Chestnut Hill-Plateau Historic District
The Chestnut Hill/Plateau Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002. 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 Chestnut Hill/Plateau Historic District in Richmond, Virginia forms the southern tip of the larger neighborhood known as Highland Park. Chestnut Hill, one of Richmond's early streetcar suburbs, was established about 1890 and experienced much of its growth by 1901. It continued to grow into the third decade of the twentieth century. The district generally lines between First and Fifth Avenues and between Trigg Street and Brookland Park Boulevard. The district's resources are frame, two-story, residential buildings for the most part, but also include multiple dwellings, a small number of commercial buildings along Brookland Park Boulevard, fraternal lodges and several prominent churches. Architectural styles represented in the district include Queen Anne, American Foursquare, Bungalow, Colonial Revival and Gothic Revival. The area contains a significant number of contributing garages, several of which were designed to complement the houses they supported. The district contains 742 resources, 83 of which were deemed to be noncontributing.
Richmond's historic settlement patterns have been influenced to a great extent by the area's environmental features. While the bottomlands served as commercial and industrial areas, the bordering hills and ridges were the choice sites for residential settlement and dense development after the earliest years. The major portion of the city on Shockoe Hill was bordered on the north by the deep course of Bacon's Quarter Branch, which largely prevented easy settlement of the area to the north of the city. Not until development of efficient public transportation did the flat-topped ridges between the ravines and the fertile adjoining farmland become subjects of development projects as extensions of the city's residential grid. One of the closest of these wide ridges to the north, an arm of land projecting south between Shockoe Creek and a tributary called Cannon's Branch, is the site of the Chestnut Hill/Plateau Historic District. The district's terrain is generally flat (hence "the Plateau"), but varies considerably with shallow knobs and small ravines intruding.
Colony to Early National Period (1753-1830) and Antebellum Period (1831-1860)
The district was the site of an expensive brick, two-story, central-passage-plan country house called Mount Comfort. There are no standing structures that survive from this period or from the succeeding antebellum period.
Civil War (1861-1865)
In the late antebellum era large lots along the west side of the Meadow Bridge Road were purchased by city merchants and others, who built houses on them. The only surviving resource from this period, probably dating from its end, is the large, frame, Greek Revival-style, double-pile, central-passage-plan Kastelberg House. The Kastelberg House is the earliest building to survive in the district.
Reconstruction and Growth (1866-1916)
Industrial Growth and Initial Development (1866-1889)
The property continued largely in the hands of a few owners and was developed only along the west side of the Meadow Bridge Road. Intense industrial development which grew up in the period was restricted to the area along Bacon's Quarter Branch. When, in September of 1889, the 135-acre Mount Comfort property was purchased for development, several older buildings were standing on the tract, but these soon vanished and the plateau was laid out in streets and lots.
Street Car Suburb (1890-1916)
The prospective suburb of Chestnut Hill consisted of a grid made up of sixty-foot roadways. The principal streets were direct extensions of the city's numbered street grid across Bacon's Quarter Branch, although they were called Second through Fifth avenues instead of Second through Fifth streets. The cross streets were given tree names, beginning with Alder at the southwest end and continuing with Chestnut, Althea, Birch, Willow, Juniper, Spruce, Myrtle, and Magnolia to the irregular edges formed by the Old County Road on the northeast. Most of the forty-five squares or blocks were 300 feet on each side, but those along the sides and north edge were irregular and of widely varying size due to the positions of Shockoe Creek, the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway tracks on the southeast, the Old County Road on the north, and the old Meadow Bridge Road on the northwest. The lots were aligned with the numbered streets running southwest to northeast. Twenty narrow (30' by 140') lots in each square faced the numbered streets, divided into parallel groups of ten by twenty-foot central alleys. A street aligned with Willow Street was extended across the Cannon's Branch ravine to connect Chestnut Hill with the neighboring suburb of Barton Heights in the early 1890s. Eventually, the bottom of the district was defined by a street named for William R. Trigg, president of the nearby American Locomotive Company.
Most of the standing structures in the Chestnut Hill/Plateau Historic District were built during this period. Growth was slow at first. In 1901, when a map of the neighborhood was prepared, there were only about sixty houses standing on the many lots of the district. Ironically, and in spite of the suburban rhetoric, most of the houses built in the first two decades of the Chestnut Hill development followed the urban Richmond building tradition. The earliest houses were often narrow side-passage-plan dwellings that were designed to occupy the closely built streets in the city. Although these were not built as closely together as they might have been in the city, they betrayed an urban orientation on the part of the designers or builders. Two-story, frame houses such as the dwelling at 1712 Fourth Avenue are related in form to structures built for most of the previous century, with their two main rooms reached by a passage containing a staircase along one side. A few took the form of the double house or duplex, as represented in the study area by the frame dwelling with Queen Anne-style details at 2527-2519 Second Avenue.
A significant number of houses built in the district in later years continued to incorporate vernacular floor plans. Well preserved examples of these vernacular forms include the side-passage-plan house at 2401 Fourth Avenue and the similar houses at 1712 and 1714 Fourth Avenue. The house on the corner of Third Avenue and Juniper Street is a similar side-passage-plan dwelling with a dramatic Queen Anne-style corner tower.
Other houses in the early period were built for prosperous professionals or merchants, such as the Carstang, Duke, Leonard, and Heinrich houses. These were illustrated in an 1893 publication promoting the city. These houses took the form of elaborate Queen Anne-style houses known from period pattern books, and they incorporated towers, undercut bay windows, elaborate porches, and picturesque roof forms. The unusual Duke House survives at the corner of Willow Street and Third Avenue. The central polygonal tower at the center of the principal facade incorporates a third-floor porch and wraparound first-floor porch. The Heinrich House survives at 1910 Fourth Avenue. Its elaborately bracketed wraparound porch, polygonal bays, and irregular slate roof have been carefully preserved. The Naomi Askew Hall Home at 2400 Third Avenue is an important Queen Anne House carefully restored and preserved by the Highland Park Restoration and Preservation Program. This two-story frame house features decorative sawn work, an undercut two-story bay, and a double-pile, side-passage plan.
One of the most important groups of related houses of a late nineteenth-century date are the four matching structures built along the southeast side of Third Avenue north of Trigg Street. These dwellings are elegantly detailed Queen Anne-style structures of modest scale with frame upper floors, closely-laid brick first floors, decorative slate roofs, towers, and polygonal bay windows. Some of the more substantial early houses have matching carriage houses on the alleys, such as the one-and-a-half-story, brick, Second Empire-style carriage house with a Mansard roof or the two-story, frame stable/carriage house at 1706 Fourth Avenue.
The majority of the houses built in what became the Highland Park neighborhood, including Chestnut Hill and the Plateau sections, were the kinds of two-story frame dwellings known as American Foursquare houses. Together with its one-story counterpoint known the Bungalow, these houses were the principal modest dwellings built across the country in the period from 1905-1930. Most were single-family dwellings but a few were duplexes. They resembled houses built in nearby Barton Heights.
Foursquare houses in the district are usually very simple, with stuccoed frame walls, and one-story, two-bay front porches. The houses are distinguished by minor variations, such as the type of fenestration (paired or single sash windows), the roof form (side gable or front gable, occasionally gambrel or clipped gable) or material (slate or metal), the eaves (open or closed), and the porch (tapered piers or classical columns). Well preserved examples include the pair of stuccoed frame houses at 2510 and 2512 Fourth Avenue and the carefully detailed brick house at 1921 Fourth Avenue. Good examples of the related one-and-one-half-story Bungalow form in the study area include the frame house at 2825 Fourth Avenue and the similar example at 1715 Second Avenue. One of the most elegant small bungalows in the district is the gable-fronted house with decorative brackets and roof trusses at 1511 Custer Street.
The plain, simply detailed houses built on most lots were often constructed in groups of two or more as investments by builders or real estate companies. Building permits from the period after the annexation of Highland Park by the city of Richmond in 1914 show the types of houses increasingly built in the district. The permit for the house at 1209 Third Avenue shows that it was a frame house of two stories with a concrete foundation and "hot air" heating system, covered with stucco and roofed with slate. The house, which measured about 30 by 33 feet, was estimated to cost $2,900. The builder and owner were the same, C. L. Terrell, whose Terrell Building Company at 1911 Virginia Avenue in Highland Park was active in building houses for resale.
A pair of more expensive houses were built at the same time at 2801 and 2803 Third Avenue as a development by Modern Home Builders, Inc. The two-story brick-veneered structures were only slightly larger than the stucco house above, but nearly twice as expensive at $5,000 each, perhaps due to their hot water heat and exterior sheathing of brick. The house at 2801 Third Avenue survives in excellent condition. Plans and elevations for these houses submitted to the city's building inspector survive in the City of Richmond's building plan collection at the Library of Virginia. An identical floor plan for each was substantially varied by alternate facades and rooflines, One features asymmetrical gables, paired windows, and classical porch columns and the other a shallow hipped roof, single windows, and massive porch piers.
A fourth dwelling was built for owner W. P. Flanagan on Fourth Street in the same year. The brick building, of a similar size to those mentioned previously, was expected to cost $3,600. It was designed by J. T. Skinner, an employee of the Miller Manufacturing Company, and was to be built by N.W. Perkins. The differences in cost may have had to do with the detailing of the porch and the interior as much as the exterior materials and heating system.
One of the most notable houses in the district is the sophisticated Colonial Revival dwelling of G. L. Beardsley designed by the Richmond architectural firm of Carneal and Johnston and located at 2300 Second Avenue. The house contrasts sharply with neighboring Foursquare houses in its complex detailing, with a central, inset, two-story porch containing a classical frontispiece, flanked by one-story polygonal bays and surmounted by a wide kicked hipped roof. It was built in 1915 at an estimated cost of $5,000 by the Arnheim Brothers construction firm. Many of the earlier houses with conventional Foursquare or Bungalow plans have finely detailed Colonial Revival exteriors, such as the house at 2115 Fourth Avenue with a Dutch Colonial-style gambrel roof and the dwelling on Fourth Avenue with a shed dormer and a wide Ionic-columned porch.
Commerce developed on prominent corners of the district and along Brookland Park Boulevard at the northern edge of the district. A handsome two-story brick store with Classical Revival-style details was built about 1915 at the corner of Spruce Street and Fourth Avenue to serve the community. Operated by a merchant named Kranitsky, the architecturally sophisticated store is located at 2318 Fourth Avenue. A similar two-story building, now the home of an International A. F. and A. M. Lodge, faced Fourth Avenue at the corner of Brookland Park Boulevard and Fourth Avenue. It may have been built to house a Masonic lodge that formerly used the Northside Hall, a now-vanished town hall originally located across the street. Like most lodge buildings in the period, it housed a store on the ground floor.
Religious buildings also occupied corner lots throughout the neighborhood. The Episcopal Church of the Ascension building still stands on the corner of Fourth Avenue and Custer Street. It is a low, brick structure in the Gothic Revival style, with a crenellated, projecting vestibule, pointed-arch windows, and side buttresses. The Gothic Revival-style stone Northside Baptist Church building stands on the corner of Third Avenue and Victor Street. It incorporates high gabled roofs and a crenellated corner tower. The building was designed by Richmond architect Charles Robinson, who also did the very similar First English Evangelical Lutheran Church on Monument Avenue two years later. It was enlarged in 1916 along Victor Street to hold a growing congregation. A large and substantial educational building was completed in 1934 to the rear of the church. In 1956 a new sanctuary with a high gabled stone principal facade and an arched entry was built to the northeast of the original church.
World War I to World War II (1917-1945)
The single-family resources associated with this suburban residential development of the third, fourth, and fifth decades of the twentieth century include houses of various forms: Bungalow, American Foursquare, and derivations of Tudor Revival- and Colonial Revival-style dwellings. Bungalow and American Foursquare dwellings, both resulting from a popularization of the Craftsman movement, began to appear some years before the 1917 start of this period, but many were constructed after that date as well. The house forms, popularized in national publications, were largely differentiated by height, and both are among the first houses in the region to utilize irregular, functionally laid-out plans.
Of the houses in the district, the overwhelming majority from the period between the wars are frame buildings of the two-story, Foursquare form. They often are included in groups of two, three, or four similar buildings, probably erected as speculative developments by a builder or developer. Among the most interesting of the Foursquare houses built in this period are the related groups on Fourth and Fifth avenues. These brick houses have gabled fronts filled with half-timber work and ornamental stucco front porches with a variety of Gothic- and Palladian-inspired shapes, including several bold ogee arches.
The single-family house at 2707 Second Avenue was built for Mrs. Calvin P. Jones in the mid-1920s. It is a good example of the way houses that were not built by a developer were designed. Mrs. Jones, widowed in 1924, moved to Highland Park and had a house built on this lot in 1926-27. Her daughter recalls that she raised her family there and lived there with a daughter until her death in 1972. The plans must have been purchased, but her brother, Louis Washer, Sr., an engineer with the city Department of Public Works, helped her incorporate elements, like the back stairs she wanted, into the design.
Among the buildings built in the 1920s, 30s and 40s are several dwellings built in the Tudor Revival-style, simple houses with decorative entry vestibules, applied decorative features, and steep gabled roofs. A one-and-one-half-story stucco version stands at 2717 Fourth Avenue. A more unusual two-story, brick house in the style is found at 2903 Fourth Avenue. The house features a clipped gable-front slate roof, half-timbered gables, and Flemish bond brickwork. The Colonial Revival is represented in a limited way. The group of one-story houses at 2509-2515 Second Avenue with decorative porches and gable-front chimneys resemble nationally published prototypes. A related house stands on Brook Road in another part of the Northside area, suggesting that the plans were reused or purchased from the same sources.
Throughout the area homeowners built garages to house newly purchased automobiles. A few were designed to mirror the houses they supported, such as the hip-roofed, brick structure on the alley behind the house at 2406 Third Avenue. Most, however, were small frame buildings designed to house a single car and were covered, both wall and roof, with corrugated metal.
New apartment buildings such as the two-story, gable-fronted stucco house with an apartment on each floor at 2815 Fourth Avenue became a more common housing form, reflecting the decreasing popularity of rooming houses in favor of independent rental units. Apartment construction may also represent a higher cost of home ownership in the 1920s. The four-unit, two-story apartment buildings with paired porches at 2601 Second Avenue and 2207-2209 Fourth Avenue are similar to many built throughout the city in the 1910s and 1920s. The shed roof is concealed by parapets carrying small ornamental tile rooflets. A similar house at 2407 Second Street is a duplex.
Local service and commercial development continued with a row of small shops housed in a one-story, brick, commercial block built on Chestnut Street at Third Avenue about 1930. A corner store was built about 1920 at Fourth Avenue and Spruce Street. The store looked much like the Foursquare houses adjacent to it.
The Classical Revival-style St. Elizabeth's Roman Catholic Church building of 1923 was designed by the firm of architects by whom parishioner William H. Rhodes was employed. The temple-front church, located on the corner of Victor Street and Second Avenue, has a full entablature, a pediment, and colossal columns and pilasters based on the Tower of the Winds Order.
The New Dominion (1946-Present)
Little occurred in the construction of new buildings in the district as families moved out and property values stagnated after World War II. The most notable building of the period is the school built for St. Elizabeth's Roman Catholic parish. The two-story, International Style building is constructed of brick on a raised poured-concrete foundation. The flat-topped rectangular profile was made distinctive by a roof that slopes gently toward the center as seen at the north and south ends. These ends are decoratively treated with inset crosses. The longer sides contain banded windows on each floor. A small square-topped brick belfry marks the entry near the north end of the east side.
The rapid change of the population in the 1960s did not result in a change in the physical form of the building stock. More recent decay of the real estate values has led to some neglect of the housing stock. The few newer buildings are houses and apartment buildings of plain and inexpensive form. The Grayland Baptist Church built an impressive new Postmodern-style sanctuary in very recent years at the corner of Third Avenue and Juniper Street on the site of the former Mizpah Presbyterian Church building.
The Chestnut Hill/Plateau Historic District in the City of Richmond is ... a historic residential and commercial area exhibiting the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century development of a "streetcar suburb." Residential, commercial, transportation-related, and institutional buildings primarily date from a period of significance from ca. 1890 to 1930, during which time new, popular building designs gradually replaced traditional forms, although there was remarkable continuity of form and location for the various corresponding building types. A further period of significance extends from 1931 to 1946, when a few significant new structures were built and the storefronts of several of the existing commercial buildings were altered as the city's institutions and business owners responded to the Great Depression and the post-World War II-era change in architectural styles with a modernization effort. A significant date is 1914, the year of the town of Highland Park's incorporation into the city of Richmond.
The predominant historic period represented by the surveyed resources is that of Reconstruction and Growth (1866-1916), reflecting the era of Chestnut Hill's founding in the late nineteenth century and the period of time during which commercial and residential growth transformed the community from a semi-developed field to a densely built suburb. Single family residential structures are the vast majority of the documented resource types. Although multiple dwellings, commercial buildings, mixed-use buildings, fraternal lodges, churches, and schools are located in the district or its immediate vicinity, the boundaries, based on the visual continuity and physical integrity of the district, include only those sections of Chestnut Hill and the Plateau that retain intact historic structures. Areas of significance include commerce, transportation, and architecture. All but seventeen of the contributing primary resources in the district are significant as domestic properties. The district's resources include several architecturally significant buildings (most notably the Colonial Revival-style Beardsley House at 2300 Second Avenue, the five elaborate Queen Anne-style houses on the east side of the 1900 block of Third Avenue, and the granite Gothic Revival-style Northside Baptist Church at 2800 Third Avenue) and one closely related to the transportation theme (the service station at Third Avenue and Brookland Park Boulevard)
Colony to Early National Period (1753-1830)
The Chestnut Hill/Plateau Historic District was the site of a farm owned, in the eighteenth century, by prominent city man Samuel DuVal (1714-1784). He acquired 300 acres on Shockoe Creek adjoining Widow Cannon's pasture, Cannon's Branch, and William Byrd's line in 1745. He later acquired an adjoining 100 acres, named the property Mount Comfort, and built a large brick center-passage-plan dwelling on the flat center of the tract on the east side of the Meadow Bridge Road. In 1813, DuVal heirs sold 30 acres, part of the Mount Comfort tract, to David Bullock and others. This tract did not contain the house, which was nearby. The tract containing the house was eventually acquired by members of the Randolph family, who insured the two-story brick house, the frame kitchen, and the frame dairy for $3,100 in 1809.
Peter V. Daniel (1784-1860) acquired the tract for life through the inheritance of his wife, Lucy Randolph, in the early 1820s. The upper portion of Mount Comfort or Spring Farm, including "the brick dwelling house, the kitchen, and the house sometimes called the office" was inherited by Lucy N. Daniel and the southern portion by her sister, Edmonia M. Preston. Peter V. Daniel purchased an additional tract of the original DuVal farm in 1828.
Antebellum Period (1831-1860)
Peter V. and Lucy Daniel's property included most of what became the Chestnut Hill subdivision. Daniel, lieutenant governor of Virginia from 1818 to 1835 and a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1841 to 1860, lived most of his life on Grace Street in the city, but maintained his residential property just outside the city. The farm included the southernmost part of the Chestnut Hill/Plateau district of Highland Park stretching from Trigg Street north to Magnolia Street.
Immediately to the northeast of Mount Comfort was the property owned by Adolph Dill, a prosperous Jewish baker born in 1792, who arrived in Richmond in 1819 and lived and worked in the city. His house stood at 00 Clay Street in the city's Jackson Ward. His land, a part of the Chestnut Hill/Plateau historic district stretching from near Magnolia Street to Brookland Park Boulevard (originally Dill Street), was developed after 1908 and was known as the Plateau.
The Virginia Central Railroad was built along Shockoe Creek in the early 1850s. Daniel also owned a mill on Bacon's Quarter Branch. The mill race ran along the eastern edge of the property and was held by a dam on the property line bordering Mount Comfort in 1856. Daniel clearly benefited by the industrial potential of the confluence of water power and rail service in developing the area on a small scale.
Civil War (1861-1865)
The Civil War adversely affected Richmond in many and well-known ways. The principal effect on the Chestnut Hill/Plateau area was the construction of a fortification, Battery No. 7, which protected the city on its northeastern approaches. This was located near the present-day Juniper, Willow, and Spruce streets in the center of the proposed district. No archaeological investigations have been made to determine if any trace remains of the battery in the built-up suburban lots.
After Judge Peter V. Daniel's death in 1860, the property, divided into tracts or lots, was sold at auction, where it was purchased by Francis H. Deane, a physician. The area along Meadow Bridge Road on the east, including Mansfield, was held by Deane and his son, Francis, for many years. The sloping land on the west side of the road was settled in smaller lots. A tract at the top of the hill on the west side of the road was purchased in 1862 by Bernhard Brauer from Early Corbin. This 226-by-300 foot tract was in turn sold to Rudolf Kastelburg in the following year. Kastelberg probably built the large, frame, Greek Revival-style, double-pile, central-passage-plan dwelling on the site shortly after the end of the war, or it may have been built at the end of the Antebellum period by a previous owner.
Reconstruction and Growth (1866-1916)
Industrial Growth and Initial Development (1866-1889) The Virginia Central and the Chesapeake and Ohio railroads were consolidated under the latter name in 1868, with direct connections to a large geographical area. The rail access in the Mount Comfort area attracted the firm of Tanner and Delaney to the site in 1875. In that year they opened the Metropolitan Iron Works, known by 1883 as the Richmond Locomotive Works, which made locomotives, boilers, and mills in a large and busy operation employing as many as 2,000 men at one point. The Locomotive Works were housed in a handsome towered brick structure on a twelve-acre site located between Bacon's Quarter Branch and Valley Road.
The tracts along the west side of Meadow Bridge Road ran down the slope to Cannon's Branch and shared that water source with adjoining outlots owned by numerous persons. About 1873, the Meadow Bridge Road through the Highland Park area was superseded by a new highway, known as the Richmond and Henrico Turnpike, built along the bottom of the Cannon's Branch Ravine to the west. In 1877, most of the area was still taken up by the rural tracts of Deane's heirs, Dill's heirs, and others. In fact, the entire area of Henrico County north of Richmond was divided up into small farms and nurseries, most of which were engaged in supplying the produce needed in the city.
Development of the area was foreseen by prudent investors in the city and elsewhere. Richmond was the first city in the nation to have a revenue-producing electric streetcar line, in 1882. The streetcar would stimulate the development of five outlying suburbs. Popular destinations were included in parks at the terminuses of some of the early lines including Reservoir Park (Byrd Park) and Woodland Park (Forest Hills Park). Land improvement companies took advantage of the growing demand for housing in open suburban settings and the rising standard of living among the middle classes to open tracts of land in the north and south sides and the west end of the city.
Developers played upon an anti-urban spirit among the middle classes, in part induced by political fears and in part by health concerns, to promote the northern suburbs of Richmond. With characteristic hyperbole, one booster for the adjacent suburb of Barton Heights proclaimed:
There would be no anarchists if all the people owned their homes. The ownership of real estate, especially of homes, tends strongly to the making of good citizens. You may go still further and say that of all good citizens, those who own suburban homes are the best... For whom is Barton Heights? Hundreds of people living in Richmond with an unsatisfied longing for something, they hardly know what, are utterly unaware that it is for them. They are dimly conscious that the spending of two-thirds of the year in ill-lighted halls and badly ventilated rooms, sitting in damp and dingy basements and climbing numerous flights of steep and narrow stairs, while the children are exposed in the streets to every danger of body, mind, and soul; and the remaining third in little coops of rooms at stuffy summer resorts, with increased expenses, while "benedict" stays at home and endures life in abject misery, is not the way to make the most of life.
The Southside Land and Improvement Company, the West End Land Company, and the Northside Land and Improvement Company were all chartered in 1889, immediately after electric streetcar lines became feasible. Both the Northside and Southside companies were chartered to operate streetcars as well as develop land. A streetcar line was opened in 1890 to the south of Richmond terminating in Woodland Park and serving the suburb named Woodland Heights. A similar project was begun in 1889 immediately west of the Mount Comfort property. The Barton Heights development and the Brookland Park suburb to its north were begun by James H. Barton and others. The project included construction of a viaduct over Bacon's Quarter Branch connected to Richmond's First Street and including a streetcar line operated by the Richmond Railway and Electric Company.
In September of 1889, the 135-acre Mount Comfort property of Francis Deane was sold to the Northside Land Improvement Company. Several buildings were standing on the property and indicated by blocks on the plat of the Deane property on the eve of the sale. One of these may represent the Mount Comfort house of Samuel DuVal. These had vanished within a few years, but archeological traces may survive among the lots and houses of the district.
The development was laid out soon after in squares (as Richmonders referred to blocks), streets, and alleys and known as "Mount Comfort." This name was used in deeds for some time, but by 1893 it was known as Chestnut Hill. Some lots were sold immediately. The Northside Land Improvement Company was dissolved in March of 1890 and its property was transferred to a new entity, the Northside Land Company for $150,000. Several squares or parts of squares had already been sold or assigned, including one parcel to a man named Christian Schnedler. Schnedler bought lots one through ten in square 10 of the plan of Mount Comfort in February of 1890 for $820, financed by the company. At almost the same time, a 150-acre subdivision some distance north of Mount Comfort, to be known as Highland Park, was purchased by the Highland Park Company, which shared many of the same developers as the Northside Land Company.
The Northside Land Improvement Company was made up of two principals, J. M. Fourqurean, a dry-goods merchant, and N.V. Randolph, a manufacturer, and a number of prominent investors serving as directors. Fourqurean had held land on the west side of the Meadow Bridge Road for some years. A related, interlocking group of investors, including Randolph and Fourqurean, as well as Frank and A. F. Mosby and others, formed the Highland Park Company. Frank Mosby had sold the 150 acres to the Highland Park Company in 1890 for $250,000. A. F. Mosby owned the land between the two suburbs, a tract later known as the Plateau. Here he conducted a prosperous business known as the Richmond Commercial Nurseries, supplying fruit trees to the mid-Atlantic region. The two development companies acquired the land for two real estate ventures and together proceeded to build a viaduct and to provide a streetcar line to serve them.
Street Car Suburb (1890-1916)
In 1892, the Fifth Street Viaduct, a toll bridge, was built by the Northside Viaduct Company to carry vehicles, pedestrians, and a proposed streetcar line seventy-five feet above Bacon's Quarter Branch. The 1,200-foot-long viaduct was constructed by the Edgemoor Bridge Company of Wilmington, Delaware. The streetcar line was promised to buyers of lots as soon as sufficient lots were sold. As in the case of the other streetcar lines, a park was proposed near the terminus. This eight-acre Plaza Park, occupying two squares at a central point in the neighborhood, was mentioned in advertisements and a prospectus. No similar park was planned, however, for the Chestnut Hill development, through which the line ran. The streetcar line, originally known as the Richmond-Henrico Railway Company, was completed by 1893 and was operated by the Richmond and Manchester Railway Company.
Most of the lots were sold in 1891 and by 1901 deed records indicate few remained in the hands of the company. Some of the squares were sold entirely as investments, such as Square 17, purchased by A. F. Cordes in February of 1890. The company built houses on some of the lots as a demonstration of their seriousness to buyers. These were probably the Queen Anne-style houses at the southern end of Fourth Avenue. A city promotional publication in 1893 indicates that the company had spent $275,000 in building houses, the viaduct, the street railway, and in lights, streets, sewers, and other betterments. By that time approximately thirty-five houses had been built, including the very substantial dwellings of William Carstang, M. B. Leonard, R. E Heinrich (1910 Fourth Avenue) and Dr. C.T. Duke built at the corner of Willow Street and Third Avenue. These four were illustrated by photographs in the same publication. In addition, a "Handsome Presbyterian Church" had been erected. The streetcar line ran along Fourth Avenue through the middle of the district.
In 1894, the effects of the Panic of August 1893 were felt by businesses and developers across the nation. Many communities failed because they had been "boomed" or falsely promoted. The Chestnut Hill, Highland Park, and Barton Heights projects undoubtedly suffered a slowdown, but recovered from the effects of the Depression because of the demand for housing and the improved living standards required by the middle classes in the New South. A promotional brochure issued for Barton Heights in 1894 best expresses the mood of the period:
How was it begun? Not with a boom...There has never been a boom in Barton Heights and there never will be. The growth has been rapid indeed, but healthy and steady, making the safest and most profitable investment possible... It is also the oasis in the desert of hard times for the working man. On every hand the ear is greeted with the music of trowel, saw, and hammer. Since the Panic of 1893, thirty-nine houses have been built and contracts are out for eleven more.
Undoubtedly in response to the financial crisis that followed the Panic of 1893, the men of the community formed the Highland Park Citizen's Association to promote the neighborhood and to foster community life for their mutual benefit. The group began in September of 1894 by publishing the first number of a monthly newsletter called the Northside News. In it the following announcement, in keeping with national trends in community and business development related to the development of chambers of commerce across the country, called notice to the group's goals and "booster" spirit:
A number of gentlemen of the Northside have conferred together and have decided to have a called meeting on Tuesday, September 18, at 8:00 p.m. at Highland Park Hall for the purpose of organizing an association for the mutual benefit of the residents. See your neighbor and talk it up. Try to have one representative from each house on the Northside. Remember the date and the hour as it is important to have a full meeting and begin to work at once. Time is fleeting.
Businesses grew up to serve and profit from the development of Chestnut Hill and the neighboring suburbs. One of the most successful was the firm of Ruffin and Fourqurean, a lumber company that supplied the materials for many of the houses built in the Northside area. Fourqurean owned substantial tracts of land in the area and served as a director of both the Chestnut Hill and Highland Park companies. The lumber company, later known as Ruffin and Payne, was located on the southeastenmost lot of Chestnut Hill and in the adjoining Mansfield section around the northern end of the Fifth Street viaduct. It remained in the Mansfield area until 1966. The coal-fired power plant that supplied Chestnut Hill and Highland Park with electricity was shared with the American Locomotive Works and stood nearby on the north side of Valley Road. Mansfield had been developed with a street grid aligned with that of Chestnut Hill. It contained a fire department connected with the power plant and a gas storage facility. It also was the home of the Richmond Sand and Gravel Company. This firm, like the lumber yard, took advantage of the railroad adjoining their property to bring in materials.
Necessary for the successful development of a new suburb was the provision of amenities close at hand for the residents, so that constant trips to the city were not needed. Prominent among these requirements were schools, commercial establishments, and churches. Since Chestnut Hill and Highland Park were in Henrico County, provision of a new county school district was necessary. The original two-room schoolhouse for the area, now gone, was located in the northern suburb. It was not superseded until 1909, when the present building of the Highland Park School was built on the west side of Second Avenue south of Dill Street (Brookland Park Boulevard), just outside the district. This school contained all grades, including, until 1914, a small high school department. In that year the enrollment at Highland Park School was 509, with an additional 27 high school pupils.
Commerce developed along Dill Street, later Brookland Park Boulevard, at the north end of the district, although no commercial buildings date from the nineteenth century. Conventional commercial buildings near the corner of Second Avenue and Brookland Park Boulevard date from the first and second quarters of the century. As the twentieth century progressed, commercial buildings were permitted on isolated lots and in groups on cross streets through the north side of the city to allow close location of shops needed on a daily basis by residents.
The first church in Chestnut Hill was mentioned in an 1894 promotional publication for the city at large: a handsome Presbyterian Church. This structure, a stuccoed frame building erected for the Mizpah Presbyterian congregation in 1892 on the corner of Third Avenue and Juniper Street, undoubtedly reinforced the viability of the entire suburban project. Mizpah Church had been founded in 1885 to minister to Presbyterians on the north side of Richmond. The congregation had originally built a structure on Hemico Turnpike three miles north of the city. After that church burned in 1891, they saw an opportunity of moving to the new suburban district. The second building stood until recent years, but was torn down to make room for the New Grayland Baptist Church. A third Mizpah Church was built on Brookland Park Boulevard just outside the district in 1926.
Similarly, the original Highland Park section north of Chestnut Hill was the site of a new Highland Park Methodist Church built in 1893, replaced in 1916 with a large brick structure, and further enlarged in 1927. The Episcopal Church of the Ascension had its beginning in 1896, when a member of Monumental Church in the city organized a woman's guild in the Highland Park area. Services were held in the town hall. The Highland Park company gave a lot for the erection of a chapel in the northern suburb of Highland Park and a small frame building was completed by 1902. The parish purchased lots at 2901 Fourth Avenue in the Plateau section of the historic district in 1911 and built a new building, which opened in 1912.
The Northside Baptist Church was organized in Chestnut Hill in 1907, at a meeting held at the town hall. Services were held in the town hall for about a year before a substantial Gothic Revival-style building was completed at the corner of Third Avenue and Victor Street in the area known as the Plateau. Today it is the well-preserved home of Fifth Street Baptist Church. The Highland Park Christian Church was organized in 1920 and built a church in the northern suburb in 1927 after years of meeting in the Highland Park School. Most of the lots were sold in the 1890s, but few were built upon in the slow economy following the Panic of 1893. There were only about sixty houses standing in the district in 1901, when a map of the development was prepared. Many of the earliest houses were large and ornate dwellings built before the panic, as illustrated in an 1893 promotional brochure.
Although the existing streetscapes of Chestnut Hill were by no means fully filled up, the demand for housing lots was, however, sufficient to persuade A. F. Mosby, the owner of the land to the immediate north, to develop his fruit-tree nursery land as a continuation of the Chestnut Hill street grid. The development between Highland Park and Chestnut Hill was named "the Plateau" and was laid out well before it was developed in 1908. A few lots had even been sold by 1901, including three sets of lots to a "Foundling Hospital" (which apparently never located here) and a Northside Hall on Dill Street (Brookland Park Boulevard) and Fourth Avenue, which served as a community meeting hall.
The Plateau stretched between Second Street and Fifth Street. The upper six squares of the twelve that made up the Plateau were longer than the original ones in Chestnut Hill and resembled those in Highland Park to the north, incorporating eighteen lots on each side. The lots were generally aligned with the numbered streets, but, in a few cases, faced the cross streets, in particular those on Logan and Pulaski streets. Some of these lot alignments were required by the intrusion of shallow ravines along the northeastern edge of the suburb. The district was bordered on the south by Magnolia Street and on the North by Dill Street, named for Adolph Dill, the previous owner of the Plateau tract. The cross streets were named Logan (later Pulaski), Victor, Custer, and Stuart. Stuart Street later was incorporated as a section of Brookland Park Boulevard, the major east-west street in Richmond's Northside connecting all the late nineteenth-century streetcar suburbs.
In 1908, the now-adjacent villages of Chestnut Hill and Highland Park were consolidated in order to incorporate the area as a town. The council of Chestnut Hill voted to accept a new survey and to change the name of the new entity to Highland Park. The new town was an independent entity within Henrico County. The town developed rapidly in the era leading up to the First World War, although the Plateau area resembled agricultural fields in the first years. Many of the squares were completely vacant, as is clear from the history of Northside Baptist Church: "on Easter Sunday, April 11, 1909, the congregation met in the town hall and marched across the field to hold the first service in the new church." The "town hall", or Highland Park Hall was located on Fourth Avenue just south of Dill Street (Brookland Park Boulevard), where it would be equally accessible to the northern and southern suburbs. It no longer stands, but a sketch in one history shows it as a two-story building with a gambrel roof. A small frame building on Fourth Avenue housed a single horse-drawn fire engine. Most of the houses standing in the district take the form of the ubiquitous Foursquare house, with its simple two-story form and its Craftsman-style detailing based on designs in popular national publications. Many were constructed in groups of from two to four by builders as speculative developments intended to be sold to lower middle-income home-buyers. These were constructed between 1910 and 1930. The form and the decorative details were based on popular magazines and pattern books. A few were intended as duplexes.
World War I to World War II (1917-1945)
The period between the wars was occupied with the filling in of almost all of the vacant lots in the district. Commercial functions remained focused on Brookland Park Boulevard, which became a commercial strip road linking all the Northside suburbs. In 1921, an active citizen's group petitioned the city to change the name of several Highland Park streets, including Logan Street, the name of which was changed to honor Count Casimir Pulaski of the American Revolution. Recreational activities were developed at Hotchkiss Field, west of the district. One of the principal meeting places for the community was Highland Park Pharmacy, housed in the two-story brick commercial building at the corner of Second Avenue and Brookland Park Boulevard. In the 1930s many streets were regraded and repaved to eliminate steep sections. The viaduct was replaced in 1939 by a new concrete bridge named for Confederate General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson.
Some new institutional buildings were built on formerly unoccupied corner lots. Saint Elizabeth's Roman Catholic Church was established by the Bishop of Richmond in 1923. The former Sitterding house and the large tract surrounding it on the west side of Second Avenue were acquired on the edge of the Plateau section of Highland Park. The house was adapted to serve as a rectory, meeting room, chapel, and housekeeper's rooms. The lot on which the church stood was eventually deeded to the diocese by Fritz Sitterding in honor of his deceased daughter's patron saint, Saint Elizabeth of Hungary. The present Classical Revival-style church was built in 1925 and included a basement social hall.
Life in Highland Park in the 1920s resembled that in many other small communities in the early twentieth century. This is perhaps best recalled by a member of Mizpah Presbyterian Church, Wallace Bryan Stockton: "Highland Park became neat, with mixed architecture. The citizens were of mixed economic strata, from one end of the spectrum to the other, but basically they and their community were modest...board fences abounded. There were chicken lots in back yards and barns for horses and cows. There were chicken thieves, too, and Gypsies from the C & O tracks. The community abounded with vacant lots for ball games and lots of ice houses for boys on hot summer days...Scouting received strong emphasis in Highland Park. Each of the three protestant churches had active troops at various times...When the patrols were not fighting each other there was unity in a rock battle with Barton Heights scouts down in the ravine." The houses built in the district in the period between the world wars embody the popular architectural stylistic details found in national publications and pattern books. These include Bungalow, Foursquare, Tudor Revival, and Colonial Revival-style buildings.
The New Dominion (1946-Present)
After the end of World War II, Richmond's suburban population continued to grow and the mostly urban black population expanded as well. Increased affluence and expectations of higher living standards encouraged remaining urban populations to move from the city center to the suburbs. Construction of the Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike (Interstate 95) and urban renewal decreased the availability of traditional urban housing. The city's northern suburbs, with their close proximity to the city, access to public transport, pleasant streets, and affordable housing stock, were under pressure to change. Richmond's segregated housing traditions could not bend easily and Highland Park, in particular, felt threatened. In 1949, the last streetcar ran down Fourth Avenue as the entire Richmond system was dismantled. The Highland Park line was, however, immediately replaced by a bus following the same route, which continues in operation today.
A school had been conducted by the parish from 1930-36. Although the school did not immediately flourish for a variety of reasons, the establishment of a parochial school in the neighborhood is an important gauge of its developmental maturity and the confidence of the parish in the future. The entire tract of land owned by the Sitterdings was purchased after 1937. The Saint Elizabeth's school was reopened in 1948 and a new school building was built in 1950 to supplement the old Sitterding house. The impressively detailed International-style school served for several decades. It is closed and vacant today several hundred yards to the west of the church. Another important Roman Catholic institution, St. Mary's Cemetery, forms the southwestern boundary of the lower part of Chestnut Hill. An impressive mid-twentieth-century brick wall with elaborate gates gives a special architectural character to First Street.
In 1942, almost all the residents of Highland Park signed a pledge not to be the first homeowner on the block to sell to a black buyer. The campaign was sponsored by the Highland Park Citizens Association and included a fund-raising effort to raise money for a white veteran who was outbid by a black purchaser. According to a contemporary article, the residents feared that black buyers would form syndicates to engage in "block busting." They feared that a group of black buyers would purchase a house at market value and then take advantage of white fears and subsequent flight to buy other houses at reduced rates, sharing the overall cost.
In spite of white fears, the transformation of Highland Park did not occur quickly. The change began as many residents moved out to the growing suburbs in Henrico County. The average income among residents declined as those who remained aged. The racial transformation did not happen until the mid-1960s, but when it did the process was sudden. Black homeowners replaced whites, until by 1970, about 70% of the properties had changed hands. By the late 1970s, very few white residents were left. According to a 1978 news story, a counselor for a fair housing group stated that some real estate salesmen played on racial fears and persuaded some white owners to sell their homes at low prices. The real estate agents then sold or rented them to black residents at a substantial profit.
Locally based commercial enterprises continued to serve the citizens from centrally located business areas along Brookland Park Boulevard. After the middle of the century, rather than invest in new buildings or demolish the existing stock of commercial buildings, merchants and building owners chose, in many cases, to maintain or to modernize the exteriors of the commercial building stock. Often this took the form of a new aluminum storefront. New shopping centers outside the neighborhood began to draw shoppers away from pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods and business districts.
As the community changed during this period, its churches also expanded and changed hands. A few Highland Park area congregations elected to move away due to the altered racial character of the neighborhood, in favor of larger suburban lots with room for additional expansion. Their large buildings, such as the former Northside Baptist Church, were purchased by black congregations and their functions continued. Others, such as Highland Park Methodist Church, just outside the district, and St. Elizabeth's Catholic Church, simply kept on with their ministry and gradually opened their doors to the changed community surrounding them. Other churches simply went out of business as their largely white membership declined below a functional margin. These include Mizpah Presbyterian, located just outside the district, and Ascension Episcopal Church. After much study, Mizpah Church merged with Ginter Park Presbyterian Church in 1974. Both the Mizpah and Ascension buildings now serve primarily as day care centers. The previous frame building of Mizpah Presbyterian Church building at Third Avenue and Juniper Street was demolished in recent years to build a new (and hence noncontributing) church for a Baptist congregation.
Over the ensuing years, Highland Park has suffered from problems common to other older city neighborhoods. Crime, declining population, and a deteriorating housing stock kept property values low and most houses unrestored. Vacant and boarded up houses became common by the 1980s. Some new single-family houses were built in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as several plainly detailed concrete block and frame apartment buildings. A high-rise apartment building for the elderly was built on the southern edge of the district. Construction of apartment complexes occurred on Mathews Street on the western edge of the district. By 1990, the community had suffered from the ongoing exodus of homeowners as they moved into higher levels of income and whose children had reached the middle school years. Increased levels of crime, much of which was associated with certain isolated commercial locations and the apartment complexes on the western edge of the district, devastated the area.
Expansion of public facilities and services was a necessary accompaniment to the growth Richmond experienced during the period. Most of this took place outside the proposed district, but the publicly owned former Highland Park School, just adjacent to the district on Second Avenue was developed as a public housing project for senior citizens in 1987-90. The empty building was sensitively remodeled.
Most important to the successful revival of the neighborhood, the Highland Park Restoration and Preservation Program was formed in 1988. The organization's mission is to revive the potential for Highland Park and improve its declining housing stock. Toward that end, the foundation has worked closely with the City of Richmond to identify strategies for achieving historic preservation goals in the area. As a result of this effort, several houses have been thoroughly rehabilitated as single-family homes. Most recently, programs established by the city have aided the revitalization of older communities, including Highland Park, by promoting their unique historic character and by funding further rehabilitation of decayed houses.
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The end note reference numbers have been transcribed with the text, however, the endnotes were missing from our copy of the nomination document.
[†]Chestnut Hill/Plateau Historic District, nomination form prepared by Ginson Worsham, Architect; 2002, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.