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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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Buildings Damaged Tuesday Night, Arrests Made

No other reports of damage or injuries at this time.

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The John Marshall Courthouse, Wells Fargo building, Omni hotel, and a Starbucks were damaged last night.

Brent Solomon of NBC12 Tweeted photos of the damage.

The police released the following statement on arrests.

On Tuesday night a group of individuals broke windows and damaged and defaced property in several neighborhoods in the city of Richmond.

At approximately 11:50 p.m., officers detained several individuals. The Department consulted with the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney on possible charges and charged four.

Julius Dela Cruz, Lakshmi Menon, Kyra Nguyen and Brian Quach were charged with rioting.

Several items, including a metal crowbar and a hammer were seized from the individuals.

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Arts & Entertainment

Institute for Contemporary Art and VPM launch community media center

Chioke I’Anson, an assistant professor of African American Studies at VCU, will serve as the center’s inaugural director of community media.

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The Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University and VPM, Virginia’s home for public media, are creating a media center inside the ICA for the production of audio content by VCU students, local community members and VPM professionals.

The VPM+ICA Community Media Center will create new opportunities for storytelling, train and educate the next generation of audio producers, and amplify voices often missing from traditional media.

Under the leadership of Chioke I’Anson, Ph.D., inaugural director of community media, the center will launch this fall with community and student podcasting workshops, training sessions and a special performance — all of which are expected to begin virtually due to COVID-19. The VPM+ICA Community Media Center is slated to open in spring 2021.

l’Anson will serve as director of community media at the new VPM+ICA Community Media Center. (Photo by Amaya Zaslow)
l’Anson will serve as director of community media at the new VPM+ICA Community Media Center. (Photo by Amaya Zaslow)

“Over the past several years, we’ve witnessed the rise of podcasting as a new genre of narrative and documentary arts,” said Dominic Willsdon, executive director of the ICA. “With that in mind, the ICA — as an institution responsive to new currents in public culture — sought to partner with VPM and launch an initiative that supports audio storytelling by, for and about our communities, especially those that have suffered historical inequity. We plan to grow this over time to include audio, video and community media-making more broadly. Beginning in 2021, our new community media center will provide the space, tools and support for this.”

Through this innovative partnership, the ICA and VPM also will launch a multiyear educational and media-making program comprising VCU academic seminars, youth media programs and public seminars, workshops and symposia.

“The VPM+ICA Community Media Center is a unique opportunity for public media to play a role in engaging a new generation of diverse content makers,” said Jayme Swain, CEO of the Virginia Foundation for Public Media and president of VPM. “We are honored to partner with the ICA and Dr. I’Anson to provide a creative space for students and the community to learn how to harness the power of media to tell their stories.”

The ICA’s second-floor Murry DePillars Learning Lab will house the media center, complete with two recording booths and workspace for conceptualizing, editing and producing podcasts and other audio programs.

The project reflects the ICA’s continued engagement with VCU students and faculty to develop new ways of thinking about and utilizing its space, a precedent that’s been in place since the ICA’s conception and has actively shaped its building design and programming.

“Everyone in Richmond has a story that only they can tell, or a perspective only they can share,” said I’Anson, an assistant professor of African American Studies in the College of Humanities and Sciences at VCU and underwriting announcer at NPR. “The VPM+ICA Community Media Center is the lab where anyone with something to say or a desire to create can get the technical skills to share their vision. The media center will be an arts and storytelling focal point, serving the city of Richmond and helping deliver its stories to the rest of the world.”

I’Anson will teach a podcasting seminar each semester for students in the Department of African American Studies and will work with a managing team comprising VCU students to plan and create a series of community events and youth programs.

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2nd Street Festival: A Virtual Celebration!

The 2nd Street Festival commemorates its 32nd anniversary October 3-4 with a virtual event celebrating downtown’s Jackson Ward community.

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The 2nd Street Festival commemorates its 32nd anniversary October 3-4 with a virtual event celebrating downtown’s Jackson Ward community. Venture Richmond Events will present new musical performances, favorite artists from past festivals, cooking demonstrations, virtual tours, neighborhood testimonials, fun family activities, and so much more!

VIRTUAL EVENT DETAILS

Date: October 3-4, 2020

Ways to watch: Visit this webpage or the 2nd Street Festival Facebook page to livestream the event on Oct. 3-4

Time: Saturday, Oct. 3 from 6:00-7:15pm, and Sunday, Oct. 4 from 5:00-6:15pm

Featured Festival Artists & more!

This year’s virtual festival is a great opportunity for families to plan gatherings and watch parties at home in a safe, fun and responsible way! Here are a few of our featured artists.

Legacy Band: Saturday, October 3

Don’t miss this 2nd Street Festival performance by one of Richmond’s favorite bands playing top hits with a mix of soul, R&B, funk, gogo and jazz. The band was originally formed by guitarist Jose Pomier and vocalist Kaila Valdez.

Desirée Roots: Sunday, October 4

Known for showcasing her triple-threat talents of singing, acting and dancing, Desiree performs some of her favorite jazz selections for the 2nd Street Festival. A beloved Richmond performer who grew up in a musical family, Desiree is comfortable singing everything from opera to R&B, but her true favorites are classical, gospel and jazz.

Remembrance of Debo Dabney: Sunday, October 4

Listen in as local musicians and friends Plunky Branch, Glennroy Bailey, Desiree Roots and others share their reflections of Herbert A. Dabney, III, a dynamic and animated pianist who passed away earlier this year. Affectionately known as “Debo,” he was a beloved friend of the festival and an all-around fan favorite. His repertoire ranged from jazz, gospel, R&B, swing, blues and children’s classics. Debo performed for 31 of the festival’s 32 years.

Culinary Demos

Viewers should prepare their kitchens for culinary demonstrations by popular Jackson Ward restaurants Croaker’s Spot and Soul Taco, live-streamed directly into homes to capture the same delicious food that we’ve all come to expect from the 2nd Street Festival.

Kid’s Activity Corner

Families will enjoy Candice Smith with NBC12 News reading a book especially for children, a balloon twisting demonstration by festival favorite Eddie Cook with Balloons By Extreme, and a special activity by the Children’s Museum of Richmond.

A Spotlight on Jackson Ward

Gary Flowers of the Historic Jackson Ward Society will highlight community sites in the neighborhood for all to enjoy, and viewers will hear testimonials from longtime residents and business owners of the Jackson Ward neighborhood during the live stream event.

The 2020 Poster

This year’s official 2nd Street Festival poster was commissioned to Richmond native, Unicia Buster. Ms. Buster was a fine arts major in photography at Cornell University and she will design a quilt for the festival and use her graphic design skills to transform it into the official festival poster.

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