AKA, Stewart-Lee House
707 East Franklin Street
The General’s pad. You know… him.
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.
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.
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!
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:
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
- [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.
Must-See RVA! is a regular series
appearing on rocket werks – check it out!
Downtown Rush Hour During COVID-19
Just a few shots from downtown at 8 AM on a Friday but most definitely not a normal Friday.
Old Dominion Energy Building to Tumble Down on May 30th
And the walls will come tumbling down.
Dominion Energy built a fancy new tower at 600 Canal Place. They’ve been slowing chipping away at the old building creatively labeled, One James River Plaza, located just across the street. Chipping away isn’t going to work for the entirety of the 21 story building.
The big show will be on May 30th when the office building will be imploded and it’ll come tumbling down.
The exact timing is unknown but it will be in the early morning hours and at least a one block are exclusion zone will be set-up.
Once the building is down and the area cleared the plans call for a new Dominion Energy building that would a mere 17 floors and connected with a skybridge. Those plans are not finalized at this point. For perspective, the new building at 600 Canal Place is 20 stories.
GRTC bans unaccompanied minors, joyriding on buses during coronavirus outbreak
Minors going to/from work permitted to ride; all passengers are limited to a single one-way trip at a time; “joyriding” prohibited.
Effective immediately, GRTC is banning unaccompanied minors from riding GRTC during the COVID-19 emergency. Solo minors in work uniforms or with their employee badges are permitted to ride GRTC to/from work. Until further notice, customers are not allowed to remain on-board a single bus beyond their one-way trip. No extended rides on a single vehicle will be allowed.
With the closure of schools and recent pleasant Spring weather, GRTC is experiencing an increase in riders – especially minors – riding GRTC in groups and for nonessential trips, counter to local, state, and federal guidance to limit travel only for essential purposes.
GRTC Chief Executive Officer Julie Timm says, “Immediately after suspending fares, our ridership jumped by several thousand trips a day. Some were kids out of school with energy to burn and some were people wanting to enjoy the beautiful Spring weather. But some were budget-conscious people looking for employment, making trips to the grocery store, or going to the doctor. While overall daily ridership is still well below normal levels, we need to take additional measures for those who desperately need our service during this crisis.”
In addition to limited trips and restricted rides for minors and groups, passengers are asked to sit one passenger per row, except for families riding together. Passengers in violation of these temporary policies or otherwise disruptive to our service are subject to removal from the bus. Timm explains, “While it’s completely counter to our normal lives to beg people not to ride, that is exactly what we are doing. Serving the community’s very real and very essential mobility needs during this crisis is a juggling act. Please, save our service for those who need our service!”