Monday, October 24, 2016

The 7 Hills of Richmond, VA: Chimborazo Hill

This is Part 4 of Blog Series: The Seven Hills of Richmond, VA. Find the Intro here. Chimborazo Hill

Chimborazo Hill has a long history in the roots of Richmond and her ties to war- and beer. Famous explorer Alexander von Humboldt attempted to scale Chimborazo, a volcanic mountain in Ecuador. After his unsuccessful attempt, he dubbed the Richmond hill as Chimborazo in 1802, due to its likeness to the Ecuadorian volcano. A local brewery, The James River Steam Brewery,  used the hill  as a cellar to store beer. At the top of the cellars was a hole that acted as a chimney. A local newspaper reported any fire in the cellar would case "billows of smoke (to come) through making the hill look like a miniature volcano."
Prior to the Civil War, Chimborazo Hill was use to organize militia coming into Richmond. When the war started, several large regiments camped out and on the Hill and built extensive wooden barracks for shelter. As they went into battle, they left behind these buildings where were commandeered by Samuel Moore, the Surgeon General of the Confederate States of America for the establishment of a hospital - Chimborazo Hospital. At the time the hospital was being established, besides the barracks, only two buildings were located on the hill; a large house owned by Richard Laughton and a small office building.
Chimborazo Hospital, known as the "hospital on the hill', was one of the first functioning military hospitals, serving over 76,000 patients from 1862 to 1865. It achieved a 9 percent mortality rate, higher than the hospitals we have today, thanks to Chief Surgeon and local Richmonder, Dr. James Brown McCaw. He had received his medical degree from the University of New York in 1844 and was a professor at the Medical College of Virginia (currently VCU Medical Center) when was called upon to work for the confederate hospital. While medical regulation and supplies were limited, the proficient Chimborazo staff was innovative in providing quality of care for their patients. McCaw acquired a canal boat, named Chimborazo, to trade other cities, like Lexington, for provisions needed for the hospital. Unfortunately, not all patients survived treatment, and those who perished were received by Oakwood Cemetery. By 1865, Oakwood had received over 16,000 patients who perished. In April 1865, Union officers overtook Petersburg, forcing Confederates to retreat and General Robert E. Lee ordered the evacuation of Richmond, including those at Chimborazo Hospital. Those that were not able to leave before Union officers arrived the next day, were transferred to other quarters for care while Union officers were to be treated primarily. By summer, the hospital was closed and transitioned into a Freedman's Bureau school for over 200 freed slaves.
After the Civil War, Chimborazo Hill became the site of a refugee camp - overseen by Freedman's Bureau. Many of the buildings were used as schools, but were eventually torn down to use as firewood. The community, however, did not last long and the camp was closed and in March of 1866, The Freedman's Bureau ordered the people to vacate by early April. In 1874, the city of Richmond purchased the 35 acres of land of Chimborazo Hill at a cost of $35,000. The city of council of Richmond began purchasing most of the land from the Freedman community and auctioned off the last remaining homes in 1880. The last structure disappeared around 1900. The only history remains is Chimborazo Medical Museum, owned by the National Park System on the original grounds of Chimborazo Hospital.
Chimborazo Hill is rooted deep within Richmond's history of war and change. As a mecca for those who were ill during the war, Chimborazo is as full of history as a battlefield. Her steadfast beauty is only a foreshadowing thought following her past. As Chimborazo holds a key to Richmond's past, and her history is preserved in the land we stand on today.

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