Diamond Hill Historic District
The Diamond Hill Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. Portions of the content of this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2016, The Gombach Group.
The Diamond Hill Historic District is an irregularly shaped district approximately 14 blocks in area. Located on one of the seven hills of Lynchburg, the District is wedged between the Lynchburg Expressway (Route 29) to the south and the city's central commercial core to the north. Steep hillsides couple with changes in land use and historical precedent in defining the north, east, and south borders. Borders to the southwest and west remain arbitrary and follow recommendations of the Lynchburg Board of Architectural Review.
An attractive residential neighborhood, the Diamond Hill Historic District was laid out on a grid plan modified to accommodate the irregularities of the terrain. Only Clay Street retains its original brick surface, all other streets having been paved over. Several streets are tree-lined (see: Madison and Clay Streets), and many houses exhibit landscaped yards. Ornamental cast- and wrought-iron fences and stone and decorative brick sidewalks appear at random intervals throughout the District. These elements, together with landscaping features, impart color and warmth to street views and help define the residential character of the neighborhood.
While experiencing its greatest period of growth at the turn of the century, the District holds several mid-19th-century houses. The oldest residence, presently vacant and in disrepair, stands at 1301 Madison (Vernacular, ca. 1817, altered ca. 1875). Morris' Folly (Vernacular/Greek Revival, altered), a two-story, brick residence at 1310 Church Street, dates from ca. 1869. Two Gothic Revival houses are found at 1418-20 Harrison (ca. 1855, moderately altered ca. 1900) and 602 Washington (ca. 1852). This latter house exhibits an elaborate cast-iron stair and porch unique in Lynchburg. Other early houses found on Diamond Hill are 305 Washington (Vernacular, ca. 1849; ca. 16651, 313 Washington (Vernacular, ca. 1855), 503 Washington (Vernacular, ca. 1850), 618 Pearl (Vernacular, ca. 1850), 700 Pearl (Italianate, 1862), 1411-13 Church (Greek Revival/Italianate, ca. 1860), 1501 Church (Vernacular, ca. 1845), and 515 13th St. (Vernacular, ca. 1850).
Most houses on Diamond Hill were erected during the late 19th and early 20th centuries and range from speculative houses erected as rental units (see: 1400 block Church Street, 13th Street, and Diamond Street), to such upper-middle-class residences as 517 Washington (Beaux Arts, 1910-1911), 419 Washington (Colonial Revival, 1901, and 1314 Clay Street (Colonial Revival, 1901).
The more formidable residences of Diamond Hill line Washington and Clay streets, and sections of Pearl and Madison Streets. Included among these are an unusually high number of Georgian Revival houses. Of the 12 examples found on Diamond Hill, the outstanding examples are 508 Washington, 400 Washington, and 1411 Madison. Two almost identical Georgian Revival dwellings at 1304 and 1308 Clay Street were built in 1906.
At first glance, 500 Washington Street (Queen Anne, ca. 1898) appears to set itself off from its classically derived neighbors with its massive entrance portico, octagonal corner tower, and decorative terra cotta brick. However, closer inspection reveals the underlying form of the building to be a 5-bay, Georgian Revival house capped by a high-pitched, hipped roof.
The Colonial Revival was also popular. Thirteen houses in this style are located within the District's confines. Prominent examples are found at 419 Washington Street and 313 and 314 Clay Street. Little construction in the Eastlake and Queen Anne styles occurred on Diamond Hill, thus accentuating 618 Washington Street. The seeming frivolity of this building with its corner tower, decorative "Moorish" porch, and Eastlake "dormers" delightfully contrasts with its more staid neighbors.
No major commercial development exists within the District's boundaries. A small corner market (1321 Harrison, ca. 1915) and a used furniture store (1315 Harrison, Quonset hut, ca. 1945), mark the only commercial activity on Diamond Hill. With the exception of the apartments at 1312-1316-1/2 Church Street, all residences in the District were constructed as either detached single-family residences or duplexes, of frame or brick construction, 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 stories in height. No buildings break above 2-1/2 stories thus maintaining a unified scale and preserving the residential atmosphere of the District. To the west of Diamond Hill on Grace Street stands the Diamond Hill Baptist Church, a brick, 2-1/2 story building with corner tower, central rose window and side lancet windows (Vernacular/Gothic Revival, 1886). A one-story, concrete, glass, and steel YMCA building (1956), stands in the northeast corner of the District. The building, a well-designed interpretation of the International Style, unfortunately does not fit in with the overall character of the historic neighborhood.
Photographs from 1903 reveal that many of Diamond Hill's early houses have undergone only minor alterations. Exterior alterations tend to have been limited to removal of cornices, wood trim, balusters, and occasionally porches. A few houses, such as those found on Chestnut and Diamond streets exhibit asbestos shingles and siding additions. Most frame houses within the District retain their original clapboard or weatherboard siding.
While many houses on Diamond Hill were converted to multi-family dwelling units during the 20th century, efforts are currently underway by residents and a local historical society to return these to single-family units.
Diamond Hill, once one of Lynchburg's most fashionable residential neighborhoods, enjoyed its greatest prosperity at the turn of the century. This period was marked by construction of numerous new residences ranging from speculative builder/rental units to stately, architect-designed town houses. Prominent businessmen and civic leaders — including bankers, tobacco manufacturers, attorneys, mayors, councilmen, and State legislators — clustered in this area along Washington, Clay, Pearl, and Madison Streets, erecting large houses for themselves and their families.
Their choice of architecture was most often either Georgian or Colonial Revival. Of the 26 houses lining Washington Street, almost two-thirds were erected in these styles. On Clay Street, almost half the residences are Colonial or Georgian Revival.
The high incidence of Georgian and Colonial Revival houses on Diamond Hill is attributed to 1) the declining popularity of the more picturesque Eastlake and Queen Anne styles, and 2) the conservative nature of Diamond Hill's population. Shunning the Shingle and Craftsman styles as "low art" architecture, residents of Diamond Hill turned to the grander imagery of the ordered, balanced, classically inspired Georgian and Colonial Revivals. Twelve Georgian Revival houses appear within the District.
The most formidable of these is 508 Washington (1909), designed by J.M.B. Lewis. The house, sheathed in Flemish-bond brick with glazed headers, is fronted by a central, semicircular portico topped by a balustraded deck. The first-floor entrance is framed by decorative multi-pane sidelights and transom. Architrave tripartite windows are set in the first-floor side bays. Double doors topped by an elliptical fanlight front on to the second-floor porch deck. A decorative wrought-iron fence and gate set the house off from the street and add to the overall formal composition. Other stately examples of the Georgian Revival are found at 400 Washington and 1420 Madison streets.
Notable examples of the Colonial Revival are seen at 313 and 314 Clay and at 419 and 505 Washington streets. The detailing of the latter two houses suggests they were designed by the same, currently unidentified, architect.
The most prestigious house on Diamond Hill is 517 Washington Street, an imposing Beaux Arts residence erected in grand scale. Giant order, paired columns define the central entrance portico. The arched and recessed entrance is a play on Palladian window motifs. The building is two stories in height capped by a balustraded deck. Order and symmetry dominate the facade composition. The building is of beige brick and is marked by stone springers and keystones over first-floor arched window openings. An attractive enclosed glass porch with patterned curvilinear mullions is situated at the west end of the house and is balanced by a frame pergola to the east.
Three houses on Washington break from the pervading conservative air of Diamond Hill. 518 and 605 Washington are the only structures representing Eastlake and Stick styles on this street. 518 Washington (Eastlake/Queen Anne), aside from its present color scheme (pink with white trim), demands attention through its "Moorish" porch, round corner tower, and Eastlake "dormers." 605 Washington (Eastlake/Stick style), while partially hidden from view by a large hedge fronting the street, stands out with its irregular massing, open porches, variety of wood trim and detail, and its exposed "structural" members. These two houses, combine with the Gothic Revival house at 602 Washington and the Beaux Arts house at 517 Washington to establish this as the most unique intersection in Diamond Hill.
500 Washington (Queen Anne/Georgian Revival, 1898), is also one of Diamond Hill's more picturesque homes. While the corner octagonal tower, massive round-arched, central projecting entrance pavilion, and decorative terra cotta brick seem to set this building apart from its more traditional neighbors, its underlying 5-bay, hipped-roof form establishes its Georgian Revival allegiance. In addition to the large number of imposing, architect-designed residences found on Diamond Hill, numerous speculative and builder houses erected from 1890 to 1910 also indicate the area's turn-of-the-century prosperity. Maps from 1891 indicate land subdivision for speculative ventures along Harrison, Chestnut, and Diamond Streets. Later speculative houses appear on Church, 13th and sections of Madison Streets. Often erected as rental housing, these builder houses display simple, unadorned facades and are fronted by porches exhibiting turned columns and decorative sawn brackets. While individually these houses are of only minor architectural significance, grouped together they impart much of Diamond Hill's historic character. The 1400 block of Church Street contains some of the better examples of speculative housing in the District.
† Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission Staff, Diamond Hill Historic District, City of Lynchburg, VA, nomination document, 1979, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.