Petersburg VA and south, a day trip: November 17, 202

I drove a little over two hours north from my home in Chapel Hill NC. Car driving on I-85 through Virginia can look very different from North Carolina. In North Carolina from the freeway one usually sees constant development and billboards. Across the state line going north on I-85 for the sixty miles south of Petersburg I-85 transitions to miles and miles of just woods. Much credit goes to Virginia. North Carolina for decades through both Democratic and Republican administrations has been financially beholden to the billboard industry. This photo was taken from the driver’s seat of my Prius on I-85.

Fifteen miles south of Petersburg near the town of Dinwiddie VA I drove off I-85 and found a parking spot at a Moose Lodge that sat along US-1, which parallels I-85. Would anyone care if I parked here for several hours? I hoped not. I pulled the Bike Friday out of the Prius.

There is surprisingly little suburban sprawl south of Petersburg, It made for a pleasant bicycle ride, a fifteen or twenty mile loop through the countryside until I reached Petersburg. The bike ride started with a couple miles down three lane US-1. Almost immediately were the first of dozens of the state erected Civil War history signs.

On US-1 was the remnants of a roadside highway business. What had this been, some kind of drive-in restaurant?

I turned off US-1 to smaller roads.

In this rural area a country store is apparently being preserved as a community project.

I continued to bicycle along the south shore of the Appomattox River. At one point I bicycled down a dead end road to a boat launch. There is not much out here.

Several miles later I bicycled into Petersburg. Petersburg used to be an important place. According to Wikipedia, Petersburg (population 31,000) has about the same population now as it did in the year 1920. In 1840 with over 11,000 people Petersburg was ranked the thirty-fourth largest city in America, more populous than not just Norfolk VA but also Savannah GA and Hartford CT. Petersburg had a large community of free blacks even before the Civil War. For various reasons development in Petersburg since about 1950 has stopped cold.

Petersburg is a lovely city of largely undiscovered pre-Civil War and other nineteenth century architecture. I have been bicycling through Petersburg for almost thirty years. Petersburg never seems to change, it still seems only vaguely prosperous. It is stuck in time, somewhere between poor and just getting by. I bicycled by interesting buildings even before before I arrived into the core historic area.

The core historic area Petersburg has hundreds of historic houses, many pre-Civil War, some nicely fixed up, some semi-abandoned.

These row houses are all from the 1830’s.

During this pandemic Petersburg has done what I have seen several other small cities do; it has closed a main street and put picnic tables outside for all restaurant patrons to use commonly. At noon on a Tuesday there was hardly anyone around but me. There was a small group of non-social distancing women drinking wine.

I sat down all by myself to eat the peanut butter sandwich I had brought from home.

Catty-corned from where the women were sitting was this guy singing to no one in particular through a karaoke machine. In the forty-five minutes I was there he covered a whole slew of pop-jazz Standards. I gave him a ten-spot.

Cycling when temperatures are in the 40’s and 50’s is problematic for me; I warm up exercising but get chilled if I stop. During a pandemic there is nowhere to go inside and warm up. I started bicycling again so I could stop shivering. I started by cycling through the southern part of Petersburg.

My car was parked twelve miles south of town. I cycled back by a different, shorter route.

My car was still there at the Dinwiddie Moose Lodge. I was home back in Chapel Hill NC by dinnertime.

2 responses to “Petersburg VA and south, a day trip: November 17, 202”

  1. We’ve driven I-85 many times to connect to 95 to get to Alexandria. I’ve always found I 85 a pleasant rode, especially before North Carolina decided to improve it and remove all the trees in the center median.

  2. Randy S Greenberg Avatar
    Randy S Greenberg

    Trivia question – who’s the most famous athlete from Petersburg, Va?

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