Church Hill has the honor of being Richmond's oldest neighborhood, and probably its most changed over the years. John Murden, whose restauranteur wife Kendra Feather owns The Roosevelt and WPA Bakery, is also the eyes and ears of the East End via his blog, Church Hill People's News
. His grassroots publication and brand of community journalism has won him recognition and awards and staunchly placed him as the unofficial voice of the neighborhood. We couldn't think of a better ambassador for Church Hill — a rich enclave of superb restaurants, bakeries, small businesses, all supported by a close-knit community.
How long have you lived on Church Hill?
I've been up here on and off since 1998. Longest stretch was from 2003 to 2010, I lived back off of Fairmount Avenue.
What’s your favorite piece of history about the neighborhood?
You ever heard of Thomas Cannon
? He was a postal clerk who lived over in Union Hill in a little antebellum frame house for decades. He never made more than $25,000 a year or so but gave away more than $150,000 to help other people who he read about in the newspaper. (Note: Read more about Cannon and his fascinating story here.)
In what small ways has the neighborhood changed over the years? What large ways?
The last 5 years have seen amazing change up here. So many vacant houses have been picked up and fixed up, so many new restaurants have opened - it's really gotten incredibly vibrant.
My favorite small change might be all of the Little Free Libraries that have popped up.
What’s your go-to coffee spot (feel free to plug WPA here!)?
I've got to tell you, I love my french press too much to get coffee out that regularly. I do love the homey vibe at WPA Bakery.
Tell us what an ideal day in Church Hill would be like?
There's a walk that Kendra and I do, maybe 3 miles long, that puts us up top Jefferson Park, the Grace Street Overlook, Libby Hill, and then Chimborazo Park. Except for maybe the Flood Wall, these are easily the best views in Richmond... This is a great way to start the day. It's nice to stop along the way for a muffin from WPA or Pain au Chocolate from Sub Rosa, grab a bench to sit on and admire the view. It ain't too bad around sunset, either, especially if you can smuggle a bottle of wine along.
Richmond Rides does these great bike tours of the neighborhood, a mix of deep history and snacks. It's a great introduction to the soul of the area & it's a neat experience to see the neighborhood through other people's eyes.
My habit recently has been to roll up and hit the Armstrong Mountain Bike Course and then come back for a ride on the trail along Gillie's Creek. Sometimes I'll get over to Evergreen Cemetery instead, that place connects me to history more than anything else around here.
If you're in the neighborhood for lunch you have to make a hard choice... Dog & Pig Show is a take-out joint with an *amazing* mix of southern & Asian that is like nothing else. Best shrimp & grits, ever. I'm serious... Or just go straight deep south and get something from Alamo BBQ or Jus' Fish. Pick a different park and go eat your lunch. If it's Saturday, lunch should be a backdoor dog from Dutch & Company. That's a fun line to wait in. Oh and Proper Pie! It's too much, right?
The afternoon is when we take our little boy out to one of the local playgrounds. I didn't realize before becoming a parent how much these are the great common grounds of the neighborhood. I think all of the strollers around these days are why people are making the Brooklyn connection.
I try not to be totally biased, but dinner at The Roosevelt is crucial. The room (I stenciled those walls myself), Chef Lee Gregory's menu, T. Leggett's cocktails, and the all-Virginia wine list make it a jewel. Plus it's got that under-the-radar Danville connection that you can't make up.
Somewhere in all of that should've included drinks and conversation outside at Union Market, beer in the basement at Patrick Henry. There really is too much up for one day.
What are you most excited for in Richmond’s future?
I'm stoked to see the old neighborhoods really getting healthy again. I feel lucky to be here at this time and get to see Richmond really becoming this new thriving version of itself.
Shorter term, I'm really excited about the Capital Trail.
While you're up on the hill, don't miss these spots:
Dutch & Co. (400 N. 27th St.): Come for the Perfect Egg and Stroopwafel on a Friday night, and come back again the next day at 12pm (sharp) for their Back Door Dogs, their Saturday tradition that riffs on the cookout classic.
Sub Rosa Bakery (620 N. 25th St.): Melt-in-your-mouth croissants and pastries baked in a gorgeous brick oven using hand-milled heritage grains. Frequently the host of unique pop-up dinners and collaborations with other local restaurants, including Pizza 2000.
The Roosevelt (623 N. 25th St.): Acclaimed rich Southern cuisine rooted in heritage and tradition, killer craft cocktails (go for the Seersucker), and an all-Virginia wine list. Oh yeah, it's also received a James Beard award.
The Dog & Pig Show (314 N. 25th St.): Some may argue that they're serving up the best shrimp and grits in town, and their sweet treats are inventive and delicious.
The Poe Museum (1914 E. Main St.): One of Richmond's small claim-to-fame's is that Edgar Allen Poe was a short-time resident in the early 19th century when he worked for the Southern Literary Messenger. Learn more about the dark genius and get a taste of Richmond's history noir here, which has been in operation since 1922.
Union Market (2306 Jefferson Ave.): This neighborhood grocery and cafe is relatively new to the area but it's already become a popular spot for post-work happy hours on their inviting outdoor patio, and the best bet for last-minute groceries and quality wine and beer runs.
Libby Hill Park (2801 E. Franklin St.): As John said above, it's one of the best views in Richmond. Grab The Dog and Pig Show's famous shrimp & grits to-go and head here for dinner alfresco and take in the views of the James River and the iconic Lucky Strike building.
Photography by Jeffrey Ocampo / Neighborhood Illustration by William Godwin