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Oakwood-Chimborazo Historic District

NPS visitor's center

National Park Service Visitors Center
City of Richmond
Department of Community Development

 

Oakwood-Chimborazo Historic District encompasses three of the city's east end neighborhoods–Chimborazo, Oakwood, and Glenwood Park.  The district is noteworthy for its associations with the Civil War and as an early speculative residential development that followed the introduction of a local trolley line at the end of the 19th century.  The predominantly residential area contains a significant collection of late 19th and early to mid-20th century brick and frame dwellings in an eclectic mixture of Late Victorian, Queen Anne, and Colonial Revival styles.

The district was largely undeveloped prior to the Civil War, but a few houses and the Oakwood Cemetery remain from that period. When the Civil War began, Confederate engineers built an earthen fort just southeast of Oakwood Cemetery.  Known as Battery #4 of the Inner Defenses, the fort saw no action during the war and does not survive today.  Confederate authorities also established a sprawling hospital atop Chimborazo Hill. Organized into five divisions, the 40 acre hospital complex, one of the largest Civil War military hospitals, even included a bakery, a brewery, and icehouses.  Chimborazo Hospital pioneered the utilization of the pavilion system and the large-scale use of women as matrons and ward attendants, establishing permanent changes in the field of medicine.  Within weeks of the surrender at Appomattox, Chimborazo Hospital and its buildings were turned over to the Freedmen’s Bureau to provide temporary shelter for black families in the city. 

In 1874, the City of Richmond acquired the old hospital site for use as a park and developed Chimborazo Park in accord with other picturesque public landscapes originating throughout the United States in the mid-19th century.  Today the National Park Service administers the Chimborazo Medical Museum, which is in a Classical Revival-style building in the northwest corner of the park that Peter J. White designed in 1901 to serve the United States Weather Bureau.  Chimborazo became one of the Civil War's largest military hospitals. Although the hospital no longer exists, the museum on the same grounds contains original medical instruments and personal artifacts.  A scale model of the hospital and a short film on medical and surgical practices and the caregivers that comforted the sick and wounded provide visitors additional insights into the historic role of the hospital. 

Oakwood Cemetery is north of the hospital site at the opposite end of the district.  Developed in 1854 and modeled after the curvilinear design of Hollywood Cemetery, the cemetery became the burial ground for numerous Confederate soldiers. Perhaps as many as 17,000 soldiers are interred in the cemetery, which includes a number of markers and other features of high artistic value.  Evergreen Cemetery abuts the eastern boundary of Oakwood Cemetery.  Formed in 1891, the express purpose of the Evergreen Cemetery Association was to establish a black cemetery that would rival Hollywood Cemetery.  True to its mission, Evergreen became the final resting place of many of Richmond’s leading African American citizens, including Maggie Lena Walker, John Mitchell, Jr., and Rev. Andrew Bowler.

By 1896, the Richmond Traction Company operated two trolley lines in the area.  This prompted the subdivision of several large tracts of land.  The district continued to develop through the 1940s, but slowed after World War II. 

Houses in the Italianate, Late Victorian, Queen Anne, and Colonial Revival styles are throughout the district.  The Italianate-style dwellings are among the oldest frame houses in the neighborhood and display the characteristic features of decorative cornices and porches and elongated windows on the first floor.  The residence at 617 North 30th Street is illustrative of examples of the style throughout the district.  The house is a two-story, three-bay frame dwelling with a bracketed and dentiled cornice with a plain panel frieze.  It has an elaborate one-story, three-bay front porch with turned posts, sawn brackets, star-motif fan brackets, and a picketed balustrade.  Many of the Italianate residences are double houses, as are those in the grouping at 622-628 North 30th Street.  Other examples are at 3015 M Street, 617 North 30th Street, the 500 and 600 blocks of North 31st Street, and the 500 and 900 blocks of North 32nd Street.

The Late Victorian dwellings in the neighborhood are typically two stories in height with elaborate cornices and decorative porches.  Some of the houses in this style have false mansard roofs and projecting bays, as do the dwellings at 3302, 3308, and 3312 East Broad Street.  At 3315-3321 East Marshall Street are fine Victorians in brick, which have elaborate wooden cornices with sawn brackets, dentils, paneled friezes, and pierced frieze vents. 

Examples of Colonial Revival-style architecture sit in the 300 block of North 32nd Street, the west side of the 500 block of North 33rd Street, and the east side of the 600 block and the west side of the 700 block of Chimborazo Boulevard.  The brick dwellings in the 500 block of North 30th Street are also typical of the Colonial Revival houses in the neighborhood. Richmond architect D. Wiley Anderson designed the group of houses at 518-526 North 30th Street in 1910, and C. W. Nicholson designed a similar grouping of houses at 519-523 North 30th in 1911.

The predominant architectural form throughout the district is an eclectic blending of the Italianate, Late Victorian, Queen Anne, and Colonial Revival styles.  John T. J. Melton, a prolific builder in the area, constructed a house for R. S. Jenkins at 314 North 32nd Street in 1907, and another at 316 North 32nd Street in 1908 for Sarah J. Clarke.  Both typify the mixture of styles seen throughout the district.  A grouping of early apartment buildings in the 600 block of North 32nd possesses a combination of Queen Anne and Colonial Revival elements.  Built in 1907 by the Fulton Brick Works, these buildings have false mansard roofs with soldier-course stringcourses below the attic level, and box cornices with brackets that run about the soldier course.  The buildings also have end towers with decorative brickwork and windows with corbelled sills and jack arches.

The grand houses on Broad Street fronting Chimborazo Park take this blending of styles to an even higher level of articulation.  The dwellings at 3504 and 3506 East Broad Street that H. E. Mills built in 1910 combine Queen Anne and Classical Revival elements.  The home at 3504 has an “iron-spot” brick façade, ashlar granite sills and lintels at all the window and door openings, and a front porch with Scamozzi columns.  The false mansard roof has a stepped parapet at the edge and a dentiled cornice.  The second house, 3506, has a three-sided projecting bay with a steeply pointed conical slate roof.  The one-story, two-bay front porch has a tile deck and brick steps, Corinthian columns, a picketed balustrade, and a dentiled cornice.

Despite the deterioration or changes to some of the buildings in the Oakwood-Chimborazo Historic District over the years, the district still possesses a high level of architectural integrity and interest.  Oakwood Cemetery, a municipal cemetery, remains as does privately owned Evergreen Cemetery.  The National Park Service’s Richmond National Battlefield Park maintains its offices at the Chimborazo Medical Museum in the district.   Since its listing in the National Register of Historic Places in 2005, Oakwood-Chimborazo has undergone significant revitalization. Interest in preservation has led to the rehabilitation many of the historic resources throughout the neighborhood. 

Plan your visit

Oakwood-Chimborazo Historic District is located about a mile east of downtown Richmond.  Adjacent to both the Church Hill North and St. John’s Church Historic Districts, Oakwood-Chimborazo is roughly bounded by E. Broad St. and the Southern Railway tracks to the south; N. 30th and 32nd Sts., Melton Ave., and the western edge of Oakwood Cemetery to the west; Nine Mile Rd. to the north; and N. 39th St., Crestview Rd., and the eastern edge of Chimborazo Park to the east.  The Chimborazo Medical Museum at 3215 E. Broad St. is open daily from 9:00am to 5:00pm.  Call 804-226-1981 or visit the Richmond National Battlefield website.

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