The Haunting of the Pocahontas Parkway

Posted by blogger in Richmond Ghost Tours
The Haunting of the Pocahontas Parkway - Photo

The Haunting of the Pocahontas Parkway


When one thinks of ghosts, there are a few places that usually come to mind where you can find them: abandoned medical facilities, old gothic homes, graveyards.  Most people aren’t seeing ghosts as part of their daily commute, unless you’re just outside of Richmond, VA.  People have seen Native American war parties and heard drums and whoops in the dead of night along what’s known as the Pocohantus Parkway, Highway 895. 


Let’s take a look at this unusual story.


Built on Native American Burial Grounds…Really?!


It may seem to be a cliche, but this ghost story starts where many usually do: a construction site on an ancient Native American burial ground.




Before the highway project had even broken ground, archaeologists like Dennis Blanton from the College of William and Mary launched an investigation. Using excavators, they discovered the area was a treasure trove of Native American artifacts.


The plan for the highway cut right through what were historically Powhatan and Arrohatak villages and hunting grounds. The evidence there dated back almost six-thousand years, all the way back to 3500 BCE. 


Usually a discovery like this might have dissuaded the construction of the highway. However, the Commonwealth of Virginia continued their highway plans.


The Toll plaza for the highway was constructed on top of Native American burial grounds.


The Parkway That Failed


Virginia State Highway 895, now known as the Pocahontas Parkway, was supposed to be a grand highway that connected Interstate 95 to Chippenham Parkway 150 and Interstate 295 which lead to the Richmond International Airport. The idea was that the road would allow a direct connection to the major highways to the airport without having to go through the Richmond area. 


While a good idea in theory, the road ended up being more trouble than it seemed to be worth. Two construction workers died during construction. The highway needed deeper foundations and overran it’s budget. Making the road have a toll on it prevented people from taking the route in enough numbers to make up the financial losses of the road’s construction woes.


Eventually, an Australian company called Transurban bought out a 99-year lease of the toll road from the Virginia Department Of Transportation (VDOT). They built the toll plaza and road, expecting to make back a profit after the first few years of income paid the bills. Officials had optimistically projected there would be tons of growth in Henrico, so the new parkway was built for them. However, due to the economic and housing crisis in 2008, the earlier projections were no longer viable. 


In 2012, Transurban ended up writing off the project as a complete financial loss. People weren’t using the toll road in the numbers originally projected so they were losing money on it. At least, that’s what they said.


Interestingly, an Australian newspaper theorized that Transurban’s parkway was not making money because the road was supposedly haunted. The ghosts of Native American warriors were apparently scaring paying drivers away!


Ghosts or no,Virginia got the road they wanted and no public money was lost in its construction. While considered a financial failure, the parkway is considered a public works success story. 


Tales from the ‘Pocahaunted’ Parkway


During Construction

During construction, engineers would find a Native American warrior on a horse at the bottom of the road, watching them at night. When they went to tell the man they were not allowed on the highway, he and his stead would promptly vanish into the night. 


People who live alongside the land the highway was built on said in local newspapers that they’ve heard war drums, chanting, and whoops from the area for decades. 


The Parkway’s First Official Ghost Story


Officially, the ghost story starts on July 15, 2002. In the dead of night, after the bridge finally opened, a truck driver coming over the bridge found three Native American men in the middle of the highway. They were holding torches in the night and dressed like stereotypical warriors, with beech pants and headdresses. As he passed by the group, he saw two more men on the edge of the road. He sounded his horn to the men as he passed. The trucker thought they were Native American protestors and stopped to tell the worker at the toll plaza what he witnessed. 


The story was filed in a police report, but there was no evidence of any other suspects around the road. The theory did make sense; who wouldn’t be mad if a superhighway was built on your ancestral land? Well, it turned out that the local Native American tribe, the Nansemond, held no such grudge. In fact, at the time they were waiting for the federal government to officially recognize their tribal status, so a protest like this might have hurt their chances.



A Spooky Place to Work

People continued to report misty figures of warriors along the road, and the sounds of war cries, whoops, and drums could be heard echoing throughout the night along the parkway.


Toll Plaza workers reported items moving on their own and dark figures moving around the buildings. A spectral torso could be seen passing through the sides of buildings. Banging noises came from metal buildings and doors. The activity was so bad one man walked off his first shift. 


Interviews with both police and toll workers (conducted by local reporter Chris Dovi) found there were incidences of warriors on horseback riding through the cars and trucks on the road!


Another incident with an officer called to the toll plaza was apparently caught on security footage. A spectral man not visible to the officer could be seen on camera before disappearing. 


The activity was so bad that the Virginia State Police Spokeswoman Corinne Geller went to investigate the parkway. She, along with reporter Chris Dovi, officially confirmed that on her watch, three separate incidents of screams, drums, and other noises could be heard. There was no one else out there. The noises did not match any known local animals. 




Apparently, there are other ghosts who haunt the parkway as well. Ghost cars have been seen and heard approaching the toll plaza only to drive through the gates and disappear. Toll workers have said these ghost cars displace the air just like a regular car on their way by. An officer on the highway heard a car coming and promptly jumped out of the way of…nothing. No car, but the air rushed past as if one had barely missed him. 


The Aftermath


With so many stories of ghosts and otherworldly occurrences in the news, someone had to address the parkway’s rumored hauntings. 


Henrico County officials went on record to confirm they could not identify what people were hearing or seeing. Corrine Geller, the Virginia State Police’s official spokesperson, confirmed what the officers were seeing and hearing on their shifts on the parkway. 


Here Come the Ghost Hunters


People came with picnics and chairs to wait alongside the highway to hopefully hear or see something otherworldly. The illegal parking and trespassing onto private property caused the state police to have to work overtime to control the crowds. Once the paranormal investigators started showing up, the cars could be parked up to a mile along the parkway. 


Fed up with the congestion and dangerous behavior, the Virginia Department of Transportation had to put up no parking signs in that area. The sightings have lessened since then. 


So What Really Happened?


Some skeptics have theorized that the whole ghost story was a publicity stunt. It certainly brought out the crowds of motorists the parkway needed to make its income. 


The truth is going up to you. 




Weird Virginia, by Jeff Barr, Troy Taylor, and Loren Coleman, published in 2007


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