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Must-See RVA! — Norman Stewart House

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

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February 2020

AKA, Stewart-Lee House
707 East Franklin Street
Built 1844
VDHR 127-0064

The General’s pad. You know… him.

[Library of Virginia] — [MCR] — showing position of the Norman Stewart House at the edge of the Burnt District

[Library of Virginia] — [MCR] — showing position of the Norman Stewart House at the edge of the Burnt District

In early time the whole square bounded by Seventh, Eighth, Franklin, and Main Streets was occupied by the home of Archibald Blair, Secretary of the Council of State. The garden was adorned with trees and shrubbery and a pond, fed by a spring. After Blair’s death the property was divided into lots, most of those on Franklin Street being sold to Norman Stewart who erected five brick houses there, known as Stewart’s Row.

February 2020

February 2020

Norman Stewart, first of that family to emigrate from Rothesay in Scotland to Virginia, had come out before 1806 and engaged in the business of buying and selling leaf tobacco. His nephews John and Daniel Stewart later joined him in Richmond. Norman Stewart remained a bachelor and lived in this house after building it in 1844, renting the others in the row.

[IEAHS] — Brook Hill

[IEAHS] — Brook Hill, Northside

His great-nephew gives an amusing picture of the younger members of the family stopping after service at St. Paul’s, before the long drive to “Brook Hill,” to have a glass of sherry and some stale sponge-cake with their uncle; of the latter’s vanity in concealing his red hair under a brown wig; and of his true Scotch thrift in having his servant unravel his old stockings to darn his new ones!

(Find A Grave) — The General’s son, General George Washington Custis Lee

(Find A Grave) — The General’s son, General George Washington Custis Lee

At his death in 1856 Norman Stewart left this house to his nephew John. During the Civil War Mr. Stewart rented it to General Custis Lee and some brother-officers, and in 1864-65 Lee’s mother and sisters occupied it, so that it was General Robert E. Lee’s home during his brief stays in Richmond. Mrs. Chesnut describes the life there at this time:

(Find A Grave) — a very young Mary Custis Lee

(Find A Grave) — a very young Mary Custis Lee

Then we paid our respects to Mrs. Lee. Her room is like an industrial school: everybody so busy. Her daughters were all there plying their needles, with several other ladies. When we came out someone said, “Did you see how the Lees spend their time? What a rebuke to the taffy parties.”

(Awesome Stories) — General Robert E. Lee aboard Traveller

(Awesome Stories) — General Robert E. Lee aboard Traveller

After the Surrender, Lee rode to Richmond on Traveller. His son Robert writes:

On April 15th he arrived in Richmond. The people there soon recognized him; men, women and children crowded around him cheering and waving hats and handkerchiefs. It was more like the welcome to a conqueror than to a despised prisoner on parole. He raised his hat in response to their greetings and rode quietly to his home on Franklin Street, where my mother and sisters were anxiously awaiting him.

(Digital Commonwealth) — postcard of The General’s final resting place in the Chapel of Washington & Lee University

(Digital Commonwealth) — postcard of The General’s final resting place in the Chapel of Washington & Lee University

But General Lee found life in Richmond with the constant stream of callers too exhausting and in the latter part of June, 1865 moved his family to the country. Thence they moved to Lexington, after his call to be president of Washington College. His actual residence in the Stewart house was thus slightly over two months. When he tried to pay Mr. John Stewart rent, the latter wrote him that “the payment must be in Confederate currency, for which alone it was rented to your son.”

February 2020

February 2020

Later, the house was rented to judge Anthony M. Keiley, who lived there while he was Mayor of Richmond, 1871-76. Judge Keiley figured in an international incident, the Italian government indicating that he was persona non grata, when he was named ambassador, because he had taken a prominent part in a meeting of Richmond Roman Catholics who had protested the Pope’s being deprived of his temporal power.

In 1879 the Westmoreland Club, which had been founded two years earlier, occupied the Stewart house. During the ’eighties it was the home of William O. English and Robert N. Gordon. Mr. English had married Miss Jessie Gordon, head of one of the many well-known schools for girls.

February 2020 — showing rear portico

February 2020 — showing rear portico

The school had been in existence since 1855 and during the ’eighties occupied this house. The Stewart family continued, evidently, to feel as John Stewart had when he wrote General Lee, refusing to accept rent: You do not know how much gratification it is, and will afford me and my whole family during the remainder of our lives, to reflect that we have been brought into contact, and to know and to appreciate you and all that are dear to you.

[HOR] — showing the original location of the Virginia Historical Society

[HOR] — showing the original location of the Virginia Historical Society

In 1893 Mrs. Stewart and her daughters gave the house, forever associated with General Lee’s brief stay in Richmond, to the Virginia Historical Society, to be the headquarters of that organization. Although the interest of the house is largely its connection with the Lees and with the Stewart family, which has meant much to Richmond, it is worth study architecturally as a good example of a Greek Revival house of the three-story, “shoe-box” type.

(VDHR) — 1972 nomination photo

(VDHR) — 1972 nomination photo

Among dozens of houses of this plan, many of them still standing, this is the only one in excellent condition or likely to he preserved. That it is good of its sort is evident from a comparison with the Maury house, for example. One can easily see that the Stewart-Lee house is far better proportioned and much more pleasing in detail.

February 2020 — showing detail of pineapple fence posts

February 2020 — showing detail of pineapple fence posts

The handsome iron fence with pineapple posts is identical, except for the gate, with that of the Barret house, built in the same year. Unfortunately the appearance of the house is greatly injured at present by a large gasoline advertisement which masks the doorway when it is approached from the east. [HOR]

Renovated in 2001 by the Home Builders Association of Virginia, it served as their offices for a while, but they have since relocated to 1051 East Cary, and the building is available for lease.

February 2020

February 2020

General Lee cribbed here and there’s no escaping it. On the one hand, that’s great. This sole remaining structure of the original Stewart’s Row survives because he lived here, and you would have few other references to indicate that this portion of Franklin Street was once a residential neighborhood. And… yeh, he was extraordinarily skillful and a key figure in one of the defining moments of the nation’s history.

But it was him and the Confederacy and Jim Crow and all the other muck that comes with the stain of the Confederate cause. Preserve it? Absolutely. Forget? Not a chance.

(Norman Stewart House is part of the Atlas RVA! Project)


Print Sources

  • [HOR] Houses of Old Richmond. Mary Wingfield Scott. 1941.
  • [IEAHS] Inventory of Early Architecture and Historic Sites. Jeffrey Marshall O’Dell. 1976.
  • [MCR] Map of the City of Richmond, Virginia, 1861-65. Richmond Civil War Centennial Committee. 1961.

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Combining protean forces from the forbidden Zero Serum with the unbridled power of atomic fusion, to better probe the Wisdom of the Ancients and their Forgotten Culture.

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Wayback RVA — Main Office of the Negro Development and Exposition Co. U. S. A.

A Then & Now photo essay of Richmond places from around the area.

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Main Office of the Negro Development
and Exposition Co. U. S. A.
also Clothing and Gents Furnishings
Mr. I. J. Miller, Proprietor
528 East Broad Street

Just down the street from Richmond Dyeing, Scouring and Carpet Cleaning Works!

Giles Beecher Jackson was the first black attorney certified to practice law before the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. With Daniel Webster Davis he co-authored a book entitled The Industrial History of the Negro Race of the United States, where he mentions I. J. Miller gent’s furnishing store, with a stock of $10,000.

He also created the Negro Development and Exposition Company, which secured $150,000 to produce the Negro Building, exhibitions by and about blacks, for the 1907 Jamestown Tercentennial. That he was unsuccessful in converting this into a National Museum for Colored People, it was nevertheless one of the earliest attempts for a dedicated museum of this kind. An amazing story you can read here.


(Main Office of the Negro Development and Exposition Co. U. S. A. is part of the Atlas RVA! Project)


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Stoney administration proposes supported isolation for select COVID-19 positive cases

On Thursday, Mayor Stoney announced that the City of Richmond, in partnership with the Richmond City Health District, will offer COVID-19 positive individuals with demonstrated need an opportunity to isolate safely and securely in hotel units.

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On Thursday, Mayor Stoney announced that the City of Richmond, in partnership with the Richmond City Health District, will offer COVID-19 positive individuals with demonstrated need an opportunity to isolate safely and securely in hotel units.

Research shows that diligent testing, contact tracing and supported isolation will limit the spread of the novel coronavirus. “Boxing in the virus” in this manner requires that every COVID-19 positive patient effectively self-isolate, ensuring they do not spread the virus to family members, friends or the general public.

However, a prolonged, secure period of self-isolation is not possible for many Richmonders.

“The truth is that not all people are safer at home,” said the mayor. “Some aren’t fortunate enough to have a home large enough to isolate from loved ones.”

Using the CARES Act funding from the federal government made available last week by the state, the city will offer COVID-19 positive individuals with a demonstrated need to isolate securely a space to do so.

The city and Richmond City Health District will partner with the Greater Richmond Continuum of Care, a coalition of service providers with expertise in the intersection of physical security and human services due to their charge of aiding those experiencing homelessness.

Basic needs of those who choose to isolate, such as food and COVID-19 related primary care, will be funded through the Family Crisis Fund and safety net provider network.

The program will be facilitated by Richmond City Health District.

“Let me be clear: this program is specifically for those who cannot isolate safely, not a vacation for those who can,” said Mayor Stoney. “These COVID-19 patients will be cared for and sheltered for the good of themselves, their families, and the entire city.”

The Mayor ended with an appeal to the city’s communal sense of unity and compassion: “I know you’d want it for your family members; Richmond is my family. Let’s take care of each other.”

Upcoming testing events:

  • Friday, May 22 at Eastlawn Shopping Center from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  • Wednesday, May 27 at Eastern Henrico Recreation Center and Southwood Apartments from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Saturday, May 30 at Martin Luther King Middle School from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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Area museums will join forces May 24th to offer socially distant digital scavenger hunts

Local museums are collaborating on a unique scavenger hunt experience for people across the Richmond region. The program, dubbed the #RVAHistoryHunt, will launch on National Scavenger Hunt Day on May 24 and is tailored to fit the unique challenges of the coronavirus outbreak.

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Local museums are collaborating on a unique scavenger hunt experience for people across the Richmond region. The program, dubbed the #RVAHistoryHunt, will launch on National Scavenger Hunt Day on May 24 and is tailored to fit the unique challenges of the coronavirus outbreak.

“It’s so important to foster community connection,” said Jamie Bosket, President and CEO of the Virginia Museum of History & Culture (VMHC). “These scavenger hunts are designed for families and friends to immerse themselves in Richmond’s culture in a new and safe way.”

“We’re thrilled to be working on this project with so many important Richmond institutions,” said Valentine Director Bill Martin. “Everyone deserves to feel that they can still engage with history and culture even with the limitations of social distancing.”

There will be two available hunts – one in which participants will physically hunt down items and one that can be completed entirely online with prizes available for each. Information on both versions of the scavenger hunt can be found here.

For the physically distanced scavenger hunt, Richmonders are invited to download the #RVAHistoryHunt PDF card from the website. Walking or driving, hunters will then use the PDF to locate specific items displayed externally at each museum. Hunters should then snap a photo of the object. Participants are encouraged to tag the location and include #RVAHistoryHunt in their posts on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook. Anyone who publicly tags a participating location and uses the hashtag #RVAHistoryHunt will be entered in the prize drawing.

To participate in the digital scavenger hunt, users will scour the websites of participating museums looking for specific images, facts, or other content. Participants can submit their answers for the digital hunt here.

Everyone who competes in one or both of the scavenger hunts will be entered into a drawing to win one of a variety of prizes from participating museum stores. The #RVAHistoryHunt will run from May 24 through August 23.

Participating sites include Historic St. John’s Church, the Executive Mansion of Virginia, the Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site, the Cole Digges House, the John Marshall House, Richmond National Battlefield Park-Tredegar, Maymont, Agecroft Hall & Gardens, the Branch Museum of Architecture and Design, the Poe Museum, the American Civil War Museum, Children’s Museum, Virginia Museum of History & Culture, Virginia House, The Library of Virginia, the Black History Museum & Cultural Center of Virginia, The Valentine, and the Science Museum of Virginia.

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