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First presidential snub may have happened in RVA 227 years ago

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RICHMOND, Va. -- In recent months, the mocking and snubbing of the President of the United States has practically become an Olympic sport.

But perhaps the first snubbing of a President occurred here in Richmond some 227 years ago.

It occurred at the “Washington Arch,” now one of the most crucial - and neglected - icons of U.S. transportation history.

As many of you know, George Washington was the dreamer behind our canal system here in Richmond - the very first in the United States.

Washington even surveyed the route as a young man, before he went off to fight and lead in the Revolutionary War.

He deeply believed in commerce by water and envisioned a system of canals connecting the Atlantic Ocean with the Mississippi - a liquid interstate highway system.

The arch named after Washington was one of the key connections bypassing the rocky rapids in the James River, a system of locks and canals that began in 1785.

“This is a remnant of the very first canal piece in the United States,” said retired James River Park naturalist Ralph White. “This is the last piece of it we still have, and here it is in Richmond. And you can walk right up to it.”

After the signature arch was built in 1791, Washington arranged to meet Richmond city council members at his arch for a luncheon aboard his boat.

The Washington Arch

Reportedly, Washington planned it to be a banquet, with a full spread to be served by decked-out servants and crew.

But the council members didn’t show up in time. It’s unclear if they did it intentionally, but it appears Washington took it that way and left after eating his scheduled meal.

The Washington Arch was built of stone on top of a heavy timber foundation laid underwater to provide a level base, White explained.

As long as they were covered with water, the timbers were preserved.

“But when we’ve had dry periods,” White added, “the stuff has been exposed to the air and begun to rot. And you can tell that if you go up to the arch you’ll see there’s now a split on what would be the the side heading towards the south. And it is falling apart.”

But there are currently no funds or plans to preserve it.

In fact, it looks more like dump instead of a crucial part of U.S. transportation history and the site of perhaps our first presidential snub - and that of the “father of our nation,” no less.

The arch can be seen about 150 yards upriver from The Pump House on Pump House Drive below Byrd Park.