The Higland Park Plaza Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004. Text, below, was selected and adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [‡]
Richmond's historic settlement patterns have been influenced to a great extent by the area's environmental features. The city grew up in the eighteenth century along the extensive falls of the James River near the mouth of Shockoe Creek. 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. Shockoe Bottom, with Church Hill and Shockoe Hill to either side, were the principal areas of development. 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 by city workers. These areas to the north, long in the jurisdiction of Henrico County, were the sites of outlying farms and often served as the country seats of wealthy city merchants and political figures. Not until the 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 proposed historic district. The district's terrain is generally flat, but varies considerably with shallow knobs and small ravines intruding. The principal route from the city to the northeast left the northern end of Second Street along the west of Shockoe Cemetery and crossed Bacon's Quarter Branch, continuing northeast as the Meadowbridge Road across the district.
Colony to Early National Period (1753-1830)
The proposed district was the site of a several small farms. A fine brick, two-story house called Walnut Hill is located just outside the boundaries. No standing structures survive in the district from this period.
Antebellum Period (1831-1860)
The arm of land that is the site of the proposed Highland Park Plaza Historic District was the site of agricultural land in the period. The historic district contains no historic resources dating from this period.
Civil War (1861-1865)
No resources survive from this period. No archeological research has been done to determine if any subsurface remains survive of Civil War-era earthworks.
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 Meadowbridge Road. The intense industrial development which developed 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)
Highland Park consisted of a conventional street grid surrounding a central park. The north-south roads (the avenues), of sixty or eighty feet in width, were lined with lots while the crossing roads (streets) were fifty feet wide. Alleys traversed each block from north to south. The avenues on the eastern side of the neighborhood were precisely aligned extensions of the city's downtown numbered street grid, although here they were called First through Third avenues instead of First through Third streets. The western avenues were named for states: Virginia, Delaware, Florida, and Missouri (Virginia Avenue was later changed to Carolina, probably to avoid duplication of names when the area was annexed in 1914). The cross streets were mostly named for poets: Burns, Milton, and Byron, in addition to Front and Highland streets.
Most of the approximately thirty-five squares were rectangular in shape, but those along the sides and north edge were irregular and of widely varying size due to the positions of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway tracks on the northeast and the old Meadowbridge Road on the west. The lots were aligned with the numbered streets running southwest to northeast. Twenty-six narrow (35' by 140') lots in each square faced the numbered avenues, divided into parallel groups by twenty-foot central alleys. The park or plaza was a large rectangular space formed of two squares and sited across Enslow Avenue between Carolina and First avenues. Enslow Avenue was originally designed to cross the park as an ornamental roadway and circle around a central planting bed or water feature. This central feature was reached by diagonal walks from the corners of the park.
The street grid was interrupted and the development was restricted by the presence of two privately held tracts in the northern end of the neighborhood owned by Mrs. J. H. Gresham and E. D. Starke. The proposed street grid ignored the boundaries of these tracts and yet the development of the lots proposed for this section (mostly north of Highland Street and west of Carolina Avenue) was delayed until the mid-twentieth century, causing these sections, not part of the original Highland Park, to be left out of the proposed district. Another section on the east, located northeast of a diagonal drawn from the north end of Third Avenue to a intersection of Dill Street and Fourth Avenue, was similarly left out of the early development.
Most of the houses built in the first two decades of the Highland Park development partook of the urban Richmond building tradition. Ironically, and in spite of the suburban rhetoric, 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 at the same time or earlier, they betrayed an urban orientation on the part of the designers or builders. Two-story, frame houses such as the Charles T. Culpepper House at 3102 First Avenue, built in about 1900, are related in form to structures built throughout the city 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, as represented in the study area by the frame double house with Queen Anne-style details at 2527-2519 Second Avenue.
Other houses in the early period were built for prosperous professionals or merchants, such as the houses occupied by Dr. Clyde Reece, confectioner Napolean B. Palmieri, and banker T. Ellwood Tragle. These houses on prominent corner lots took the form of elaborate Queen Anne-style and Colonial Revival-style houses known from period pattern books, and incorporated towers, undercut bay windows, elaborate porches, and picturesque roof forms. The T. Ellwood Tragle House survives at the corner of Burns Street and First Avenue. The polygonal corner tower on the principal facade incorporates a wrap-around first-floor porch with a corner gazebo.
The Napolean B. Palmieri House at 3423 Enslow Avenue is a two-story, brick, double-pile, side-passage plan Queen Anne dwelling with ornamental, patterned slate, deck-on-hip roof and cast iron cresting. There is an undercut gabled projecting bay on the front with slate siding in the gable; miniature paired one-over-one wood sash windows in the gable ends; paired and single, one-over-one wood sash windows on the front facade and segmental-arched, two-over-two wood sash windows elsewhere. The original ones-story porch has been removed.
The Dr. Clyde B. Reece House at 3223 Enslow Avenue stands on a prominent corner next to the plaza. The c. 1910 house is a two-story, three-bay frame, weatherboard-sided Colonial Revival-style dwelling with slate-shingled, deck-on-hip roof; large dentiled cornice; and pedimented central dormers. It has a high brick foundation; a one-story, two-bay porch with Doric columns on north elevation and a one-story, one-bay porch with paired square posts on front facade. Single, two-over-two replacement sash windows are typical. The John R. Foster House at 3106 First Avenue is a smaller, but equally sophisticated Queen Anne-style dwelling built in about 1900. The two-story, two-bay frame dwelling has a pressed-metal shingle gable roof and a projecting front gable; paired six-over-one sash windows; a one-story, one-bay undercut porch with a molded cornice and gable front pediment with a molded, returned cornice.
Some houses built in the district in later years continued to incorporate vernacular floor plans Numerous one- and two-story central-passage- and side-passage-plan dwellings were identified in the study area from the period following initial settlement and leading up to 1916. The side-passage-plan Marie Keil House at 3006 Second Avenue is a well-preserved example of these vernacular forms.
A limited number of the houses before World War One utilized the nationally popular Foursquare or bungalow design with Craftsman or Colonial Revival inspired detailing. These include the Foursquare Harry L. Snedker House at 3015 Third Avenue with its weatherboard siding, hipped slate roof, and three-bay front porch with square posts. Snedker owned a Highland Park Shoe Repair business. One of the most elegant small bungalows in the district is the side-gabled dwelling, with decorative brackets and inset dormer/porch, known as the John C. Newton House at 3408 Maryland Avenue, built in about 1915.
Some of the more substantial earlier houses had carriage houses or small stables to the rear on the alleys throughout the neighborhood, but most residents relied exclusively on the streetcar line for transportation. The carriage house behind the Charles E. Garret House at 3224 Enslow Avenue, with is board-and-batten walls and hay loft, is a good example.
Commerce developed on prominent corners of the district and along Brookland Park Boulevard at the northern edge of the district, but no commercial structures appear to date from before 1920. Religious buildings also occupied corner lots in the neighborhood. Few built before 1916 survive in the district. The Sta-Kleen Inn at the corner of First Avenue and Meadowbridge Road is a two-story, four-bay masonry, brick commercial building that appears to date from about 1910. It has slate-shingled false mansard that conceals a shed roof. Most of the first-floor storefront has been filled in. There are five, single, nine-over-one wood sash windows on the second story.
Government-related buildings are rare in this part of the Northside area, but the remarkable, c. 1915, Craftsman-style Engine Company No. 15 Firehouse at 3011 Meadowbridge Road is a rare surviving example of an early twentieth century firehouse with substantial Craftsman detailing. The one-story, stuccoed brick firehouse has a clipped gable roof. The wide, deep hood over the two garage doors in center front is supported on ornamented brackets. The garage doors are flanked by low hip roofed projecting rooms with tripartite windows and brick ornament to each side with soldier course brick at top and bottom of wall. There are exposed decorative rafter ends. The plan features living areas to each side of the central garage and a hose drying tower at the rear. The Highland Park Plaza Park Recreation Building is another important city-maintained structure. Built in the early twentieth century, and located in the center of Highland Park/Anne Hardy Plaza, it is a much-altered one-story Bungalow-style building. It has a tall hipped roof, a wide porch across the west facade, added concrete block walls on the sides and rear, and a basement containing public restrooms.
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: bungalows, American Foursquare houses, and derivations of Tudor Revival- and Colonial Revival-style dwellings. Bungalows 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 most date from well after that date. 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.
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 as the bungalow, these houses were the principal modest dwellings built across the country in the period from 1915-1930. 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 row of stuccoed frame houses with arched porches from 3411 to 3415 Florida Avenue. Good examples of the related one 1/2-story bungalow form in the study area include the related gable-fronted, frame Vitarelli-Martin and Leon A. Perkins houses at 3209 and 3117 Dill Avenue and 0670). Another is the small, frame Bernard J. Talley Bungalow at 3207 Delaware Avenue with a tiny central dormer and a porch incorporating delicate columns.
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.
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, steep gabled roofs. Good examples, built in the 1930s, are the similar houses facing the plaza at 3308 and 3318 Carolina and an identical house at 3509 Carolina Avenue. The first was occupied by Laura G. Waddell and the latter by John G. Foulkes. The one and one-half-story houses have stuccoed frame walls; steep gable-front roofs filed with decorative half-timbering; and offset, gabled, projecting entry vestibules flanked by delicate porches with paired posts.
The Colonial Revival is represented in a prominent way, at first in a few the most substantial and expensive dwellings and later in the smaller Cape-Cod and Dutch Colonial houses built on many previously undeveloped lots, particularly on the periphery of the district in the period before and after the Second World War. Among the few examples of the former type is the elegant dwellings built for the second of the neighborhood's resident physicians. The brick Dr. Frank K. Lord House at 3121 First Avenue was built in about 1920. The two-story, five-bay, brick Colonial Revival-style dwelling has a one-story, three-bay porch with paired Doric columns, full entablature, and advanced pedimented section; a second-floor bay window and balcony door above the porch; a hipped roof; and single six-over-six sash windows. The house resembles architect-designed houses on Monument Avenue more than its Highland Park neighbors.
Another Colonial Revival-style house is the two-story, frame, center-passage-plan Revely W. Nowlin House facing the plaza at 3304 Carolina Avenue. The Colonial Revival-style house incorporates a two-story, three-bay, Ionic portico of colossal size but with spindly proportions. Examples of the latter, inexpensive Colonial dwelling type, is the gambrel-roofed Dutch-style house with a wide shed dormer across the front at 3407 Maryland Avenue.
Throughout the area homeowners built garages to house newly purchased automobiles. A few were designed to improve the houses they supported, such as the hip-roofed, frame structure on the alley behind the house at 3223 Carolina Avenue, but the majority were small frame buildings designed to house a single car and covered, both wall and roof, with corrugated metal.
New apartment buildings such as the two-story, frame Colonial Revival-style duplex at 3506 Maryland 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 central porches at the corners of Carolina Avenue and Highland Street and Carolina Avenue and Milton Street is similar to many built throughout the city in the 1920s. The shed roof is concealed by parapets with short slate-covered Mansard rooflets in the former case and with curve-top projecting pavilions flanking the central porch in the latter. There were six apartment buildings built in the district during the period.
Local service and commercial development appeared in the district itself with a row of small shops housed in a one-story, brick, commercial block built on Milton Street between Carolina and Maryland avenues in about 1930. Corner stores and multi-unit building were built at about the same time along Meadowbridge Road and Brookland Park Boulevard. The brick, one-story, four-unit store building at 3105 Meadowbridge Road has a decorative tiled Mansard roof concealing a shed to rear. The storefront has a glass transom exposed at top. The section at east end is intact with glass store windows flanking entry and wood panels beneath windows. It housed an A. and P. grocery and Hawthorne's Drug Store in 1929. The triangular-shaped multi-store building at 3057-63 Meadowbridge Road is a similar structure, with even plainer detailing. The brick walls culminate in a parapet which rises in scalloped shapes over each of the four much-altered storefronts. It contained Howard's Odorless Cleaners, Harry L. Snedker Shoe Repair, Alex H. Gordon, Barber, and Powers and Southall Service Station in 1929.
Finally, a small commercial section was developed along the 900 block of Milton Street in the heart of the district in the third decade of the twentieth century by using the back lots of property along the adjoining north-south streets. The stores included the Sanitary Grocery Co. and Milton Street Confectionery, the Highland Park Cleaning Co., the Highland Park Market, and the Milton Street Barber Shop in 1929. These were all simple brick structures with conventional form and minimal detailing, except the Highland Park Market, which has an ornate shaped parapet. Service and filling stations began appearing in the this period. Several had a conventional commercial store appearance, but as mid-century approached the Art Deco or Moderne style seemed to take hold in many local stations, including the long, stuccoed brick Highland Park Service Station with a decorative parapet molding and located at the intersection of Second Avenue and Brookland Park Boulevard. The Albert K. Townsend Filling Station on Milton Street, resembles other small, one-story, conventional commercial buildings of the period.
The Classical Revival-style sanctuary of the Highland Park Methodist Church of 1927 was designed by the Richmond-based firm of Baservil and Lambert. The temple-front church, located on the corner of Dill Street and Second Avenue, has a full entablature, a pediment, and colossal columns.
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 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, apartment buildings, and commercial structures of plain and inexpensive form. Among the best of the modern buildings is the one-story, brick Featherstone Filling Station at the intersection of Dill and Rady streets, which appropriated the expanding International Style with its enamel metal panel covering including three ribs around the top below a low parapet. The service station at 3021 Meadowbridge Road dates from the 1950s. It features concrete block walls and the roof is cantilevered over the front. There are two garage doors, plate glass windows on southwest corner at office, and enameled metal panels.
The Highland Park Plaza Historic District is an 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 Highland Park's founding in the late nineteenth century and during which time commercial, and residential growth transformed the community from a semi-developed field to a densely built suburb. Single family residential structures were the vast majority of the documented resource types. Although multiple dwellings, commercial buildings, mixed-use buildings, churches, and schools are located in the district or its immediate vicinity, the proposed boundaries, based on the visual continuity and physical integrity of the district, included only those sections of Highland Park that retain intact historic structures. Areas of significance include commerce, transportation, and architecture. All but twenty-seven of the 733 contributing primary resources in the district are significant as domestic properties (of these, six are contributing apartment buildings and forty are contributing duplex dwellings). There are 272 contributing secondary resources, most in the form of garages and sheds serving the domestic properties. In addition, among the contributing resources there are two churches, thirteen commercial buildings, five service stations, one firehouse, and one recreational building. The district's resources include several architecturally significant buildings (most notably the Craftsman-style Engine Company No. 15 Firehouse and the Classically detailed Highland Park Methodist Church, and five resources closely related to the transportation theme.
Colony to Early National Period (1753-1830)
The Chestnut Hill development to the south of the Highland Park Plaza Historic District was the site of a farm and owned by prominent city man Samuel DuVal (1714-1784) in the late eighteenth century. He acquired acreage north of Shockoe Creek in 1745. He named the property Mount Comfort, and eventually built a large brick center-passage-plan dwelling on the flat center of the tract on the east side of the Meadowbridge Road. Peter V. Daniel (1784-1860) acquired the tract for life through the inheritance of his wife, Lucy Randolph, in the early 1820s. 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 Mount Comfort Farm just outside the city.
Antebellum Period (1831-1860)
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 Jackson Ward. Dill's land, developed in 1908, represents the northern, Plateau section of the Chestnut Hill/Plateau Historic District, just south of Brookland Park Boulevard (originally Dill Street). His property, however, also included the section on the southeast edge of the Highland Park Plaza Historic District served by Fourth and Fifth avenues and Detroit Street. His house stood near present-day Detroit Street in the district.
The 257-acre tract to the north of that, part of which would become the first Highland Park development in 1890, was owned after 1847 by David Clopton. This later was the property of Frank Mosby. Walnut Grove, a Flemish bond brick house to the north of the Highland Park Plaza Historic District still stands immediately north of the district, much altered in the late nineteenth century.
Civil War (1861-1865)
The Civil War adversely affected Richmond in many and well-known ways. The principal impact in the immediate area was the construction of a fortification, Battery No. 7, which protected the city on its northeastern approaches in the Chestnut Hill/Plateau Historic District. This was located near the present-day Juniper, Willow, and Spruce Streets in the center of that district. An historic photograph in the Cook Collection at the Valentine Museum shows a one 1/2 story frame house "beyond Chestnut Hill" that served as A. P. Hill's headquarters during the Seven Days Battle as it appeared in 1890. Its exact location is unclear, but it may have been the main residence on the Clopton tract mentioned above. The city's intermediate defenses crossed the district from the east at about the north end of Enslow Avenue to the west on Meadowbridge Road, incorporating several earthen batteries, none of which survive. No archaeological investigations have been made to determine if any trace remains of the battery in the built-up suburban lots.
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 tracts along the west side of Meadowbridge Road ran down the slope to Cannon's Branch and shared that water source with similar outlots owned by numerous persons. In about 1873, the Meadowbridge 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.
The area is shown in a map of Richmond, Manchester and Suburbs made in 1877 by F.W. Beers Co. The Highland Park 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 stimulated the development of five streetcar suburbs. Popular destinations were included in parks at the terminuses 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 what would become the Highland Park area. 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. The property was laid out soon after in squares (as Richmonders then called blocks), streets, and alleys and known as "Mount Comfort." At almost the same time, the 150-acre tract 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 dissolved in March of 1890 and its property transferred to a new entity, the Northside Land Company for $150,000. 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 Meadowbridge Road for some years.
A related, interlocking group of investors, including Randolph and Fourqurean, as well as Frank and A. F. Mosby, A. J. and Frank B. Enslow, 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 the 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 their 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 built 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. 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.
Two tracts in the northern end of the neighborhood owned by Mrs J. H. Gresham and E. D. Starke restricted growth in that section of the neighborhood. Although the street plan was shown overlaid on these tracts north of Highland Street and west of Carolina Avenue, development of lots was prevented until the mid-twentieth century. The area northeast of a diagonal drawn from the north end of Third Avenue to a intersection of Dill Street and Fourth Avenue was also developed in later years.
The Highland Park Company had issued a prospectus for the development in about 1890. It described over eight hundred "beautiful and valuable building lots." The brochure included an economic promotion of suburban life: "Richmond is just beginning to recognize and appreciate the value and beauty of suburban residences ... Suburban property was not appreciated and was inactive until the old limits of the city were entirely filled and the large incoming population were thus compelled to look for homes in the suburbs, where property is even now cheaper than in many Virginia towns of 10,000 residents."
The site sloped gently toward the city, giving to each lot "the best sewerage and surface drainage" and "a high and commanding view of the entire city of Richmond." A complex system of drawings supervised by disinterested parties was designed to ensure that the lot purchases would be randomly located and that no more than two contiguous lots could be owned in each square by the same purchaser. Profits from lot sales would be directed to paying the company's share in the construction of the viaduct, laying out and "beautifying" the park, building houses, and lighting and paving streets. Regulations forbidding liquor sales, tanneries, butcher shops were boilerplate in similar suburban developments across the region, as was the express prohibition against "sale or lease to a colored person under any circumstance."
Among the company's first actions was the construction of "upwards of" fifteen houses and a church (the Highland Park Methodist church, built, according to a contemporary publication, in the summer of 1892). That church and some of the houses on First and Second avenues are visible in a pair of Cook collection photograph from the new Highland Park School, built in 1909.
Most of the lots sold in 1891. 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 August 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 Highland Park and the neighboring suburbs. One of the most successful was the firm of Ruffin and Forqurean, a lumber company that supplied the materials for many of the houses built in the Northside area. Forqurean 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 south-eastern-most lot of Chestnut Hill. It remained in the area until 1966, when it moved a short distance to the north of the district on Laburnam Road. 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.
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 schoolhouse for the area, located in the northern suburb, was the small, frame, two-room Highland Park Public School on the corner of Carolina Street and Meadowbridge Road, now gone. 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 a small high school department. Upon annexation of Highland Park into the city in 1914, the older students were transferred to the downtown John Marshall High School. In that year the enrollment at Highland Park School was 509, with an additional 27 high school pupils.
Commerce first developed along the southwest side of Meadowbridge Road. No stores are shown in the area on the map of 1901, but two frame stores are shown in the historic photographs taken from the Highland Park School in about 1909. Commerce later developed along Dill Street, later Brookland Park Boulevard, at the south end of the district, and all along Meadowbridge Road from Virginia Avenue to Second Avenue, although most commercial buildings date from the well into the twentieth century. Conventional commercial buildings along Meadowbridge Road 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 principal shopping area within in the district was developed along Milton Street, where could be found a barber, two groceries, a candy shop ("confectionery"), a dry cleaners, and a service station.
The areas around Highland Park were developed in small sections as its success became apparent and annexed into the town. Many of the sections correspond to former outlots held by private individuals such as J.H. Wilbur along Meadowbrook Road. West Highland Park consisted of lots like those in Highland Park along two streets extending west from Meadowbrook and was developed in 1895. This was followed by Highland Terrace an area of very small lots owned by Wilbur just north of Brookland Park Boulevard in 1905, Hillcrest Park in 1906 to the north of Highland Park West and Northside Place, to its south, in 1907. Lots in East Highland Park were offered for sale in 1915 in an area of Henrico County just over the C and O railroad tracks. A small vehicular bridge (now gone) was built over the tracks at the end of First Avenue to reach the new neighborhood.
Another area developed to the east of the district in the early twentieth century is included in the proposed Highland Park Plaza Historic District. The smaller lots in this section were grouped along three streets to the southeast of and aligned with Dill Street. They infilled a previously undeveloped area in a curve of the railroad tracks, north of Rady Street, and southeast of Dill Street part of the original holding of Adolph Dill. The three streets moving east from Dill are Fourth Avenue, Fifth Avenue, and Detroit Street. It forms a distinct part of the neighborhood characterized by smaller lots, modest houses (mostly dating from the second decade of the twentieth century), and a ravine to the east.
The first church in Highland Park Plaza district was mentioned in an 1893 promotional publication as a "fine Methodist church" that the company "has built during the past summer". This frame structure, with a tower and spire, was erected for the Highland Park Methodist congregation on the corner of Second Avenue and Dill Street. It undoubtedly reinforced the viability of the entire suburban project. The church was founded by a group of members of Centenary Methodist Church in downtown Richmond, who began holding Sunday schools in Northside Hall and the Highland Park schoolhouse in 1892. The Highland Park Methodist Church built a new, brick, Classical Revival-style structure on a larger site incorporating the original lot in 1916. It was designed to be enlarged as the congregation grew. A photograph was published in 1924. It was enlarged with a new sanctuary with a columned portico in 1927 designed by the architectural firm of Baskervil and Lambert and the earlier building became the education wing. A tiny church structure of undetermined origin faces Dill Street just behind the Highland Park Methodist Church.
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 Henrico Turnpike three miles north of the city. After that church burned in 1891, they saw an opportunity of moving to the new suburban district and built the first church in the Chestnut Hill/Plateau neighborhood in 1892. A third Mizpah Presbyterian Church was built in 1926 on Brookland Park Boulevard in the Highland Terrace section that is immediately west of the proposed district.
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 on Meadowbridge Road between First and Second avenues, by 1901, when it shows up on the map. The parish purchased lots at 2901 Fourth Avenue in the Plateau section in 1911 (outside the district) and built a new brick, Gothic Revival-style building in 1912. The frame church was demolished.
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 new Gothic Revival-style stone building incorporating high gabled roofs and a crenellated corner tower was built in the plateau section south of the district. The Highland Park Christian Church was organized in 1920 and built a church on Brookland Park Boulevard in the Highland Terrace section in 1927 after years of meeting in the Highland Park School.
By 1901, the lots of Highland Park and Chestnut Hill were mostly sold, but relatively few were built upon. Chestnut Hill had approximately sixty houses, most near the southern end of the district. Highland Park proper had twenty-two houses completed, spread widely, but mostly on the southern three blocks of Enslow, First, Second, and Third avenues. A pair of photographs taken from the roof of the Highland Park School in about 1909 show a dramatic increase in the number of houses since 1901, although the houses were still often separated by numerous unbuilt lots.
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. Many of the squares north and south of Brookland Park Boulevard 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 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.
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. 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 Stonewall Jackson.
Some new institutional buildings were added or rebuilt. Saint Elizabeth's Roman Catholic Church was established by the Bishop of Richmond in 1923 in the Plateau area south of the district. A Classical Revival-style church was built in 1925 and included a basement social hall. The Highland Park Methodist Church, rebuilt in 1916, was much enlarged with a new Classical Revival-style sanctuary designed by the firm of Baskervil and Lambert in 1927.
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.
The houses built in the district in the period between the world wars embody the popular architectural stylistic details available in national publications and pattern books. These include Bungalows, 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 away 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 housing segregation traditions could not easily bend 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.
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 of black buyers purchase a house at market value and then take advantage of white fears and subsequent flight to buy others 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. 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 whites 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 and in neighborhood shopping districts like the 900 block of Milton Street. 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, south of the district, were purchased by black congregations and their functions continued. Others, such as Highland Park Methodist Church, in the district and St. Elizabeth's Catholic Church in the Chestnut Hill/Plateau section, simply kept on with their ministry and gradually opened their doors to the changed community surrounding them. Other churches, in the Chestnut Hill/Plateau district such as Ascension Episcopal and Mizpah Presbyterian churches, simply went out of business as their largely white membership declined below a functional margin.
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. 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, 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 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 result of this effort, several houses have been thoroughly rehabilitated as single-family homes. Most recently, programs established by the city have helped older communities, including Highland Park, revitalize by promoting their unique historic character and by funding further rehabilitation of decayed houses.
Major Bibliographic References
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City of Richmond Plan Collection. Library of Virginia, Richmond Virginia.
The City on the James: Richmond Virginia, The Chamber of Commerce Book. Richmond: George W. Engelhardt, 1893.
City on the James: Richmond, Virginia, The Book of its Chamber of Commerce and Principal Business Interests. Richmond: George W. Engelhardt, 1902-3.
Cook, Huestis. "Highland Park from school," ca. 1909. Historic photographs, Cook Collection. Valentine Museum, Richmond, Virginia.
Department of Community Planning, City of Richmond. "Highland Park: A Neighborhood History." Unpublished typescript, 1991.
East Highland Park. Prospectus, ca. 1915. Files of the Community Development Department, City of Richmond, Richmond, Virginia.
Grabowski, Bessie Berry. The DuVal Family of Virginia, 1701: Descendants of Daniel DuVal, Huguenot, and Allied Families. Richmond: Press of the Dietz Printing Co., 1931.
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"Ninety-Nine Per Cent Sign North Side Covenant: Pledges Forbid Sales to Negroes." Richmond News Leader. 2 April 1942.
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[‡] Worsham, Gibson, architect, Highland Park Plaza Historic District, nomination document, 2004, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
4th Avenue • Brooklyn Park Boulevard • Carolina Avenue • Delaware Avenue • Detroit Street • Dill Street • Enslow Avenue • Fifth Avenue • First Avenue • Florida Avenue • Maryland Avenue • Meadowbridge Road • Second Avenue • Third Avenue