Many of Petersburg’s historic sites, as well as the inevitable antiques shops and crafts boutiques, are located in a compact section along the Appomattox River called Old Towne. These include a classic courthouse and the postwar Appomattox Iron Works (1-800-232-IRON), with a restored foundry, machine shops, steam engines, and other nineteenth-century industrial relics. The First Baptist Church, home of the country’s oldest African-American congregation (a reminder of the days when Petersburg had the South’s largest free black population), is within walking distance, as are several other historic houses of worship.
Nearby antebellum mansions, such as Centre Hill (1823), with a Federal exterior and Greek Revival interior, and Battersea (c. 1770), built in the Palladian style with what one brochure understandably calls “a unique Chinese Chippendale staircase,” can be viewed by appointment. Blandford Cemetery is about a mile away. Information on Old Towne and nearby attractions is available from the Petersburg Visitor’s Center (located in the 1815 McIlwaine House) at P.O. Box 2107, Petersburg, VA 23804 (Tel: 1-800-368-3595; in Virginia, 804-733-2400).
Petersburg National Battlefield (P.O. Box 549, Petersburg, VA 23804) is a few miles from the center of town. It can be viewed in a car, by bicycle, or rather strenuously on foot; a picnic area is available. The visitor’s center has maps for an automobile tour of siege-line fortifications in the surrounding area, which includes Poplar Grove Cemetery, the final resting place for more than six thousand Union dead. The National Park Service, which maintains the battlefield, also has units at Five Forks and the Eppes House at City Point, where Grant kept his headquarters during the siege. A separate auto tour follows the Army of Northern Virginia’s retreat from Petersburg to Appomattox; for information, call 1-800-6-RETREAT. The U.S. Quartermaster Museum, which contains Gen. George Patton’s jeep and Gen. Dwight Eisenhower’s uniforms, and the slow-pitch softball hall of fame are also nearby.
There are no grand old hotels in Petersburg; visitors in search of lodging can choose between national chains and an assortment of bed-and-breakfasts. The local restaurants tend to be good rather than fancy and serve huge portions at tiny prices, as if to make up for the siege. The state tourism office, which can tell about all of Virginia’s myriad places of interest, is Virginia Tourism, Richmond, VA 23219 (Tel: 1-800-847-4882).