Union Hill Historic District

Richmond City, Independent Cities, VA

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The Union Hill 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. [‡]

Summary Description:

Mosby, Carrington, North 25th streets and Jefferson Avenue roughly define Union Hill, located in the east end of the City of Richmond. In the southwest corner is Jefferson Park, which overlooks the downtown skyline. For much of its history Union Hill was separated from the city and the rest of Church Hill by a deep ravine and the bluffs overlooking Shockoe Valley. The streets on Union Hill follow the terrain rather than the rigid grid of the rest of the city. Where the angled streets of Union Hill collide with that grid interesting triangular blocks are created. This gives Union Hill a unique character found nowhere else in the city. Union Hill is primarily a residential district with a few churches and commercial buildings concentrated along 25th and Venable streets. The dwellings, constructed of frame and brick are modest, working class houses, many of which were built prior to 1867 when Union Hill was annexed from Henrico County. Today, Union Hill is a fragile neighborhood suffering from abandonment and neglect. Thirty-nine houses have been lost since the district was surveyed in 1993 and another forty-eight antebellum houses identified in the 1940s by Mary Wingfield Scott, Richmond preservationist and photographer of historic buildings, have been demolished. Despite the ravage of time and neglect, Union Hill still possesses a high level of integrity and conveys the sense of its historic environment. The Union Hill historic district contains a park and 369 buildings. Twelve of the buildings are noncontributing and one, the Hasker and Marcuse Factory was previously listed.

Detailed Description:

Topography did more to shape the character of Union Hill than any other factor. The cliffs overlooking Shockoe Valley formed the western edge of the neighborhood while a deep ravine that cut diagonally from the corner of Broad and 20th streets to N and 24th streets defined the southern limits. The land in between was hilly and rugged. The name Union Hill, which first appears in 1817, was derived from the joining of two hills--Doing's and Adams'. In 1805, when John Adams and Benjamin Mosby laid out Union Hill for development they used an irregular street pattern to accommodate the hilly terrain. "They used a grid pattern, but instead of a rigid plan with equal size squares like that of Richmond, the grid was adapted to curve and climb with the hills. This resulted in several narrow, bending streets, and squares of various sizes and shapes."[1] The terrain also isolated the community from the rest of Church Hill and the city. "Twenty-fifth Street was the primary means of ascending the hills east of Shockoe Valley, and it was an ungraded and difficult road to travel."[2] Venable Street, "the main road to the country from Adams' Valley"[3] was a series of irregular steps rather than a steep but smooth ascent. "In 1853 a mile drive was necessary to get from Leigh Street Baptist to Asbury Methodist, three blocks away."[4] The architecture of Union Hill reflects the influences of the area's isolation and topography. As the hills were smoothed and the streets graded the foundations and basements of houses were often exposed. "Skied" is the term that Mary Wingfield Scott used to describe the effect of these raised houses with "their far-away porches reached by precipitous steps."[5] In a few instances, the houses mimic the irregular angles of the blocks forming trapezoids rather than traditional rectangles. The one-story cottages and other unique architectural forms give Union Hill a quality all its own.

Early National Period (1789-1830)

Well into the 1830s, "Union Hill was almost a wilderness with a sparse population."[6] A single family controlled much of Union Hill for the first quarter of the nineteenth century, limiting development to the base of Venable Street as it begins its ascent from Shockoe Valley, and on the bluffs above. The earliest known house on Union Hill was that of Henry Mettert. Mettert built his house at the corner of Venable and 18th streets, sometime between 1805 and 1810. Following the angle of the intersection, the two-story brick dwelling formed an obtuse angle. "Early plats show its odd shape, and also that east of it were a well, a pond, and the wooden tannery of Henry Mettert, who lived long in the house, and operated the Adams' Valley Tannery."[7] The Mettert House was demolished in the 1940s. Around 1813, Joshua Doing built his two-story brick home on the eminence that is now Jefferson Park and was then known as Doing's hill. A two-story brick kitchen was attached to the rear of the house and in the yard were a brick smokehouse and a brick stable. Doing was for many years the manager of the Union Hotel, built by John Adams on the southwest corner of 19th and Main streets. The house was demolished long before the city purchased the land in 1887 for a park. George Howard built his house at 2224 Venable Street between 1817 and 1819. A frame wing and Greek Revival porches were added in the 1840s. Scott described the Howard House as "extraordinarily harmonious."[8] When George Howard died in 1860 he left the house and a large parcel of land on Venable Street to his eight children. The house remained in the Howard family until it was demolished in 1930. The only building to survive on Union Hill from this early phase of development is the Adam Miller house. Miller built his house at 2410 Venable Street in 1824. It is a two-story, Flemish-bond brick dwelling set on a raised foundation. The house has a single pile, side hall plan. A two room, two-story addition was made to the north side of the house in the 1830s. When the house burned in the 1870s, a shed roof and a bracketed cornice replaced the stepped gable. Miller, who listed his occupation as farmer on the 1830 census owned the entire block where his house sat and two additional blocks to the northwest. Early plats show a small frame kitchen located in the yard to the northeast of the house. It was typical for a house of this era to be situated on a large lot and surrounded by out buildings.

Antebellum Period (1830-1860)

In 1820, Richmond had a population of 12,067. By 1860, the city's population had grown to 37,910 and Richmond had become the third most affluent city in the nation. The city's prosperity and growth was lead by three industries--tobacco, flour and iron. By 1835, the city's industrial growth resulted in a demand for housing both by the factory owner and the worker. During this period it became profitable for the heirs of Richard Adams II to subdivide and sell their holdings on Union Hill. Most of the new houses were the modest dwellings for the working class--tailors, tanners, butchers, coach makers, teamsters, mechanics, painters, and carpenters. Union Hill's more affluent residents such as "Elijah Baker, Frederick Brauer, George W. Barker, Joseph Augustine, Robert Alvis, Daniel von Groning and Jesse Talbott" built many houses as investments.[9] Nearly eighty buildings from this period still stand on Union Hill. Unfortunately, an equal number have disappeared in the past few decades.

The houses found in the 800 block of North 25th Street clearly illustrate the typical Union Hill dwelling of this era. Two-story, frame, Greek Revival-style dwellings set on raised brick foundations with shallow gable roofs, interior end chimneys and small porticoes at the entrances were typical. The buildings all have side-hall plans and are for the most part three bays wide. Other similar examples are found throughout the neighborhood. Well-executed brick examples, with similar proportions and details, may be seen at 600 and 616 N. 21st Street, 701 N. 23rd Street and 801 N. 24th Street. The Mettert houses, 2223 and 2225 Venable Street, built in 1839 as investment properties are atypical because of their center hall plans. A frame example of a center hall plan dwelling is the Joseph M. Newell house, built in 1854. Located at 617 N. 23rd Street, the Newell house has a raised foundation, hipped roof and central interior chimney. An adjacent Queen Anne, bow front house incorporates the two southern most bays of the original house.

The hipped roof can be seen extending across both houses. Another frame center hall plan dwelling is the Richard Mitchell house built in 1841 at 809 Mosby Street. This striking house is set on a raised Flemish-bond foundation and the exterior end chimneys have water tables at their bases. Double houses and rows of Greek Revival style dwellings can also be found in the community. A fine row of frame houses built in 1859 by Solomon Haunstein can be viewed at 521-527 N. 21st Street and a good example of a brick double house can be observed at 605-607 N. 22nd Street.

Union Hill also contains a collection of Greek Revival cottages. All are modest one-story dwellings with gable roofs. Some are set on raised foundations. Several of these cottages are located on North 23rd Street, including 611, 622 and 705. The house Frederick L. Swift built in 1854, at 2121 Venable Street is an extremely well articulated raised cottage. A form that Mary Wingfield Scott observed was "a type of house so frequently seen in Louisiana, never became acclimated to Richmond."[10] Constructed of pressed brick in a stretcher-bond pattern, the Swift House has a center hall, double pile plan. The Greek Revival portico is approached by a long flight of steps, with the main entry on the floor above a full one-story basement. There are four interior end chimneys, a hipped roof and a classical cornice with an egg-and-dart frieze.

The Elijah Baker house built in 1850, at 2239 Venable Street another substantial house that "has an arrangement of porch and entrance that we have not encountered elsewhere in Richmond."[11] On the west end of the house is a two-story porch. The upper story is enclosed and on the lower story is an entry door with an elaborately carved entablature. This arrangement is probably due to the fact that Baker operated his Apothecary business from his home. The brick double pile house has an asymmetrical five-bay facade, two central interior chimneys, a steeped gable roof and two pedimented dormers.

The only non-residential building from this period is Union Hill Chapel, built in 1843, at 812 N. 25th Street to serve the community's growing Methodist congregation. Later called Asbury Chapel it is a simple frame structure with a front gable roof and a square entry tower at the north end. Round-topped windows punctuate the facade and the side elevations and a semi-circular transom tops the entry door. Old photographs reveal that there were louvered openings at the upper level of the tower with arched heads. The building has been altered over the years yet still retains much of its original character. In 1854, the congregation erected a Greek Revival church at the corner of N and 24th streets. This building was demolished in 1893 and replaced by a new Gothic Revival building.

The corner tower and arched window heads at Union Hill Chapel are precursors of the Italianate-style of architecture that would dominate the neighborhood in the decades following the American Civil War. In the later part of the Antebellum period, a few houses incorporate diminutive brackets in the cornices. However, the Samuel G. Flournoy House, 723 N. 24th Street, built in 1859 fully embraces Italianate influences as illustrated by its asymmetrical plan, low-pitched hip roof and decorative brackets at the eaves.

Civil War (1861-1865)

The massive build up that occurred on Union Hill during the 1840s and 1850s began to wane in the 1860s. As with the rest of the city and the south, building materials were scarce and the focus was on winning the war. Seven houses on Union Hill were built either shortly before the outbreak of hostilities or during the war. Documentation for three of these indicates construction dates between 1861 and 1863. Robert Gathright built 2107 and 2109 Cedar Street in 1861. Both are two-story three bay Greek Revival frame dwellings with square porticos at the entrances. The Gathright houses are similar to the other houses built on Union Hill during the proceeding decades. L. B. Robinson built his center hall plan raised cottage on lot number 199 (600 N. 23rd Street) in 1863. In all likelihood this dwelling was built as a modest one-story cottage and gained a raised foundation as the result of street grading. There are four other houses that may date between 1855 and 1865. Hiram Oliver may have built the austere two-story two-bay Greek Revival dwelling at 2105 M Street. The other frame example at 603 N. 22nd Street is Greek Revival in form, with diminutive brackets at the cornice and a full facade hip-roofed porch. Next door, at 605-607 N. 22nd Street, is a fine brick double house from this period. An unusual house built between 1855 and 1865, is the Patrick Lynch House at 2117-2119 Cedar Street. The Lynch House is a two-story, double house set on a one-story raised basement. There are entrances on both the basement and first story. Stepped parapets contain the shallow, gabled-roof, and there is a shared central interior chimney. Similar to its neighbors in form, the Lynch House is unique because of its building material. It is constructed of over sized, beige sand and aggregate bricks that resemble tabby, a material common in coastal Georgia and South Carolina. On the facade a stretcher-bond pattern is used but on the exposed west elevation four-course American bond is alternated with five courses of Flemish bond. Also noteworthy is the brown stone and granite slab foundation visible on the west side of the dwelling. The unique building materials may be explained by a brick shortage during the war.

Reconstruction and Growth (1865-1917)

Union Hill experienced tremendous growth in the years between the Civil War and World War I. This expansion was directly related to public efforts to grade the streets and make Union Hill more accessible. As the population of Union Hill grew so did the number of commercial and religious institutions within the community. The majority of the houses constructed between 1865 and 1870 clung to the Greek Revival idiom of the previous decades. The only difference is the addition of a full facade hip-roofed porch. Typical of these post war houses are 810 and 812 Jessamine Street. Both are two-story three-bay frame dwellings with shallow gable roofs and full facade hip-roofed porches. The porch at 812 has diminutive brackets on the cornice.

After 1870 and for the next 20 years ltalianate was the dominant residential style. For the most part these are two-story three-bay frame dwellings with shed roofs and full facade porches. Diminutive brackets are applied to other wise plain box cornices and the porches are often ornamented with sawn brackets and turned posts. The dwellings at 509 and 511 N. 21st Street, 517 Mosby Street and 2000 Cedar Street are representative of these houses. The dwellings at 526-528 N. 21st Street and 808-810 N. 25th Street are double house variations on this theme. The house at 2215 Venable Street is one of the few brick examples of an ltalianate style dwelling found on Union Hill. It does however have a more vertical presentation and a slightly more elaborated cornice that is continued and amplified in the Late Victorian houses. There are two unique examples of ltalianate architecture--a one-story cottage and a center hall plan house. The cottage at 820 N. 23rd Street is composed of two, three-bay sections. One of the three-bay sections is offset in front of the other and a hipped-roof porch extends the full width of the recessed bay. The house at 816 N. 22nd Street is a handsome two-story frame dwelling with a low hipped-roof and a center hall plan. The three-bay hipped-roof porch does not cover the full facade and has delicate fretwork and slender brackets that create the effect of arches between the turned posts.

Eclectic revival-style buildings begin to appear in the 1880s, especially in ecclesiastical architecture. Christ Episcopal Church was built in 1884 at 2120 Venable Street. The Romanesque Revival-style building has a front gable with an octagonal Gothic Revival-style corner tower. The decorative brick work, in the tower on the entry bay and over the doors and windows, is exceptional. Venable Street Baptist Church, 2101 Venable Street, built in 1891 is also in the Romanesque Revival style. It has a front gable roof and a square corner tower, which gives the building a Renaissance Revival flair. This church has an abundance of high quality masonry ornament and articulation. The third Union Station Methodist Church was built in 1893 at 718 N. 24th Street. "It is in the Gothic style, with brown stone and terra-cotta trimmings, covered with blue slate, with copper ridges and copper cornices. The windows are of stained glass and are exceedingly beautiful both in design and execution. The interior is a marvel of architectural beauty. The building has a seating capacity of 1,500 and is supplied with all modern convenience."[12]

Around 1890, the houses of Union Hill take on a more vertical appearance (narrower and taller) and the sawn work porches and cornices are more elaborate. During this period, 1890 to 1900, projecting bays are also introduced. Many fine examples of Late Victorian brick and frame dwellings can be observed on Venable Street. Of particular note are the frame houses at 2117-2119 Venable Street with their delicate brackets, sawn balustrade and iron cresting on the porch and roof. The u-shaped brackets on the frame double house at 2208-2210 are especially interesting. The 2200 block of Venable Street contains several brick Late Victorian houses, including a heavily ornamented bay front house at 2235 1/2. Another well detailed brick bay front house is found at 2100 E. Clay Street. Numerous Late Victorian dwellings are found throughout Union Hill. The frame house, 507 N. 21st Street, has a richly decorated porch and cornice and the pair of brick houses at 810 and 812 N. 21st Street are handsome with their deep bracketed cornices with modillions and sawn vents. Elaborately detailed frame bay fronts can be found at 614 1/2 N. 23rd Street, 2108 Clay Street, 2224 Jefferson Avenue, and 2312 M Street. In the 2200 block of M Street is a group of frame attached houses built by Hiram Oliver in the closing decade of the nineteenth century. They are noteworthy for their square bays with pedimented roofs and sawn work porches. A fine brick row with three sided projecting bays is located at 822-826 N. 24th Street. There are two one-story Late Victorian cottages on Union Hill. The cottage at 2117 M Street is richly decorated with a sawn balustrade and brackets and a denticulated cornice with brackets and pierced vents. A third cottage with an exceptionally well-executed porch has been lost in the 900 block of Jessamine.

More elaborately ornamented Queen Anne-style dwellings were built in Union Hill between 1890 and 1910. The pair of houses, at 2010 and 2012 Cedar Street are highly articulated frame Queen Anne houses. The one-bay entry porches are exceptionally nice with their ogee arched spindle work frieze and the sunburst pattern in the pediment. The cornice and trusses below the pediment at the projecting bay are heavily decorated. The frame double house across the street at 2003-2005 and its twin at 2103 Cedar Street are more subdued but display heavily ornamented porches with spindle friezes, lacy brackets and turned posts, as well as sawn trusses in the three front pediments. The masonry Queen Anne-style houses in the 1900 and 2000 blocks of Princess Anne Avenue overlooking Jefferson Park are without rival. The largest and most elaborate example is the dwelling at 2000 Princess Anne Avenue. The sand colored brick house has a bow-front facade topped by a hipped roof with three projecting gables. The curvilinear porch wraps around the west side of the house with paired colonettes atop stone piers.

The 1900 and 2000 blocks of Princess Anne Avenue contain several Colonial Revival-style dwellings. The house at 1914 Princess Anne Avenue is representative of these dwellings. The full facade porch has fluted Ionic columns, a turned balustrade and a dentiled cornice. Leaded glass is used in the sidelights and transom at the entry and in the three-part picture window. There are stone quoins at the corners and stone lintels and sills at the windows. The false mansard roof is broken with a gambrel pediment.

World War I and World War II (1917-1945)

Union Hill was substantially built-up by the early twentieth century. It was during this period, 1917 to 1945, that earlier buildings were removed and replaced with new construction. Residential development was primarily in the form of small apartment buildings in the Colonial Revival style such as those in the 2100 block of E. Leigh and the 2100 block of Venable streets. A major Colonial Revival-style building is the House of Happiness, a Baptist community center, constructed in 1923 at 2230 Venable Street. This imposing, three-story brick building has a symmetrical facade. The raised entry is approached by two flights of stairs on either side of a landing. The entry door itself has a multi-light transom and a pedimented architrave. Above the entry is a Palladian window and a pediment interrupts the modillioned cornice. The second story windows have arched heads with limestone keystones and impost blocks.

This period also saw the increased commercialization of Union Hill, especially along the major arteries of North 25th Street, Venable Street and Jefferson Avenue. A trend, mainly on Venable Street was to convert residential buildings to commercial use by adding a storefront on the first story. The upper stories still served as residences. Rows of one-story Colonial Revival-style stores were also constructed on North 25th Street near its intersection with Venable. These are simple groupings of two or three shops with large expanses of glass. A heavy pilaster that pierces the cornice, usually with a decorative cap, articulates the separation of the shops and continues through the building as a firewall. In the 1930s a new commercial building type was introduced--the service station. While small in scale these were architecturally very sophisticated buildings. Their eye-catching design made them more visible and was part of their marketing plan. One of the most interesting of these little stations is the Park View Service Station at 2202 Jefferson Avenue. Built around 1931, this is a diminutive Mission style building complete with a stuccoed finish, central pediment and a tile roof.

Union Hill shares characteristics that are common in Richmond's east end. In the late thirties and early forties, Union Hill, and adjacent neighborhoods, underwent both an economic and a demographic transformation. While always a working class neighborhood, Union Hill was soon impoverished and neglected. Buildings were lost to deterioration and alterations made to sustain livability. Despite these changes, Union Hill retains a high level of integrity. The neighborhood's unique character and historic quality is still evident. The loss of a few porches or the addition of manufactured siding has compromised some of the workmanship and material integrity of the district. However, all of these intrusions are reversible and there are many intact references for the replacement of missing or deteriorated elements. Further the other aspects of integrity--location, design, setting, feeling and association are extremely high and convey the significance of Union Hill as a mid-nineteenth century working class community. While urban renewal affected many areas of Richmond and housing projects were created so deteriorated neighborhoods could be redeveloped, this was not the fate of Union Hill.

Summary Statement of Significance

The Union Hill neighborhood, in the east end of the City of Richmond, was long separated from the rest of Church Hill by a deep ravine. This physical isolation, combined with its hilly and rugged terrain, led to development of an independent community with a unique plan and distinctive architectural character. Union Hill is unlike any other neighborhood in the city. In 1980, Michael W. Gold, Managing Director of the Historic Richmond Foundation observed "it is one of the most important treasures of modest, 19th-century domestic architecture in the country."[13] Mary Wingfield Scott, who photographed and wrote about Richmond's early neighborhoods, found the irregularity of the streets and the one-story cottages to be the most appealing features of the neighborhood. She found these features to be less altered than in more prosperous parts of town. The district is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion A for its distinctive pattern of residential development in the City of Richmond and under Criterion C for its unsurpassed collection of modest 19th century domestic architecture.

Historical Background

Early National Period (1789-1830)

The early history of Union Hill is closely tied to (Colonel) Richard Adams I (1726-1800) and his descendants. In 1761, shortly after arriving in Richmond, Richard Adam purchased 831 acres from William Byrd III. Later, in 1769 he acquired ten lots in Church Hill from Isaac Coles. "Colonel Richard Adams believed that the future of Richmond lay to the east, and he acquired enormous tracts of land, not only within the city limits but on the northeast end of what we now call Church Hill, on Union Hill, and in the valley, which was then called Adams Valley. He had mills and various other business enterprises. So extensive were the Adams holdings that the estate of Richard Adam II (son of Col. Richard Adams I) was estimated to be worth $1,200.000 even in the low ebb of real estate in 1821."[14] In 1805, John Adam (son of Col. Richard Adams I) and Benjamin Mosby laid out lots for development along the stage coach road to Williamsburg. As early as 1817, the coach road had been named for Abram B. Venable. Venable, former Senator, and first president of the Bank of Virginia perished in the theater fire of 1811. Venable owned a large tract of land on the north side of the road between 18th and 21st streets. Along with 25th Street, Venable was the only thoroughfare that provided access to the heights east of Shockoe Valley, where it connected to Nine Mile Road and eventually with the road to Williamsburg. Scattered development took place at the base of Venable Street and along the heights over looking Adam's valley. Even as late as the 1850s, Union Hill was described as a place of "barren fields and unsightly gullies."[15]

Antebellum Period (1830-1860)

The Antebellum Period witnessed tremendous expansion in the city of Richmond and on Union Hill. A few large houses were built on Striker's Hill overlooking Shockoe Valley but the majority of the dwellings were modest homes for workers. Union Hill was both an economically and racially mixed neighborhood. Slaves moved into free black neighborhoods as the practice of boarding out increased in the 1850s. This shift was the result of Richmond's increased industrialization. Union Hill was one such area where blacks lived among whites in an integrated neighborhood."[16] Many of Union Hill's early residents were also German-born immigrants. An article in the Dispatch of March 18, 1856 gives the following description of Union Hill and its residents:

Union Hill is rapidly becoming a town within itself, and ...will soon be as thickly settled as almost any portion of Richmond. Most of the residents of this hill do business in Richmond--many of them are industrious, hard-fisted mechanics, who now own the tenements they occupy, and all of them are sober, honest citizens. We do not know of a neighborhood in the States where the laws are more rigidly observed by all classes than on Union Hill, and where, in the same amount of population, as few crimes are committed. The residents act as their own policemen...[17]

Many of Union Hill's more affluent residents built investment properties on the hill to accommodate the growing number of working class residents. Hiram Oliver was one of the earliest and most prolific investor builders. Oliver, a wealthy tobacconist, "put up small house to rent here and there in Shed Town, on Union and Church hills. No two of them are alike, and most of them are attractive."[18] Among the houses attributed to Hiram Oliver on Union Hill are 701 and 703 N. 23rd Street, 2105 and 2202 to 2212 M Street. The dwellings at 2202 and 2204-2206 M Street have been demolished since 1990.

The history of Union Station Methodist Church in many ways parallels the development of Union Hill. Around 1835, two young men who were studying for the ministry began to hold services at various locations on Union Hill. The movement gained strength and they secured permission to use the carriage house behind the home of Mrs. William Cullingsworth. Mrs. Cullingsworth resided in the 2400 block of Venable Street where the Hasker-Marcuse factory now stands. The converted carriage house became known as Union Hill Chapel. On 15 November 1843, at a session of the Methodist's Virginia Annual Conference the church was officially recognized and called Union Station. The congregation continued to grow and in 1844 a lot was purchased on North 25th Street between N and O streets. By 1854, the congregation had swelled to 300 and a lot was purchased for a new building at the corner of 24th and N streets. The 1844 chapel, renamed Asbury Chapel, was turned over to the slaves and free-blacks who had worshiped with the congregation since the founding of the church. The new Union Station building was designed by Samuel Freeman and built by T. Wiley Davis. It was an exceptional distyle-in-muris Temple Revival church that resembled Old First Baptist and Centenary Methodist. Samuel Freeman and his brother, John, were among the city's earliest builder-architects. The designs of Old First Baptist and Centenary have been attributed to Samuel, as well as several major industrial buildings including the William H. Grant Tobacco Factory and the Yarbrough-Pohlig Factory. T. Wiley Davis, contractor and builder, has been credited with the construction of "some of the largest buildings and costliest structures of the city: Several of the great Richmond tobacco factories, many handsome and costly residences, ...and a dozen or more churches."[19]

Reconstruction and Growth (1865-1917)

By 1867, the population of Union Hill had grown to such a degree the area was annexed into the city. However, the ravine that ran diagonally along the southern edge of Union Hill still physically isolated the neighborhood from the city. Three major events during this period contributed to the rapid growth of Union Hill and its continued integration into Church Hill and the city. In 1882, the great divide at the southern edge of Union Hill was filled and graded to create Church Hill Avenue (renamed Jefferson Avenue in 1905). In 1887, the City purchased Doing's Hill for a park. Marshall Park was enlarged at the turn of the century and renamed Jefferson Park. In 1888, the Sprague Electric Railway Motor Company designated Jefferson Avenue as a trolley route. This decision made commuting more feasible for existing residents and made the neighborhood more attractive to potential inhabitants.

In addition to the construction of new dwellings on Union Hill this new found accessibility also resulted in the erection of churches, businesses and industries in the neighborhood to serve the inhabitants. Much of the residential construction was of a speculative nature to satisfy the growing demand for housing. Building fund associations and individual investors were active on Union Hill. R. P. Boze has been identified as the builder developer of 2009-2019 Venable Street. A group of investment houses built between 1907 and 1908 in the 2000 and 2100 blocks of M Street are noteworthy because they have been attributed to the architect D. Wiley Anderson and his partner lsaac T. Skinner. Anderson and Skinner are best known for their designs of some of the finest houses on Monument Avenue for some of Richmond's most prominent citizens.[20] The frame double houses at 2003-2005 and 2103 M Street are nicely detailed and well-proportioned Queen Anne-style dwellings while 2108-2110 and 2112-2114 are in the Late Victorian style. E. S. Hitchcock has been identified as the contractor/builder of these four houses and 537 Mosby. The Colonial Revival-style apartments at 2304-2308 M Street and the Queen Anne-style house at 1916 and 1918-1920 Princess Anne Avenue have been attributed to lsaac W. Throckmorton, architect. C. E. Hayward and George A. Dietrich were the builders for the houses on Princess Anne. Other builders that have been identified are J. W. Atkinson, Walter Douglas, George Skelton, and James Fox and Sons.

Three churches were constructed on Union Hill during this period of Reconstruction and Growth. In 1884, after two disastrous fires that nearly ended Christ Episcopal Church's existence, a new Romanesque Revival-style building was erected at 2120 Venable Street. Venable Street Baptist Church was built at 2101 Venable Street in 1891. The congregation began as a mission church in 1871 at 17th and Venable Streets. The new church was designed by M. J. Dimmock and built by D. Wiley Davis. Marion J. Dimmock is considered the dean of Richmond architects. During his long career, Dimmock designed numerous residences, businesses and churches. By 1893, Union Station Methodist Church was again seeking larger quarters. Instead of moving to a new location the congregation opted to demolish the 1854 church and build new on the same site. The new Gothic Revival-style building has been attributed to Walter R. Higham. Higham was trained as an architect in his native England and came to Richmond to supervise the construction of the Richmond Masonic Temple.

In 1879, Charles H. Hasker began manufacturing paper tags, labels and show cards in the woodshed behind his residence at 2312 N Street. The business grew rapidly and in 1885 he began manufacturing tin tags and impression plates for embossing plug tobacco in a two-story brick building erected at 810 N. 24th Street. In 1890, he erected a four-story L-plan brick factory on Venable Street. One year later, Hasker became partners with Alexander J. Marcuse and sons. The new partnership added the manufacture of plain and decorated tin boxes and tin signs to their business. The company employed 175 persons by 1893 and many were Union Hill residents. "Among these employees are a number of female help and also some of the best skilled mechanics and artists in the United States--designers, lithographers, engravers on stone, wood and steel, and die and tool makers, etc."[21] The building was expanded in 1900 and 1915. American Can Company acquired the factory in 1901 and continued in operation until 1951. "Demand for the specialized products of the factory had ceased, and the sophisticated machinery was not adaptable for other uses, and the factory was sold to be used as a warehouse."[22] Charles Hasker was an active member of Union Station Methodist Church and a well-respected community leader. After his retirement in 1896, Hasker traveled the country lecturing to raise money for churches, schools and lodges. A popular speaker, Hasker recounted his personal experiences during the Civil War battle of the Monitor and the Merrimac. Hasker died in 1898. He was regarded with such esteem that, in 1906 when Union Station established a mission church nearby at 2700 Q Street, it was named Hasker Memorial Methodist Church. No objection was made to the erection of a large factory in the community, further evidence of the close-knit nature of Union Hill, and the respect for Hasker.

World War I and World War II (1917-1945)

Little residential development took place on Union Hill during this period as the neighborhood was substantially built out. The City Circle of the Baptist Woman's Missionary Union constructed the House of Happiness, a community center, in 1923. It was the only public building erected on Union Hill during this period. The 1920s and 1930s did however see a growing number of commercial enterprises added to the fabric of Union Hill especially along Venable and 25th streets. A major trend was the conversion of residential buildings to commercial establishments. Thomas N. Curd established a drug store at the corner of 21st and Venable streets around 1910 and maintained his residence upstairs, similar to the arrangement of Elijah Baker in the 1850s. Around 1925, the Perkinson residence at 2007 Venable Street became Pendleton and Company, a purveyor of dry goods. Beverly R. Warriner converted the J. D. Whitehurst residence at 823 N. 24th Street to a grocery store around 1932. Warriner also lived at this address. The Late Victorian dwelling at the corner of Venable and Mosby streets became the Baker's Inn Confectionery in 1932. The Great A & P Tea Company occupied the first floor of 2025 Venable Street from 1923 to 1945. Mrs. M. E. Warren and her family (owners of the property) continued to occupy the second floor as they had done since 1906.

New commercial buildings were also built during this period. Unique among these establishments was Perkinson's Quality Ice Cream. In 1932, Perkinson built a small factory at 815 N. 22nd Street and converted the residence at 2201 Venable Street to a retail outlet. Service stations were the most prolific of these new businesses, all of which were built in 1931. The Continental Oil Company filling station occupies the northeast corner of Venable and Mosby streets. The Fairmount Service Station was built at 2242 Venable Street and the Park View Service Station occupied the building at 2202 Jefferson Avenue.

It was during this period that the racial composition of Union Hill began to change. This change is well illustrated in the transition of the community churches. A 1970 article in the Times-Dispatch about the House of Happiness makes the observation that for 37 years the center had sewed a white community some of which were disadvantaged. The service population was in transition during the 1950s and by 1957 was all black. In 1952, the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia purchased Christ Church for "the establishment of a Negro church in the East End."[23] The Temple of Judah now occupies this building. The Temple of Judah also owns and operates the Citadel of Hope, formerly the House of Happiness, as a community center. Also in 1952, the Union Station Methodist Church building was sold to an African-American congregation and became Cedar Street Memorial Baptist Church. In 1954, the Venable Street Baptist Church was sold to an African-American congregation. Great Hope Baptist Church was organized in 1944 and purchased the Church of the Nazarene at 24th and Venable streets from a white congregation. Great Hope sold this building to Shiloh Baptist Church when they purchased the larger sanctuary from Venable Street Baptist.


Architectural Surveys Conducted by Janet G. Blutstein-Murphy in 1990 and by Kimberly Chen, Mary Harding Sadler and Peter McDearmon Witt in 2000.

Blutstein-Murphy, Janet G. "Topographic Determinism in the Development of Union Hill" Department of Art History, Virginia Commonwealth University, 1993.

Chesson. Michael B. Richmond After the War 1865-1890. Richmond: Virginia State Library. 1981.

Gold, Michael W. "Survey of Neighborhoods and Structures Church Hill Area: Richmond, Virginia" Richmond: Historic Richmond Foundation, 1980.

Hill's Richmond City Directory (1870-1950).

Morrison, Andrew, editor, The City on the James: Richmond. Virginia. Richmond: George W. Englehardt, 1893.

Richmond News Leader, "Diocese to Buy Christ Episcopal Edifice for Establishment of a Negro Church", Wednesday, March 5, 1952, p. 23.

Scott, Mary Wingfield. Houses of Old Richmond. New York: Bonanza Books, 1941.

____________. Old Richmond Neighborhoods. Richmond: William Byrd Press, 1984.

Wells, John E. and Robert E. Dalton, The Virginia Architects 1835-1955: A Biographical Dictionary. Richmond: New South Architectural Press, 1997.

Wiltshire, Mrs. J. L. A Century of Service: The History of Union Station Methodist Church 1843-1943. Richmond: Whittet & Shepperson, 1943.

Winthrop, Robert P. "National Register of Historic Places Inventory--Nomination Form: The Hasker & Marcuse-Union Hill Historic District", (Richmond: Virginia Department of Historic Resources, 11 November 1982.

End Notes

  1. Janet G. Blutstein-Murphy, "Topographic Determinism in the Development of Union Hill" (Department of Art History, Virginia Commonwealth University, 1993), p. 2.
  2. Blutstein-Murphy, "Topographic Determinism", p. 2.
  3. Mary Wingfield Scott, Old Richmond Neighborhoods (Richmond: William Byrd Press, 1984), p. 59.
  4. Scott, Neighborhoods, p. 51.
  5. Scott. Neighborhoods. p. 56.
  6. Mrs. J. L. Wiltshire, A Century of Service: The History of Union Station Methodist Church 1843-1943 (Richmond: Whittet 8 Shepperson, 1943), p. 13.
  7. Scott, Neighborhoods, p. 59.
  8. Mary Wingfield Scott, Houses of Old Richmond (New York: Bonanza Books, 1941), p. 152.
  9. Scott, Neighborhoods, p. 55.
  10. Scott, Houses, p. 301.
  11. Scott, Neighborhoods, p. 60.
  12. Wiltshire, A Century, p. 45.
  13. Michael W. Gold, "Survey of Neighborhoods and Structures Church Hill Area: Richmond, Virginia" (Richmond: Historic Richmond Foundation, 1980), p. 51-52.
  14. Scott, Houses, p. 13-14.
  15. Wiltshire. A Century, p. 17.
  16. Michael B. Chesson, Richmond After the War 1865-1890 (Richmond: Virginia State Library, 1981), p. 16.
  17. Scott, Houses, p. 259.
  18. Scott, Houses, p. 20.
  19. Andrew Morrison, editor, The City on the James: Richmond, Virginia (Richmond: George W. Englehardt, 1893), p. 163.
  20. John E. Wells and Robert E. Dalton, The Virginia Architects 1835-1955: A Biographical Dictionary (Richmond: New South Architectural Press, 1997), p. 6-8 and 414-415.
  21. Morrison, City on the James, p. 204.
  22. Robert P. Winthrop, "National Register of Historic Places Inventory--Nomination Form: The Hasker & Marcuse-Union Hill Historic District", (Richmond: 11 November 1982), Section 8, Page 4.
  23. The Richmond News Leader, "Diocese to Buy Christ Episcopal Edifice for Establishment of a Negro Church", Wednesday, March 5, 1952, p. 23.

[‡] Chen, Kimberly Merkel, Union Hill Historic District, Richmond Virginia, nomination document, 2001, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

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