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HOLMBERG: Meg Ryan filming in a very special part of the Richmond area

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. — Route 5 – Osborne Turnpike in eastern Henrico County – is one of Richmond’s best kept secrets, hugging the James River like a lover and offering beautiful rural living within minutes of downtown.

It’s the perfect place to hide a Hollywood movie production. In this case, Meg Ryan’s directorial debut (which will star her and perhaps – MAYBE – Tom Hanks) is filming at the historic Tree Hill Farm there after leaving production in downtown Petersburg.

Ryan’s movie, “Ithaca,” is a coming-of-age story about a 14-year-old bike messenger taking care of his widowed mother and family while his brother is off fighting in World War II. It also stars Sam Shepard, Melanie Griffith, her son Jack Quaid and this beautiful farm where Virginia horse racing began.

Caterers and host of other crew members and their circus-like tent can be seen from Route 5.

But the filming is going on down at the farmhouse and barn areas, away from public view, in the heart of this 530-acre farm that has been active for more than two centuries and was one of the area’s largest plantations.

Richmond Mayor Joseph Mayo surrendered the city to advancing Union Forces in 1865 under a majestic roadside oak on Tree Hill. That tree was blown down during a thunderstorm two years ago, although parts of the “Surrender Tree” were saved for posterity.

You can get a few glimpses of the farm in my video here.

It’s a good thing someone is filming it, because images of this historic, off-the-road farm are as rare as hen’s teeth.

And it’s a going to be changing in a major way. A carefully planned development, similar to, but more extensive than Rockett’s Landing, will be coming to Tree Hill Farm, although it’s unclear when construction will actually get underway.

You can check it out the planned development here: http://www.treehillva.com/

This part of the Richmond area is a very different place. The two marinas in the area are largely unknown to most Richmonders, even though this is a city that exists because of shipping.

Many property owners in this area have gamely fought development and the widening of Route 5, which is perhaps the most beautiful stretch of two-lane road this close to the city.

But there are already several developments that have been approved for the area, most stalled by the recession.

For now, mostly, it has remained a hideaway suitable for filming 70 years in the past.

It you haven’t seen it, take a drive on a nice day, or even better, a motorcycle or bicycle ride. Head out east on Main Street, past Rockett’s Landing, up the big hill and take the right fork at the 7-Eleven.

You might see skunks, deer and other wildlife. And you’ll certainly see a sweet slice of the river and a stupendous row of cedar trees. Drop in at the Lily Pad on your right for lunch or a drink, or picnic in the county park next door. There are battlefield parks for lazing through.

Just don’t expect to see any movie stars.



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