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 concerts and more for visitors, residents and employees of Downtown Richmond.
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 April 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
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 unveiled 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.
The island can be accessed from a variety of points.
For your convenience, there is FREE wi-fi and portable restrooms (seasonally). The park is open 24-hours a day.
Please Note: For the remainder of 2024, Canal Walk access to Brown’s Island from the east will be diverted to Tredegar Street via Haxall Point and 10th Street. Pedestrians will still be able to access the east side of the island using the the pedestrian Bridge located underneath the Manchester bridge off of Tredegar Street. Those with bikes or wheeled mobility devices will most easily access the island via the 5th St. pedestrian bridge. Brown’s Island will still be accessible from all other direction as normal, utilizing the the 5th and 7th Street pedestrian bridges, the vehicular bridge across from the Civil War Museum, and the “TPott” bridge from the south side of the river.
For a description of the project and a detailed map of the detours please visit the Dominion Energy website.
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 an event space in Richmond.
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!
Free Riverfront Parking:
Paid Riverfront Parking:
Riverfront Bike Parking/Riding:
Riverfront Bus Transportation: