Tobacco and Trolleys: Industry and Transportation
Antebellum Architecture
Richmond's African American Heritage
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RICHMOND
Barret House

Barret House

Barret House
City of Richmond
Department of Community Development

Built for tobacco manufacturer William Barret in 1844, the Barret House is a large and elaborate Greek Revival mansion located in the heart of downtown Richmond. The house is on 5th Street in the first riverside neighborhood to be developed in the city. Mr. Barret achieved his success as the original manufacturer of “Lucky Strike” chewing tobacco. It is said that when he died in 1870 he was the wealthiest man in the city. After Barret's death, French consul, Vicomte de Sibour, rented the mansion during his residency in Richmond. He engaged in the business of buying tobacco for his government and was well-known for his colorful parties. His children were part of the infamous “Fifth Street Gang”.

Barret House

Barret House c. 1900-1930
Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries

The Barret House is larger and more embellished but similar to the Scott-Clarke House of 1841 immediately to the north on the same block. The rectangular house has a shallow hipped roof with a slender brick chimney in each corner. The main facade facing 5th Street is symmetrical with a small Ionic entrance portico. The most frequently-noted feature is the three-story rear porch, one of the best examples in the city of a rear two-story colonnade. The porch originally offered excellent views of downtown Richmond and the James River. Over time rear porches would become more utilitarian, but early Richmond houses often focused more attention on the garden façade than on the street front.

The originally frescoed, high-ceilinged interior of the house has a central hall and a curved, cantilevered, mahogany staircase. Other notable features of the property include a brick auxiliary building in the rear, an impressive retaining wall of Richmond granite, and the surviving cast-iron fence with pineapple-topped posts around the property. The secondary brick building originally housed the servants on the upper floor and stables on the ground level.

Legendary Richmond preservationist Mary Wingfield Scott saved the house from demolition by purchasing it c. 1935 along with her cousin, Mrs. John H. Bocock. Ms. Scott donated the building to the Virginia Society of the American Institute of Architects (VAIA), which actively restored it beginning around 1980. The Barret House was home to VAIA from circa 1980 until 2005, when the Society moved to the renovated Branch House at 2501 Monument Avenue.

Plan your visit
The Barret House is located at 15 S. 5 St. Today the building is used for commercial office space and is not open to the public.  The Barret House has been documented by the National Park Service’s  Historic American Buildings Survey.
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