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Must-See RVA! — Virginia Union University

A look into the history of Richmond places that are still part of our landscape.

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1500 North Lombardy Street
Built, 1899
Architect, John H. Coxhead
VDHR 127-0354

VCU and UR might get more attention, but Virginia Union has itself a fine looking-campus.

(Rocket Werks RVA Postcards) – Aerial View, Virginia Union University – circa 1930-1945

The original complex of Virginia Union University is an outstanding example of a late-Victorian collegiate grouping. The solid, Romanesque Revival structures, dramatically clustered along a shallow rise, follow the fashion of campus planning established after the Civil War by architects of the land grant colleges. The dormitories, classroom buildings, chapel, president’s house, and power plant, each with its own picturesque massing and lively silhouette, were all designed by the Washington architect John H. Coxhead.

March 2016 – Pickford Hall

The university was established in 1896 through the merger of Richmond Theological Seminary and Wayland Seminary of Washington, D. C., and funds for the new physical plant were provided by Northern philanthropists. This union of two Baptist institutions represented the culmination of efforts by individuals and organizations to provide higher education for freed blacks after the Civil War. Further mergers have transformed the school into an important urban university which has consistently graduated outstanding alumni, many of whom hold positions of leadership in the city, state, and nation. The original complex thus stands as a fitting tribute to perseverance and excellence in the field of black higher education.

March 2016 – Coeburn Hall

Following the termination of hostilities in 1865, there began the difficult task of providing facilities and teachers for educating newly freed slaves. Because of an antebellum state law that forbade the education of slaves, the vast majority of newly freed blacks were almost totally illiterate. Often it was only the black ministers who knew the rudiments of reading and writing. The initial responsibility for providing some education to blacks fell to these ministers who, with support from philanthropic Northerners, launched teaching efforts, initially on a small scale.

March 2016 – Power Plant

Complementing these efforts were those of the Baptist Home Mission Society, active in both Richmond and Washington. The society founded the schools which later became the Richmond Theological Seminary and the Wayland Seminary in Washington, D. C. Dr. Nathaniel Colver, a Boston abolitionist, headed the educational effort in Richmond and was assisted by a local Baptist minister, Dr. Robert Ryland.

March 2016 – Kingsley Hall

The search for a school building proved to be a difficult one, but Dr. Colver finally purchased a group of structures known as Lumpkin’s Jail from the wife of Robert Lumpkin. This complex of brick buildings, located in Shockoe Valley, had previously served as a slave pen with accompanying buildings to house slave traders. At the same time, the Baptist Home Mission Society was establishing a seminary in Washington in a Baptist church on 19th Street that became Wayland Seminary. Although the bulk of the financing for these seminaries came from the Mission Society, the schools remained non-sectarian, a status which continues today.

March 2016 – Martin E. Gray Hall

The school’s oldest buildings include an academic and residential.complex consisting of Coburn, Huntley, Martin E. Gray, Kingsley, Pickford buildings, the Old President’s Residence and the industrial building and power plant. All seven structures were built between 1899 and 1901 and are constructed of rough-faced gray granite ashlar. The stonework is of exceptional quality and is in excellent condition. The general architectural style employed for the buildings is a simplified version of Richardsonian Romanesque Revival.

March 2016

While VUU may not get the same props as its larger university counterparts, it speaks with a louder voice than you might think.

  • Douglas Wilder (Governor of Virginia, Class of 1951)
  • Henry L. Marsh (Virginia Senate, Class of 1956)
  • Delores McQuinn (Virginia House of Delegates, Class of 1976)
  • Dwight Clinton Jones (Mayor of Richmond, Class of 1967)
  • Mamye BaCote (Virginia House of Delegates, Class of 1961)

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Combining protean forces from the forbidden Zero Serum with the unbridled power of atomic fusion, to better probe the Wisdom of the Ancients and their Forgotten Culture.

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Op-ed proposes the removal of “forgotten” A.P. Hill monument at Laburnum and Hermitage

“With so many battles raging, it is curious that one Confederate general and the monument dedicated to him remain relatively forgotten on the sideline, standing at an intersection not far from Monument Avenue and its pantheon of controversial figures,” the op-ed says.

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From Style Weekly:

Linwood Holton Elementary School, at Hermitage Road and Laburnum Avenue, is named for one of our own 20th century civil rights heroes, who as governor of Virginia championed racial equality. The children who attend the school learn that they are a big part of Linwood Holton’s legacy.

Those same children who attend the school might very well wonder, though, “Who is that man whose statue is standing out there in the middle of the intersection?”

That would be A.P. Hill: the forgotten Confederate general and his monument.

Battles are being fought over Confederate monuments, here in Richmond on Monument Avenue of course, and at so many other sites around the country. Calls for memory and heritage clash with cries for truth and reconciliation. Words take on their own meaning and people take sides, with the monuments in the middle.

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Downtown

RVA Legends — Manly B. Ramos & Co.

A look into the history of Richmond places that are no longer part of our landscape.

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[IOR] — advertisement for Manly. B. Ramos & Co., 1886

903 East Main Street

Purveyor of instruments and music publisher.

(Library of Congress) — Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Richmond (1895) — Plate 24

(Library of Congress) — Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Richmond (1895) — Plate 24

A firm controlled by musicians, who, having taught music, appreciate the wants of Music Teachers and the public. Three of their salesmen being organists of ability, they make selections of music to advantage and satistion. If a person’s trade amounts to only $1.00 a year, they are just as anxious to serve him as if he bought $500 worth.

(Find A Grave) — Manly Burrows Ramos

(Find A Grave) — Manly Burrows Ramos

They are Virginians. Twelve years’ experience in the musical business, and a desire to satisfy in every particular, is the foundation of their success. They are located in warerooms double the size of any similar establishment in the South, holding, besides their sheet music and small instruments, the agencies for the renowned Knabe, Emerson and Behring Pianos, and also the Packard, and Dyer, and Hughes Organs.

(Duke University Libraries) — front sheet, Staunton Grand March by Charles J. MacHenry — published by Manly B. Ramos & Co., 1891

(Duke University Libraries) — front sheet, Staunton Grand March by Charles J. MacHenry — published by Manly B. Ramos & Co., 1891

The business methods of this widely known house, are conducted on such a high plane that every customer becomes a friend. It would be well to get their catalogue, which is sent free of charge. [IOR]

(Duke University Libraries) — front sheet, Staunton Grand March by Charles J. MacHenry — published by Manly B. Ramos & Co.

(Duke University Libraries) — back sheet, Staunton Grand March by Charles J. MacHenry — published by Manly B. Ramos & Co., 1891

It is a true buzzkill that Rocket Werks was unable to find a recording of the Staunton Grand March, so we can only imagine what dulcet tones of martial splendor we’re missing out on. Although if any brave soul in the audience knows how to play the piano and wants to take a crack at it, Duke University Libraries has the complete sheet music just waiting for you. It would make you like a history musicologist or something.

February 2020 — looking towards the former 903 East Main Street

February 2020 — looking towards the former 903 East Main Street

Construction of the Mutual Building, first of Richmond’s early high-rises, in 1924, posed problems for Manly B. Ramos & Co.’s 903 East Main location. That building was razed and Ramos had to skedaddle, moving just up the street to 721.

(Manly B. Ramos is part of the Atlas RVA! Project)


Print Sources

  • [IOR] Industries of Richmond. James P. Wood. 1886.

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Downtown

Must-See RVA! — Norman Stewart House

A look into the history of Richmond places that are still part of our landscape.

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February 2020

AKA, Stewart-Lee House
707 East Franklin Street
Built 1844
VDHR 127-0064

The General’s pad. You know… him.

[Library of Virginia] — [MCR] — showing position of the Norman Stewart House at the edge of the Burnt District

[Library of Virginia] — [MCR] — showing position of the Norman Stewart House at the edge of the Burnt District

In early time the whole square bounded by Seventh, Eighth, Franklin, and Main Streets was occupied by the home of Archibald Blair, Secretary of the Council of State. The garden was adorned with trees and shrubbery and a pond, fed by a spring. After Blair’s death the property was divided into lots, most of those on Franklin Street being sold to Norman Stewart who erected five brick houses there, known as Stewart’s Row.

February 2020

February 2020

Norman Stewart, first of that family to emigrate from Rothesay in Scotland to Virginia, had come out before 1806 and engaged in the business of buying and selling leaf tobacco. His nephews John and Daniel Stewart later joined him in Richmond. Norman Stewart remained a bachelor and lived in this house after building it in 1844, renting the others in the row.

[IEAHS] — Brook Hill

[IEAHS] — Brook Hill, Northside

His great-nephew gives an amusing picture of the younger members of the family stopping after service at St. Paul’s, before the long drive to “Brook Hill,” to have a glass of sherry and some stale sponge-cake with their uncle; of the latter’s vanity in concealing his red hair under a brown wig; and of his true Scotch thrift in having his servant unravel his old stockings to darn his new ones!

(Find A Grave) — The General’s son, General George Washington Custis Lee

(Find A Grave) — The General’s son, General George Washington Custis Lee

At his death in 1856 Norman Stewart left this house to his nephew John. During the Civil War Mr. Stewart rented it to General Custis Lee and some brother-officers, and in 1864-65 Lee’s mother and sisters occupied it, so that it was General Robert E. Lee’s home during his brief stays in Richmond. Mrs. Chesnut describes the life there at this time:

(Find A Grave) — a very young Mary Custis Lee

(Find A Grave) — a very young Mary Custis Lee

Then we paid our respects to Mrs. Lee. Her room is like an industrial school: everybody so busy. Her daughters were all there plying their needles, with several other ladies. When we came out someone said, “Did you see how the Lees spend their time? What a rebuke to the taffy parties.”

(Awesome Stories) — General Robert E. Lee aboard Traveller

(Awesome Stories) — General Robert E. Lee aboard Traveller

After the Surrender, Lee rode to Richmond on Traveller. His son Robert writes:

On April 15th he arrived in Richmond. The people there soon recognized him; men, women and children crowded around him cheering and waving hats and handkerchiefs. It was more like the welcome to a conqueror than to a despised prisoner on parole. He raised his hat in response to their greetings and rode quietly to his home on Franklin Street, where my mother and sisters were anxiously awaiting him.

(Digital Commonwealth) — postcard of The General’s final resting place in the Chapel of Washington & Lee University

(Digital Commonwealth) — postcard of The General’s final resting place in the Chapel of Washington & Lee University

But General Lee found life in Richmond with the constant stream of callers too exhausting and in the latter part of June, 1865 moved his family to the country. Thence they moved to Lexington, after his call to be president of Washington College. His actual residence in the Stewart house was thus slightly over two months. When he tried to pay Mr. John Stewart rent, the latter wrote him that “the payment must be in Confederate currency, for which alone it was rented to your son.”

February 2020

February 2020

Later, the house was rented to judge Anthony M. Keiley, who lived there while he was Mayor of Richmond, 1871-76. Judge Keiley figured in an international incident, the Italian government indicating that he was persona non grata, when he was named ambassador, because he had taken a prominent part in a meeting of Richmond Roman Catholics who had protested the Pope’s being deprived of his temporal power.

In 1879 the Westmoreland Club, which had been founded two years earlier, occupied the Stewart house. During the ’eighties it was the home of William O. English and Robert N. Gordon. Mr. English had married Miss Jessie Gordon, head of one of the many well-known schools for girls.

February 2020 — showing rear portico

February 2020 — showing rear portico

The school had been in existence since 1855 and during the ’eighties occupied this house. The Stewart family continued, evidently, to feel as John Stewart had when he wrote General Lee, refusing to accept rent: You do not know how much gratification it is, and will afford me and my whole family during the remainder of our lives, to reflect that we have been brought into contact, and to know and to appreciate you and all that are dear to you.

[HOR] — showing the original location of the Virginia Historical Society

[HOR] — showing the original location of the Virginia Historical Society

In 1893 Mrs. Stewart and her daughters gave the house, forever associated with General Lee’s brief stay in Richmond, to the Virginia Historical Society, to be the headquarters of that organization. Although the interest of the house is largely its connection with the Lees and with the Stewart family, which has meant much to Richmond, it is worth study architecturally as a good example of a Greek Revival house of the three-story, “shoe-box” type.

(VDHR) — 1972 nomination photo

(VDHR) — 1972 nomination photo

Among dozens of houses of this plan, many of them still standing, this is the only one in excellent condition or likely to he preserved. That it is good of its sort is evident from a comparison with the Maury house, for example. One can easily see that the Stewart-Lee house is far better proportioned and much more pleasing in detail.

February 2020 — showing detail of pineapple fence posts

February 2020 — showing detail of pineapple fence posts

The handsome iron fence with pineapple posts is identical, except for the gate, with that of the Barret house, built in the same year. Unfortunately the appearance of the house is greatly injured at present by a large gasoline advertisement which masks the doorway when it is approached from the east. [HOR]

Renovated in 2001 by the Home Builders Association of Virginia, it served as their offices for a while, but they have since relocated to 1051 East Cary, and the building is available for lease.

February 2020

February 2020

General Lee cribbed here and there’s no escaping it. On the one hand, that’s great. This sole remaining structure of the original Stewart’s Row survives because he lived here, and you would have few other references to indicate that this portion of Franklin Street was once a residential neighborhood. And… yeh, he was extraordinarily skillful and a key figure in one of the defining moments of the nation’s history.

But it was him and the Confederacy and Jim Crow and all the other muck that comes with the stain of the Confederate cause. Preserve it? Absolutely. Forget? Not a chance.

(Norman Stewart House is part of the Atlas RVA! Project)


Print Sources

  • [HOR] Houses of Old Richmond. Mary Wingfield Scott. 1941.
  • [IEAHS] Inventory of Early Architecture and Historic Sites. Jeffrey Marshall O’Dell. 1976.
  • [MCR] Map of the City of Richmond, Virginia, 1861-65. Richmond Civil War Centennial Committee. 1961.

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