Some Richmond landmarks hold more than memories in their walls. 

The Secrets of the Cornerstones

Many buildings in Richmond contain secrets entombed in their cornerstones or foundations: They have items enclosed in them as part of the ceremonies around their dedication. Much of that material is meant to symbolically represent the purpose of the building. But some of it is a bit surprising (Virginia Gentleman bourbon?). Some of the more interesting, if not puzzling, are catalogued below.

The Manchester Courthouse cornerstone, set March 14, 1871, encloses a canceled old Seal of Manchester (a new one having been purchased) and an abundance of literature including newspapers and pamphlets.

The cornerstone of May 20, 1912, at the Battle Abbey, on Boulevard, holds: Robert E. Lee's "Farewell to the Army of Northern Virginia"; a Confederate battle flag; the signature of J.E.B. Stuart; and several photographs.

The cornerstone of the Richmond Library on West Franklin Street contains:The will of Sally May Dooley, the wealthy heiress of MaymontA stone taken from the Cape Henry lighthouse, which was built in 1791The Richmond city manual for 1929-30All annual reports of the libraryThe issues of The News Leader and The Times-Dispatch reporting the building's dedicationA history by Jesse H. Binford of the city's early movement for a public libraryA list of the men who were engaged in the construction of the building.

When the Virginia Historical Society building was expanded in August 1990 a new time capsule was put in its new cornerstone. The museum plans for the capsule to be opened in 2031, as part of celebrating the bicentennial of the society's founding.

The capsule includes:Gov. L. Douglas Wilder's inaugural address as the nation's first elected black governorItems from the Virginia LotteryCompact discs of the Virginia Opera and the Richmond SymphonyA bottle of Virginia Gentleman bourbon

The cornerstone for the "Pyramid" at Hollywood Cemetery, placed on Nov. 6, 1869, is loaded with Confederate memorabilia. A partial list:ButtonsMoneyStampsA flag made in RichmondEnglish cartridgesA fragment from the coat worn by Stonewall Jackson the day he received his fatal woundPhotographs of Jefferson Davis and the leading Southern generalsA BibleA Virginia Masonic textbookA photograph of the granite blocks that had been brought up from the river to the site, for use in constructing the monument

The cornerstone at the southeast corner of Old City Hall at Broad and 10th streets was placed May 12, 1864. Selections from the four pages of its inventory:One piece of tobaccoA piece of Mary Washington's monument at FredericksburgTime tables of trains and steamers running to and from RichmondA piece of wood from the propeller of the MerrimacA history of Monumental ChurchA piece of stone from Sword's Castle in IrelandWood from the grave of Stonewall JacksonA pocket atlas of the worldConfederate notes and foreign money from 12 countries

The northeast corner of the foundation for Thomas Crawford's equestrian statue of George Washington on the Capitol grounds, first conceived as a tomb for the reinterment of George Washington's body, holds many items associated with Washington. A partial list of the Feb. 22, 1850 deposits follows:A BibleCopy of the Declaration of IndependenceCopy of the ConstitutionCopy of Washington's farewell addressPortraits of George and Martha WashingtonA brass eagleRoman and American coinsAn ear of cornMedallions featuring Lafayette and Henry ClayTwo medals from Dolley MadisonA piece of Washington's mahogany coffinNewspaper reports of the monument (13 publications cited)

The Jefferson Davis monument at Monument and Davis contains items equally diverse including:An autograph of Maj. Gen. D. H. HillA picture of a cot at the Retreat for the Sick in RichmondA sketch of the origin of Decoration Day (now Memorial Day), founded April 26, 1865, Jackson, Miss.Photograph of Confederate Monument at the capitol grounds in Jackson, Miss.An order from the secretary of war for release of a prisonerA polished chip of marble from the front steps of the Jefferson Davis mansion in RichmondVarious denominations of Confederate money, notes and

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