Brown's Island in Richmond

History of Brown’s Island

Originally formed as part of the Haxall Canal in 1789, Brown’s Island is named after its first settler, Elijah Brown, who acquired the land in 1826. During the Civil War, it was home to the Confederate States Laboratory where women and children produced ammunition and other military supplies.

Toward the end of the 19th century, in 1894, the Richmond Union Passenger Railway formed a coal power plant on the island, and in 1899, Dominion Virginia Power operated a hydroelectric plant that ran off the Haxall Canal on the east side of the island, which necessitated construction of the Brown’s Island Dam. Anchored into the James River are supports to the Chesapeake & Ohio Elevated Rail lines (now controlled by CSX) which are a favorite site for rail enthusiasts, visitors and event attendees.

In the late 20th century, the Albemarle Paper Company owned and operated a paper mill on the island, and later gifted the land to the City of Richmond, who developed Brown’s Island as a public park to both preserve and share the breathtaking river views for all of Richmond to enjoy.

Today, Brown's Island is managed and maintained by Venture Richmond and offers six acres of riverfront with access to the James River, surrounding James River parks, outdoor conerts and more for visitors, residents and employees of Downtown Richmond.

Brown's Island in Richmond

Historical Exhibits and Public Art on Brown’s Island

Downtown Richmond’s riverfront is rich with art and exhibits that allow visitors and residents to experience the James River and the Canal Walk’s treasured history and beauty.

The 1865 Exhibit

Some of the most dramatic events in Richmond’s history occurred during three days in April 1865 when the city fell to the Union Army after four years of civil war. As the Union Army marched down Broad Street, the Confederate Army evacuated while enslaved Richmonders gained their freedom. These events are memorialized on a bridge overlooking the James River. Quotes, images and views of the remains of Civil War-era bridges bring back the events of the war’s end. A series of markers are incorporated into the James River overlook on the northwest corner of Brown's Island. The exhibit can be reached from Tredegar Street near South

5th Street.

The Mill Sculpture

“The Mill,” a sculpture by Richmond artist Brad Robinson, is located near the entrance to the T. Tyler Potterfield Memorial bridge toward the south side of Brown’s Island. Unveiled in 2012, it is intended to reflect the shimmering waters of the James River. It stands 16 feet tall and is made of brushed aluminum with bronze edging. The sculpture has a crescent-shaped bench around it, which creates a nice viewing spot.

The Headman Statue

The Headman Statue on Brown’s Island depicts a 19th century boatman — also known as a headman — and commemorates the early contributions of African Americans to commerce in Richmond. Boatmen were essential to Richmond’s canal system, which provided faster transport of raw materials and finished goods around the falls of the James River. The statue is 14 feet high with a 23-foot “sweep,” or oar, and it was designed and created by Paul DiPasquale. The bronze version of the statue was unveiled in November 1993.

Emancipation and Freedom Monument

The Virginia Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Commission dedicated and unveilled a new monument highlighting Virginia’s – and America’s – African American history on September 22, 2021 on Brown’s Island. The newly constructed Emancipation and Freedom Monument, was commissioned and designed by artist and sculptor, Thomas Jay Warren, of Oregon. It features two 12-foot bronze figures – a male and female holding an infant – representing those newly freed from slavery. A pedestal, which elevates the female figure, features images and contributions of ten Virginians whose efforts represent the sacrifices of those eager to gain freedom both before and after Emancipation: Richmonder Mary Elizabeth Bowser, William Harvey Carney, Gabriel, Dred Scott, Nat Turner, Rosa Dixon Bowser, John Mercer Langston, John Mitchell, Jr., Lucy Simms, and Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker.

Learn more about downtown Richmond's Riverfront Public Art & Statues here.

Brown's Island in Richmond

Access to Brown’s Island

The island can be accessed from a variety of points.

  • A vehicular bridge on the western end of the island nearest historic Tredegar is primarily used for event purposes (not accessible for public vehicles); however, pedestrians and cyclists can use this access point too.
  • The Halsey Bridge at 5th Street and the eastern-most entrance under the Manchester Bridge are both pedestrian and bike friendly.
  • The beautifully arched 7th Street bridge is another access point for pedestrians and overlooks the Canal.
  • Both the vehicular bridge and Halsey Bridge at 5th Street are best for those patrons who are differently-abled and/or handicapped.
  • Affectionately known by locals as the “T. Pott.,” the T. Tyler Potterfield Memorial Bridge has literally “bridged” the north (Brown’s Island) and south (Manchester) banks of the James River. Open 24/7 to pedestrians and cyclists, the bridge is handicap accessible and all are encouraged to enjoy the experience of travelling over the rushing rapids flowing through downtown Richmond. The bridge honors the late City of Richmond Urban Planner, author and historic preservationist, Tyler Potterfield, who for years advocated for a historic re-use of the Brown’s Island Dam Walk.

For your convenience, there is FREE wi-fi and portable restrooms (seasonally). The park is open 24-hours a day.

Brown's Island in Richmond

Events on Brown’s Island

Brown's Island is located in the heart of downtown Richmond making it an ideal location for some of Richmond’s favorite events. Venture Richmond hosts and manages seasonal events on the island and coordinates Brown’s Island Rentals for others seeking a unique downtown venue.

Today, Brown’s Island has become synonymous with outdoor recreation, concerts and some of Virginia's most popular festivals including the Friday Cheers concert series, Dominion Energy Riverrock, and the Richmond Folk Festival. Brown’s Island has also been home to other cultural and community events like the Richmond Marathon, Virginia PrideFest and the Annual Komen Central Virginia Race for the Cure.

Interested in hosting an event on Brown's Island? Here are 5 Reasons to Hold Your Next Event on Brown's Island!

Learn more about renting Brown's Island here!

Parking and Transportation

Free Riverfront Parking:

  • On-street parking on S. 2nd Street between Brown’s Island Way and E. Byrd Street (limited daytime parking)
  • On-street parking on S. 5th Street on the west side of the street from Tredegar to E. Byrd Street (very limited daytime parking)
  • The Belle Isle parking lot is located at the corner of Tredegar Street and Brown’s Island Way (limited daytime parking)

Paid Riverfront Parking:

Riverfront Bike Parking/Riding:

  • Bike racks are located along Tredegar Street between 5th and 7th Streets, and at the vehicular bridge on the western end of Brown’s Island nearest historic Tredegar.
  • A Bike Share station is located at 620 Tredegar Street. Explore all of the RVA Bike Share stations here.

Riverfront Bus Transportation:

  • Getting to Richmond's riverfront is easy when you take the GRTC public bus system. Just take the route #87 bus across the Lee Bridge from the north side of the river to the new stops at 2nd Street and Brown's Island Way near Tredegar or at 2nd and Spring Street. The route #87 bus runs every 60 minutes. On its way back across the river, the bus stops at 2nd and Spring Street and again at 2nd Street closer to the Virginia War Memorial. Make sure to look for the GRTC signs.

Find more information about Parking and Transportation in downtown Richmond here.

Explore more RVA outdoors here!