The Barton Heights Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2007, The Gombach Group.
The Barton Heights Historic District is among the earliest of several turn-of-the-century streetcar suburbs in north Richmond. Spacious wood frame houses, most built in the first quarter of the twentieth-century, are sited on fifty-foot-wide lots plotted on the neighborhood's gentle hills. The primary impetus for the development was the 1890 construction of the First Street Viaduct, a steel frame structure built by the developers at a cost of $35,000. This essential Viaduct linked Richmond's downtown to the district's "heights," by bridging the industrial area at the foot of the Bacon Quarter Branch ravine.
An industrial area lines the historic district's southern boundary. The eastern boundary is the Richmond-Henrico Turnpike. The Brookland Park and Battery Court Historic Districts abut the Barton Heights Historic District along its northern edge at Graham and Lancaster Roads. Cemeteries, modern apartments and a modern school shape the western boundary. The typical Barton Heights house was built in the Queen Anne or Colonial Revival style. The houses are similar in scale, materials, massing, and setbacks. Most were built speculatively for tradesmen and middle-class professionals. As a rule, Barton Heights' properties are larger and more fanciful in their architectural detailing than those found in the adjacent historic districts.
The Barton Heights Historic District includes a total of 367 contributing (305 main buildings and 62 outbuildings) and 138 noncontributing resources (65 main buildings, 72 outbuildings, and 1 playground).
A 1906 brochure promoting the virtues of this early suburb includes this glowing description:
Barton Heights is a model residence town. It has no saloons, no slaughter houses, no manufactories, no dirt-breeding or disease-breeding nuisances of any sort... Its citizens are interested in a variety of important enterprises, but these are conducted in the main in the big city to which the town is immediately joined, and from whose noise and heat and dust and turmoil these toilers gladly escape to the quiet, peaceful and beautiful homes they have built or bought on the "Heights."
Large Queen Anne style homes have dominated the neighborhood since its earliest years, though Colonial Revival style houses became increasingly popular as the neighborhood reached maturity in the 1920s. Several Colonial Revival style apartment buildings are found in the district, with clusters on Monteiro Street near the Viaduct, and on Wellford and Minor Streets. The few commercial buildings in the Barton Heights Historic District are small-scale masonry buildings found on North Avenue and on Roberts Street at North. The neighborhood's churches and schools were demolished and replaced in the 1920s and 30s with larger masonry structures in the Battery Park and Brookland Park neighborhoods. The town enjoyed fresh water from wells and a reservoir located at "Corner Minor," originally James Barton's estate. The original well, known as Mitchell's Spring, was established as a local gathering place prior to the development of Barton Heights. The first Barton Heights fire department, now demolished, shared space with other town offices at 2215 Lamb Avenue. The town had electrical service from its inception. A box-like, brick 1920s transformer building remains on Lamb at Fells Street.
Barton Heights' primary streets, Barton, Lamb, Rose and Miller, named for prominent figures in the neighborhood's early development, reinforce its north-south axis. That axis is most powerfully asserted by North Avenue, a roadway shared with Richmond's first electric streetcar. In the southern part of the historic district some houses and apartment buildings front on the shorter east-west oriented streets such as Poe, Wellford, and Minor Streets. In Barton Heights most roadways are lined with mature trees, and a grass strip buffers concrete sidewalks from automobile traffic. Alleyways bisecting neighborhood blocks provide access to one-story frame garages and service sheds.
Though most of district's earliest houses are Queen Anne in style, a few examples of Italianate and Late Victorian houses remain. Later buildings tend to be either large-scale Colonial Revival houses, Bungalows, or American Foursquares, whose porch columns, balustrades and window types reflect the variety of styles and motifs popular in the first quarter of the twentieth-century. Although there are several brick buildings in the district, the vast majority of structures are frame with wood siding or coarse-surfaced gunnite. Gunnite is a cementitious finish frequently applied to exterior walls of American Foursquare houses.
As initially developed, the streets of Barton Heights were lined with wood frame houses with complex roof forms, angled bays, and wrap-around porches with turrets, spindle friezes and neoclassical columns. Outstanding examples of the Queen Anne style can be found on each of the neighborhood's major streets, with the greatest concentration on Monteiro, Barton, and Lamb Avenues. The Hazelgrove House at 2020 Barton Avenue is among the best-preserved examples of this style. It is a large hipped-roof single-family dwelling whose salient features include a three-story hexagonal tower and a turreted wrap-around porch with spindle frieze, and turned columns and balusters. Typical of the picturesque Queen Anne style the house presents asymmetrical massing with a variety of window sizes, material textures and colors. Polychrome floral designs are centered on the slate roofs.
"Corner Minor" (at 2112 Monteiro) and the Bluford house (at 2000 Monteiro) may be the most prominent houses in the neighborhood. Both are frame structures, parged with stucco, and, like the Hazelgrove house, they have towers, turrets, and multi-sided bays. "Corner Minor," the only neighborhood dwelling to boast ornamental-block entry posts and a porte cochere, was built on the neighborhood's largest lot for the original developer, James H. Barton. The Pitt House (at 2118 Lamb Avenue) represents a large, but less flamboyant, Queen Anne style house. This house is distinguished by the symmetrical massing of its facade and by the arched and recessed third-story porch. 2210 Barton Avenue and 201 Poe Street are Queen Anne style houses whose two-story porches feature distinctive friezes and balustrades.
The Late Victorian style buildings in Barton Heights are typically wood frame, detached, single family houses with steep pitched gable roofs covered with standing-seam metal. In contrast to Barton Heights' Queen Anne style houses, these are more vertically oriented, with less exuberant decoration. Their one-story porches span the facade rather than wrapping around one or two sides. Some have a false mansard roof on the facade only. In Barton Heights two rows of Late Victorian style houses are combined with a few isolated examples. A group of small-scale, L-shaped, Late Victorian houses is found in a single block: 1600, 1604,1606, 1610, and 1614 Sewell Street (ca. 1890).
These steep-roofed houses feature flared eaves with curved rafter ends. Each of the houses originally had two-over-two double-hung windows, which accentuated each house's vertical character. The houses at 203, 205, 207, and 209 Wellford (ca. 1900) feature false mansard roofs with floral designs in polychrome slate. The roof cornices have molded metal cornices. The one-story hipped porch roofs once had spindle friezes and sawn brackets; these elements remain intact at 209 Wellford.
The Italianate style dominated Richmond's urban architecture in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, although this style is not well represented in Barton Heights Houses. Typical Italianate houses tended to have a vertical emphasis with a parapeted facade shallow-pitched shed roofs, bracketed cornices, and a paneled frieze. The two examples of Barton Heights' Italianate buildings at 1613 Monteiro and at 1602 Sewell are small-scale frame houses near the historic district's southern edge. Nearly identical in appearance, both are shed-roofed two-story houses sided in weatherboard, with a one-story, three-bay front porch and a traditional Italianate cornice and frieze.
Houses of simpler massing and generic details, recalling American Colonial architecture are also prevalent in Barton Heights, as in all of suburban Richmond. Typically those in Barton Heights are weatherboarded, rendered in stucco, or surfaced with gunnite. Several prominent examples are constructed in brick or molded concrete block. In Barton Heights the Colonial Revival style is expressed in rectangular massing, simple molded casings, box cornices, and symmetrical window openings. Most of the roofs are hipped with cross gables, and are less complex than the Queen Anne style houses. The more high-style Colonial Revival examples have pedimented doors or entryways, dentils or modillions, and patterned upper window sashes.
Prominently sited at the Dove Street end of the Barton Avenue axis, 2009 Lamb Avenue (ca. 1920s) is a massive, hip-roofed house with a one-story wrap-around porch. Alternating courses of smooth and rough-faced ornamental cast block add visual interest, as do the red-brown tones of the sills and lintels. Quoining is expressed at the four corners by careful placement of rough-faced blocks.
A row of small scale frame houses in the Colonial Revival style is found at 203, 205, 207, and 209 Minor Street (ca. 1920s). These two-story workers cottages have standing-seam metal hipped roofs with centered cross gables, each accented with a diamond-shaped window. Each has a three-bay, one-story, raised porch supported by Tuscan columns, spanned by the ubiquitous square-picketed railings.
The most highly articulated examples of the Colonial Revival in Barton Heights are its apartment buildings, including those clustered on the west side of Monteiro Avenue, on the north side of Minor and Wellford Streets, and the neighborhood's largest single building at 2400 Barton Avenue. Pediments patterned fanlights or bulls eyes ornament their multi-level porches. These apartment buildings incorporate features like corbelled masonry piers, stone sills and lintels, Chippendale railings, and other architectural flourishes not seen in the more restrained, single family Colonial Revival homes.
Barton Heights commercial buildings at 2208 North Avenue and at 3 E. Roberts Street are also brick structures in the Colonial Revival style. 2208 North Avenue was originally constructed for Barney and Louis Briel, long time neighborhood grocers whose Colonial Revival house still stands in the Battery Park Historic District. Like the commercial building at 3 E. Roberts, the Briels' grocery store presents a simple storefront with transoms and box cornices at the storefront and the roof. Both examples have apartments on the second floor.
More than thirty examples of the Bungalow style are found in the Barton Heights Historic District. They represent builder-designed houses constructed as the neighborhood attained full build-out. Most are American Foursquare houses surfaced with stucco or gunnite. These Bungalow style houses are wood frame with hipped roofs and raised, one-story, two-bay front porches with prominent piers. The roof rafters are often exposed within deep eaves, as in the examples at 2111 and 2113 Barton Avenue, and the roof is further accentuated with a centered dormer. The gunnite-surfaced houses at 1604 and 1606 Monteiro Avenue are very good examples of the Bungalow style interpreted in an American Foursquare type house. As is typical throughout the district this pair of very similar houses incorporates subtle differentiation. 1604 has terra cotta tile roofing while 1606 has a slate roof. The center porch pier at 1604 is truncated and topped with a planter while the center porch pier at 1606 is complete. Both houses feature paired double-hung wood windows, which are typical in American Foursquares.
The ca. 1910s duplex at 2409 North Avenue is the largest scale Bungalow style building in the historic district. It is set back from street. It has a massive, slate, hipped roof, exposed rafters and deep eaves. The symmetrical massing of this stuccoed house features one-story entry porches on each end which frame the two-story projecting center bays. The first floor windows are paired within recessed, blind arches.
By Mary Harding Sadler
Barton Heights is a remarkably intact turn-of-the-twentieth-century residential quarter of the city of Richmond, Virginia. The first of a number of private and speculative developments outlying the city's Northside, it was touted as a haven for the renter class of managers and clerks, for whom easy terms would finance first houses and electric rail service would give quick access to the city center. The town of Barton Heights was a rapid success, surviving the panic and flight of its founder James H. Barton in 1896 to produce a tight-knit community that welcomed annexation in 1914 and prospered as a middle-class neighborhood through the mid-century.
The proposed Barton Heights Historic District satisfies the National Register Criterion A because it was one of the first (1894) electric trolley suburbs to be developed in the United States. It is further distinguished as one of the first neighborhoods in the country to be developed using new financing methods like "rent-to-buy" to attract the middle class to speculative housing. The housing stock itself qualifies the District for inclusion under National Register Criterion C, with a particularly rich collection of frame Queen Anne houses from the last years of the nineteenth century. Interspersed are early twentieth-century Foursquares and Colonial Revival residences completing a composite of mid-century Richmond architecture.
The name Barton Heights derives from the late nineteenth-century suburban development begun in part by James H. Barton on the heights above the confluence of Bacon Quarter branch and Cannon's branch of Shockoe Creek, which flow east and south to separate the high land from Richmond's Jackson Ward. Barton's venture reflected the growing confidence of Richmond's business community as the end of the century saw the city emerge with a strongly diverse economy and population. Before the Civil War, merchants and lawyers like Thomas Rutherfoord or William Duval and after 1865 James Allen, Major James Dooley and Joseph Bryan had traditionally speculated on land in the city's West End. As the century turned, entrepreneurs like tobacconist philanthropist Lewis Ginter began to look to the north side of Richmond with an eye to development. In 1888, the Brookland District of Henrico County was in line to be the area of greatest expansion. In terms of real property value it was on par with the county's Tuckahoe and Fairfield districts; while in terms of personality, its inhabitants were by far the richest: $2 million compared to Fairfield's $180,000, its closest competitor.
Following the devastation of the city after the War, the period of occupation and reconstruction that followed, and the political battle which ensued for the city's control, the business community united to promote an industrial/commercial economy patterned on the capitalist model of the northern states. Progressive and speculative, the business class embraced new technologies that tied the city to the larger, national economic engine and employed an increasing number of immigrant populations. The "conservative" label referred to the political and social policies that still deferred to the antebellum ethos and power structure.
The Northside area prospered as a direct result of the construction of the First Street Viaduct and the Brookland Railway (streetcar) line through Barton Heights and subsequently west to Lakeside, which connected the developments to the downtown, a mile and a half away. Barton Heights proper was developed after 1890, while generally Brookland Park and Battery Court were developed in the early 1910s, with the latest being Woodrow Park (1924) in the Brookland Park neighborhood. Growth was so substantial that by 1914 the city annexed the area from Henrico County.
The land that later became Barton Heights was first laid out north of "Duval's & Coutts' Addition" in 1806, when Major William Duval speculated that the new capital of Virginia would grow north and west of the new statehouse. Duval, grandson of French Huguenots, had petitioned the General Assembly in 1804 to extend the western boundary of the city to the junction of Brook Road and Westham Road on the west end of Richmond. Duval's land lay east and north of Brook Road. Major Duval was a Richmond attorney who served as mayor of the city (1804) and later as a delegate in the General Assembly representing the city. Patrick Coutts (d. ante 1795) was a merchant in the city whose property joined Duval's.
In 1813 William Mitchell laid out his 102 acres in the grid that is identifiable today as the historic corporation of Barton Heights. Already Barton, Lamb and Monteiro Avenues drive north, although their names originally honored species of trees rather than land speculators: Pine Street, Oak and Poplar. The cross streets were numbered in the Henrico survey of 3 October 1813. First Street is today's Wellford or School Street, Second is Minor Street and Poe Street was Third Street. The later site of James H. Barton's mansion house on Monteiro at Vale can be discerned in the shift of the lot line of lots 38 & 44 in Mitchell's survey. Mitchell's Springs, which would become the source of Barton Heights water supply nearly a century later, was a well-known gathering spot in the years between Mitchell's failure and Barton's success.
Bacon Quarter Branch ravine, however, proved to be too great a geographical barrier to the hopes of Mitchell. Further, the development of "Postletown" immediately to the south (so-called from the streets: St Peter, St Paul, St John and St James, all intersecting Charity Street) set a community of free black artisans and contractors between the social center of the city and the calculations of land speculators.
James H. Barton and the Speculative Suburb
James H. Barton might in another age than our own have been called a carpetbagger. Born in 1837 in Pennsylvania, he arrived in Arkansas after the Civil War with the Union troops. He had been secretary to Powell Clayton who was a Brigadier General in the Union Army and later Governor of his adopted state and its U.S. senator. Barton was enterprising and soon became a co-owner of a Little Rock newspaper, the Republican By the time he came to Richmond in 1889 his immediate past experience had been in land development in Little Rock and Memphis, Tennessee. According to report he had developed "hundreds" of new houses in the two cities. Barton purchased twenty acres north of Duval's Addition, an impressive height at the conjunction of two ravines. His notion was to present a wholesome site to a newly rising class of clerks and professional people, offering as inducements easy terms on the land and buildings, what might be called renting to own: "Parties wishing a house at once can select their lots, make a reasonable cash payment, have a house erected, and when it is completed can make small monthly payments for all the unpaid money due for the house and lots. Lots are for sale at $15 a front foot, upon a payment of $25 cash and $5 a month, with 6 percent interest.
In addition he promoted the construction of a viaduct across Bacon Quarter Branch, connecting the Heights to First Street and providing easy access to the center city. By 1894 a streetcar line (operated by the Richmond Railway and Electric Company) was ferrying his new landowners to and from the new suburb, technology unheard of in 1889. Cars first ran along Monteiro Avenue to Poe and west to a terminal (a prominent cedar tree) at North Avenue and Kersting Street (later Cedar Tree and still later Graham). In time, service expanded to accommodate growth of the neighborhood and cars ran to Brookland Park Boulevard, Chamberlayne Avenue and eventually out to Lakeside. This new mode of transportation continued to spur growth beyond Barton Heights. Barton was a tireless promoter, taking advantage of the Letters to the Editor columns to pitch growth in Richmond. Barton was so successful that in less than six years (1896) Barton Heights had been incorporated a town in Henrico County. Unfortunately he was less effective as a bookkeeper and fled the city under cover of darkness to avoid his creditors when bad practices and a depressed economy disgraced this "genial" newcomer that same year. In later years the judgment on him was not so harsh, his failures attributed to "fickle fate."
Reorganized, the town continued to grow and in 1907 Henrico County ceded the lands to the town north of the original development, bounded by Roberts on the south and Graham Road on the north. Fendall still provided the western limit and the lot lines behind Lamb Street were the eastern boundary.
James H. Barton made his own home in the development and his frame house, "Corner Minor," figured prominently in the brochures and pamphlets that advertised the neighborhood throughout the town's first two decades. Still standing at the intersection of Monteiro and Vale, the now stuccoed house sits in the same large park that housed the town's water supply at Mitchell's Springs.
Other citizens of the new town included a number of Barton's early associates. In 1907, H. Lee Lorraine, president of the Brookland Railway & Improvement Company (which leased track to the streetcar companies) lived at 400 Barton Avenue. His son, H. Lee Lorraine Jr., lived at 912 (now 2308) Barton Avenue. He is listed as a clerk with the American Locomotive Company. The Raglands were a family of contractors and W. Lauman Ragland, sometime mayor of the town, was the principal builder for Barton. He lived at 500 (now 2000) Barton Avenue at the corner of Poe Street, and the family firm's engineer Beaufort S. Ragland was living there in 1950. John E. Rose, a plumbing and steam fittings' contractor and mayor of the town in 1906, lived at 702 (2202) Barton Avenue. W. P. Veitch, a granolithic paving contractor, was the owner of Barton's mansion on Monteiro throughout the 1900s and 1910s, after which the property became a sanitarium. Ignatius Bluford, proprietor of a new and used machinery concern lived at 2000 (500) Monteiro Avenue, which is sited prominently at the corner of Poe Street. Thomas W. Gardner, an attorney with Gardner & Lightfoot lived at the corner of Lamb and Graham (then Kersting).
The first building to serve the neighborhood's religious congregations was the Wigwam (1891) at the corner of Barton and Roberts (No. 2017). Originally a community center, its early date reflected the tight community being established. After the town was annexed to Richmond in 1914 and community feeling waned, the building was extensively remodeled into the residence it is today. It was the Methodists who first used the Wigwam before they built their new sanctuary in 1893 on North Avenue. Barton was a Methodist and the church's minutes of May 18, 1896 record the congregation's dismay in the downfall of its most prominent member: "Since our last Conference our church has suffered a great calamity in the failure of one of its members, in consequence of which our progress has been temporarily retarded."
The Barton Heights Baptist Church was also first organized in the Wigwam. Its members were among the most prominent of the neighborhood. The Baptists moved to the corner of Virginia (Rose) and Wickham in 1892, to a building designed by Barton's building superintendent John H. Rogers, also a member of the congregation. The Rev. Robert Healy Pitt was pastor of the Barton Heights Baptist Church from 1892 to 1897. He lived at 2118 (718) Lamb Avenue into the 1930s while he was editor of The Religious Herald, the principal Baptist publication in the state. An outspoken critic of attempts to outlaw the teaching of evolution in public schools, he was credited with defeating such legislation before the Virginia General Assembly. Other members included Olivia (Mrs. S. A.) Hazelgrove whose house at 610 (2020) Barton Avenue continued as the residence of her son, L. Conway Hazelgrove, a lawyer, in 1940. Jesse H. Binford, later superintendent of schools for the city lived at 2114 (714) North Avenue, before moving across Brookland Park Boulevard in 1922 to 3031 Noble Avenue William M. Luck sometime treasurer of the church lived at 2201 (801) North Avenue. H. Lee Lorraine, already mentioned as president of the Brookland Railway & Improvement Company, was a congregant, as were Frank B. Traylor, who owned lands north of town (later part of the Norwood subdivision in Brookland Park) and George Knox Crutchfield, a miller who lived at 2107 Lamb.
Throughout the first half of the century, the neighborhood was a middle-class white community, enforced by rental covenants and property values. The proximity however, of Postletown to the south (St James Street becomes North Avenue; St John, Rose Ave; and St Peter is today Miller Ave) influenced a steady pressure from African- American populations to look for housing in the district. As early as 1906, the Barton Heights Grammar School at 410 (1800) Miller Avenue near School Street, just outside the corporation lines of the town, was designated "colored." In later years the name was changed to Valley View School. The school was closed by 1940.
The Barton Heights Public School (1906), which Richmond architect Albert Huntt designed, is also emblematic of the compositional change in the neighborhood. Located on the north side of Wickham Avenue between Miller and Greenwood on the site of Confederate fortifications, it was renamed George Thorpe School in 1922, after an early colonist. Later (1950) it was designated the Albert V. Norrell Elementary School to honor a Richmond educator of African-American background, when the school became a black school in response to the changing complexion of the neighborhood. By that date (1950) most residents south of Roberts Street were African-American. Today a modern Annex to the Norrell School occupies the site on Wickham Avenue, and a new school has been erected on Fendall Avenue.
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, "Richmond As She Is". 19 April 1891, p. 10, c. 1-2.
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† Chen, Kimberly Merkel; Sadler, Mary Harding; Witt, Peter McDeamon; McRae, Jean, Town of Barton Heights Historic District, 2000 & 2003, nomination document, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.