The Story Of Short Pump
Researched and compiled by Trevor Dickerson
It Started With A Tavern
Short Pump, the fastest growing area in the Richmond Metropolitan area, now boasts a movie theater, regional outdoor mall, a Wal-Mart Supercenter, and numerous shops and restaurants. However, the bustling suburban hot spot you see today came about around 1996. What’s in a name? Those who travel through Short Pump are sure to ask the origin of this eccentric name. To find out, you have to go way, way back.
Back in 1815, Robert Hyde Saunders, a Revolutionary War veteran, purchased hundreds of acres of land on Three Notch Road (now Three Chopt) at the terminus of Deep Run Turnpike (today’s West Broad Street). He constructed a large plantation house, kitchen, and other various smaller buildings. The insurance policy taken out by Saunders from which this information originated also states that a large two-story frame tavern was constructed facing Three Notch Road. The tavern became very popular in a short period of time, and stagecoach travelers making the trip from Richmond to Charlottesville would stop in and stay the night, get a good meal, and water their weary horses.
Over the years the tavern was continually expanded and a porch was eventually added onto the back of the structure. The pre-existing water pump for the horses was now covered by the porch above, and didn’t have enough clearance to get a full stroke of water when pumped. It was also very costly at the time to dig a new well. The solution? Shorten the pump shaft and handle!
The tavern became known for this shortened pump and was dubbed the Short Pumped Tavern by its’ patrons. The surrounding plantation also earned rights to the name over the years and was officially named Short Pump Plantation. The access road to the tavern from the south was named Short Pump Road, but then was later shortened simply to Pump Road by usage, and the name remains today.
Interestingly enough, it has even been said that Thomas Jefferson frequented the tavern on his travels from his home in Charlottesville, Monticello to Richmond.
Short Pump’s Three Landmarks
As time progressed, the Short Pump Tavern remained popular, but the last known record of the tavern was in 1932 when the structure was photographed (first picture, above left) in poor condition. It was likely demolished sometime soon after the picture was taken.
All hope for Short Pump was not lost, however. A little more than a decade before the destruction of the tavern, Dabney Beauregard Henley built D.B. Henley Store at the crossroads of West Broad and Three Chopt. It was a large, white, two story structure, with the store area on the first floor and living space for the family above. The country store offered various agricultural products, household items, and livestock feed. The store would undergo many transformations over the next few decades, including being used as an antiques store called “The Hitching Post,” then would later be painted green and affectionately named “Downtown Short Pump.”
The next structure to be erected on the same stretch of roadway was Short Pump Garage, built in 1926 at the corner of West Broad Street and Pouncey Tract Road. It featured a large portico jutting out towards Broad and a full-service auto repair facility, the only between the City of Richmond and Charlottesville, much like the tavern more than a century before it. The Garage also offered Atlantic gasoline for many years. The service station remained the same over the years and was only recently renamed Short Pump Transmission in the early 1990’s. This establishment was the pride and joy of owner Berger Nuckols for many years.
The last landmark to be built came in 1938 with the construction of Short Pump Grocery. This building also sported a large portico only a bit smaller than Short Pump Garage. It offered household necessities and the typical selection grocery products. Shell gasoline was also offered in the structure’s day as a grocery store. Some years later, the store made a transition into a bar, and consequently a local hangout. The bar became notorious for rowdy customers and fights broke out regularly. Eventually, the bar reverted back to its’ original use as a store after numerous problems.
Short Pump was still the butt of jokes at this time, with some local radio morning shows giving away lavish gag prize trips to “Beautiful Downtown Short Pump.” But luring on the horizon was a predator that was sure to eventually spill over into the humble little area– sprawl.
From Rural Outpost To Suburban Hot Spot
In the early ’90’s, Innsbrook was booming just to the east of Short Pump while the new planned community Wellesley was going up just to the south and west. Still, Short Pump maintained its’ rural character for the most part. In 1992, however, land was cleared at Broad and Pouncey Tract for a new Wal-Mart, the first commercial development to be constructed west of the West Broad/Interstate 64 Interchange. The giant store was no match for the small general stores. Sales floundered, forcing them to convert into convenience stores. The Downtown Short Pump store served lunch to passing construction workers from Wellesley, as well as Short Pump Grocery, that, in many peoples’ opinion, served the best barbeque in all the Richmond area.
In 1994, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) contemplated the widening of West Broad Street from a two lane road up to a divided six-lane highway. Traffic volumes were increasing with the surrounding development and the need was growing for better traffic flow. Things were looking grim for the little area of Short Pump.
1996 brought final plans to the table for the widening of West Broad all the way out to the present site of Bar Louie in front of Short Pump Town Center. This meant that all three of Short Pump’s historic landmarks would have to be demolished to make way for the new lanes. Quite ironically, this was the same reason for the destruction of the first landmark, Short Pump Tavern so many years before.
In May of 1996, the road widening project began and land was purchased for the new lanes. VDOT recognized the three structures as historic landmarks and offered them for free to anyone who would move them before the road was widened. The nearby Pruitt Family stepped up to the plate and attempted to move all three to their land in Centerville, (Goochland County) home of a history exhibition known as Field Day of the Past.
It was determined by the moving company that only Short Pump Garage and Short Pump Grocery would make the cut. Unfortunately, Henley’s Store would fall to the bulldozer due to rotting sills, large size, heavy weight, and a height that would conflict with overhead electric lines.
Area residents came out early one Sunday morning in early May to say goodbye to the three landmarks before two were whisked away a few miles to the west down West Broad Street towards Goochland County.
Just months after the move of these buildings, the flood gates of sprawl opened. Short Pump Crossing Shopping Center, (Ukrop’s) SkateNation, and American Family Fitness Center (at their former Pouncey Tract Road location) were all built in 1996 alone. Wal-Mart was also expanded into an even larger Wal-Mart Supercenter with a grocery store, vision center, barber shop, portrait studio, travel office, and bank. Also, a strip center was built next to the mega store.
In the next two years, Target, The Home Depot, Kohl’s, Best Buy, and several fast food restaurants were constructed. The list goes on to include the opening of Downtown Short Pump with a huge Barnes & Noble and 14-screen Regal Cinemas movie theater. The name of the gigantic entertainment complex could almost be described as nauseating to those who knew and loved the Short Pump of yesteryear. Huge regional open-air mall, Short Pump Town Center, which opened in September 2003, built out another 147 acres between West Broad Street and Interstate 64, and plans for more development to the west are sure to follow. Could Centerville be next with another “Short Pump Scenario?” Only time will tell.