Wednesday, October 31, 2018

A Forgotten Civil Rights Battlefield: Richmond’s Westwood Neighborhood

Construction of what was then the Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike (today’s I-95) so thoroughly obliterated the neighborhood of Navy Hill that the very topography on which it once stood is gone. The City of Richmond turned Fulton, an area that was once populated as densely as the Fan, into a vacant urban prairie with a grid of abandoned city streets. As bad and malicious as these two instances were, neither was as fueled by the degree of overt racism that faced the residents of a small neighborhood on Patterson Avenue called Westwood. Their triumph and persistence in the face of overwhelming odds is a chapter in the struggle for Civil Rights that should be told.

A 1935 map of “Negro Settlements” in and around Richmond,
showing “Westwood / Westhampton” straddling Patterson Avenue.

Established by newly-freed blacks after the Civil War, Westwood developed around its little church in a classic village pattern. Westwood had its own store and school and, while older residents recalled going “into town” on special occasions, the community was, for the most part, self-sufficient. The village had its own school, stores, and church. Baptisms were performed in in Jordan’s Branch, a stream whose name echoes that that of the biblical Jordan River. Westwood residents often had a hard time convincing anybody, black or white, that there were African Americans living out in Henrico County on Patterson Avenue, but their unique self-sufficiency came to an end when the neighborhood was annexed into the City in 1942.

Jordan’s Branch, a major stream which once formed the eastern boundary of Westwood, is today in a giant culvert under the median of Willow Lawn Drive.

Beside the village church, the now-demolished Westwood School at 5407 Leonard Street was another center of the community. In its final year the little school had 41 students before being closed by the City in 1948. Instead of going to Westhampton School (literally a block away), the black students of Westwood were bused to Carver School, six miles away.  This fact of life in segregated Richmond only added another layer of repression and resentment which lay heavily on the citizens of Westwood, and particularly those ex-GIs who had served in World War II.

The wells in the area that served Westwood since its inception were all condemned. By 1945, the entire population of 200 people all had to draw their water from a single “hydrant,” which consisted of a simple faucet mounted on a short pole at the corner of Patterson and Willow Lawn Drive. There was no plan to run water or sewer lines to Westwood despite the increase in taxes that came with being incorporated into the city – the same taxes that provided a full range of City services to everyone else. Simultaneously, the increasing number of wealthy white subdivisions along nearby Cary Street and Grove Avenue were putting political pressure to “do something” about the African American island in their midst.

It all began when the City claimed the Westwood could be a health menace. Typhoid could spread because of the lack of modern facilities in Westwood was the claim, and at the same time the Board of Aldermen refused to fund water and sewer in the neighborhood.  They feared providing proper City services would only encourage more houses and that the population would become even larger. This bureaucratic circular logic must have been maddening to the besieged residents of the tiny community, but an even greater threat was emerging against them of an even more nakedly racist attack.

Although the Richmond Master Plan did not identify a need for such a facility in that area, in 1945 it was proposed that the homes of Westwood would be demolished, and the area turned into a City park. There was a provision that Westwood residents would be given the opportunity to “live their lives out, but their children would have to move after their parents died.” Organized by the minister of Westwood Baptist Church at the time, Reverend Waller, residents turned out in droves to appear at City Hall and let their outrage be known.

An example of one of the older homes in Westwood.

The white subdivisions in the area such as the Colonial Place Association, the Monument Avenue Crest Association, and Hampton Gardens Civic Association all sent representatives who spoke in favor of razing Westwood, saying getting the blacks out would result in “the greatest good for the greatest numbers.”  An especially condescending and cruel twist in the plan assured Westwood Baptist Church would stand as long as it was used by its parishioners, and then demolished. 

If the plan to destroy Westwood took place, “Richmond would be denounced from coast to coast as a place which does not know the meaning of justice,” wrote the Richmond Times-Dispatch.  Because of the organized reaction of Westwood residents, aided by a small number of fair-minded whites, and the surprising support of Richmond editorial pages, the park idea was rejected every time it came up although by 1947, the issue of sewer and water for Westwood had still not been resolved.  

Remarkably, the conscious of the Richmond Times-Dispatch was again stirred by the attacks on this African American enclave.  The newspaper recognized that the conspiracy to demolish Westwood as well as deny services was backed by one of modern Richmond’s most vicious and transparent demonstrations of racism:

The issue in the Westwood matter remains just what it was before some 200 citizens met in Westhampton High School on Friday night to discuss its pros and cons. That issue is whether Richmond’s people, and their representatives in Council, are going to provide water and sewerage for 65 hard-working, law-abiding families who pay city taxes and are entitled to these facilities, or whether those citizens are to be denied such facilities because they are colored…Everybody knows, of course, that the “park” which is being advocated for the area has been held by the City Planning Commission to be unnecessary and undesirable.

The City of Richmond relents and installs water and sewer in Westwood, September 1947.

The City of Richmond finally announced that water and sewer lines would be extended into Westwood.  Alderman Frank S. Richeson, sponsor of the legislation that would have destroyed Westwood, sneered the residents “would feel they had been imposed upon when they learned the cost of connecting with the utilities,” and that he had talked to a plumbing contractor who told him it would cost up to $500 for each house.  In contrast, Westwood Baptist’s Reverend Waller announced that the church itself would finance any resident’s connection fees, which he said would be around $100.

One of the older houses in Westwood at the corner of Parish and Marian (now demolished).

Less dramatic than the defense of the neighborhood but equally important is the loss of a large amount of the housing stock of Westwood in recent years.  Small bungalows along Patterson Avenue have been mostly replaced by an office complex, and the U.S. Post Office’s Westhampton Station claimed a large part of Westwood.  Most disturbing of all, the church itself has converted some former residential lots to surface parking to accommodate parishioners who no longer live in the community.  In a pattern often seen in urban churches, Westwood Baptist Church is ironically destroying the buildings that were the homes of the church’s first faithful and is sacrificing the very fabric of the community to automobile culture.

 A parking lot created from former residential lots in Westwood.

Westwood prevailed as a community, but the bitter, two-year battle in the war for Civil Rights that took place is fading, even in the memory of the church that stood in the center of the fight.  The Westwood Baptist Church’s website itself gives scant attention to the attempt to eliminate the African-American enclave in an area of growing white housing.  A fight for justice where the entire community could have easily been wiped from the earth and a heroic example of resistance in the face of overwhelming odds is described in two bland sentences which are hardly are worthy of the events:

“The city had plans to convert the Westwood Community into a park. As a result of Rev. Waller’s untiring efforts, the community still stands.”

In contrast to this tepid retelling of that period, Westwood should celebrate their resistance and survival.  Instead of a featureless city intersection, there should be a Historical Marker where that faucet on a post once stood at Willow Lawn Drive and Patterson Avenue to forever mark where citizens drew together and fought a malevolent city bureaucracy – and won.  We need to remember this was no easy task in the bitterly segregated world of Richmond in the 1940s and 1950s.  We need to recall that the little crooked streets and tidy bungalows of Westwood truly represent a forgotten battleground in the story of the struggle for Civil Rights in America.

- Selden Richardson. 

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Can you name what block this is in Richmond?

This is a very rare view of a certain street in Richmond. The time period is ca. 1920s. What street, block number, and is it the north or south side of the street?

Monday, August 6, 2018

Richmond’s Version of the Anne Hathaway Cottage: A Little-known Companion to Virginia House and Agecroft in Windsor Farms.

In the early 1900s, America was in the ascendency and captains of industry like the DuPonts, the Astors, and the Rockefellers celebrated by emulating the tastes and customs of British aristocracy.  Richmond was no exception to this trend, and by the late 1920s a solidly Anglophile culture was drawn to a development west of Richmond named Windsor Farms. 

In contrast to the grand homes being built around the turn of the century, these wealthy Richmonders felt the Colonial Revival and Tudor revival styles so popular on Monument Avenue were only poor imitations the genuine architecture of the past.  They wanted something even more true to the English ideal, something real.

Ambassador Alexander Wedell and his next-door neighbor, Thomas C. Williams, Jr. took authenticity to its utmost expression in Windsor Farms.  It was termed Richmond’s first planned community and the first that acknowledged the ascendency of automobile culture in the design of the subdivision.  Windsor Farms, with its village green, brick sidewalks, and bucolic vistas was designed as an English town, beefed up to American standards but still evocative of village life as seen through the rosy lenses of its residents. 

An illustration of the original Anne Hathaway cottage in England, from the Windsor Farms magazine, “The Black Swan,” February 1928.

Not content with modern houses made of modern materials, Wedell and Williams both went to England and bought entire buildings constructed hundreds of years before, and from these materials created the Weddells’ Virginia House and Williams’ Agecroft Hall.  Large sections of centuries-old English homes were reassembled within sight of each other on Sulgrave Road to create these estates, and each house stood in a Charles Gillette-designed formal garden. 

Gillette (1886-1969), termed the father of the “Virginia Garden,” drew on the same nostalgia for Britain that fueled the expense and style of the two reconstructed English manor houses in Windsor Farms.  With his palate of brick and slate hardscapes punctuated by well-chosen plantings, Gillette was the perfect landscape architect to design the English-ish setting for these two unusual homes.

A 1928 article in Windsor Farms’ neighborhood magazine, the “Black Swan,” noted the architect for the reconstruction of what became Virginia House and Agecroft was Henry Morse (1884-1934).  Morse, it was said, “thought it would be a pity not to have a fine type of English cottage in an English village.”  The architype English cottage chosen was the house that was famous as the home of William Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway.  The original house in England was built in 1463 and Hathaway was born there in 1556.  According to the Black Swan article, architect Morse liked the idea but had no documentation of the original building, so produced a design of the house from a picture post card of the Anne Hathaway cottage.

A vintage picture postcard of the Anne Hathaway cottage in England.  Architect William Morse is said to have taken a similar postcard and from it designed the house in Richmond.

Richmond’s version of the Anne Hathaway cottage, on Tonbridge Road in Windsor Farms.  Its lush landscaping has grown since 1928 to add to the desired impression of a house hundreds of years old.

The house Morse designed in 1928 still stands today at 106 Tonbridge Road and has been owned by the same family for more than fifty years.  A 1967 newspaper article about this cottage notes that as a concession to Richmond weather, the house in Windsor Farms does not have a thatched roof but one constructed of especially steamed cedar shingles, formed and bent to give the proper flow and appearance of thatch.  The passage of ninety years since it was built have softened the landscape of Richmond’s Anne Hathaway Cottage, and the wall along the street is today lush with deep green moss.  What was an empty subdivision lot when Henry Morse pinned that postcard to the top of his drawing board is now graced with huge oaks, all contributing to the illusion of being, like the original, in Olde Warwickshire, England.

Henry Morse’s architectural patrons, Wedell and Williams, spent vast sums trying to get their little slices of England correct in design and effect.  Taking a subtler but still quite deliberate path, during construction of the Anne Hathaway cottage, beams were intentionally installed slightly unevenly.  Windows were not evenly spaced, and doorways were built slightly off-center to create the impression of a hand-hewn framework and the construction imperfections that might be found in a fifteenth-century house.

The roof of Richmond’s Anne Hathaway cottage has been designed to mimic straw thatching, but with the concession of modern shingles.

The Hathaway cottage, or the idea of it, spread around the world and each instance is an attempt, as was seen in Windsor Farms, to evoke that same authenticity of England past. Such is the appearance of the Anne Hathaway cottage, with its charming appearance and mythic associations, it has become the epitome of English cottage life and all that implies.  The cottage is evocative of an earlier time, an idealized state when yeomen Englishmen lived simple and honorable lives and nearby, Shakespeare forged the most iconic of English literature.  The denizens of Windsor Farms were not unique in summoning an idealized past, as embodied in the walls of an English cottage.  Versions of Anne Hathaway’s cottage, with greater or lesser accuracy, appear all over the world, each attempting to draw on the history and charm of the English original.

 Virginia’s second Anne Hathaway cottage, located in Staunton.

There is a version of the building constructed relatively recently in Staunton, Virginia.  Built in 2007, the Anne Hathaway Cottage Tea Room serves English high teas in its appropriately decorated rooms, often in connection with the nearby American Shakespeare Center. 

The Australian version of the Anne Hathaway cottage.

In Bedfordshire, Western Australia, stands another version of Anne Hathaway’s house.  Consistent with Henry Morse’s notion of “a fine type of English cottage in an English village,” this house was built by an English engineer named Leo Fowler in the 1970s as part of an entire Elizabethan village.  Fowler’s version is unusual in that it was apparently made from measured drawings of the original house in England, permission having been obtained from the trust that owns the real Anne Hathaway cottage.

A “half-Hathaway” in South Dakota. Here, only part of Anne Hathaway’s cottage is needed to suggest the charm of Old World England.

So strong is the of history and charm of the Anne Hathaway cottage, in one case only half the house is needed to evoke Shakespearian England.  Described as “the only structure with a thatched roof in South Dakota,” the Anne Hathaway Cottage in Wessington Springs is a copy of only the two-story half of the original.  It was built in 1932 by a Professor Shay and his wife, Emma, who were impressed by their travels around England in the 1920s.  Interestingly, this version of the Anne Hathaway house is also cited as having been designed from a postcard picture of the original.  The website for the South Dakota house says the house is “said to be an excellent likeness of the left half.”

The Anne Hathaway cottage in Odessa, Texas.

A thousand miles to the south stands another variation of Anne Hathaway’s home, this time in Odessa, Texas.  Built in 1988, this version of the cottage is an adjunct building to a reproduction of Shakespeare’s Globe theater, together comprising an institution grandly known as The Globe of the Great Southwest. 

This version of the Anne Hathaway cottage once stood in Victoria, British Columbia.  It was torn down in 2017.

There was a copy of the Anne Hathaway cottage that stood as part of a complex called “English Inn & Resort” in Victoria, British Columbia.  A photo taken before the house was demolished shows the roof forlornly covered with plastic sheeting – cool and wet British Columbia being perhaps even less friendly to thatched roofs than Richmond.  Expansion of the resort, combined with high maintenance costs resulted in the loss of this building. 

Each instance of Anne Hathaway’s home was built for deliberate effect, whether to evoke the memory of Shakespeare himself in connection with a theater, or as a contributing building to an inn or garden, or as a residence.  In every case, the intention was to summon up the charm and solid architecture of an idealized version of English history.  Each design is a variation on the theme, but each also draws on that romantic name and story of Anne Hathaway and her famous playwright husband. 

In 1928 “The Black Swan” gushed that Morse’s Anne Hathaway cottage “…makes one feel that a real portion of old England has been transported to the English village on the banks of the James River...”  Although it was far less grand and far less expensive than the nearby reconstructed manor houses, Morse’s vision of Anne Hathaway’s English cottage still reflects the same faith in mythic Anglo-American roots, the design and societal values of a very specific time, and the unique context of suburban Richmond in the 1920s.

- Selden Richardson. 

Sunday, June 24, 2018

The Ramones in Richmond, Virginia.

The Ramones play the Flood Zone, May 4, 1995. 

Great image from the Richmond Music Journal, vol. 2, no. 8, June 1995.
Photo by Tammy Rosenson. 

[Just a little shout out to the RMJ

The Ramones played Richmond, Virginia at least 8 times - MAYBE - I documented 5 times from various sources (Commonwealth Times, Throttle, and the Richmond Music Journal). [see update below]

The other dates are from a Wikipedia site that lists concert dates by the Ramones. But they do not cite where they got the info., so... I need your help. Send me an email at with a citation (show me a ticket, a newspaper clipping,etc. ). I may try to go the microfilm or a digital database for coverage in the Richmond Times-Dispatch and the Richmond News-Leader in the coming months to see what else I can find. But feel free to write me with information. According to the Oct. 25, 1977 issue of the Commonwealth Times the Ramones were scheduled to play in Oct. of 1977 at club in Richmond called the Pass. They didn't show up. The show went on though - Ricky and the White Boys played as did Single Bullet Theory. 

UPDATE -  June 25, 2018 - I checked out the Richmond Times-Dispatch tonight (online version of its archives up to 1986 via a genealogy site) and found documentation for a few more shows. We are now up to 7 confirmed shows with a few more to add from the feedback I got on my Facebook post. I'll add those and some more images soon. - Ray 

The Ramones play Richmond:

October 30, 1976 –  The Franklin Street Gym, VCU, Richmond, Virginia. Source was The Commonwealth Times. Single Bullet Theory and Rocking Horse opened the show. The Franklin Street Gym was sometimes referred to as the Old Gym.  Source:  The Commonwealth Times, Oct, 29, 1976.

Image of Calendar from The Commonwealth Times, Oct, 29, 1976.

October 28, 1978 – The Franklin Street Gym, VCU, Richmond, Virginia. Source: The Commonwealth Times, Oct. 32, 1978. See images below. 

July 24, 1983, Much More Club, 2729 W. Broad Street, Richmond. Same location where The Broadberry is today and where the Cellar Door was also located. The opening band was the Violent Femmes. Source: Throttle, The Commonwealth Times, and the Richmond Times-Dispatch, issue of July 25, 1983. The RTD review wrote that it was an “audience of about 450.”

May 31, 1984 - Cellar Door, 2729 W. Broad Street, Richmond, Virginia. Local band Beex opened the show. The review in the Richmond Times-Dispatch said it was a "crowd of about 450." Source: Richmond Times-Dispatch, June 1, 1984.

May 28, 1985 - Cellar Door, 2729 W. Broad Street, Richmond, Virginia. Local band Suzy Saxon and the Anglos opened the show. Source: Richmond Times-Dispatch, May 24, 1985. A second source was a concert review by Mark Holmberg  in the May 29, 1985 issue of the RTD. See image below. 

May 13, 1990, The Flood Zone, Richmond, Virginia. Source: Throttle and The Commonwealth Times.

June 22, 1991 (according to this SITE)

May 4, 1995, The Flood Zone, 11 S. 18th St. Richmond, Virginia. Source: the Richmond Music Journal, v,2, no. 8, June 1995, and issue no. 120, April 1, 1995 of Throttle which provided the date of May 4th. 


Oct. 31 1978 issue of The Commonwealth Times.

Oct. 31 1978 issue of The Commonwealth Times

Oct. 31 1978 issue of The Commonwealth Times.

Oct. 31 1978 issue of The Commonwealth Times.

Richmond Music Journal, vol. 2, no. 8, June 1995

Richmond Music Journal, vol. 2, no. 8, June 1995

Throttle magazine, vol. 3, no. 9, Sept. 1983.

Richmond Times-Dispatch, May 29, 1985 

- Ray, 

Again if you have more info. on the Ramones playing Richmond, 
please email me at