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Confusing section of road leads reporter on quest to find answers

left turn
The left turn lane in question. At one point in Chesterfield County's history, the lane made sense. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

I’m standing in the median at the intersection of Huguenot and Old Gun Roads in Chesterfield County looking for answers. This is just one section of Route 147, which winds its way from VCU in Richmond all the way to Chesterfield’s government complex. I’m frequently one of 32,000 drivers who travel this road daily. 

It’s while heading west by this median one day that I noticed something odd: at this intersection, there’s a left turn lane. 

If you were to turn, you’d have to weave your car between trees, trample over pine needles and thread your way between utility boxes and a sign. If your car survived, you’d end up in the parking lot of Huguenot Road Baptist Church.

Oh, did I mention there's a no U-turn sign as well? In essence, the lane is pointless. 

I reached out to the Virginia Department of Transportation, and while they started digging into my request, I expanded my research.

Why is it Huguenot Road anyway?

The Richmond area is littered with the name “Huguenot.” From the Huguenot Bridge, to Huguenot Park to Huguenot High School, as is noted in a 2008 article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. 

The Huguenots were any of the Protestants in France during the 16th and 17th centuries. Many Huguenots suffered severe persecution for their faith, which, to make a long story short, led several to flee to Colonial America. 

sign
Just of Huguenot Trail Road is the Huguenot Settlement. (Photo: Ian Stewart/VPM News)

Some eventually settled here in Virginia, ending up in what is now Powhatan County. According to an article written by famed Richmond writer and historian Harry Kollatz Jr., the Huguenots lived on “10,000 acres ceded to them by Richmond city founder William Byrd I.” 

Kollatz says many familiar names in Richmond, like Agee, Foushee, La Prade and Rowlett, descend from the Huguenots. Interestingly, two of those names — Agee and Rowletts — were and are bike stores in the region.

Along Huguenot Trail in northern Powhatan, there’s a church and historical markers noting the spot where they lived. The area is maintained by The Huguenot Society of the Founders of Manakin in the Colony of Virginia.

church
One of the features on the land once populated by Huguenots. (Photo: Ian Stewart/VPM News)

But why is that turn lane there?

While waiting for VDOT to get back to me, I contacted other government agencies, such as Chesterfield County’s Department of Transportation, The Library of Virginia and the Federal Highway Administration’s “Highway History” website – a fascinating read for highway nerds like me.

Sadly, none could answer how and why there’s a left turn lane that isn’t functional. Finally, Richmond’s district traffic engineer for VDOT, Robert Vliak got back to me. But his answer wasn’t helpful.

“There's really no significant operational value to this left turn. So we just restricted it,” Vliak says. “Unfortunately, there's nobody left at VDOT, who really knows why we did it that way.”

Vliak says restricting turns cuts down on crashes. But the fact that there's a left turn there in the first place has me stymied. He did give me one clue, however, to help my search for answers. He said the road was constructed back in 1969. 

In scouring over old maps from the aptly titled “Old Maps Online,” I found that Old Gun Road, which now stops at Huguenot Road, actually went through. 

Graphic
This map from the 1960s shows Old Gun going through Huguenot Road.

The final piece in the puzzle is the church. Started in the mid 1960s in a nearby small house, as Huguenot Road Baptist’s congregation grew, so did the need to expand their building. Luckily, someone at the church wrote up an 88-page history of their expansion, which eventually resulted in closing the thoroughfare.

Graphic
Huguenot Road as it now looks.

 At one point in Chesterfield’s history, that left turn lane was not pointless. My questions have been answered.