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Shockoe Dig Reveals Mystery Safe

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Hidden treasure? This late 1800s-era safe surfaced during construction of two Marriott hotels at 14th and Cary streets. - KEN POPE
  • Ken Pope
  • Hidden treasure? This late 1800s-era safe surfaced during construction of two Marriott hotels at 14th and Cary streets.

Construction workers at the site of the future Marriott hotels at 14th and Cary streets recently unearthed a 3-by-4-foot safe dating back to a Baltimore manufacturer of safes in the 1800s.

What's in it remains a mystery.

"We have contacted the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and are currently awaiting a response as to how to handle the discovery," says Kelly Clarke, investor services director for site owners Apple REIT.

A Style reader spotted the safe at the construction site (see photo), but a reporter walking the perimeter last week was unable to see it. Apple REIT has been tightlipped about where the safe's being stored, and it had yet to be opened at press time Monday.

The Marriott site most recently was a parking lot — and perhaps the city's most underused landmark. The land once was home to a tobacco warehouse where the state's General Assembly gathered and passed the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom in 1786, which became the model for the First Amendment.

Past discoveries in Shockoe Bottom and Shockoe Slip have included an entire early-19th-century pub around Main Street Station and a slave burial ground that had become a Virginia Commonwealth University parking lot.

Expect more finds as development shifts downtown again, says David Voelkel, curator at the Valentine Richmond History Center. The museum educates site owners and construction workers on how to handle finds so that the past isn't bulldozed away.

"Every inch of our city has these layers of history," Voelkel says. "Every time there's revitalization, history can be lost."

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