Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Stone Work of Two Richmond Brownstones: W. Franklin Street's Brown House (demolished) and the Anderson House.

The Brown House, 819 W. Franklin Street 
- built 1892, demolished mid-1950s.

This wonderful Richardsonian style house stood at 819 W. Franklin Street. The building was built in 1892 and demolished in the late 1950s. VCU's Franklin Street Gym now occupies this spot. The brownstone facade and intricate stone work for this house is similar to that of the Anderson House, built 1898 and still standing at 1000 W. Franklin St. The similarities of these two interesting Richardsonian style buildings is discussed below.

The original owner of 819 W. Franklin St. was Richard L. Brown (1838-1900), a successful merchant and partner with Brown, Davis, and Company, the largest wholesale grocers in the city (according to Brown's obituary). Brown lived the greater part of his life in Church Hill but relocated to the thriving West End district on W. Franklin Street in 1892.

Although the architect of the Brown House is unknown, two sources have given us the name of the stone mason. He is William R. Mason (1848-1921) - the same stone contractor who is attributed to have worked on the Anderson House.

 The Anderson House - still standing at 1000 W. Franklin St.
It was built in 1898 for William J. Anderson (1839-1911),
president of the Richmond Stove Company. 
This image dates from the early 1930s.

Double click on the image for a much larger view.

The most striking similarities between the two buildings are the sculpted brownstone facade. Like the Anderson House at 1000 W. Franklin St., the Brown House at 819 W. Franklin was constructed with an asymmetrical facade with masonry walls that alternate rectangular rock face and polished brownstone. The building's entrance incorporated a decorative balustrade that sat below an entryway identical to the Anderson house. Two round arches adorned the entryway and over sized window incorporating stained glass semicircular fanlights, which rested atop a brownstone wall, and two 'milk-bottle style' Tuscan orders with foliate capitals.  

The brownstone for both houses was provided by the Hummlestown Brownstone Company of Waltonville, Pennsylvania. The company was in business from 1863 through 1929. Their quarries were operated in Hummelstown, Pennsylvania. The firm's 1903 publication advertising their work lists buildings across the nation that they provided stone for and includes a listing of 11 buildings in Richmond - all on W. Franklin Street. They include both 819 and 1000. The other street addresses are 824, 906, 921, 924, 926, 928, 930, 1014, and 1020. A copy of this book is housed in Special Collections and Archives at VCU Libraries.   

Detail of the Brown House, 819 W. Franklin St.

One difference between the two houses is the placement of the loggia. In the Brown House (as seen above) it is placed at the third story. The loggia is recessed and is covered with arched springs, which also rest on the same Tuscan orders that are echoed at the entryway. Below the loggia is an oriel, or protruding bay window, which seems to sprout out of the sculpted base. In addition, a fantastic creature can be seen peering out of the foliage which encompasses the oriel window's base. In typical Richardsonian fashion, a three story cylindrical tower incorporates the facade. Again, a conical roof tops the tower with an eclectic style onion dome decoration. This time only one rinceau band is found on the tower. Although the band contains no creatures or beings (as the tower on the Anderson House does - see below), it does show interlocking foliage. [Thanks to Dr. Charles Brownell, head of VCU's Architectural History Program, for helping to provide the descriptive language of this house.]

After Brown's death in 1900, the building would have two other residential owners, W.H. Allison and A.W. and M.E. Moore. In 1939, 819 W. Franklin St. was purchased by Richmond Professional Institute (RPI -- now VCU) for $15,000 and was renovated as a women's dormitory. RPI published a student yearbook annually which often showed photographs of the dormitories and student classrooms. It is with these annuals from the 1940s that we are able to step inside of the house and see what seems to be the main parlor room. 
 Interior of 819 W. Franklin St.

With the growing demand for more space at RPI, 819 W. Franklin Street was demolished in the late 1950s to provide room for the college's gymnasium.  The building's last appearance as a dormitory is in the 1955 RPI student annual. It is a shame Richmond lost this building - it would have been one of the great architectural jewels of VCU's 800 and 900 blocks of W. Franklin St.  But a section of the old Brown House can still be seen at the site today behind the Franklin Street Gymnasium.

 Portion of the back of 819 W. Franklin St. which was incorporated
into RPI's (and now VCU's) Franklin Street Gym.

Let us return to the Anderson House, 1000 W. Franklin Street.

The Anderson House, 1000 W. Franklin St.

William Joseph Anderson (1839-1911) was born in Lynchburg, Virginia on January 3, 1839. Although no information has yet been found concerning his early life, the 1860 Virginia census places 21-year-old William and his younger brother, John T. Anderson (1844-1906), living still in Lynchburg, Virginia. The two apprenticed under a "Colonial Blifs", a local tin-ware merchant. With the onset of the Civil War in 1860, William J. Anderson enlisted into the Confederate Army and served in the ordinance department, after which he and his brother John came to Richmond. In the early 1880s, Anderson began his association with the Richmond Stove Company. He became president in 1883, serving in that post until his death in 1911.

Click here for more information about the Richmond Stove Company. 

In 1898, William J. Anderson moved from 405 W. Clay Street to Richmond's W. Franklin Street. The Anderson residence, located at the corner of W. Franklin and N. Harrison Street, was completed in the Richardsonian style.

[Some of the information about the life of William J. Anderson is from a graduate research paper about 1000 W. Franklin Street written by Mary H. Arturo for Dr. Charles Brownell's ARTH 502 class, Spring 2001.]

The most distinctive element of the Anderson House is the three-storied cylindrical tower, which is topped with a conical or cone-like roof. The corner tower continues in the Richardsonian Free style with the ornamentation carved out of the brownstone facade onto two rinceau bands, which are above the first and second stories. Themes of swirling foliage and fantastic fantasy creatures of griffins, zephyrs, and organic beings interlace along the carved band of sculpted masonry.

 From Google Maps - Corner of W. Franklin and N. Harrison Streets.

Below are images of the two bands taken by Richmond photographer Jennifer Watson.
Click on the images for larger view.

The Bottom Bands:

 Bottom Band One.

Bottom Band Two.

 Bottom Band Three.

The Top Bands: 

Top Band One.

Top Band Two.

Top Band Three.

Top Band Four.

Regarding William R. Mason (1848-1921)  - he was one of Richmond's most successful stone masons in the late 1890s and early 1900s.  He may have also been one of the city's most creative stone craftsman. The rich and varied ornamentation seen in his work executed in the 1890s on many Richmond buildings built in the Richardsonian style illustrates that creativity. His work also demonstrates his knowledge of the craft and its traditions.

Advertisement for Mason and Sim, 1892 Richmond directory.
Richmond city directory advertisement for Mason and Sim. 

Born in Inverurie, Aberdeenshire, Scotland in 1848, Mason came to the United States in the 1870s. He appears to have arrived in Richmond ca. 1877 when his membership in a Masonic Lodge in Richmond has been recorded. In 1890 he began a partnership with Richmond stone mason Robert Sim, also a native of Scotland. The firm of Mason and Sim lasted for five years when Sim died in 1895. Mason continued working under his name for two more decades.

According to The City of the James (1893), the firm "took contracts chiefly in Virginia and Pennsylvania" (where the Hummlestown Brownstone Company was located) and that they have "on average forty hands employed, and doing a business of $50,000 a year." Mason and Sim had stone yards at Canal Street and another on Seventh Street, in addition to a granite quarry on Fredericksburg Road. By 1900, Mason had a stone yard at Marshall and Lombardy Streets. At the time of his death, Mason had one son living in Allentown, Pennsylvania, which could account for his connection to that state. Mason died January 7, 1921 and is buried in Hollywood Cemetery.

Described as a "structural and monumental contractor" in 1900, Mason's commissions included stone work for numerous residences in the city and "artistic monuments" (grave stones) found in city cemeteries.

Advertisement for William R. Mason from 1913 Richmond directory.
Advertisement from a Richmond city directory for Mason.

 Was William R. Mason the stone contractor for the Anderson House?

"Row of five attractive dwellings at Harrison and Franklin Street" -- This is the description found in Richmond: The Pride of Virginia (1900) for buildings that Mason served as stone mason. The description is very likely the row of five houses, 924 through 932, built in the 1890s on the 900 block of West Franklin Street. Of the five, 932 West Franklin Street, located on the corner of Harrison and W. Franklin Streets, is the finest executed of the lot. It sits directly across the street from the William J. Anderson House. Richmond: The Pride of Virginia lists other work by Mason in the city. But it does not list the Anderson house.

Richmond on the James (1893), page 171, notes that Mason was the stone contractor for "R.C. Brown's handsome residence on Franklin Street" and four other houses on Franklin Street. [One assumes they meant R. [Richard] L. Brown whose house at 819 W. Franklin St. was completed the year before this work was published.]

Drew St. J. Carneal, author of Richmond's Fan District (1996), documented that the stone work for 1000 W. Franklin St. was provided from an unnamed firm operating a stone quarry at Lombardy and Marshall Streets. It is known that by 1900, two years after 1000 W. Franklin St. was completed, that William R. Mason owned the stone quarry at that location. Add that fact to the similar ornamental detail of both the Brown and Anderson House, let alone that the brownstone for both was provided by the Hummlestown Brownstone Co., and it makes the attribution that Mason was stone contractor for 1000 W. Franklin St. seem more secure.  

The Anderson House, 1000 W. Franklin St., now owned by VCU.
Click for larger view.

One wonders if it was William R. Mason or stone workers employed by the Hummlestown Brownstone Co. that executed the intricate stone work found on 819 and 1000 W. Franklin Street. Were the rinceau bands of swirling foliage and fantastic creatures on 1000 W. Franklin St. carved after the stone work was in place? The work looks as if they were placed there in sections. Did Mason employ a local stone mason (or masons) capable of this work or was it shipped from out of state?

And who was the architect? 

Further research may answer these questions. Stayed tuned.

- Ray B.
Information on William R. Mason came from research conducted in 2002 by Ray Bonis, archivist at VCU Libraries, and Jolene Milot, then a senior in VCU's History Department; from The City on the James (1893); Richmond: The Pride of Virginia (1900); Mason's obituary in the Richmond News Leader, January 10, 1921; obituary in the  Richmond Times-Dispatch, January 8, 1921 and January 9, 1921; Richmond city directories, and an email message dated November 18, 2002 from the library staff at the Allen E. Roberts Masonic Library and Museum of Virginia, Inc. regarding Mason.


Anonymous said...

I wish less of these brownstones were torn down by vcu

Unknown said...

Fantastic article. Too many of these treasures have been lost. My ancestor, William Ellis Jones, a printer and historian in Richmond, lived in a Brownstone in the city until his death in 1910. I have one photo of the building, but sadly no idea precisely where it was. I understand it was also torn down when Richmond built it's new municipal buildings and parking lots downtown. A terrible loss to the city's wonderful architectural heritage.

Ray Bonis -- Selden Richardson. said...

I'd love to hear more about William Ellis Jones and to see his house - can you email me at rfbonis@vcul.edu