The Exchange Building is the only National Historic Landmark in the City of Petersburg. In the first half of the 19th century, most commercial centers in the United States possessed a Merchants Exchange. In 1830 the Petersburg Exchange was incorporated, and one of the original incorporators was David Dunlop, an important Petersburg tobacco manufacturer. Construction on the building began in 1839, and in 1841 the Exchange was completed, based on the design of a Mr. Berrien from New York.
This building was where the wholesaler sold bulk commodities such as tobacco, cotton, and grain to the retailer. With alleys on both sides of the building, originally open bays were on the ground floor. The Commodities Exchange lasted less than five years.
Over its history, this building has been used as office space by lawyers, newspapers, and police; businesses and shops; a printing plant; and as a Juvenile and Domestic Court. Henry Elebeck, a free black, operated a barbershop in this building. During the Civil War it was the Bank of the City of Petersburg. On June 9, 1864 from this site many were called to fight in what became the Battle of Old Men and Young Boys. Of the 125 militiamen in Major Fletcher H. Archer’s Battalion, 13 were killed or mortally wounded, 18 were wounded, and 45 were captured.
“The Exchange in Petersburg is most probably the last, unaltered Merchants Exchange in existence in the United States.” This building is Greek Revival with a fine Doric portico. Its principal interior feature is the central circular domed room. The granite steps on the south are not original. It is “a fine model of the more monumental Greek Revival commercial buildings which have become so rare.”
In the 1970s the Exchange Building was renovated to house the Siege Museum, which tells the story of how Petersburg citizens lived before, during, and after the Civil War. A 20-minute video is shown every half hour, narrated by Petersburg native and film star Joseph Cotton. There is a $5 fee to tour the museum, except for Petersburg citizens who can tour for free.