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Mills's Richmond City Hall

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Robert Mills (1781-1855). Plan of Richmond City Hall, 1816.

In 1993, Richmond city employees discovered a collection of architectural drawings thought to be primarily from the 1870-1910 files of the city engineer. The drawings have since been deposited as part of the Library's Local Records Collection and have already yielded fascinating details about Gilded Age Richmond. The most significant drawing, and one far older than others in the collection, is an 1816 plan by Robert Mills for the first Richmond city hall. Mills, the architect for the Washington Monument in the nation's capital and Richmond's Monumental Church, is considered the first American-born professional architect.

Mills's building stood in the area between Capitol Square and Broad Street and remained the center of local government for more than fifty years, housing courts, offices, and the city's archives. Despite its long history, relatively little is known about the building. Hysteria over the structural integrity of older public buildings in the wake of the 1870 collapse of a courtroom in the Capitol prompted the demolition of the city hall in 1873, to be replaced by the High Victorian Gothic gray-stone hall built on the site between 1887 and 1894.

Besides providing one of the few images of Richmond's first city hall, the drawing also presents an excellent example of the draftsman's craft in the nineteenth century. Mills plotted the finely detailed intersections of lines by "pricking" tiny holes through the paper. Practically invisible to the unaided eye, the "prick" marks reflect the consummate skill of the draftsman and aid in the identification of Mills as the author of the important document.

Location: City Hall Collection, City of Richmond, Local Records Collection. Acc. 34886. 10 x 14 inches