The Henricus bluff before the development of Henricus Historical Park. Circa 1980. The monument commemorates the first hospital in America and the Varina parish wish eventually became Saint john’s church.
At Henricus Historical Park, the church famous for Patrick Henry’s “give me liberty or give me death” speech is commemorated with a cross. An obelisk near it commemorates the first university in the colonies that would become the United States.
” I came to work for Henrico County in 1977 and I was an assistant county manager. We reorganized in ‘78 and I became deputy county manager,” said George T. Drumwright, a founding member of Henricus Historical Park Foundation. “Henrico was still responsible for maintaining the property, as part of the agreement, clearing the brush and limbs, and I had never heard of the place at the time,” said Drumwright. “I met Judge Earnest Gates, also a founding member, near the power plant and we walked about a mile through the weeds and vines and all kinds of growth, and we finally reached the monuments.”
“The two monuments that were built on the bluff, one by Colonial Dames to commemorate the first university in America to educate men, women, children and Indian natives, the second one to commemorate the cross of the historic Varina Parish which became Saint John’s Church,” he said.
The obelisk on the point at Henricus commemorates the first university in America. Built in 1619 it was torched in 1622 during the massacre by the Powhatan Indians as part of their raids up and down the James River.
The obelisk is inscribed: “The Colonial Dames of America in the State of Virginia A.D. 1910 erect on this site of the town of Henricopolis to commemorate the college and university which on May 26, 1619 the Virginia Company of London decreed should be established here.”
The next institution of higher learning to be established in Virginia was William and Mary in 1693.
The bluff appears to be part of Chesterfield County, and there was no way to enter the bluff from Henrico County. The river had changed course since the lighthouse was built when the
Commerce Department took the land for the lighthouse, according to Drumwright. An agreement was made to deed the land back to Henrico.
“A lighthouse keeper’s house foundation and a chimney and cistern stood on the bluff for years after the lighthouse was no longer needed. It was rented for a short time until it was demolished. There were light houses that were similar to that up and down the James River, I think there were 17 of them,” he said.
Richmond and Chesterfield had both been cut out of Henrico County, and this was a very important site to all three. Gradually, Henricus and Chesterfield came together and form a foundation to fund the construction of the current park, and access road to it in 1980. At that time there was no more than a muddy terrace at the base of a dam built by Virginia Power. First matter of business: build the access road.
“First time I went back there I was scared to death,” said Pauline Mitchell, former director of public relations for Chesterfield County. “I was riding in a Jeep and we were looking over the side of a cliff until we got back to the bluff.”
The access to the park and the land on which the park sits today are much different it was 35 years ago.