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History

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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Downtown

The Valentine receives major national grant to upgrade archive storage facilities

The Valentine was awarded the largest grant of any other humanities project in Virginia and is in the top 8% of the 245 grant recipients across the country.

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On April 13th, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) announced a grant awarding $408,761 to The Valentine for new collection storage materials. The grant will go toward the Valentine Moment Campaign, a years-long effort to modernize the museum’s storage facilities and strengthen the presentation of Richmond history by analyzing all 1.6 million objects in its collection.

The Valentine received the full amount requested with a 2:1 matching requirement after demonstrating its commitment to preserving local history, addressing complex social issues, and engaging diverse audiences. The grant will support a $1.6 million project to purchase and install compact storage cabinetry and fixtures in the main museum building, under the umbrella of the larger $16 million Valentine Moment Campaign.

“The Valentine Moment Campaign will fortify our museum to serve Richmonders for generations to come. The NEH’s generous grant is a crucial part of our efforts,” said Valentine Director Bill Martin. “This infrastructure upgrade allows us to safely store important historical objects, and our goal is to use these objects to engage, challenge and inspire our community.”

The Valentine was awarded the largest grant of any other humanities project in Virginia and is in the top 8% of the 245 grant recipients across the country.

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Education

U of R professors awarded $325K NEH Grant for open-source tool to analyze historic images

Statistics professor Taylor Arnold and digital humanities professor Lauren Tilton have received a nearly $325K ($324,693) grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to support a project to build open-source software for collecting and analyzing digital images.

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Statistics professor Taylor Arnold and digital humanities professor Lauren Tilton have received a nearly $325K ($324,693) grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to support a project to build open-source software for collecting and analyzing digital images.

Arnold and Tilton created and co-direct Photogrammar, an interactive photo collection focusing on the Great Depression era. The open-access, web-based tool allows users to easily navigate and engage with a collection of 170,000 photographs taken between 1935 and 1943.

The NEH Digital Humanities award will support a project to make the Photogrammar software available to allow anyone with a set of digital images and associated information to create — with no prior programming experience — their own digital public humanities projects.

“The goal of the software is to use interactive data visualization and AI to open up new ways of exploring and understanding digitized collections of images,” said Tilton. “We draw on methods from data science, spatial analysis, natural language processing, and computer vision to provide additional context and information to digital images — context that helps people browse and interpret the materials.”

“We are excited to create this open-source tool that will allow anyone to have this same experience with their own collections,” said Arnold. “We envision people using this software for a variety of different applications, from documentary photography, historic newspapers, and digitized medieval manuscripts.”

In addition to the software, the grant-funded project will produce six case studies that will model and highlight how the software can be used in a variety of different domains, data sizes, and types of institutions including archives, libraries, and museums. Extensive tutorials and documentation will be developed to assist in making the free software broadly accessible to the general public by 2025.

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History

The Valentine Museum and “Reclaiming the Monument” receive historic grant

The Valentine Museum and Reclaiming the Monument are the recipients of a $670,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Monuments Project.

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The Valentine Museum and Reclaiming the Monument are the recipients of a $670,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Monuments Project. The Monuments Project is an unprecedented $250 million commitment by the Mellon Foundation to transform the nation’s commemorative landscape by supporting public projects that more completely and accurately represent the multiplicity and complexity of American stories.

The Valentine has collaborated with Reclaiming the Monument founders and artist Dustin Klein (Technical Director) and Alex Criqui (Creative Director) to support the “Recontextualizing Richmond” public art project. This project, which will take place in 2022, will focus on the creation of a series of temporary light-based artworks addressing issues of historical, racial, and social justice in Richmond, Virginia, and the surrounding capital region.

“The Richmond story is America’s story. This project will bring new stories to light and encourage us to take a fresh look at our City’s history,” said Bill Martin, Director of the Valentine Museum. “We are excited to support the work of Reclaiming the Monument over the coming year. Richmond’s history has national significance and this grant from the Mellon Foundation recognizes the important opportunity we have to elevate it.”

Both organizations look forward to bringing visuals, conversations, and dialogue to the Richmond community, using primary source materials from the Valentine’s collection and other historical resources. For the Valentine, this is a unique opportunity to gather community feedback and support future projects at the museum.

The light installations, are intended to raise awareness about the neglected histories in our community as it continues to grapple with the complicated legacies of our past and how its telling has been used to shape and influence our present and future.

The collaborative nature of the project will create a greater dialogue between grassroots organizations, artists, historical institutions, and the general public that will lay a foundation for how public art involving historical memory can be created in a way that is inclusive and community-driven.

“It is our hope that by providing an opportunity for our community to engage with a more complete telling of our history through the power of public art that we will be able to help our city heal and move towards a future rooted in peace, justice, and equality,” said Alex Criqui, Creative Director for Reclaiming the Monument.

Recontextualizing Richmond will also produce educational resources that will be accessible to educators and students.

Additional information and details related to Reclaiming the Monument installations will be made available in early 2022. The Valentine and Reclaiming the Monument are committed to ensuring a safe and engaging event series for the Richmond community.

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