History of Richmond's Museum District


Robert E. Lee Camp No. 1 opened. It occupied 36 acres of land between Grove, Kensington, Boulevard and Sheppard. Surviving buildings include the chapel, the Robinson House (which was actually a farm house built before the camp) and the garage behind Robinson House which was built as the mess hall for the camp.


In 1887 the City Railway Company extended the horsecar line on Main about 4 more blocks to the city limits (about Mulberry?), where passengers could change to the steam dummy line which ran in Henrico to Reservoir Park. The route was west on Main to Mulberry, south to Beverly (now Idlewood) and the park. (McKenney)


By this time streetcar lines for both horse-drawn and steam-driven cars served Reservoir Park.


West End Land Development Company formed by Major James H. Dooley, Joseph Bryan, E. D. Christian, J. J. Montague, M. Millhiser, John B. Purcell, Thomas M. Rutherfoord, and George J. Rogers. “It was the first company to develop a large suburban neighborhood in Richmond,” according to an essay enclosed in the WOB file without any author’s name. Model homes were built as models of a suburban area, but the company did not intend to go into the construction business. (Some of this information comes from the 1893 Chamber publication.) They formed the area bounded by Cary (then Westhampton), Grove, and Foushee Street west of the Boulevard (where was this?).


In 1895 a new company, the Richmond Traction Company, was chartered. Had a line on Broad from 34th to Robinson, Robinson to Reservoir Park. (McKenney)


Sometime late in the century, Oliver Schoolcraft purchased a tract known as Auburn and built the brick stable that ended up on the property at 3211 Grove Avenue. The house at 3211, which was evidently there when they bought the property, formerly sat back off the road about 150 feet further, and was moved forward and a little to the east. Mr. Schoolcraft built a racetrack that ran from Grove to Cary, the western side being near where Crenshaw Street is now and the eastern side being just west of the house at 3211. He and his wife lived in rooms over the stable, preferring that to the old house. She died in childbirth, and he eventually moved to England. (from notes taken November 16, 1934 by Louise Catterall while interviewing Mr. Harry Beattie, stepbrother of Oliver Schoolcraft. These notes can be found in the Grove Avenue file at the Valentine, and were copied by the WOB researchers.)


Annexation brings much of the neighborhood into the city limits. (To 150′ west of Roseneath) Added a total of 4 square miles to the city from along the city limits in the east and west ends. “Rapid expansion of Richmond into surrounding suburbs after 1900 constituted a classic case of “streetcar” urbanization. As the nation’s pioneer in the use of electricity to power streetcars, in 1888, Richmond also became one of the first to experience its effects on residential settlement patterns.” “By 1900 a gradual exodus of middle and upper classes to the suburbs…” p. 42. P. 62, “Between 1906 and 1914 the city annexed nearly twenty-two square miles of new territory, in effect increasing the physical dimensions of the city by more than 400 percent.” 1906 over 4 square miles, 1914 13 square miles annexed. A population in 1900 of 85,000 and in 1914 of 155,000, mostly due to annexation. Letters of support of annexations to City Council in the teens included some from the West End Citizens Association, representing an array of subdivisions. (Silver)


About this time Broad Street line extended west from Robinson to Sheppard, south to Cary. (This was the Belmont car line which would be extended later.) Sprague’s original line to the former pavilion in Reservoir Park was rerouted to connect at Elm and Beverly (now Idlewood.) 1911 Sept. Benedictine opened, though the building was not quite finished. From 1911-1924 the original school building served also as the church and priory. Begun in 1910. Designed by Father Michael McInerney, O.S.B., the order’s architect.


3201 Grove Avenue built (aka the Wendell Powell House). Designed by D. Wiley Anderson and built by W. H. Crawford as his own residence.

1913 Feb.

St. Mary’s Benedictine Institute moves from Fourth Street between Clay and Leigh to St. Gertrude’s when it is completed. It was designed by McGuinness and Walsh of Boston. Based on California missions, and the chapel is a replica of the crypt at Monte Cassino, where St.s Benedict and Scholastica are buried. The altar is an exact duplicate of the one at Monte Cassino, and was carved by Father Peterson, C.S.P. St. Mary’s didn’t close until 1920, because St. Gertrude’s opened with only 2 small classrooms in the basement for girls grades 1-5. In 1918 the nuns opened a school for “mentally defective children,” but it did not work out because of the medical care that was needed for the pupils. By 1922 St. Gertrude’s opened as a girls’ high school.


St. Benedict’s parochial school opens. They used the first floor of the convent house with 90 students and 4 teaching nuns. In 1923 the nuns moved to St. Gertrude’s and the school building was erected.

Bertha Morrissey, neighborhood resident, recalls that everyone’s father rode the streetcar to work, leaving automobiles at home for the family’s use. She also remembers being told that it was against the law for some time to park on the street, and that is why the neighborhood has so many small garages in the middle of the blocks. She also notes that the iceman had to come daily to all the houses, and that everyone had to buy their meat and perishables daily because of lack of refrigeration. That explains the large number of little stores scattered around the neighborhood. The grocery stores had to take their perishables downtown to a cold storage plant every night.


St. Gertrude’s opens as a girls’ high school.

First Congregational Christian Church opens at the corner of Grove and Sheppard streets. Designed by Luther Hartsook. Sold in 1985 to the All Saints Reformed Presbyterian Church. The fellowship building on the west side of the church was built in 1921.


Mr. Muhleman, of Muhleman and Kayhoe, builders, is quoted in the April 11 RTD, “We find that everything we are building will be absorbed by the public.”


St. Benedict’s new building opened. Enlarged in 1950. It had eight classrooms and a kitchen.


New Benedictine priory built a faculty house for 11 priests, designed by Father Michael McInerney.


Richmond News Leader runs articles about what a residential real estate boom the South, and Richmond, are having. Expect 1925 to set records. Example: Houses built by Muhleman and Kayhoe in the 3400 block of Ellwood open as model homes for average homeowners and 1200 people go through them in the first week. Out of six, four are sold by the next weekend. They also note that the period of speculative building seems to have passed, and most homeowners would prefer to arrange to have their house built for them.

To contrast with this, there is a full-page ad taken out in the April 25 paper (which?) by a builder. He states that Richmond builders are overbuilding, and that everyone is going to get in trouble soon. He is moving his business to North Carolina, though he loves Richmond. He thinks that the business leaders need to get moving and get the Chamber of Commerce working on attracting new businesses to the area, or Richmond will be left behind. (Max Ruehrmund) Christadelphian Chapel first occupied. (Does this mean it was built even before 1925?) No additions or changes have been made since. Designed by H. Carl Messerschmidt.

The goal of the streetcar companies by this time was to have a car or bus line within a 1/4 mile of each Richmond resident. The Belmont line extended from Cary 11 more blocks to Garrett Street. (McKenney)


Richmond Normal School is built. Opens 9 Sept. 1926. Designed by Charles M. Robinson and his son Charles Custer Robinson. It was originally a teacher training school, with students from kindergarten to 7th grade and 109 student teachers. It was an unusual experiment because of the combination of the normal school with an elementary school, and was famous all over the country. Visitors came from as far away as China and India. Soon state teaching colleges took away the need for it, though, and in June 1933 it became Albert H. Hill Elementary School, eliminating the student teaching. In 1934 it became a combination elementary-junior high, and then the elementary school was dropped in 1956-1957. It is now a middle school with a focus on International Relations.


St. Benedict’s community decides it is time to raise money and build a church building. They hire a professional fundraiser, a first for Richmond, and reach their goal in 5 weeks! The church was designed by Father Michael McInerney and built by John T. Wilson Co., general contractors. The carvings outside were done by Frank Avetz of Philadelphia, an ecclesiastical sculptor. Leo Pitassi did the stained glass (which had to be added later because of the expense), and Alex Molinarola did the interior altars, railing, pulpit, and columns. The church is described as neither Gothic nor Byzantine. The seven windows above the altar symbolize the 7 sacraments.

1929 28 Aug.

St. Benedict’s Church dedicated.


1 1/2 mile extension of Broad Street line west to city limits at Commonwealth Ave. and a connecting line on Lafayette from Broad to Grove. Car went downtown on Broad now and its former tracks on Floyd were covered by a new bus line. (McKenney) 1950 Gym built at Benedictine, designed by Father Michael McInerney.


Temple Beth-El builds a new school building.


An addition is built to St. Gertrude’s. It provided more living space for the nuns, and allowed the old convent on Grove next to St. Benedict’s to be torn down and used as much-needed playground space.


Frank Avetz returns to St. Benedict’s to paint a mural depicting the Sacred Heart in the sanctuary. He then added the Last Supper sculpture carved on the wall surrounding the altar, and its mosaic background.


Zoning laws change, allowing high-rise buildings in the WOB area. A high-rise, subsidized apartment is planned, but the neighborhood fights it. (See 1974, too.)


Administration building opened at Benedictine for office space. A second addition is built at St. Gertrude’s.


HUD makes more plans to build a high-rise, subsidized apartment building for the elderly in the 2900 block of Grove Ave. The neighborhood mobilized and eventually defeated it by convincing City Council to change the 1960s zoning that allowed high-rise buildings in the area.


Neighborhood real estate values doubled because the Fan District was becoming too expensive.

1986, April 25th

Benedictine High School burns, destroying over 60% of the building.


After several years of hard work by the residents, the neighborhood is designated as a Federal and State Historic District.


The first Mother’s Day House and Garden Tour is held.


The By-laws are changed to add the word Historic to the Association’s name.