For visitors to Richmond, the capital city of Virginia, there’s lot to do – museums, history tours, shows, restaurants. But I’ve always liked to travel off the beaten path to find the places not on the tourist brochures. If you’re like me, wanting to see those places that only the locals knows about, then the Mid-Lothian Mines might be for you.
About forty minutes south of the downtown center of Richmond is the town of Midlothian, Virginia. Right off of one of the main shopping roads is a small trip of forest, and a tiny parking lot that you’ll miss if you drive by too fast. This unassuming little spot between housing developments and strip malls is where one of the first coal mining ventures in America began.
Bring your walking shoes (hiking boots not necessary), because the main trail through these woods is gravel, with a few side trails of packed dirt. It’s not a long trail, nor a difficult hike; in nice weather the trails are popular with cyclists, mothers pushing strollers, couples walking their dogs. It’s a refreshing and leisurely woodland stroll that takes you out of the busy roads and bustling commerce that surrounds it.
All along this gravel path are markers that tell the story of the discovery of coal in the 1700s and the building of one of America’s first commercial railroads for the transportation of the coal. The plaques feature pictures of artifacts found in the area, and images of the men and boys who worked the mines.
The Grove Shaft, busy and profitable during the mid-1800s, is the only landmark remaining from this early Virginia enterprise. The stone ruins come up suddenly as you’re going along the path, like finding an unexpected castle hiding in the woods. The crumbling stone walls are protected by a chain-link fence, but there’s a narrow trail around the perimeter of the fence, enabling a view of the old mine shaft from every angle. Ruined stone towers and deep imprints in the earth tell of a time when this place was more than just a scenic woodland stroll.
Though these mines may be small, and visible only from above ground, the entire Midlothian area is worth visiting. There are plenty of shopping and restaurants, and more history just a few miles away at the Chesterfield County Museum.
Across the street from the mines, accessible by foot via a pedestrian tunnel under the road, is a scenic paved walking trail around a small lake. Just look for Woolridge Road on a map, then when you find the little lake, look for the undeveloped woods across the road. That’s where this little piece of history is hiding, this well-loved but not-so-beaten path that locals like myself love to travel on.
About the Author: Grace Robinson is a writer of fantasy, and a fan of arctic places, world music, mythology, and linguistics. She is a world traveler and author hopeful. Grace currently lives in Virginia with two rabbits and a lot of books. Find more on her blog.