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HOLMBERG: Park where body was found is filled with history

RICHMOND, Va (WTVR)- Thursday’s tragic discovery of the body of an abducted gas station owner at Ancarrows Landing isn’t the first time violence has haunted the park on the south bank of the James.

Nine years ago, two 20-year-old men involved in a murderous prostitution ring were shot and left there.

But there’s so much more to the history of this secluded park and boat landing – and the man it’s named after.

Newton Ancarrow was a chemist and rocket engineer and maker of some of the fastest, most beautiful boats built during the muscular 50s and 60s.

The Shah of Iran reportedly bought one, Saudi royalty too.  His finned wonders, which borrowed from the lines cars like the classic ’57 Chevy, were guaranteed to go 60 or better.

He built them at his marina, a historic piece of riverfront.

During the Civil War, it was a Confederate shipyard. Before that, slaves were unloaded there.

Ancarrow loved the James River. His wife would joke that he loved it more than he loved her.  “I honestly think the river is all that he ever thinks about,” Jo Ancarrow once told a Times-Dispatch reporter.

He photographed the river extensively, virtually every wildflower.

The smell of the river, the pollution angered him.

Back in the 60s, we still dumped our sewage straight into the river. There was no sewage treatment plant.

Richmond literally turned its back on the James, the way the buildings faced, the way business was done.

East and downriver of downtown remained largely undeveloped because of the prevailing winds.

Ancarrow made a movie, “The Raging James” to show just how nasty it was. It eventually aired on PBS.

And he took more extreme action.

To see what happened next, watch our video report.

Even though we still dump millions of gallons of raw sewage and runoff into the James when it rains hard, Ancarrow’s work paved the way for our river park system and the fact that we now face the river and embrace it.