Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Then & Now: Historic courthouse in Petersburg, Virginia

Although the historic courthouse in Petersburg, Va., retains much of its Civil War-era character, the immediate area near the building has changed drastically since the "Then" image was shot after the city's capture by Union forces in early April 1865. Two buildings in the 1865 image, one that housed a business that sold shoes (left) and another a wholesale and retail establishment, have long since been torn down.

During the nine-month siege of Petersburg, the courthouse served as headquarters for Confederate forces and its massive clock, visible from a great distance, was used by both armies in trenches near the city to set their timepieces. Yankee artillery fired thousands of shells into Petersburg, but thankfully the courthouse was struck infrequently and suffered little damage. After the city's capture on April 3, 1865, the Union army quickly raised the Stars and Stripes from the two-story, brick building that dominated the skyline.

As usual, it's fun to investigate what details can be found in enlargements of a glass-plate image (see below). Peer into the window of the shopkeeper in the three-story, brick building at right in the 1865 photo to see goods for sale, including what appear to be blankets or towels. Apparently at least some of the cobblestone on the side street leading to the courthouse survived since the war. Interestingly, not a soul is evident in the original photograph, but the blur in front of the building at left prompts a question: Is it a little girl or merely a pile of clothes? The most interesting detail appears in a cropped enlargement of the courthouse clock tower: the time (3:50 p.m.) the image was taken by an unknown photographer.

The original image is available in jpeg and TIFF formats on the Library of Congress web site. The "Now" image is a cropped version of this Google Street View shot. Check out all the Then & Now images on my blog here.

A painted sign on the side of a building is easily seen in this enlargement.
A cropped enlargement shows a street lamp, a storefront and a shopkeeper's wares ...
...while this enlargement shows what appears to be a ghostly figure, perhaps a small girl.
Another cropped enlargement of the original image reveals the time on the courthouse clock.


  1. Totally enjoy the details you point out. Very interesting!!

    1. Glad you enjoy. Many more to come.