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Midlothian, Virginia () is an unincorporated area in Chesterfield County, Virginia, U.S. Founded over 300 years ago as a coal town, it is now a suburban community located west of Richmond, Virginia and south of the James River in the Greater Richmond Region.
It was named for the early 18th-century coal mining enterprises of the Wooldridge brothers. They called their new venture the Mid-Lothian Mining and Manufacturing Company, and forced enslaved people to do the deadly work of digging underground. Midlothian is the site of the first commercially-mined coal in the Colony of Virginia and in what became the United States.
By the early 18th century, several mines were being developed by French Huguenots and others. The mine owners began to export the commodity from the region in the 1730s. Midlothian-area coal heated the U.S. White House for President Thomas Jefferson. The transportation needs of coal shipping stimulated construction of an early toll road, the Manchester Turnpike in 1807; and the Chesterfield Railroad, the state's first in 1831; each to travel the 13 miles (21 km) from the mining community to the port of Manchester, just below the Fall Line of the James River. In the early 1850s, the Richmond and Danville Railroad built Coalfield Station near the mines.
In the 1920s, the old turnpike was renamed the Midlothian Turnpike and became part of the new east-west U.S. Route 60. A few decades later, residential neighborhoods were developed near Midlothian, including the large Salisbury community and the Brandermill planned development sited on Swift Creek Reservoir. In the 21st century, Midlothian extends many miles beyond the original village area. State Route 288 connects the community with Interstate 64 and the State Route 76 toll road, and Interstate 95 in the Richmond metropolitan area's southwestern quadrant.
Midlothian is located in the Piedmont geologic region of the state, and is made up of mainly a hilled, fertile land (it is somewhat of a plain.) It is located on the Richmond Basin, which is one of the Eastern North America Rift Basins. It contains some sedimentary rock and bituminous coal.
The Midlothian area serves as the headwaters to a number of creeks which ultimately contribute their waters to the flow of the James River below the fall line at Richmond. These include Swift Creek and Falling Creek. The Swift Creek Reservoir serves as the major source of fresh water for the county.
As of the 2010 census, the community had a total population of 58,880. Midlothian's demographics are much like Virginia's. Its inhabitants are predominantly European American. The next biggest group is African Americans, followed by people of Hispanic and Asian descent. The median household income per year in 2005 was $80,381.
The traditional core of the Village of Midlothian on Route 60 is between two major shopping malls developed later. Midlothian has many neighborhoods; Some examples off Route 60 include Briarwood, Roxshire, and Salisbury to the north; and Walton Park, Queensmill, and Stonehenge West to the south. Woodlake, Virginia and Brandermill, Virginia are communities on Route 360 or Hull St. Midlothian was ranked #37 in CNNMoney's list of "The Best Places to Live" in 2005 and #99 in 2008.
There is little farming and only light manufacturing around the new State Route 288.
At the turn of the 21st century, a group of area business professionals formed an independent organization called the Western Chesterfield Business Alliance, which in 2013 was renamed the Midlothian Business Alliance.
In 2004, completion of State Route 288 connected Midlothian to the circumferential highway network of greater Richmond Region. Development was controversial, and some residents wanted to avoid the scale seen in Northern Virginia. After years of discussion, in March 2006 Chesterfield County approved intensive zoning for the Watkins Centre, promoted as a large, mixed-use office complex and retail "lifestyle center" at the intersection of Route 288 and U.S. 60, 2 miles (3.2 km) west of the Village of Midlothian.
With the addition of the multimillion-dollar Bon Secours Hospital, St. Francis, Midlothian has a major hospital within five minutes of Midlothian's highest concentration of residents.
James River High School, part of Chesterfield County Public Schools located in Midlothian, won the President's Blue Ribbon School of Excellence Award in 2000. In 2015, Cosby High School, also located in Midlothian, received this recognition.
Before the arrival of Europeans in the 17th century, the area had been populated for thousands of years by various cultures of Native Americans. Among these in historic times were the Siouan-speaking Monacan tribe. They often came into conflict with the Algonquian-speaking members of the Powhatan Confederacy, who were generally located to the east in the Virginia Tidewater area.
In 1700 and after, French Huguenot settlers, who were Protestant, came to the area in the Virginia Colony to escape Catholic religious persecution in France. Most came from London, where they had resettled as refugees. Although the Crown had offered the French land in Lower Norfolk County, the governor of the colony and William Byrd offered them the village of Manakin Town, which had been abandoned by the Monacan. Byrd and the governor intended to use the French as a buffer settlement, and thought they would be easier to control apart from the English. The location was about 20 miles (32 km) above the head of navigation on the James River at what became Richmond. The French, many of whom were artisans and merchants, struggled to survive on the isolated frontier. The terrain was hilly and largely wooded, and shipping of farm products such as tobacco crops was not easy.
The greater natural resource in the Midlothian area was coal, and the area was ultimately developed with coal mining and railroads. About 10 miles (16 km) west of the fall line of the James River at present-day Richmond is a basin of coal, which was one of the earliest mined in the Virginia Colony. Scots settlers with mining skills began to mine this resource in the 18th century. Many coal-related enterprises in the Midlothian area of Chesterfield County began early in the 18th century.
The Village area of today's Midlothian started as a settlement of coal miners in the 18th century. In 1709, Midlothian produced the first commercially mined coal in the United States. Among other participants in the area's emerging coal business was Colonel Henry "Harry" Heth, a businessman who emigrated from England about 1759. He established offices at Norfolk and Manchester, where several generations of his family were also involved in the business.
During the American Revolution, coal produced in the Midlothian coal pits supplied the cannon factory on the James River at Westham, upstream from Richmond; it produced shot and shells for the Continental Army. By the end of the War, developers shipped Chesterfield coal to Philadelphia, New York, Boston and to every city in Virginia. Commenting on the area's coal in his Notes on the State of Virginia (1781–82), then-Governor Thomas Jefferson stated: "The country on James river, from 15 to 20 miles above Richmond, and for several miles northward and southward, is replete with mineral coal of a very excellent quality." During his presidency, Jefferson ordered coal from the Black Heath Mine in Midlothian for use in the White House.
The coalfield west of Richmond extended north of the James River to the western portion of Henrico County. There, mines were worked at Gayton and Deep Run. In 1796, famed engineer and architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe toured the coal fields outside Richmond, declaring enthusiastically, "Such a mine of Wealth exists, I believe, nowhere else!" By 1835, seven or eight major mines were operating in the Midlothian area. Coal was the economic basis of the Midlothian area until the late 19th century when mining ended. Later attempts to reopen the mines were unsuccessful. The railroad connected the town to Richmond for shipping coal, and residents later used it to travel to the capital for work. The town became one of commuters.
In 1804, a toll road, Manchester and Falling Creek Turnpike, was built from Manchester to Falling Creek to ease traffic on what is now Old Buckingham Road. It was graveled in 1807, making it Virginia's first hard-surfaced road. That road's descendant is known as Midlothian Turnpike, present-day U.S. Route 60.
By 1824, an estimated 70 to 100 wagons, each of which was loaded with four or five tons of coal, made a daily trip on the turnpike, transporting to the docks near Manchester the million or more bushels (30,000 metric tons) of coal that were produced in Chesterfield County each year. The heavily loaded coal wagons tended to cut deep ruts in the turnpike, raising clouds of dust in summer and churning the road into mud in the rainy season. As there were few options for shunpiking, citizens whose faster buggies dawdled along behind the lumbering wagons urged the state legislature to do something about it—a canal, a better road, but something.
The result was the Chesterfield Railroad, a 13 miles (21 km) mule- and gravity-powered line that connected the Midlothian coal mines with wharves located at Manchester, directly across from Richmond. Partially funded by the Virginia Board of Public Works, the railroad began operating in 1831, the first in the state. By 1852, the newer, steam-driven Richmond and Danville Railroad (R&D) began operation to Coalfield Station, later renamed Midlothian; it quickly supplanted the slower Chesterfield Railroad. In a financial reorganization in 1894, the R&D line through Midlothian became part of the Southern Railway system. It is now part of Norfolk Southern Railway. According to the 1895 Virginia atlas, the population of Midlothian was 375.
In the 20th century, coal mining declined. The area became less populated, remaining largely wooded with farms scattered along mostly rural and dirt roads. Gradually, post-war construction of the highway network and the growth of metropolitan Richmond brought subdivision residential development. When the Swift Creek Reservoir was created in 1965, the availability of water and sewer service accelerated residential growth, with Brandermill built in 1975. The expansion of the area assigned to the Midlothian post office caused a much larger area to be considered "Midlothian" than the village along the turnpike, now designated U.S. Route 60. In 1988, an extension of the Powhite Parkway and widening of Midlothian Turnpike and Hull Street Road (U.S. Route 360) provided much-needed highway infrastructure. The area continued to attract new residents as forests were cleared for the development of subdivisions.
Chesterfield County Historic Landmarks in the Midlothian area include:
An exhibit on local mining history in the Chesterfield Museum includes a length of iron rail from the incline railway, the first in Virginia.
Midlothian is the inspiration for the fictional town of Middlesex, Virginia in the cult film Donnie Darko. "It’s meant to be a stylized, satirical, comic book, fantasyland version of what I remember Midlothian, Virginia to be, I guess," filmmaker Richard Kelly has explained.
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