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RICHMOND
Stearns and Donnan-Asher Iron-Front Buildings

Stearns Block

Stearns Block
City of Richmond
Department of Community Development

 

The Stearns Iron-Front and Donnan-Asher Iron-Front Buildings, known collectively as “the Iron Fronts”, are a series of cast iron-fronted commercial buildings. Construction began in 1866, a mere year after downtown Richmond burned to the ground near the end of the Civil War. Representing the ability to strive forward following the setbacks of the Civil War, the Iron Fronts are not only a technological achievement for their time, but one of the most important surviving examples of commercial architecture from late 19th-century Richmond.

In 1865, a Richmond businessman Franklin Stearns purchased the land for $32,100. Stearns bought the property from the President and Directors of the Farmer’s Bank, which was lost in the calamitous 1865 Richmond evacuation fire started by the retreating Confederate army. Completed in 1869, the four-story, Stearns Iron-Front Building occupies more than half a city block, creating an impressive iron façade along the south side of Main Street, known as Stearns Block. The building is in the Main Street Banking Historic District, once known as “Richmond’s Wall Street” for the number of financial businesses located there.

Constructed in four distinct sections, the building’s cast iron façades are extraordinarily intricate. Details include entrances framed by Corinthian columns and rounded arches with spiraling vines, topped by a garland and rosebud. Vines, garlands, and rosebuds also decorate the windows, and a heavy cornice with large and ornate brackets draws the eyes up from the street level. The Stearns Iron-Front Building displays a high level of craftsmanship rarely found today.

Donnan Asher

Donnan-Asher Iron-Front Building
City of Richmond Department of Community Development

John Asher and Williams S. Donnan began construction on another iron-fronted building two blocks to the east in 1866. One of the finest and most ornate iron-front rows surviving in the city, the four-story Donnan-Asher Iron-Front Building is in Italianate style and is reminiscent of Venetian Renaissance palaces. The façade remained unaltered until 1966, when the construction of a modern entrance for a ground-story shop removed the original architectural elements in all four bays of the building. The Donnan-Asher block is in the Shockoe Slip Historic District, Richmond’s oldest mercantile center.

Plan your visit
Only two blocks apart, the Stearns Iron-Front Building at 1007-1013 E. Main St. and the Donnan-Asher Iron-Front Building at 1207-1211 E. Main St. are located in the Main Street Banking Historic District and the Shockoe Slip Historic District respectively, bridging two of the most important historic trade areas of Richmond.  The ground levels of the buildings are open to the public during normal business hours.  The Stearns Iron-Front Building now houses a variety of offices, with retail and restaurants on the ground level.  The Shockoe Slip Historic District, which contains the Donnan-Asher Iron Front-Building, is an area of cobblestone streets and alleys that is home to many popular restaurants, cafes and shops. Both the Stearns Iron-Front Building and the Donnan-Asher Iron-Front Building have been documented by the National Park Service's Historic American Buildings Survey.
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