Must-See RVA! — John Marshall House

Must-See RVA! — John Marshall House

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

John Marshall House
402 North Ninth Street
Built, 1788 – 1790
VDHR 127-0073

John Marshall? Yeah, so maybe the anti-Federalist crowd doesn’t dig him. He still ranks as the longest serving Chief Justice to the United States Supreme Court, and did help make the principle of judicial review what it is today, so that’s pretty spiff.

(Library of Virginia) — portrait of John Marshall — Henry Inman, 1831

Both because it was for forty-five years the home of John Marshall and because it is the handsomest and best-preserved eighteenth-century house still standing in Richmond, the Marshall House deserves special study.

[HOR] — facing north west corner of Ninth & Marshall streets

Its actual history, in terms of ownership, is only less brief than that of the Governor’s Mansion, for until it was purchased by the City in 1907 it had never passed out of the hands of Marshall’s descendants. Though the deed for the quarter-square on which the house stands was not signed until July 7, 1789, Marshall had evidently come to an agreement with the owner, Philip Turpin, some time before, as the house was started by October, 1788.

(John Marshall Foundation) — showing John Marshall High School at rear

However, according to a tradition in the Marshall family, Marshall lived in a wooden house, about where the front door of the John Marshall High School now is, while his new house was being built. This was, perhaps, the wooden laundry shown on the first insurance policy (1796). This policy shows that Marshall then owned the whole square, with the house as it now is except for the little wing, and with a wooden office on Marshall Street, a wooden kitchen on Ninth, and the laundry.

(WikiVisually) — Game of quoits circa 1815

Many picturesque memories of Marshall’s life in Richmond may be gathered from different authors. His going to market himself, even after he was Chief Justice, and bringing home a brace of ducks over one arm and a string of chitterlings, generally despised by “the quality,” over the other; his mighty quoit-throwing and good fellowship with the Barbecue Club at Buchanan’s Spring; the welcome he received after his return from France on August 8, 1798.

(William & Mary Library) — portrait of Mary Willis Ambler “Polly” Marshall
(William & Mary Library) — portrait of Mary Willis Ambler “Polly” Marshall

Of his public career it is not necessary to speak here. He did not die in the house (where his “Polly” had died in 1831, after years of invalidism) but passed away while in Philadelphia in 1835, his remains being brought back to Richmond to be interred in Shockoe Cemetery.

(Preservation Virginia) — master bedroom

After his death the house, which then belonged to his daughter Mary, wife of Jaquelin Harvie, was rented for a long time. For a brief nod the Misses Harvie, Marshall’s granddaughters, lived there. Among the tenants before the Civil War were Thomas B. Bigger and Robert Gwathmey. Professor Charles H. Winston lived there during the War; Henry A. Wise in 1866; and for a long time in the ’seventies and ’eighties, Mrs. Mattie Paul Myers.

(John Marshall Foundation) — bedroom

It was during Mrs. Myers’s residence there, in 1877, that her cousin, Miss Rebecca Myers, who had come to call, missed the last step, fell, and broke her neck. “According to the orthodox custom, it being the Sabbath, the body was placed on a stretcher and carried by hand to her late residence on Broad Street just opposite the Monumental Church.”

In 1907 the lot, by then reduced to 64 feet on Marshall and 154 feet on Ninth, was purchased from the Misses Anne and Emily Harvie by the City of Richmond to form, with the rest of the square, the site of the new high school.


Since no brick house of contemporary date has survived in Richmond, the Marshall house is of especial interest to students of architecture. In general appearance the house is unpretentious—small compared with Dr. Brockenbrough’s two mansions, not to mention those of the ’forties or ’fifties—simple in outline and detail when seen from without. Inside, the hand-carved woodwork is of the elaborate kind often used in small houses in the eighteenth century, and gradually reduced, up to 1819, when it disappeared altogether.

(John Marshall Foundation) — parlor

The library and parlor are each panelled all across one end, with a small cupboard beside the chimney. All of the rooms on the main floor have dadoes except the little addition.

(John Marshall Foundation) — dining room

The dining room has no panelling but has a particularly beautiful cornice. The mantels in parlor and dining-room are alike, ornamented with an urn in the centre and genii on either side. Both of these rooms are bright and well proportioned.

[HOR] — stairway

The stairway is particularly charming. Only in one feature is the Marshall house subject to criticism: the arrangement of the rooms is haphazard and does not show them off to best advantage. One enters by a tiny vestibule, whence one may either turn right to the library or left to the parlor. There is no approach to the stairs, parlor, or dining-room that exhibits their beauty to full effect: one has to be well into each room before seeing its best feature.

(John Marshall Foundation) — sitting room

The legend that Marshall expected the house to be turned around differently and that his plans were spoiled while he was in France is disproved by the dates the house was finished by 1791 and he was in France in 1798. It took the genius of Robert Mills to plan a logically arranged house, with most effective use of stairs, entrance, and porches, and the influence of that genius was felt in most of the fine houses erected in Richmond after 1812. [HOR]


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