How 7 Richmond Neighborhoods Got Their Names

Richmond, Virginia has the rather placid nickname of "River City," but its neighborhoods sport some more unusual nicknames, like "Shockoe Slip" and "Three Chopt." Here’s how seven of the more memorable districts in Virginia’s capital city got their names.


Filled with staid government buildings—including the Virginia State Capitol, Executive Mansion, and the White House of the Confederacy—Court End is a historic district that carries reminders of Richmond’s brief role as the Confederate capital. For the story behind its name, look no further than the Supreme Court of Virginia, which is located near the Virginia State Capitol building. The U.S. District Court is nearby, too, which means the judicial branch is especially well-represented in Court End.


The word Shockoe has a pleasant sound and old roots. It’s a nod to the city’s Shockoe Creek, whose name derives from Shacahocan—a Powhatan/Algonquin phrase that referred to a flat rock at the mouth of the creek. Shockoe Slip was once a trading post, and the “slip” is where boats loaded their cargo. The area eventually became the commercial center of Richmond.

The trade had a brutal side in nearby Shockoe Bottom, which was the center of Richmond’s slave trade. Home to slave jails like the one where 12 Years a Slave’s Solomon Northup was imprisoned, much of Shockoe Bottom has since been paved over along with the creek that inspired its name.


One of Richmond’s most beautiful neighborhoods, The Fan is so named because of the fan-like way some of its streets radiate out from Monroe Park. And if you’re an architecture nerd, you might need to fan yourself while you explore: It’s full of vintage homes in all kinds of architectural styles.

But The Fan didn’t always have its name. At first, part of it was known as Scuffletown, likely because of that time a post-treason Benedict Arnold raided Richmond and scuffled with its militia in 1781. Then, rich people began to build pretty houses around Scuffletown, and in 1817 a town called “Sydney” was planned. Alas, Sydney never came to be. The Fan grew out of the remains of Scuffletown and Sydney, and was eventually defined by its roads.


Once known as the “Black Wall Street,” Jackson Ward used to be ground zero for local African-American business institutions. A haven for free blacks before the Civil War, it blossomed into a thriving African-American neighborhood after the war’s end. The reason behind its name is something of a mystery, however. A popular guess is that the area was named by Ulysses S. Grant in 1871 after Andrew Jackson, since other wards were already named after Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe. But another theory contends that the area was named after Jackson’s Garden, a Union College professor’s English-style garden.

Regardless of how it was named, Jackson Ward gained fame for its thriving African-American community, which was home to strong banks, businesses, and world-class entertainment. After an urban renewal effort and Virginia’s desegregation, the neighborhood declined as residents moved elsewhere in the city. However, in recent years it has revived and is now a historic district.


Like so many things in Virginia, Three Chopt, one of Richmond’s West End neighborhoods, has Colonial roots. In this case, that root is a route called Three Notch’d Road, which was once the main drag connecting east and central Virginia. The road got its name from the three marks settlers cut into trees while they were turning the Native American trail into a full-blown thoroughfare [PDF]. Its other name? Three Chopt (Chopped) Road, which is the one that stuck.


Richmond was supposedly built on seven hills, like Rome (though which seven should be considered “official” in Richmond is still a matter of debate). Many of these hills give neighborhoods their names.

Libby Hill got its name from an infamous Richmonder, Luther Libby, who lived nearby. Captain Libby was a prominent landowner in the area, but is perhaps best known for a prison that bore his name. (He had nothing to do with the prison itself, but had leased the building when it was a warehouse, and a sign with his name on it wasn't taken down when the building was hurriedly converted to a Confederate prison.) Libby Prison housed Union POWs during the Civil War and was known for both its hellish living conditions and a daring prisoner escape in 1864, when 109 prisoners fled via a tunnel.

Libby Hill is also known for giving the whole town of Richmond its name, when people standing on the hill looked over the land and decided it reminded them of Richmond-upon-Thames, England.


Carytown came by its reputation as a shopping district honestly: It was the site of the city’s first strip mall. It’s named after Cary Street, which was in turn named after a man named Colonel Archibald Cary. One of Virginia’s richest men, Cary was friends with George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, and was known for helping the rogue colonies establish—and finance—their own government. He made all that cash from flour mills, a foundry, and a plantation that enslaved hundreds. Despite those historic roots, Carytown has only been known by that name since the 1970s, when residents voted to name it after its main drag.

Ralph Heimans/Buckingham Palace/PA Wire via Getty Images
Pop Culture
The Cult of Prince Philip
Ralph Heimans/Buckingham Palace/PA Wire via Getty Images
Ralph Heimans/Buckingham Palace/PA Wire via Getty Images

For seven decades, Prince Philip has been one of the more colorful figures in Britain's Royal Family, prone to jarring remarks and quips about women, the deaf, and overweight children.

"You're too fat to be an astronaut," he once told a boy sharing his dream of space travel.

British media who delighted in quoting him are still lamenting the 96-year-old's recent retirement from public duties. But the people of the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu are likely to be optimistic he'll now have the time to join them: They worship him as a god and have based a religion on him.

Followers of the Prince Philip Movement, which started in the 1960s, believe that the prince was born to fulfill an ancient prophecy: that the son of an ancient mountain spirit would one day take the form of a pale-skinned man, travel abroad, marry a powerful lady, and eventually return to the island. When villagers saw the prince’s portrait, they felt the spirit in it, and when he visited Vanuatu in 1974, they were convinced.

Chief Jack Naiva, a respected warrior in the culture, greeted the royal yacht and caught sight of Philip on board. "I saw him standing on the deck in his white uniform," Naiva once said. "I knew then that he was the true messiah."

True believers assign large world movements to the machinations of Philip. They once claimed his powers had enabled a black man to become president of the United States and that his "magic" had assisted in helping locate Osama bin Laden. The community has corresponded with Buckingham Palace and even sent Philip a nal-nal, a traditional club for killing pigs, as a token of its appreciation. In return, he sent a portrait in which he’s holding the gift.

Sikor Natuan, the son of the local chief, holds two official portraits of Britain's Prince Philip in front of the chief's hut in the remote village of Yaohnanen on Tanna in Vanuatu.

The picture is now part of a shrine set up in Yaohnanen in Vanuatu that includes other photos and a Union flag. In May 2017, shortly after the Prince announced his retirement, a cyclone threatened the island—and its shrine. But according to Matthew Baylis, an author who has lived with the tribe, the natives didn't see this so much as a cause for concern as they did a harbinger of the prince's arrival so he can bask in their worship.

To date, Prince Philip has not announced any plans to relocate.

A version of this story ran in a 2012 issue of Mental Floss magazine.

The Secret World War II History Hidden in London's Fences

In South London, the remains of the UK’s World War II history are visible in an unlikely place—one that you might pass by regularly and never take a second look at. In a significant number of housing estates, the fences around the perimeter are actually upcycled medical stretchers from the war, as the design podcast 99% Invisible reports.

During the Blitz of 1940 and 1941, the UK’s Air Raid Precautions department worked to protect civilians from the bombings. The organization built 60,000 steel stretchers to carry injured people during attacks. The metal structures were designed to be easy to disinfect in case of a gas attack, but that design ended up making them perfect for reuse after the war.

Many London housing developments at the time had to remove their fences so that the metal could be used in the war effort, and once the war was over, they were looking to replace them. The London County Council came up with a solution that would benefit everyone: They repurposed the excess stretchers that the city no longer needed into residential railings.

You can tell a stretcher railing from a regular fence because of the curves in the poles at the top and bottom of the fence. They’re hand-holds, designed to make it easier to carry it.

Unfortunately, decades of being exposed to the elements have left some of these historic artifacts in poor shape, and some housing estates have removed them due to high levels of degradation. The Stretcher Railing Society is currently working to preserve these heritage pieces of London infrastructure.

As of right now, though, there are plenty of stretchers you can still find on the streets. If you're in the London area, this handy Google map shows where you can find the historic fencing.

[h/t 99% Invisible]


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