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Must-See RVA! — Adam Craig House

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

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October 2013

1812 East Grace Street
Built, 1784-1787

One of the oldest buildings in RVA.

Although the date of the Craig house is undetermined, it was probably built between 1784 and 1787 by Adam Craig. The deed for the western end of the square between Eighteenth, Nineteenth, Grace, and Broad Streets was not actually signed until 1790, but in the Land Books Craig is called the owner as early as 1784, and the loose description of property-lines makes it probable that this first part of the block that he acquired ran east of the present alley and included the site of the house.

Our first knowledge of what the buildings included comes from Craig’s insuring all his property in 1796. On the four lots were, first, a one-story “Dutch roof” cottage, the “Office of County Court,” at the northeast corner of Eighteenth and Grace. East of that was the present house, which on the plat looks just as it does today, with its ell, two stories, and three porches. Behind it was a one-story wooden kitchen, replaced before 1815 by the present brick kitchen, which doubtless utilized from the earlier building the chimney with its big fireplaces and iron cranes. East of these, facing on Nineteenth Street, was a one-story wooden house, used as a lodging-house, with a wooden kitchen back of it, on Nineteenth also. These last were on a lot which Craig had purchased from Joseph Simpson in 1791, the north line of which, if we may trust this policy, ran between these two Nineteenth Street buildings and Craig’s own house.

(Library of Congress) — Richmond from the hill above the waterworks engraving by W. J. Bennett from a Painting by G. Cooke — 1834

(Library of Congress) — Richmond from the hill above the waterworks engraving by W. J. Bennett from a Painting by G. Cooke — 1834

Adam Craig had come to Richmond from Williamsburg about 1782. His marriage in 1787 to “Polly” Mallory of York County would seem a probable moment for him to have built or acquired this house. During the succeeding years, until his death in 1808 at the age of forty-eight, he was clerk of the Richmond Hustings Court, the Henrico County Court, and the General Court, so that innumerable legal documents of that day are signed with his name.

(Find A Grave) — Jane Stith Craig

(Find A Grave) — Jane Stith Craig Stanard

The best-known of his six children was Jane Stith Craig, who was born in 1793, probably in this house. She certainly lived there until her marriage to Judge Robert Stanard. At the time Poe addressed to her his immortal lines, “To Helen,” she was living in the Hay- Stanard house on Ninth Street, hence there is no reason to think Poe ever actually visited the Craig house.

[HOR]

[HOR]

After Adam Craig’s death his widow continued to live in the house, at least as late as 1817. In 1822 it was purchased by Sterling J. Crump (who lived nearby on Nineteenth Street) and Thomas Cowles, and was rented out to various people until, in 1844, it was bought by Wilson Williams. Williams had a grocery business at Eighteenth and Main Streets and lived in the Craig house until his death. It must have been he who modernized the two front rooms and front hall on the first floor, the only part of the interior that has been changed since Adam Craig’s day. Probably he also pulled down the two wooden buildings on Nineteenth and extended the garden to its present size.

(Library of Congress) — Beers Illustrated Atlas of the Cities of Richmond & Manchester, 1877 — Plate G — showing ownership by J. W. Shields

(Library of Congress) — Beers Illustrated Atlas of the Cities of Richmond & Manchester, 1877 — Plate G — showing ownership by J. W. Shields

In 1872 his sons sold the place to James W. Shields, who made his home there for the rest of his life. Living there during part of those years was his little granddaughter, afterward Mrs. John L. Newcomb. Her recollection of the old gentleman, with his “black satin stock with a turn over white collar, long black coat, and always all embroidered waistcoat … long white hair,” going to the nearby Seventeenth Street Market, with his basket on his arm, is no less vivid than her recollections of the garden.

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[HOR]

In 1911 Mr. Shields’s executrix sold the house. In the following year, it was purchased by the Richmond Methodist Mission Association, the beautiful garden was destroyed, the mighty oak cut down, and a large brick building, the Methodist Institute, erected on the corner of Nineteenth. By 1935 this building had ceased to be useful to its owners, while the Craig house, stripped of all its trees save one magnolia, looked ready to collapse. Led by the enterprising young pastor of Trinity Institutional Church, a small group set to work to save the house. From this effort sprang the William Byrd Branch of the A.P.V.A., formed to save the Craig house and then every interesting old house in Richmond! The first part of this program was more successful than the second. The whole property was bought in 1935-36, the Methodist Institute torn down in 1937, and the house, kitchen, and garden gradually restored.

[HOR]

[HOR]

The Craig house, which Mordecai described as “the pleasant and rural-looking residence of Adam Craig … with its line trees and hedges of box” is unique in Richmond in that it sits kittycornered to the street. It is an unpretentious house, of white beaded weatherboard, with very plain trim around the windows. While the three porches date back to 1796, it seems possible that the columns on the front porch are more recent. Perhaps it originally had square pillars like those on the east porch.

April 2020

April 2020

The chimneys are rather tall and thin, not an uncommon trait in early Richmond houses. Inside, the most striking feature is the graceful stairway, with slim balusters and mahogany rail. Except for the front rooms downstairs, the trim and the six-paneled doors are what one would expect in a late eighteenth-century house. The mantels are mostly dark marble, plain, and certainly later than the house. The floors are of random width pine and remarkably well-preserved, considering that the house had been used to store damaged furniture for over twenty years. An interesting detail is the tiny closets on each side of the chimney in the big room downstairs in the ell. [HOR]

October 2013

October 2013

This house is truly amazing, hiding out quietly in the middle of Shockoe Bottom. There are eight structures built before 1800 (see below), and the Adam Craig House is numero three. Surprisingly, it is NOT on the Virginia Department of Historic Resources historic registry for the City of Richmond. It’s a shame because it ought to be, although it does rate its own historical marker.

Edwin Slipek of Architecture Richmond wrote an excellent summary of this house with more details and pictures. A worthy read.

(Craig House is part of the Atlas RVA! Project)


Print Sources

  • [HOR] Architecture in Downtown Richmond. Robert Winthrop. 1982.

Pre-1800 Richmond Buildings

  • 1741 St. John’s Church
  • 1754 Old Stone House
  • 1784 Adam Craig House
  • 1785 Masonic Hall
  • 1788 John Marshall House
  • 1792 Virginia State Capitol
  • 1796 Daniel Call House
  • 1799 Woodward House

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