Special/Signature Issues » After the Fire

Matthew Fontaine Maury House

1016 E. Clay St. (moved from across the street at 1105 E. Clay Street)

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This house is actually a reconstruction of the now-demolished structure that once stood diagonally across the street at 1105 E. Clay. In the spring and summer of 1861, Matthew Fontaine Maury (1806-1873), the so-called Pathfinder of the Seas resided here in his cousin's home. During those months the distinguished oceanographer and scientist became increasingly involved in the Confederate cause. He would eventually be named chief of the River, Harbor and Coast Defenses for the Confederacy.

Earlier in the war, in the spring of 1861, while working in a front upstairs bedroom and using tubs of water, he carried out experiments to develop electrically fired and submerged torpedoes. Later that summer he moved his experiments to the James River at Rockett’s. These explorations led to the development of a naval mine that could be charged by an electrical current. Used in the defense of Richmond against Union ships sailing up river, a prominent Union officer said the mines had caused havoc and destroyed more union naval vessels than all the other offensive measures combined. After the war Maury worked for the Mexican government for a brief time and later taught physics at Virginia Military Institute. A statute was erected in his honor in 1926 on Monument Avenue.

The VCU Medical Center moved the house to serve as an alumni house in 1993 when it constructed its outpatient center.

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