40 Westhampton Way
Architect, Ralph Adams Cram
The dorm with the mysterious “Rat Hole”
The University of Richmond’s roots extend back to the mid-nineteenth century and the establishment of Richmond College, an all-male institution. During the early twentieth century, as Richmond College expanded and prepared to relocate to a new campus, college officials began considering the creation of a women’s college. The new campus was located in suburban Richmond and its name, Westhampton, was derived from a nearby real estate development.
In 1914, the women’s college took the same name. Richmond College and Westhampton College combined to become the University of Richmond in 1920. Originally, Westhampton College was housed entirely in the building now known as North Court. The building included dormitory, classroom, administrative, and dining facilities.
Higher education opportunities for women at the University of Richmond extend back to the late nineteenth century. Almost immediately after being appointed Richmond College president in 1895, Frederic W. Boatwright advocated expanding the school to include women students. He had witnessed the level of inequality between men’s and women’s higher education in his time as a professor at the Woman’s College, a junior college in Richmond, and publicly supported quality education for women throughout his career. Boatwright allowed non-matriculating female students to attend classes at Richmond College during the late 1890s and urged the Board of Trustees to allow women to pursue degrees. The Board of Trustees hesitated, as many people found higher education for women to be controversial.
Boatwright, however, was not alone in his opinion of the value of women’s education. In 1903, the Baptist General Association of Virginia adopted a resolution instructing the newly created Baptist Education Commission to begin planning for the establishment of a women’s college. In 1904, the Education Commission conducted a campaign for $250,000 which the Commission would use to establish a college for women and give financial relief to existing Baptist schools. Many schools put in offers, including Rawlings Institute in Charlottesville and Bristol’s campus of Southwest Virginia Institute, but Richmond College’s proposal was the one selected by the Education Commission in 1906.
With the addition of a women’s college, Boatwright saw an opportunity both to expand women’s education and to enhance Richmond College. During planning for the new campus at Westhampton, Boatwright traveled through the Midwest looking for a model college that educated both men and women. In the process, he was exposed to the Gothic Revival architectural style, which would later be adopted for the Westhampton campus.
Gothic Revival style (also referred to as Collegiate Gothic) had its roots in British schools such as Oxford and Cambridge. Of the many colleges Boatwright visited, he favored the suburban campus of Western Reserve University, now Case Western University, in Cleveland, Ohio. He found that the women’s and men’s colleges shared several buildings, such as the library, auditorium, and science laboratories, but each also retained its own buildings and identity as a separate college. In addition to the coeducational campus organization, Boatwright may have been attracted to the Gothic style architecture of the women’s college, which was housed in a large, multi-purpose Gothic building.
Boatwright and the Board of Trustees enlisted prominent architect Ralph Adams Cram of the Boston and New York-based firm Cram, Goodhue, and Ferguson to design the Westhampton campus. After his conversion to Anglo-Catholicism in 1887, Cram asserted that the Gothic style, and its inherent moral truths, had been lost and needed restoring. The Collegiate Gothic style allowed him to correlate the architecture and values of the medieval past to the campus architecture of the twentieth century. Using the Gothic style in his campus designs also allowed Cram to create a unified aesthetic for a collection of buildings that differed in use.
Groundbreaking for the women’s college and Richmond College began in July 1911, and construction of the main building was completed in the summer of 1913. The two schools were separated by Westhampton Lake, which continues to be a prominent landscape feature. The name Westhampton College officially was adopted on March 8, 1914. North Court was constructed in accordance with the architect’s specifications, which included handmade dark red brick with blue, gold, and black tile inlays and the finest quality marble and slate. Substantially constructed with a framework of steel set in concrete, the building boasted floors built of reinforced concrete.
The Tower stood as the dividing line between the residential and academic wings. In the residential wing, the “Blue Room” corridor was the location of reception rooms, rooms for college organizations, and the offices of the Dean of Westhampton College. The dormitory section included the structure around the court, which was turfed with sod removed from the campus. The dining hall and kitchen were in the wing across from the arch. The dining room was English style with vaulted ceilings of dark wood. The balcony which overlooked the dining room was used as a passage for the kitchen workers, who were housed upstairs in what later became known as the “Rat Hole.” The third floors were left unfinished.
Although the intent for a complete campus was demonstrated in Cram’s plans, the building campaign was plagued by lack of funds and resulted in a scaled-down 1914 plan with many buildings reduced in size or eliminated completely. Cram’s seven original buildings at the Westhampton campus nevertheless came to define Collegiate Gothic as a style for the campus architecture as a whole. North Court, completed in the summer of 1913, was the closest approximation of Cram’s monastic cloister ideal. The wings of the building formed a partially enclosed cloister around an English courtyard.
On opening in the fall of 1914, Westhampton College enrolled 82 women: 38 residential and 44 commuting. The building was designed to accommodate 135 students, meaning that enough residential space was available in the college for a number of faculty members to live there as well. The presence of faculty members living in the dormitory helped establish the friendly relationship between students and faculty, an important part of life at Westhampton College. The women’s student body increased steadily, however, and more space soon was needed. The third floor of the building was finished as dormitory rooms, and dormer windows were added.
Women’s sports arrived in 1916 at Westhampton College under the supervision of Dean Mary L. Keller and Fanny G. Crenshaw. Initially, the Tower in North Court was used by students for indoor exercises, although some students claimed they got all the exercise they needed by racing to catch the “old black bus,” a cart drawn by two mules that transported Westhampton College students to the Number 9 streetcar that brought students downtown. No gym was planned for the women. Keller and Crenshaw, after surveying likely spots, decided that the top Tower room would do for calisthenics. When that proved less than satisfactory, the following year they used the barn below the power house.
The United States entered World War I in 1917. The following June, the federal government leased the entire Westhampton campus for use as an evacuation hospital for 13 months. Wounded soldiers who had been transported from France by ship to the naval facility at Norfolk were then sent by train to Richmond. North Court was designated General Hospital #2. Cots lined every room and hallway. Other rooms were used as diet kitchens, store rooms and offices. The parlors and reading rooms were turned into wards. The chapel and old Latin classroom became operating rooms. The dining room and kitchen retained their purposes.
Meanwhile, during the 1918-1919 academic year, Westhampton College’s operations returned to Richmond College’s old campus within the City of Richmond. Students were housed in rented quarters in St. Luke’s Hospital at Harrison and Grace Streets and in residences on Franklin Street and Monumental Avenue. Their classes were held at the campus on Broad and Lombardy streets. Richmond College and Westhampton College returned to the Westhampton campus for the opening of the academic year in the fall of 1919.
In 1920, after an amendment to the charter, the name “University of Richmond” was extended to cover Westhampton College, Richmond College, and the affiliated T.C. Williams School of Law.
The men’s and women’s colleges were not fully integrated, however, for a number of years. For example, the library in Ryland Hall on the men’s campus could be used by first and second year Westhampton College students, but only at certain hours. Thus, a reading room was established in North Court.
At first, the reading room was located in the office of the Dean’s secretary, but by the second year, more space was needed, and it was moved to the third floor of the Tower. Elizabeth Gaines, a 1919 graduate of Westhampton College, was appointed the reading room’s first librarian. Along with academics, Westhampton College students maintained academic, social, and service organizations separately from those at Richmond College.
During the 1930s with the onset of the Great Depression, the student enrollment dropped at Westhampton College. High prices caused students to transition to enrolling as day students. Lowered residential enrollment meant less money for the school to accommodate its students. Funds for student programs and publications also became scarce. The University of Richmond was, however, able to proceed with several construction projects for which funds already were in place, including a third science laboratory building and a gymnasium. Enrollment at Westhampton and Richmond Colleges began to rebound by the late 1930s.
Improved economic circumstances meant enrollment at Westhampton College almost doubled during the war years, and plans for construction of a new women’s dormitory were announced in December 1944. Located south of the original Westhampton College building, this new facility was named South Court upon its completion in 1948.
At that time, the original building assumed its present name, North Court. North Court continued to house many of Westhampton College’s functions, including dormitories, classrooms, offices, a dining hall, and a refectory. Academics at Westhampton College subsequently evolved in keeping with rapidly changing educational trends in the nation at large.
Use of spaces within North Court changed with the times as well. The women’s dining hall remained in use until the early 1980s, when a new central dining hall was constructed that brought together male and female students together for all their daily meals. The former dining hall in North Court continues to be used for special gatherings. Meanwhile, the space that had been the women’s chapel when the building was completed in 1914, and then served as a refectory starting in 1919, was converted into a recital hall, a use that continues today. (VDHR)
A handsome building on a campus filled with them, and a worthy addition to the Richmond historic registry.
On a somewhat related note, Selden Richardson of The Shockoe Examiner wrote a fascinating piece on Dr. Wilmer Amos Hadley in 2017, a surgeon and anesthesiologist at General Hospital #2. It covers one of Richmond’s more sordid tales, the murderous Dr. Hadley’s drowning of his wife Sue, and subsequent trip to the electric chair. Morbid, sad, and well worth reading.
(North Court is part of the Atlas RVA! Project)
Must-See RVA! is a regular series
appearing on rocket werks – check it out!
Cobra Burgers Have Coiled Up In Manchester
I’m now officially looking forward to Friday for a whole new set of reasons.
Hatch Cafe is an event space, pop-up venue and incubator for all things food and beverage. They call 2601 Maury Street their home. Normally they have a small but solid list of options. Follow their Facebook to see the latest Pop-up they’re hosting, most recently you missed out on lobster rolls.
On Fridays from 5 to 9pm and then Saturdays from 12noon to 9pm. they’re the home for Cobra Burger. You might recognize co-founders Adam Musselman, Joshua Franklin, and Melville Johnson IV from the now-shuttered Cardinal State Butcher in Bon Air.
Richmond Magazine has an in-depth scoop on Cobra Burger that provides great insight into what Cobra Burger is all about.
So what, exactly, is a Cobra Burger? Two Harris Farms beef patties, American cheese, Cobra bread-and-butter pickles and pickled red onions, shredded lettuce, and the signature Cobra sauce on a potato bun. Other varieties include a solo patty, or “Junior” size, and “The King,” four towering patties — all served with pickled French fries.
The article also mentions their vegan option and the loose-meat sandwich a mid-west take on the Sloppy Joe.
But c’mon all you really need to know is this image from Cobra Burger’s Instagram.
Ordering is live on the appropriate day via the link: cafe.hatchkitchenrva.com Simply click to ‘schedule for later’ then select which day and time slot, and you’re good to go! There is limited dine-in seating if you don’t want grab and go.
Metro Richmond Flying Squad Looking to Land on Bainbridge Street
The Metro Richmond Flying Squad is a Rehab/Canteen response unit staffed by volunteers who operate at various incidents to offer Rehab/Canteen services to the Metro Richmond emergency responders.
With a motto of “Everyone Goes Home” The Metro Richmond Flying Squad is a Rehab/Canteen response unit staffed by volunteers who operate at various incidents to offer Rehab/Canteen services to the Metro Richmond emergency responders. The Metro Richmond Flying Squad provides a “safety net” for those emergency workers by providing a safe, clean area to rest, rehydrate, re-nourish and be medically evaluated for a period prior to going back into emergency operation mode.
Last night the Richmond City Council unanimously approved the ordinance that authorizes the sale of 2901 Bainbridge Street (Richmond’s former firehouse 17). This property will become the headquarters for the Flying Squad along with other exciting potential uses that honor the steep firefighting history of the City of Richmond.
Learn more about the Squad and their efforts to bring life into a building that needs a good bit of TLC on Facebook. Click through to the photos to get an idea of the quality work they do to support our first responders.
Fall Plant Sale at TreeLab
Go buy yourself a nice Juncus effusus (Soft Rush) or Salix nigra (Black Willow).
It’s the end of the summer and we need to clear out some inventory!
Join TreeLab at the Amelia Street School greenhouse (behind the school on S Meadow St.) on Saturday, October 3rd from 9am – 2pm for native trees, shrubs, and perennials for your fall landscaping. Support TreeLab’s work greening Richmond with your purchase.
We will not be accepting pre-orders or holding plants. First come, first serve. NO CASH! We will be accepting payment via credit card or check only.
Please wear a mask and observe social distancing. The plant sale is located outdoors.
Location and parking:
Amelia Street School is in the Maymont neighborhood
1821 Amelia St, Richmond, VA 23220
The greenhouse is located behind the school, along S Meadow St.
Please park on the street!
You will be able to drive up onto the lawn to load plants into your car, but please do not park there.
The official word on Enrichmond’s TreeLab.
TreeLab is here to beautify, improve, and inform the City of Richmond through ornamental plant production, planting, and education, with a focus on native species.
TreeLab produces high-quality beautification plants and connects citizens to the benefits of Richmond’s natural urban environment through information distribution, access to horticultural expertise, collaborative projects, and workforce development opportunities.