users of rented labor. At the end of every year, enslaved men and women were hired under a legal contract that set forth the renters obligations to the owner. The rental of bondspeople was quite common in the South before the Civil War.
Transportation projects (canals, roads, and some of Americas earliest railroads) and manufacturing (tobacco, cotton, flour, and iron in particular) led to the prosperity in the antebellum years. Commission merchants lined the streets of Old Towne, and Uriah Wells manufactured locomotives on Old and Pike Streets. It was the railroads that drew Grant's attention to Petersburg in 1864, leading to the ten month "Siege of Petersburg." Many of the buildings still remaining in Old Towne were part of the scene during the Siege.
During reconstruction and the remaining years of the 19th century, Petersburg continued to play a major role. Billy Mahone, the Confederate hero of the Battle of the Crater, conducted his campaigns for railroad dominance and political control of the Commonwealth from his office in the South Side Depot. Today, Petersburg is still alive with reminders from these four centuries of history and from the thousands of years of Native American inhabitation as well. Most of all, there are plentiful resources in Old Towne to tell the story of the context of the Civil War and the Siege with more resonance than anywhere else in the Appomattox region, and probably in Virginia.......
After many years of neglect, mismanagement and a devastating tornado in 1993 many of the Old Towne Merchants left the city for opportunities elsewhere.
Today there are new vibrations in the old city. New stores, shops and restaurants are cropping up and there is even a plan to dredge the Appomattox River and revitalize the once great harbor area with new boat docks and accommodating buildings. By clicking on the link below you can view what the city of Petersburg , Old Towne and the Petersburg area has to offer visitors and tourists today.
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