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Must-See RVA! — Virginia Commission for the Blind

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

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April 2020
  • AKA, The Parkwood
  • 3003 Parkwood Avenue
  • Built, 1940-1941, 1958
  • Architects, J. Binford Walford (1940), O. Pendleton Wright (1958)
  • VDHR 127-6808

And a blind man shall lead them.

(Find A Grave) — Lucian Louis Watts — Virginia Legislature Photograph, Virginia House of Delegates 1928

(Find A Grave) — Lucian Louis Watts — Virginia Legislature Photograph, Virginia House of Delegates 1928

L. L. Watts (1888-1974) was singularly instrumental in the development of services for the blind in the Commonwealth of Virginia and the individual most responsible for the successful construction of the Virginia Commission of the Blind building at 3003 Parkwood Avenue in Richmond.

His work influenced educational and training opportunities for blind Virginians across Virginia for more than 30 years, and his legacy has continued to the present day, making him of statewide significance.

Watts was serving as a Superintendent of a railroad construction project when he lost his sight in a dynamite blasting accident in 1913. After recuperating, he attended the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind in Staunton, Virginia, and graduated in 1917. He became an instructor at the school and in 1919, he sent an invitation to the alumni of the school and friends of the blind to meet in June to form the Virginia Association of Workers for the Blind.

April 2020 — courtyard

April 2020 — courtyard

In 1920, Watts was appointed to a state commission to investigate the conditions of the blind in Virginia. This temporary commission reported its survey findings to the General Assembly with a recommendation that a permanent Virginia Commission for the Blind be established. The Virginia Commission for the Blind was created on March 23, 1922, through an act of the General Assembly and Watts was chosen as the Executive Secretary of the Commission, a position he was to hold for 34 years.

(Newspapers.com) — Des Moines Register, Tuesday, February 3, 1925 — showing left to right, Anne Sullivan Macy, Helen Keller, & Polly Thomas arriving in Iowa for the convention of the American Association of Workers for the Blind

(Newspapers.com) — Des Moines Register, Tuesday, February 3, 1925 — showing left to right, Anne Sullivan Macy, Helen Keller, & Polly Thomas arriving in Iowa for the convention of the American Association of Workers for the Blind

Watts was also involved in the establishment of the American Foundation for the Blind at the convention of the American Association of Workers for the Blind held in Vinton, Iowa, in 1921. The American Foundation for the Blind is the national organization most closely associated with Helen Keller, for which she worked for more than 40 years. Watts, with assistance from the American Foundation for the Blind, arranged for Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan Macy to address a joint session of the Virginia House and Senate as part of a “Three Day’s Educational Campaign” on February 12-14, 1924.

(Newspapers.com) — Helen Keller from the Des Moines Register, Sunday, January 25, 1925

(Newspapers.com) — Helen Keller from the Des Moines Register, Sunday, January 25, 1925

The goal of the campaign was to raise awareness of the work of the fledgling Virginia Commission for the Blind and to convince the General Assembly to increase the state appropriation to further its work. Fourteen industries of the blind exhibited in the course of the campaign, which culminated in Helen Keller’s address on February 14. She appealed for increased appropriations and for the continued independence of the Virginia Commission for the Blind. Governor E. Lee Trinkle reported on the effectiveness of the campaign and the enthusiasm Ms. Keller’s address engendered.

(Newspapers.com) — Richmond Times Dispatch, Tuesday, June 27, 1933

(Newspapers.com) — Richmond Times-Dispatch, Tuesday, June 27, 1933

The Virginia Commission for the Blind hosted the 1933 biennial convention of the American Association of Workers for the Blind in Richmond, where Watts was elected first vice-president of this international organization representing blind workers throughout the United States and Canada. When the president of the organization died in 1934, Watts stepped into the role of the chief executive and was elected president at the next biennial convention in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1935. After the expiration of his term as president, Watts continued to serve on the Board of Directors and as chair of the legislative committee.

(ProQuest® Sanborn Maps Geo Edition™) — Sanborn Insurance Maps of Richmond (1925) — Plate 437 — showing former Gould frame house at 3003 Parkwood

(ProQuest® Sanborn Maps Geo Edition™) — Sanborn Insurance Maps of Richmond (1925) — Plate 437 — showing former Gould frame house at 3003 Parkwood

The offices of the Commission were initially in Charlottesville but relocated to 1228 East Broad Street in Richmond in 1924. In 1931 the administrative offices moved to a frame residence at 3003 Parkwood Avenue. The use of this property was donated to the Virginia Association of Workers for the Blind by Edwin J. Gould of New York. In 1938, the Association was able to purchase the property from the Gould Foundation, on favorable terms, and in December deeded it to the Commonwealth to be used by the Commission for the Blind.

April 2020 — note the absence of the urn ornament on the pedestal at center top that appears in the VDHR nomination photo below

April 2020 — note the absence of the urn ornament on the pedestal at center top that appears in the VDHR nomination photo below

When the City of Richmond’s Fire Department condemned the frame building early in 1939, Mr. Watts, as Executive Director of the Commission, petitioned Governor James H. Price for assistance in replacing the facility. The Governor approved the construction of a new building and authorized the Commission to borrow $16,000 to add to the General Assembly’s appropriation of $30,000, the Works Progress Administration’s allocation of $24,000 and the $10,000 contributed by the Virginia Association of Workers for the Blind.

(VDHR) — blueprint for 1941 basement floor plan

(VDHR) — blueprint for 1941 basement floor plan

J. Binford Walford (1891-1956) was selected as the architect and in March, 1940, applied for a permit to construct a two-story building with a basement out of concrete, brick, cinder block and wood with a slate roof.

Walford was associated with O. Pendleton Wright from 1946, forming the practice Walford & Wright, Architects. Around the time he was selected in 1940 to design the new facility for the Virginia Commission for the Blind, he had been active in designing additional academic buildings, dormitories, and a stadium for the campus of the College of William and Mary.

(HipPostcard) — E. Lee Trinkle Library, Mary Washington College, Fredricksburg, Va., circa 1940s

(HipPostcard) — E. Lee Trinkle Library, Mary Washington College, Fredricksburg, Va., circa 1940s

He also designed classrooms, dormitories, and the Trinkle Library at Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Converse and Cleveland dormitories at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, and Virginia Hall, Lindsey-Montague Hall, Colson Hall, Langston Hall, and the President’s House at Virginia State University in Ettrick, Virginia. These handsome collegiate buildings, in his assured Colonial Revival style, confirm his place in guiding the architectural character of these Virginia campuses.

[VPVH] — Gould residence prior to 1939

[VPVH] — Gould residence prior to 1939

When demolition of the former Gould residence began in 1939, Watts moved his offices to temporary quarters at 3007 Parkwood Avenue; the women’s department relocated to 3154 Ellwood Avenue. Work progressed sufficiently to allow the executive offices and home work department to move into the new building in March 1941. Work continued until the facility was completed in August, 1941.

(VDHR) — 1941 dedication photo — note the urn ornament atop the central pedestal above the door

(VDHR) — 1941 dedication photo — note the urn ornament atop the central pedestal above the door

The new quarters were formally dedicated on September 25, 1941. Among the speakers was R. S. Hummel, State Administrator of the Works Progress Administration, who offered his congratulations to Watts and the Commission, and to the WPA workers, in recognition of the quality of the work.

(Library of Virginia) — Governor J. Lindsay Almond, Jr.

(Library of Virginia) — Governor J. Lindsay Almond, Jr.

In 1958, recognizing the need to expand the facility at 3003 Parkwood Avenue, Governor Almond authorized the expenditure of $193,820 for a major addition that would house a regional Braille lending library to serve the blind residents of Virginia and Maryland. Although Walford had died in 1956, the Commission looked to his firm, Walford & Wright, to guide the expansion.

April 2020 — note the difference in ornamentation of the 1958 entryways & the 1941 entry above

April 2020 — note the difference in ornamentation of the 1958 entryways & the 1941 entry above

The Bass Construction Company applied for a building permit on November 10, 1958, with plans by Walford & Wright, Architects, that would essentially double the size of the building by extending the rear portion of the building and constructing a wing similar in scale and parallel to the portion of the original building fronting on Parkwood Avenue. The addition was designed to be indistinguishable from the original portion, but with simpler treatment of the doors and entrances, and with an exterior basement entrance.

April 2020 — courtyard entryway

April 2020 — courtyard entryway

In 1980, the Virginia Commission for the Blind became the Virginia Department for the Visually Handicapped and relocated to the current offices on Azalea Avenue in Henrico County. The facility at 3003 Parkwood Avenue was sold into private ownership. Plans from 1983 illustrate its conversion to Parkwood Manor, a retirement home. The potential new owner plans to preserve and rehabilitate the former Commission for the Blind as an apartment building. (VDHR)

April 2020

April 2020

A prediction that came true! The former Commission building is known by the moniker The Parkwood, offering luxury apartments for rent.

(Virginia Commission for the Blind is part of the Atlas RVA! Project)


Print Sources

  • [VPVH] Virginia’s Program for the Visually Handicapped. John. B. Cunningham. 1940.

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History

Union Presbyterian Seminary demolishes one of Northside’s oldest houses, dating to 1790s

The 230-year-old McGuire Cottage, one of Northside’s oldest homes, is no longer standing due to what its owner, Union Presbyterian Seminary, claims is “repentance” for the benefit the seminary received from the labor of enslaved persons.

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The 230-year-old McGuire Cottage, one of Northside’s oldest homes, is no longer standing due to what its owner, Union Presbyterian Seminary, claims is “repentance” for the benefit the seminary received from the labor of enslaved persons. The house was once home to a Confederate surgeon – also cited as a reason for demolition – though the seminary says it has no plans for the tract of land on which the house stood.

Critics say the home had a great historic significance and calls to preserve the home by moving it were met with complaints that using staff resources to research grants for such a move would be “prohibitive.” Several publications say the demolition will also pave the way for additional development on the property.

While recognition of the wrongs of our nation is warranted, one wonders if half of Richmond wouldn’t be flattened by the seminary’s logic of demolishing structures tied to those who were on the wrong side of history.

From Richmond BizSense:

One of the oldest homes in Northside is no more.

The 1800s-era Westwood house, also known as McGuire Cottage, was demolished this week at the behest of Union Presbyterian Seminary.

It owns the so-called Westwood Tract where the structure had stood for two centuries — dwarfed in recent years by the newly built Canopy at Ginter Park apartments.

Seminary spokesman Mike Frontiero said its board of trustees voted last year to demolish the structure, originally the home of Confederate surgeon Hunter Holmes McGuire, “as recognition of and in repentance for the resourcing provided to the seminary through the labor of enslaved persons.”

Continue reading here.

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Downtown

Valentine and Community Foundation announce 2021 Richmond History Makers

The 16th Annual Richmond History Makers and Community Update on March 9 will celebrate these hometown heroes and provide an update on the region’s resiliency during a challenging year.

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Virginia First Lady Pamela Northam announced the six honorees in the 2021 class of Richmond History Makers yesterday morning during a Facebook Live event.

The 16th Annual Richmond History Makers and Community Update on March 9 will celebrate these hometown heroes and provide an update on the region’s resiliency during a challenging year. The event will take place virtually and will be free, with the Valentine and the Community Foundation for a greater Richmond joining forces to recognize and celebrate these trailblazers. Long-time Richmond History Makers partner Dominion Energy is returning as the title sponsor.

According to six categories, the 2021 Richmond History Makers are:

Creating Quality Educational Opportunities:

Chuck English
Virginia STEM Coordinator

Demonstrating Innovative Economic Solutions:

Floyd E. Miller II
President & CEO
Metropolitan Business League

Improving Regional Transportation:

Lloyd “Bud” Vye
Biking and pedestrian advocate

Championing Social Justice:

Chloe Edwards

Advocacy and Engagement Manager

Voices for Virginia’s Children

Promoting Community Health:

Health Brigade

Advancing our Quality of Life:

Hamilton Glass

Muralist and community advocate

“The life-changing work that we have seen take place across the Richmond Region this year is unlike any other,” said Valentine Director Bill Martin. “These individuals and organizations stepped up in the face of so many challenging circumstances, and they deserve an evening to be celebrated in front of their community!”

The Community Foundation for a greater Richmond is also returning as one of this event’s co-sponsors.

“Throughout 2020 and into 2021, we have certainly seen so many people rise to the occasion and address some of the most pressing needs of the Richmond Region,” said Community Foundation Chief Community Engagement Officer Scott Blackwell. “These honorees have really helped get Richmond through a difficult time, and their work is not always recognized or celebrated. We’re thrilled to highlight their contributions and share good news.”

Leadership Metro Richmond, a long-time partner in this program, helped to oversee the virtual Selection Committee, which narrowed down the six honorees from more than 135 nominations.

“With so many nominations, it’s clear the community was ready to recognize those going above and beyond to make a difference, especially during such difficult times,” said LMR President & CEO Myra Goodman Smith. “This year’s honorees deserve to be celebrated, and we look forward to lending our voice to the virtual crowd in March.”

You can register for a free ticket and learn more here.

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Community

Results from “Lost Cause” Studio Project Survey Reveal a Richmond Eager to Confront its Past

The survey asked Richmond region residents to share their knowledge about and ongoing impact of the Lost Cause myth, their desire to learn about this complex history and how a transformed Valentine Studio can address community needs.

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From the Valentine.

Today the Valentine released the results of a community survey, conducted in October and November of 2020.

The survey asked Richmond region residents to share their knowledge about and ongoing impact of the Lost Cause myth, their desire to learn about this complex history and how a transformed Valentine Studio (the location on the museum’s campus where sculptor Edward Valentine created many Lost Cause works) can address community needs. More than 1,000 participants, representing a wide variety of perspectives and backgrounds, completed the survey.

A diverse team of historians, activists, local leaders, Valentine family members and community members developed the survey. The Valentine also held focus groups to gain a deeper understanding of the variety of opinions about the Lost Cause, the role of cultural institutions in sharing this history and the potential installation of the damaged, paint-covered Jefferson Davis statue, until recently displayed on Monument Avenue, in the space. The results of the survey and the focus groups will inform and guide the project development.

Results included:

A majority of respondents stated that they would like to see the Valentine use the reinterpreted studio to explore the history of power and policies in Jim Crow Richmond, the art and artistic processes that created Lost Cause sculptures and the history of racial oppression in Richmond.

Additionally, 65% of respondents from the Richmond region agreed that museums should acquire the monuments from Monument Avenue and display them with context. For the Valentine specifically, this reinforced our request to the City of Richmond to acquire and display the graffiti-covered Jefferson Davis statue on his back as he fell.

Additionally, focus group participants, moderated by project partner Josh Epperson, felt that using the studio to explore Lost Cause history and connect it to the present would be a valuable use of the space. Focus group participants also affirmed the Valentine’s commitment to continuing its high level of community engagement, which they expected to be critical to the success of the reimagined studio.

You can find additional survey results HERE.

“Based on the survey feedback we received from our fellow Richmonders, we are confident that this is the best next step for this space and for this institution,” said Director Bill Martin. “We look forward to providing a location where Richmonders can learn about the Lost Cause, consider Richmond and the Valentine’s early role in disseminating the damaging Lost Cause myth and ultimately gain a deeper, more nuanced, more empathetic understanding of the region we call home.”

The Valentine will continue to solicit and address community questions, comments or concerns as the Studio Project develops.

On December 31st the Washington Post had an article on the museum taking a closer look at the role that founder of Edward V. Valentine had in the lost cause.

Today, the artist’s studio is closed to visitors at the Richmond museum that bears his family name — the Valentine. But museum director Martin and others see the workshop as the center of what could be a public reckoning with the racist mythology that Valentine’s sculptures helped bring to life.

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