This undated plan from the collections of the Library of Virginia shows the
extensive rooms of the beer vaults and the octagon in pencil which is the
park house above it. Notice the dimensions of the underground rooms and
elaborate stairway which once gave access to them.
Many Richmonders have probably heard of the “beer vaults” that are somewhere under the park, but few know of their history or how extensive they are. A pencil and ink plan from the City Engineer’s office records in the archives of the Library of Virginia shows the position of the vaults and describes their considerable dimensions: six chambers, ranging from 30 to 60 feet long and arranged in a “L” pattern. The vaulted ceilings are approximately twenty feet tall. Considering a GRTC bus is about forty feet long, the large scale of these underground rooms is truly impressive.
An octagon sketched in pencil over the vaults presumably indicates the position of the park house directly above the brick rooms, which are drawn in red. An elaborate stairway with landings once served as access to the two entrances. The plan also notes the locations of a public spring (which still exists) below the park house, and a horse trough, both of which were to provide refreshment to horses and men making their way up the switchback road that wound between Fulton and Broad Street. The road is labeled “30 Foot Road Leading to Tunnel,” a reference to the famous Church Hill railroad tunnel which collapsed in 1925.
A large circular structure shown in the plan of the vaults on the very brink of the hillside remained a mystery until a newspaper clipping from 1941 was found that explained, “…the original vat used for brewing by Mr. Bacher stood just outside the entrance to the vaults but that was torn down some years ago.” The article goes on to defuse a proposal by Richmond City Council member Emmett Perkinson to use the vaults as an air raid shelter. More about Church Hill's history and Joseph Bacher HERE.
1940s, gives an idea of the scale of these large storage rooms below the
surface of Chimbarazo Park.
According to that article, the vaults and vat were used by Bacher, “a Pennsylvania brewer who come to Richmond soon after the Civil War” and unsuccessfully used the vaults for laagering, or cold storage of beer. Finding the temperature too high for this part of the brewing process (perhaps because the vaults were so close to the surface), Bacher abandoned his efforts.
Photographs taken inside the vaults on the rare occasions that they have been opened show the astonishing brickwork and soaring, vaulted ceilings.
The Chimbarazo park house, which is located directly above the brick-lined
beer vaults. In the foreground, the new steps, sidewalk and patch in the
roadway mark the location of a cave-in of one of the vaults and the
For one hundred forty years the vaults have brooded quietly and kept their dark secrets. Tropical Storm Gaston in 2004 caused a cave-in in a corner of one of the rooms, revealing a tantalizing view of the top of a brick arch and a black void beyond. The City Department of Parks quickly refilled the hole (which threatened to collapse the steps to the park house) and paved over the exposed top of the vaulted chamber below. The sound and light receded once again, and the dark and quiet resumed their dominion over the Chimbarazo beer vaults.
- Selden Richardson.