When the route for the new National Road was surveyed through eastern Indiana in 1827, it passed through Richmond, which had first been settled about twenty years earlier by Quakers from North Carolina. The road was constructed soon after, and it had a major effect on the young community, especially after the Whitewater Gorge was bridges for the first time in 1835.
Previously, the commercial activities in Richmond had been largely concentrated on Front Street (South 4th Street), a north to south road that ran parallel to the river. The National Road, however, sometimes called “Americas Main Street,” quickly became Richmond’s Main Street and the early retailers moved their businesses there.
The first buildings on Richmond’s Main Street were largely simple, two story examples of the Federal and Greek Revival styles, similar to those that can be seen today in nearby Centerville, Indiana. These soon gave way, however, to the taller Italianate style buildings of the 1850s to 1880s such as the western half of Knollenberg’s. The influence of the Queen Anne style, more commons residential architecture, can be seen in the eastern half of Knollenberg’s.
As the community grew, having become a railroad center and county seat, new commercial and public buildings such as the Courthouse were built in the Richardsonian Romanesque style. After the turn of the century, new architecture styles prevailed through Neo-Classical or Beaux Arts, and Art Deco buildings.
Later in the 20th century, Richmond retailers, competing with emerging shopping centers at the outlying areas of the community, followed national trends and updated their storefronts, often with metal or glass panels that attempted to portray a modern look, yet often conflicted with the historic architecture.
The installation of the Promenade, following a tragic downtown explosion that killed forty-one people and destroyed several buildings, continued the trend of ignoring the past in revitalization efforts. Today this is a trend that has largely been reversed. People look at the outstanding collection of historic architecture in Richmond as a resource, and are pursuing the rehabilitation of these fine old buildings.
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