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Must-See RVA! — Bolling Haxall House

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

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October 2019

7AKA, The Woman’s Club
211 East Franklin Street
Built 1858
VDHR 127-0033

Mary Wingfield Scott brings it!

(VDHR) — 1971 nomination photo

(VDHR) — 1971 nomination photo

The Haxall house is a three-story, Italian Villa style structure of sandstone colored stucco, scored to imitate ashlar. There is a projection for the full height of the building in the center of the entrance facade.

October 2019 — showing raised portico

October 2019 — showing raised portico

On the first floor level is a raised portico with arched openings, supported by four fluted columns with capitals composed of a simple necking, an egg-and-dart patterned echinus, and a flat abacus. The portico has a panelled entablature with a dentiled cornice. Two large pilasters flank a recess which leads to the front door. The recess is framed by an elliptical arch, sidelights, and pilasters. The front door frame repeats this design in walnut. The door itself is a double one with cutglass and walnut panels.

October 2019 — showing basement windows, semi-circular balcony, & eyebrow windows

October 2019 — showing basement windows, semi-circular balcony, & eyebrow windows

The fenestration of the entrance facade is symmetrical. The basement windows are half-sized with elliptical arches and are devoid of ornament. The windows on the first floor arc double-arched units with cast iron hood mouldings, decorated with coats-of-arms in the centers and pendantls at each end. There are semi-circular balconies with iron railings at,.the bases of the windows. The second floor windows are single-arched with the same hood mouldings, but without the coats-of-arms. They have simple trim and stone sills. The two windows in the projection correspond to the height and treatment of the first and second floors respectively.

October 2019 — showing dentiled cornice

October 2019 — showing dentiled cornice

The house is crowned by an elaborate, double-bracketed, dentiled cornice. The fenestration is continued into the cornice by “eyebrow” windows framed by single brackets. At the top of the central projection, the cornice arches to form a semi-circular pediment. The right wall of the house is blank except for two narrow, semicircular arched windows on the first and second floor levels which are flush with a wing which projects at this point from the house. The windows in both the main body of the house and the .wing are semi-circular arched with hood mouldings, simple trim, and· stone sills. The cornice continues around the main part of the house, but not into the wing. The end wall of the wing is stuccoed “ashlar” and is blank.

October 2019

October 2019

The left facade is fenestrated in the same manner as the front of the house with a half basement window, single-arched windows on the first and second floors, and an “eyebrow” window in the cornice. The windows are spaced in the center of the facade so as to form pairs. On the first floor level, there is one long semi-circular balcony for both windows. All the windows have simple hood mouldings and stone sills. The cornice continues. The auditorium entrance joins ‘the house at the end of this side.

October 2019 — showing evil hexagonal bricks & horse hitching posts

October 2019 — showing evil hexagonal bricks & horse hitching posts

The sidewalk in front of the Bolling Haxall house was originally paved in hexagonal bricks. These unusual paving blocks were regarded as evil by some members of the Richmond populace, and nurses would lead their charges into the gutter rather than have them traverse the bricks of ill omen.

Today, there are two cast-iron, horse-head hitching posts in front of the house. These once stood on Capitol Street where they were used for the horses of the state legislators. There is a fine cast-iron fence set in granite around the front of the house. This iron-work is believed to have been cast by George Lownes, who did a similar, signed fence in Hollywood Cemetery.

The first floor of the interior of the Haxall house consists of a long entrance hall running the length of the house from the front door to the back porch. To the right of the entrance is an octagonal-shaped library, and to the left is a double parlour, separated by sliding doors. Beyond the library on the right-hand side is the semi-circular stair hall with sculptural niches and the walnut stairway added during Dr. Willis’ residence. At the top of the stairwell is a stained-glass dome. At the rear of the house is a second hall with a fireplace, as well as three, large double doors which originally opened onto the porch and now lead to the auditorium.

The plan of the second floor is similar to that of the first, except that the partition has been removed between the double parlour in order to form a larger room for parties and meetings.

In addition to the double-spiral, walnut staircase and the dome preserved from Dr. Willis’ day, the panelled walnut wainscoting which he added to the walls of the entrance and stair halls also remains. The doors and door frames that face into the entrance area are panelled and carved in walnut.

October 2019

October 2019

The octagonal library on the first floor has been restored to its nineteenth century appearance. The original, carved, pink marble mantel is complemented by a patterned ceiling painted in subtle browns, beiges, pinks, and greens. The walls are painted in shades of brown, beige, and white to imitate panelling. There are walnut, glass-front bookcases in four of the corners of the room.

The double parlours have elaborately carved, white marble mantels. The doors and windows have white trim with small colonettes at the sides leading up to a cartouche in the center of an elliptical arch. This same design is used with slight variation for all of the door and window frames on the first floor.

There is a cove moulding around the top of all the first floor ceilings and plaster work around the bases of the crystal chandeliers. The second floor is much simpler in its decorative treatment. The three fireplaces are all of white marble in a simple design. The frames of the doors and windows are squared-off, not arched as on the first floor, and have only a plain moulding.

October 2019

October 2019

When repairs and redecorating of the club were undertaken in 1961 and 1962, the walls of the octagonal-shaped library were discovered to have been painted to simulate paneling in the nineteenth century. The ceiling also yielded evidence of painting in an elaborate design. The walls were repapered at first, but in 1965-1966, Miss Mary Wingfield Scott made it possible for the library to be returned to its original decor.

October 2019

October 2019

In 1965-1966, the House Committee of the club supervised major structural and redecorating repairs to the house. The cupola was strengthened and repainted, deteriorated cornice mouldings and dentils were replaced, and the exterior of the building was restored to its original sandstone color (obtained from iron filings) with the stucco finish scored to imitate ashlar. Curved iron details over the windows were discovered, and the cast iron balconies around the windows were made visible by the removal of box bushes.

(Pinterest) — Old Dominion Nail Works, February 1948

(Pinterest) — Old Dominion Nail Works, February 1948

Bolling W. Haxall was the fifth son of a prosperous mill owner, Philip Haxall. The former Haxall began his career as a clerk in the Haxal Mills and became a partner in 1842. He had a wide range of business talents ‘for he was also the president of the Old Dominion Iron and Nail Works and had an interest in the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad. His obituary in the Dispatch of June, 1885, referred to him as “a most energetic successful man of business, whose advice was often sought and highly valued. His house is a testimony to his material success and to the taste of the time.

(Richmond Weddings) — showing walnut stairway

(Richmond Weddings) — showing walnut stairway

Haxall sold his house to Dr. Francis T. Willis in 1869 and I moved to the block west, across from Linden Row. Dr. Willis made several changes in the house. He added a beautiful walnut stairway and frescoed walls with hardwood wainscoting on the main floor. His eye for beauty led to tragedy, however, for his daughter, Emily, a sleepwalker, was killed in a fall down the curving staircase. In despair, Dr. Willis sold the house in i900 to the Woman’s Club, which had: been formed by Mrs. L. L. Lewis in 1894 for the literary culture of its members; for their intellectual, social, and moral development, and to strengthen their individual efforts for humanity.

To pay off their mortgage, the ladies of the club rented the second and third floors of the house and the outbuildings as apartments In 1916, the burgeoning enrollment of the club required the addition of an auditorium to the back of the house. This partially destroyed. the rear porches on two floors.

(Richmond Weddings) — auditorium

(Richmond Weddings) — auditorium

The auditorium was enlarged in 1924. 1928 saw some major changes on the interior of the Bolling Haxall house. A partition was removed from.between the double parlour on the second floor in order to make a large assembly room- The third floor was converted into studios with a separate entry and stairway, and a balcony was added to the auditorium. (VDHR)

October 2019 — trees giving us the finger

October 2019 — trees giving us the finger

Yet as wonderful as the Women’s Club truly is, it has clearly been targeted by the Insidious Tree-Architecture Conspiracy, that dread cabal that has conifers everywhere laughing at the human species. What can you do but shake your fist in silent rage?

(Bolling Haxall House is part of the Atlas RVA! Project)


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