There is a new interpretive sign at the Z-Dam at Williams Island on scenic Riverside Drive about 1/2 mile west of Pony Pasture. The sign was installed the first week of January. According to James River Park manager Ralph White, there are four more interpretive signs planned for installation — Great Shiplock Park, Pony Pasture, Huguenot Flatwater and along the scenic roadway overlook above the towering arches of the Atlantic Coastline Bridge (James River Railway Bridge).
The low crooked dam before you is part of the City’s water treatment complex. It creates the large pond of water to your left that backs up and around Williams Island in front of you and funnels water into the treatment plant that is out of sight about 1/2 mile to your right.
The “Z” shape of the dam is a result of attaching the foundation to prominent rocks in the riverbed.
The notch in the dam 100 feet from shore allows migrating fish like shad, herring and striped bass to travel upstream to spawn. It also serves as an impromptu passageway for expert kayakers.
The frothing torrent at the base of the dam creates a unique niche for wildlife. The water washes in food and oxygen while the crevices between the rocks at the bottom provide an escape from the moving water.
It is common to see bald eagles, otters, osprey and great blue herons in this area. The mix of calm water to the left, rapids to the right and tall trees along both sides shorelines creates a rich mix of habitats.
The large rocks along the shore to your left are thought to be the anchor stones of the original dam. It ran from here to the western tip of the island back in the 1800s. The pool it created allowed small boats and barges to be poled across the smooth water to the town of Westham. These vessels carried blocks of granite cut from the quarry behind you and passengers and wagons that traveled down the Old Westham Road just out of sight to your left.
The wall of rock behind you is a remnant of the granite quarry.
OLD ROAD AND FERRY LANDING
About 200 yards to your left is a long ridge of earth. It drops down from the hillside and intersects Riverside Drive at a right angle. It looks like a loaf of French bread with the end cut off.
This is a remnant of the Old Westham Road — once an important travel route that led to the ferry crossing. Due to rocks and rapids, this was the last place to cross the river until the bridge at Mayo’s Island seven miles down stream.
A small paved portion of the old road still remains. You can find it behind the 7-11 Store near Forest Hill Avenue & Hathaway Road. It only goes about 1/4 of a mile.
-Sign funded by a donation to the James River Park Fund by Rob and Leslie Lamphear