AKA, Marx-Freeland House
101 South Fifth Street
Architect, Robert Mills (?)
A cautionary tale about playing with gunpowder.
“Hanover House” was built in 1813-14 by Joseph Marx and was so called because the builder’s father had been court physician to the Elector of Hanover. Joseph Marx was born in that German city in 1773. By 1796 he was living in Manchester, his business being that of practically every other merchant in the vicinity of Richmond at that period—importing manufactured goods and taking tobacco or other produce in exchange.
In 1807 he advertised German Oznaburgs, Ticklenburgs, Dowlas and Towelling, which he would sell for cash, tobacco, or approved paper.
Marx had married the sister of another Jew distinguished in the life of early nineteenth-century Richmond—Samuel Myers. Joseph and Richea Myers Marx had nine children, some of whom became the ancestors of many well-known Virginia families. Like other Jewish families of this period in Richmond’s history, the children married Gentiles, and their descendants practically all drifted away from any connection with the Jewish community in Richmond.
Joseph Marx died in 1840 and his house was sold almost immediately. Until 1854 it was owned and occupied by George Taylor. In that year he sold it to John Freeland, who thus joined the ranks of tobacconists who at that time owned most of the fine houses on Fifth Street. The Freelands lived there for nearly two decades, and older people in Richmond still call it the Freeland house. In 1872 John Freeland died, and his house was purchased by William C. Mayo, whose mother had been a daughter of the builder.
During the brief years that the Mayos owned it two of the Mayo children were born in the house their great-grandfather had built. In 1876 Mrs. Mayo’s father, General Henry A. Wise, died at his daughter’s home. He had been Governor of Virginia from 1856 to 1860, and a gallant Confederate soldier.
In 1877 the house was purchased by Major Frederic R. Scott, whose large family added to the liveliness of the neighborhood, both during their tenure of the Marx house and while they were living in the nearby Barney and Allan houses.
Their most spectacular exploit occurred one Christmas morning in the Marx house. It seems that the boys kept an earthenware jug of gunpowder on the mantelpiece. Before their parents were out of bed, the house was shaken by a terrific explosion, and Jim dashed down to his mother’s room, covered with blood! While he was playing in a corner and Fred lying quietly on his bed, Tom had thrown a lighted firecracker, which had unfortunately landed in the jar of gunpowder. The house was not burned down, nor were any of the boys killed, but that Christmas the doctor had a busier time than Santa Claus, sewing up the cuts made by that jug!
Major Scott sold the Marx-Freeland house in 1881, and the purchaser, Wilson C. Thomas, who had just sold the Daniel Call house, lived there for some time. In 1890 it was bought by Major Ginter, who pulled the house down the following year to erect a row of small dwellings on the site.
When first built this must have been one of the handsomest houses in Richmond. It was valued for insurance at $23,000, which was more than the valuation of the Wickham house. The property extended to Sixth Street, the outbuildings (coal-house, bath and smokehouse—an odd combination—laundry and icehouse) running down Cary, and the big carriage-house and stable being at the southwest corner of Sixth and Cary. John Freeland pulled down this latter and put up a tobacco stemmery in 1859—the factory area was creeping up and he had sealed the doom of his house.
From the beginning the Marx house had entrance-porches on the east and west sides and a two-story portico on the south. It is noticeable that both here and at “Moldavia” the portico was on the side rather than in the rear, where it invariably was in later houses. “Hanover House” seems to have been stuccoed from the time it was built. The proportions of the exterior are similar to those of the Wickham house—low and broad compared with its height.
Since few people remember the interior, it is difficult to say whether the tradition among the descendants of Joseph Marx that the house was designed by Robert Mills is well-founded or whether it is only a legend.
The chimneys, however, were placed on the outer walls, where those of the Wickham house were closer together, near the centre of the roof. The triple windows on the first floor recall those of the Wickham house, and all the windows seem to have retained their early mouldings. The cornice, however, is evidently of later date than the house. Like the smaller dwelling next door the Marx house had a belt-course and rectangular panels under the second-story windows, the two crowded rather close together for beauty.
Of course, row houses built by Richmond’s great real-estate developer can’t compete with the soulless splendor of a parking deck, which is what remains today.
(Hanover House is part of the Atlas RVA! Project)
- [HOR] Houses of Old Richmond. Mary Wingfield Scott. 1941.