RVA Legends — The Grasbergers

RVA Legends — The Grasbergers

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

[RVCJ93] — showing B. A. Grasberger shop on West Broad Street
[RVCJ93] — showing B. A. Grasberger shop on West Broad Street

B. A. Grasberger

  • 1011-1013 West Broad Street
  • Built, after 1889

J. A. Grasberger Carriage Works

  • AKA, Grasberger Vehicle Company
  • 16-18 North Twentieth Street
  • Built, before 1877
  • Demolished, unknown
  • AKA, General Hospital #14 (Second Georgia), Castle Thunder Hospital
  • 20-24 North Twentieth Street
  • Built, 1849

A tale of two carriage makers.

(VCU) — 1889 Baist Atlas Map of Richmond — Plate 10 — showing the theoretical location of B. A. Grasberger’s shop
(VCU) — 1889 Baist Atlas Map of Richmond — Plate 10 — showing the theoretical location of B. A. Grasberger’s shop

B. A. Grasberger, carriage and wagon manufacturer, of 1011 and 1013 West Broad Street, has been established about two years. He pays special attention to the making of light work to order, like buggies, carriages and delivery wagons, and he has a first-rate trade and is prospering.

May 2019 — looking towards 1011-1013 West Broad Street from Hancock Street
May 2019 — looking towards 1011-1013 West Broad Street from Hancock Street

Mr. Grasberger is a Pennsylvanian by birth, but has lived here nearly all his life. He learned his trade here, and was considered one of the most expert mechanics in it in this city before he started on his own account. He makes superior work a specialty. His factory is equipped with all the necessary appliances for the expeditious turning out of his productions. [RVCJ93]

(Library of Congress) — Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Richmond (1905) — Plate 60
(Library of Congress) — Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Richmond (1905) — Plate 60

Grasberger’s location at 1011-1013 West Broad Street, while technically within the city limits at the time, was like having a shop at the edge of the known universe. It wasn’t a location that sported regular business traffic, and the 1889 Baist map shows nothing at the location. The 1905 Sanborn map calls both of these addresses as sheds, so the operation must have been small.

This might explain the new business established by his older brother.

[RVCJ03] — 16-18 North Twentieth Street
[RVCJ03] — 16-18 North Twentieth Street
Curiously enough, at the time of the 1893 edition of Richmond, Virginia: The City on the James Boniface A. Grasberger’s brother, Julius A. Grasberger was working for a competitor, James McDonough & Co., a carriage manufacturer, whose shop stood at 5-17 North Eighteenth Street. However, by the time of the 1903 edition, there is no mention of B. A Grasberger, and instead, J. A. Grasberger Carriage Works down in Shockoe Bottom took his place. [RVCJ93]

May 2019 — looking toward 16-18 North Twentieth Street
May 2019 — looking toward 16-18 North Twentieth Street

What happened to Boniface? Did he join his brother and together form a new business, and it just didn’t have his name? There is nothing that states so, but he would have only been 38 in 1903, and he lived until 1945. Unless he suffered something catastrophic that made him stop working, it makes sense that he would continue to be a carriage maker, just like the days of old. Going into business with his brother doesn’t seem like a stretch, but we don’t know.

 

(VCU) — 1889 Baist Atlas Map of Richmond — Plate 3 — showing both of 16-18 North Twentieth Street shop
(VCU) — 1889 Baist Atlas Map of Richmond — Plate 3 — showing both of 16-18 North Twentieth Street shop

Julius set up shop in a pair of two-story industrial buildings that at the least, pre-date the 1877 Beers maps, and which may have been at least as old as the building that directly faced it from across the alley.

(Newspapers.com) — advertisement in Richmond Times-Dispatch — Sunday, February, 14 1909
(Newspapers.com) — advertisement in Richmond Times-Dispatch — Sunday, February, 14 1909

However, unlike Samuel Cottrell, Julius A. Grasberger could see the future. By the early twentieth century seems to have gravitated away from carriage and wagon business, and made the transition to selling automobiles.

(Library of Congress) — Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Richmond (1905) — Plate 45 — showing both 16-18 North Twentieth (bottom) and 20-24 North Twentieth (top)
(Library of Congress) — Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Richmond (1905) — Plate 45 — showing both 16-18 North Twentieth (bottom) and 20-24 North Twentieth (top)

His place of business was across Rose Alley in what at one time was General Hospital #14, Castle Thunder Hospital. Not to be confused with Castle Thunder military prison, which was close by, but a four-story brick tobacco factory that was built in 1845.

May 2019 — looking toward 20-24 North Twentieth Street
May 2019 — looking toward 20-24 North Twentieth Street

It was managed under the auspices of the Georgia Hospital Association and became the second of four hospitals established for sick and wounded Georgians (the first was General Hosptial #16, the third was #19, and the fourth was #17). It was older and smaller than similar buildings but the capacity was still listed as 150. There were three wards and each bed was numbered in paint on the footboard. A “very insufficient privy” was located in the small yard behind the building.

It remained a Confederate hospital from October 1861 to March 1863. [RWH]

(Newspapers.com) — advertisement in Richmond Times-Dispatch — Sunday, September 1, 1912
(Newspapers.com) — advertisement in Richmond Times-Dispatch — Sunday, September 1, 1912

Eventually, Julius expanded his business all the way to Franklin Street, which if he still used the other two properties, gave him command of most of the west side of Twentieth Street. No clues when the original factory buildings were pulled down, but a likely candidate would be when that portion of Twentieth from Rose Alley to Main Street was converted to a parking lot for the Poe Museum.

(B. A. Grasberger & J. A. Grasberger Carriage Works are part of the Atlas RVA! Project)


Print Sources

  • [RVCJ03] Richmond, Virginia: The City on the James: The Book of Its Chamber of Commerce and Principal Business Interests. G. W. Engelhardt. 1903.
  • [RVCJ93] Richmond, Virginia: The City on the James: The Book of Its Chamber of Commerce and Principal Business Interests. G. W. Engelhardt. 1893.
  • [RWH] Richmond’s Wartime Hospitals. Rebecca Barbour Calcutt. 2005.

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