The origins of Broad Street lie in Thomas Jefferson's 1780 expansion plan for Richmond, in which the street was laid out to the present Foushee Street (the original western boundary of the city). Subsequently, the city grid expanded to the west, and the street became part of the Richmond Turnpike. Beginning in 1839, the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad extended down the center of the street. In 1888 the first successful electric streetcar system in the world replaced it. Commercial activity on Broad Street before the Civil War was minimal, but following the great evacuation fire of 1865, retail activity began to move up Shockoe Hill. By the twentieth century, Broad Street had become one of the great retail and entertainment districts in the South. Department stores as well as theaters, saloons, furniture showrooms, jewelry stores, groceries, dry goods emporiums, and other establishments lined the street. The area remained a vibrant retail district until suburban flight took its toll in the 1970s. The last department store closed in 1992. The City of Richmond Master Plan, adopted in 1997, calls for the removal of most of the remaining vestiges of commercial architecture east of 4th Street to accommodate a convention center and government uses. Civic leaders view the loss of commercial activity and prestige on this part of Broad Street as a failure that must be swept away. The surviving area to the west is emerging as a mixed-use district of shopping, apartments, offices, and galleries. The city of Richmond's historic designation protects most of the area west of 3rd Street. This tour includes the surviving commercial corridor from 3rd Street to its western boundary at Belvidere.
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