Petersburg, VA


Downtown Petersburg, Virginia. Corling’s Corner. They used to sell slaves here to big tobacco. Don’t believe me? The historical marker facing the intersection of Bank and Sycamore says so.

Now it’s a small park, cut from the dense street grid like a slice of pie. There’s no other hints of its past, no podium for the auctioneer, no rope and no chains. It’s quiet, restful. Birds sing; what I think are myrtle trees cast shade on precast benches with Victorian flourishes; lowriders with big rims and air conditioned SUVs wait at flashing yellows and reds, the drivers confused.

Life has gone on here, but then, it hasn’t.

From the bridge on I-95, Petersburg looks out of place, out of time. Church steeples and old red brick buildings, most not taller than 3-6 stories, dominate the view. Off the nearest exit, all the faded white paint advertising tobacco firms and colas recalls a simpler world, a strange juxtaposition against the modern lofts and eateries that now occupy downtown.

And though Jim Crow is no more, Petersburg is still very much segregated. The city, south of the Appomattox River, is over 80% black. Neighboring Colonial Heights, north of the river, is almost 90% white. Not that it’s an unusual to see de facto segregation in America. In fact, it’s all too common.

But you know what? Petersburg knows how to eat. I wouldn’t expect less from a city that played pivotal roles in the American Revolution, Civil War, and civil rights movement. It has culture, history.

There’s Hiram Haines Coffee and Ale House, where the doomed Edgar Allan Poe honeymooned with the equally doomed Virginia Clemm. And they make sure you’re aware of it. The candlelit, over the top Poe theme lacks only the late author’s taxidermied body. Still, it’s all in good fun, and the food – mostly sandwiches, wraps, and salads – is rock solid.

About a half mile away, Saucy’s Walk-Up caters to the itinerant BBQ enthusiast, serving up tender, juicy meat from an old Conex shipping container. Pulled pork from a big smoker and homemade coleslaw? Please and thank you. It’s simple, but done right, irresistible. The sweet and tangy house sauce is the perfect compliment. Grab a seat at one of picnic tables in the empty lot and dig in.

Of course, that’s all downtown. Petersburg’s workaday neighborhoods are a bit different. Every house, it seems, has a covered porch with a Greek Revival-style roof, even if wooden posts are the only thing holding it up. And the restaurants – a revolving door of soul food joints and fast food – are simple, but more often than not, damn good. Dollar for dollar, it’s tough to beat well-seasoned chicken wings with a side of fresh ‘bread and mac & cheese.

I could write a book about Petersburg. This definitely isn’t the last time I’ll be covering “The Cockade City”.

If you’re ever on I-95 and see an exit for Petersburg, do yourself a favor. Take it.


5 thoughts on “Petersburg, VA

  1. What’s the vacancy situation? Are the economically depressed areas similar to what you might find in Lansing or Grand Rapids, or are their neighborhoods fairing better than that?

  2. Also, I like that the homes have covered porches. I wouldn’t live in another house without one. It’s great to sit outside, read and watch life go by in the neighborhood. In the south, I imagine it was/is particularly necessary. Who wants to sit in the dark indoors during sunny, hot days?

  3. From what I saw, Petersburg looks a bit old and tired, but OK. I saw a few burned out houses, boarded up properties, and empty lots, but the city still has a sense of elegance and is basically intact.

    Really, rather than Grand Rapids or Lansing, Petersburg makes me think of what Flint or Saginaw or Pontiac was probably like when the decay was first setting in. However, Petersburg does have some lofts and gentrification downtown, so there’s hope.

    Just today I visited a an industrial city called Hopewell (part of Greater Richmond and a perfect segue after the last sentence). Now that made me think more of Lansing/Grand Rapids.

    And, believe it or not, I haven’t really hit up Richmond yet, though I’ve driven through some neighborhoods. I mean to, but the “Tri-Cities” area (Petersburg, Colonial Heights, and Hopewell) keeps distracting me. All the hassle of moving has me in the mood for the slower pace of smaller cities.

  4. I was wondering if you ever thought of changing the structure
    of your site? Its very well written; I love what youve
    got to say. But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people could connect with it better.
    Youve got an awful lot of text for only having one
    or two pictures. Maybe you could space it out better?

  5. Thanks for the feedback. Some articles are short on pictures, I’ll admit. The issue, in terms of presentation, is that I dedicate too much of my time to the written word. I’m obsessed with writing. And that reflects in what you see on this blog. I long, admittedly, for those bygone days when a writer could put a “wall of text” and get praised for it. Y’know, like a book.

    And there are still successful authors out there, but there’s also the unfortunate fact that book sales are declining. The market is rough. Look at how much I’ve given away for free, asking for nothing. This site represents untold hours – no weeks, months, years – of work.

    I try to offer up a decent amount of pictures (the article you commented on had 6 pictures), though I cheat occasionally and only have “one or two pictures”. What’s the ideal ratio? 1 paragraph to 1 picture? Should I be like one of those sites with “Top 10 Meanest Celebrities” lists that take 40 slides to get through? Or a blog where there’s 8 pictures in a row of what I had for dinner, followed by one word summary: “Yummy!!!”?

    I did go super minimalist with the presentation of Exit 1A, I’ll admit. Maybe too far. The idea, metaphorically, is that it’s a book with a strange cover and nothing else. Are you gonna open it, or reach for the Paula Dean book with the fun synopsis on the back about how it’ll make cooking fattening junk thoughtlessly easy?

    I really just wrote way too much in response to your comment (like, who really cares? lol), but I guess it was for my sake.

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