The Shockoe Valley (or Shockoe Bottom) area is the oldest section of Richmond. The name of the area comes from Shockoe (sometimes spelled Shacco, from a Native American word referring to a large flat rock) Creek, which flowed into the James River at the uppermost point of navigation. Until it was enclosed as a culvert in 1877, the creek, which ran between present-day 15th and 16th streets, divided Richmond in two. Shockoe Valley was laid out in a grid as part of William Mayo's plan, with a town common fronting the James River. Throughout the eighteenth century the valley was the center of the thriving but small settlement of Richmond. During this time the area developed slowly with construction of a few modest residences, commercial structures, and tobacco warehouses. The establishment of a market in 1796 at what is presently the intersection of 17th and Main streets caused a thriving retail district to develop. A wave of commercial development during the flush times after the War of 1812 resulted in the construction of the Richmond Navigation Canal along the James River. Commercial development continued in the 1840s and 1850s with the arrival of the first railroads and the growth of Richmond as a major tobacco manufacturing center. The development of the area as a major transportation, warehousing, and manufacturing hub continued well into the twentieth century.
Throughout the history of Shockoe Valley, the area was also a center of immigration into the city. Successive waves of northerners and rural African Americans as well as Scots, Irish, Germans, and German, Eastern European, and Sephardic Jews tended to settle here on arrival. These and other immigrant groups opened businesses, worked as laborers, and often lived above the commercial structures in the neighborhood.
Development came to an abrupt halt with the Great Depression. Shockoe Valley went into a fifty-year period of decline. Many of the businesses in the area closed or relocated. A considerable number of buildings fell into neglect or to the wrecking ball. Richmond preservationists worked to save some of the more historic structures. However, substantial revitalization did not occur until the late 1980s. Since then, a considerable number of industrial buildings have been converted to residential use, and the area has become the center of the city's night life. It has developed a popular identity as Shockoe Bottom or simply “the Bottom.”
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