RVA Legends — Richard Adams House

RVA Legends — Richard Adams House

A look into the history of Richmond places and people that have disappeared from our landscape.

[HOR] — note the house at left

2219 East Grace Street
Built, before 1790
Demolished, 1928-1929

A house Most Vexatious.

The most commanding and excellent situations about Richmond are, the seat of a Mr. Adams, on the summit of the hill which over-looks the town; and Belvidere, an elegant villa belonging to the late Colonel William Bird, of Westover… [HOR]

(LOC) — Beers Illustrated Atlas of the Cities of Richmond & Manchester, 1877 — Plate M

Grace Street between Twenty-second and Twenty-third Streets, says Mary Wingfield Scott, and she gives a picture taken by Heustis P. Cook. But something somewhere doesn’t add up.

In 1817-18 Samuel G. Adams, father of Richard III, was living in the house. On June 21, 1825 Richard Adams sold to Loftin N. Ellett Lots 79 and 80 on Richmond Hill, for the small sum of $3,040, pitiable when compared with the valuation set on them by the second Richard but explicable by the depression of 1819 and its disastrous effect on the Adams fortune.

Loftin N. Ellett, clerk of Henrico Court, lived in the Adams house until his death in 1862. Four years later his executor sold the two lots on the hill, numbers 79 and 80, together with parts of the adjoining lots 65 and 66 to Bishop John McGill, Roman Catholic Bishop of Richmond, for $15,000. [HOR]

[TACR] — Bishop Denis O’Connell

In 1877 Bishop James Gibbons (afterwards Cardinal Gibbons) conveyed the church property to the Nuns of the Academy of the Visitation of Monte Maria, who had opened a school there in 1866. This school was discontinued in 1927. Bishop Denis O’Connell, the then Bishop of Richmond, had told Mrs. E. Randolph Williams, a descendant of Richard Adams, that the little house would be preserved as long as he lived. He died about the time the school was discontinued. The house was pulled down in 1928 or 1929, and a dormitory for the nuns was erected on its site. [HOR]

(VCU) — 1889 Baist Atlas Map of Richmond — Plate 3

So what’s the problem? Just take a close look at the picture of the house at top, then at each of the maps.

The Adams House stood on the lots where Monte Maria was constructed, but if you look at the maps, there’s only one place that the house could have stood, right at the south-east corner of Twenty-third and Grace Streets.

(LOC) — Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Richmond (1905) — Plate 42

But that’s crazy because the Cook photo clearly shows another house to the left of the Adams House. So if the maps are accurate, and the photo is accurate, that leaves us only three choices:

  • The mystery house is standing in the middle of Twenty-third Street (no!)
  • The photo shows the rear of the Adams House (maybe)

The loss of this house was a particularly sad one, for it had not only been the home of one of the leading men of the city’s early years, but was unique architecturally in Richmond. An insurance drawing of 1803 shows four chimneys: whether these ever existed or whether the imagination of the artist supplied the other two, we do not know. It was otherwise unchanged. [HOR]

November 2018 — looking toward Lots 79-80

Still, even if this is rational, it doesn’t explain why all three maps omit the presence of a second structure. Assuming option two is correct, did Monte Maria permit the construction of another frame house on Lot 80 in the years between 1905 and 1928?

We may never know.

(Richard Adams House is part of the Atlas RVA Project)


  • [TACR] The American College in Rome. Robert McNamara.1956.


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