Virginia Historical Society
The Battle Abbey:
On a sunny May afternoon in 1912, a crowd of onlookers watched workmen hoist into place the cornerstone of a building that would instantly become a Richmond landmark. Even before its completion, local people were calling the building Battle Abbey. Today it forms the core of the Virginia Historical Society's headquarters. Erected by a different institution that no longer exists, it has endured a long and difficult beginning, dogged by money woes and spurred on by lingering sectional animosity.
In 1894, Confederate veteran and New York business Charles Baltzell "Broadwell" Rouss pledged $100,000 toward a building to house artifacts of southern leaders. Rouss's project led veterans to create the Confederate Memorial Association (CMA). In 1898, the CMA chose Richmond as the site of its Confederte Memorial Institute. The project languished, but a rekindled fund drive prompted the Robert E. Lee Camp of Confederate veterans to grant part of its grounds to the CMA. After a national competition, the Philadelphia firm Bissel & Sinkler submitted the winning design.
When the institute opened in 1921, Confederate organizations were in decline. The CMA was fortunate to have author Douglas Southall Freeman as its president in its twilight years. He turned for help to the VHS, then residing in a cramped brick townhouse near Capitol Square. On July 8, 1946, the society authorized a merger. After another decade, the generosity of Virginia and Alexander Weddell and Paul Mellon gave the VHS the means to enlarge Battle Abbey. That took place in 1959, with later additions in 1992, 1998, and 2006. The complex now interprets Virginia history, from the prehistoric past to the present. The original central core is now itself an artifact.