Historic Richmond Foundation's Lastest Publication Launched
October 13, 2011 - Book Review by Calder LothJohn G. (‘Jack’) Zehmer’s newest book offers us a comprehensive and visually enticing visit to Richmond’s East End, an assemblage of historic neighborhoods that collectively forms one of America’s most extensive yet least known historic quarters. The work incorporates much of Zehmer’s 1991 publication: Church Hill: The St. John’s Church Historic District, but is expanded with the inclusion of histories and surveys of the three adjacent Old and Historic Districts since designated by the city. These additional districts are Church Hill North, Chimborazo Park, and Shockoe Valley. The four districts collectively encompass some seventy blocks of historic buildings along with three city parks. Almost completely devoid of inappropriate intrusions, this densely packed urban area is an amazing survival, one that merits investigation and celebration, both of which Zehmer’s book helps us to do.
The focal point of the districts is the 1741 St. John’s Episcopal Church, the scene of Patrick Henry’s “Liberty or Death” speech, the famous call for revolution against the tyranny of the British crown. A National Historic Landmark and Richmond’s oldest building, the church is set within a picturesque burial ground on one of the city’s highest points. It was the physical decline of the residential blocks around St. John’s that spurred of some of Richmond’s leading citizens to begin the purchase of important at-risk houses to secure the historic character of the neighborhood. This activity led to the establishment in 1957 of the St. John’s Church Old and Historic District, the city’s first neighborhood to receive protective historic zoning. The story of this early preservation effort is documented in an informative essay by the late Louise F. Catterall, included in book’s appendix. Along with Mary Wingfield Scott, Mrs. Catterall was one of the city’s preservation pioneers. Much of the documentation of the properties featured in the book was gleaned from the exhaustive research undertaken by Miss Scott and Mrs. Catterall, many years ago.
The book is divided into four sections, covering the four districts. Each section begins with an essay describing the district’s history and architecture, and noting special structures and landscape features. Following each essay is a street-by-street catalogue of the district’s buildings. Although the book doesn’t examine every single building in the four districts, it covers 90% of them. Thankfully, Zehmer provides photographs of all the buildings discussed, and unlike most architectural catalogues and guides, the photos are large enough to enable you to relate them to the narrative with little difficulty. The black-and-white photographs were all taken by Zehmer and serve to emphasize the remarkable cohesion yet diversity of Church Hill’s architecture. Church Hill developed over two centuries as a largely middle-class neighborhood. Its dwellings are mostly moderate-size, side-hall-plan townhouses, but the stylistic variety achieved within that format is striking. Restrained Federal and Greek Revival dwellings intermingle with the more assertive Italianate and Queen Anne styles. We have attached rows, semi-detached houses and free-standing ones, all squeezed together. Common to nearly all houses are front porches, the city’s summertime living rooms. We have porches of every description. Many sport Richmond’s famous lacy ironwork while others are decked out with wooden sawn and turned decorations in infinite patterns. Church Hill’s blocks are anything but monotonous.
Contrasting with the houses on the hill are the industrial buildings and a sprinkling of historic houses in the Shockoe Valley Old and Historic District. Here are factory buildings that served as Civil War hospitals. Nestled among them is the Adam Craig house, an 18th-century farmhouse that was the home of Jane Stith Stanard, subject of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “To Helen.” A block away on Broad Street is the Branch Public Baths building which, in 1913, served sixty-thousand bathers! (Few houses in that period had indoor plumbing.)
Zehmer’s nearly 380 black-and-white photographs of buildings and details are supplemented with Richard Cheek’s some ninety stunning color photographs spread through the book. One of the country’s foremost architectural photographers, Cheek, a Richmond native, uses his eye and artistry to show off Church Hill’s cheerful color palette and ornamentation. Lending perspective to Zehmer’s and Cheek’s photos is an assortment of
historic images of panoramic views, prominent individuals, and lost buildings.
In addition to his lucid but concise architectural descriptions, Zehmer’s catalogue narratives include information on the buildings’ various owners and occupants. It reminds us that Church Hill is not just architectural fabric, but has been home to many people of all walks of life, individuals who have been part of the texture of their neighborhoods and have served their community in numerous ways. In one block of East Marshall Street we learn that its houses were lived in by a bookkeeper, a cabinetmaker, a policeman, a dairyman, a conductor, and an engineer. We also learn that Church Hill has long been a mixed-race neighborhood. Gentrification has indeed occurred, but the process has been a temperate one, occurring over the course of fifty years to the benefit of both blacks and whites.Church Hill goes to the very core of Richmond’s being. The view of the James River from Libby Terrace inspired the city’s name; Patrick Henry’s speech in St. John’s Church helped change the course of history; Chimborazo Hill is the site of the hospital that served 76,000 Confederate sick and wounded and that later offered shelter to emancipated African-American families. And we must not forget that Church Hill was the catalyst for Richmond’s historic preservation movement, one that now encompasses the entire city. For anyone who loves Richmond’s architecture and history, Jack’s book is a must.
Book Review by Calder Loth
Senior Architectural Historian
Virginia Department of Historic Resources
Support Preservation Efforts of Historic Richmond Foundation by Voting in Virginia's Top 10 Endangered Artifacts
August 17, 2011 - Virginia's Top 10 Endangered ArtifactsHere’s a new way that you can support Historic Richmond Foundation – by voting for us today through September 20th in Virginia’s Top Ten Endangered Artifacts campaign!
This new campaign is designed to create awareness of the importance of preserving artifacts in care at museums, libraries and archives throughout the commonwealth and in the District of Columbia, and we’re taking part.
Collecting institutions from across Virginia and DC have nominated items that they believe tell a significant story and deserve to be recognized on this prestigious “Top 10 List.” These items may be ones that are currently being conserved, have a plan to be conserved or are simply in need of conservation. The campaign showcases the importance of Virginia’s diverse history, heritage and culture and the role that artifacts play in telling those stories. HRF has nominated the monument at Monumental Church in this competition and we need your help to make the list.
Please show your support of HRF by voting for our nominated item by visiting www.vatop10artifacts.org and casting your vote today! Public voting takes place from August 15 through September 20.
Nominations will be reviewed by an independent panel of collections and conservation experts, and “winning” entries will be announced in November 2011. The public voting will be considered by the panel as they make their final selections.
“Conservation is a vital component of our mission, and Virginia’s Top 10 campaign offers an interactive opportunity for supporters of My Favorite Museum to become engaged in bringing the importance of this mission into the public spotlight,” said Joe Museum, executive director of My Favorite Museum.
Virginia’s Top 10 Endangered Artifacts is a program of the Virginia Collections Initiative, which is a project of the Virginia Association of Museums, made possible by a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services. The IMLS is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The Institute’s mission is to create strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas.
For more information, visit www.vamuseums.org or call 804-788-5822.
A piece of the original monument!
|From 2011 Nominations: Virginia's Top Ten Endangered Artifacts|
Holiday Splendor on the AvenueNovember 3, 2009 - Brandon Fox, R-Home Magazine
The 47th Annual Fan Holiday House Tour will be extra-special this year — it will take place primarily on Monument Avenue, on Dec. 12 and 13.
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Historian to Speak at UR on Civil War-Era White HousesSeptember 18, 2009 - Richmond Times-Dispatch
White House historian William Seale will give a lecture next week at the University of Richmond on the White Houses and presidents during the Civil War. Seale, who is the author of "The President's House: A History," will discuss on Thursday Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis and the White Houses in which they lived. The focus of the talk is social and cultural history of the two presidents, not just the Civil War.
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Dine in Honor of BottomleyJune 5, 2009 - Carrie Nieman Culpepper, Richmond Magazine
As part of its series of events commemorating the 200 anniversary of the practice of William Lawrence Bottomley, the Historic Richmond Foundation will host a demonstration dinner in one of the architect's creations on Monument Avenue next Thursday.
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Preservation Begins with the GrassrootsMay 24, 2009 - Mary Jane Hogue and Amy Swartz, Richmond Times-Dispatch
Welcome to our city: Richmond. Spring is a wonderful time of year to enjoy and appreciate our city, with all of the dogwood and azalea blooming. Richmond is rich in history, not just our own, but the nation's.
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Anthem Stride Through TimeMay 21, 2009 - Jeremy Slayton, Richmond Times-Dispatch
Part of the proceeds will go to The History Fund, which benefits the Valentine Richmond History Center and the Historic Richmond Foundation.
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Loss of Eggleston Hotel Site is LamentedApril 13, 2009 - Jeremy Slayton, Richmond Times-Dispatch
Piles of brick, stone and cinderblock were all that remained of the historic Eggleston Hotel yesterday, a day after the structure partially collapsed and was later demolished. A broken Eggleston Hotel sign laid nearby, and two large heavy equipment excavators sat atop the rubble.
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Bottomley Homes Give Character to RichmondFebruary 27, 2009 - Jeremy Slayton, Richmond Times-Dispatch
The grandeur of Richmond wouldn't be as grand without William Lawrence Bottomley. The New York architect left an indelible legacy in the city's affluent neighborhoods, leaving many to recognize his multi-million-dollar homes simply by saying "that's a Bottomley."
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