A partnership between the federal government and a local private museum is poised to create a regional visitors' center at Richmond's historic Tredegar Iron Works.
The partnership between the American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar and the National Park Service comes as regional planners continue spinning their wheels, quietly debating where to create a central visitor's center in anticipation of next year's commemorations of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.
Tredegar, once the iron-smelting backbone of the Confederacy's industrial effort, has long been a shared site between the National Park Service and the nonprofit civil war center. The new plan means Tredegar's cohabitants become symbiotic partners on the site overlooked by Ethyl Corp.'s corporate headquarters on Byrd Street.
The partnership is unique within the National Park Service, says David Ruth, superintendent of the National Park Service's Richmond National Battlefield Park. The federal government and the Civil War center will run jointly the museum's day-to-day operations and retail functions. Ruth says the partnership with the center is even more comprehensive than the joint public-private effort that runs Gettysburg National Battlefield.
Gettysburg interprets a single battlefield, where Tredegar becomes a gateway to antebellum and war-era Richmond as well as all of the battlefield sites throughout the state. The private side of Tredegar has long focused its Civil War interpretation on a more rounded history of civilian and military life within the context of black, white, Northern and Southern experiences.
Admission cost to the site will now be a combined $8, with negotiations still ongoing to remove the current $2-per-child cost for school groups.
In addition to a roughly $250,000 renovation to create a single visitor orientation center and new exhibit space, all of the area's battlefield sites will get new interpretive and directional signs that also will direct people to Tredegar “as the place either to begin or end their experience here,” says Christy Coleman, president of the American Civil War Center.
Tredegar's announcement comes just weeks after City Council voted to support a history-focused visitor's center on the grounds of the soon-to-reopen Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. That site on the Boulevard is seeking state transportation money to fund planned renovations.
Coleman says that with city cooperation on replacing and upgrading signage, there's hope that Tredegar — convenient to Richmond's Belvidere Street gateway from the interstate — will provide exactly that.
“I think it better positions us to take on this mantle as the gateway,” Coleman says. “Not just for Richmond, but if we do this right, if we do this well, we could really put ourselves out there.”