Natural History

What Made This Place

In the 1990s, the Petersburg Garden Club saved from obscurity an extraordinary collection made during the 1930s. Originally stored in fourteen brown scrapbooks, the collection consists of 325 pressed, dried plant specimens and 238 watercolors depicting most of the same species. The captivating paintings were the work of Bessie Niemeyer Marshall, a talented Virginia artist who received scant recognition during her lifetime. Most significantly, the collection was the legacy of a Depression-era work relief program, funded through the Works Progress Administration, that sought to document the variety of species being preserved in Lee Memorial Park, a wildflower and bird sanctuary located in Petersburg Virginia. Dimly remembered and in fragile condition, the paintings and specimens had been housed for almost fifty years in the Petersburg Public Library. Their rediscovery unlocked a small but rich chapter of American women’s history and Petersburg’s African American history.

Geologic Regions of Virginia

Rising and Falling Seas

Most of the Petersburg region is covered by Coastal Plain deposits. These consist of sediments that settled on the bottom of a shallow sea (the edge of the Paleo-Atlantic Sea[?].) These beds are not the result of a single rise in sea level but rather of seas rising and falling over the last 200 million years. As the seas receded, they carved out wide river basins that led to [the eventual formation of the Chesapeake Bay.

60 million years ago
25 million years ago
6 million years ago

Petersburg Granite

In the bed of the Appomattox River are thousands of flat rounded boulders of granite. The Petersburg granite, as it is known, is 314 million years old and was once a vast reservoir of molten rock called a magma chamber. This liquid rock, or magma, was located miles beneath a chain of active volcanoes. The magma cooled and crystallized deep within the earth and the overlying rocks were eroded off to expose a granite ridge 60 miles long and 10 miles wide covering parts of six counties. Much of the granite used in local buildings, such as the Petersburg City Hall, is locally quarried Petersburg granite.

Petersburg granite from a local quarry.