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Wickham-Valentine House

Wickham-Valentine museum

Wickham-Valentine Garden
Valentine Richmond History Center

The Wickham-Valentine House is an elegant neoclassical building constructed in 1812 by prominent Richmond attorney John Wickham and is currently operated as a historic house museum by the Valentine Richmond History Center. Designed by Alexander Parris in the Federal style popular in the early 19th century, the house is brick covered in stucco scored to look like stone blocks. Its back portico gazes upon extensive gardens that at one time stretched across the entire block. Inside, notable features include a dramatic cantilevered staircase with mahogany balustrade, baseboards with hand-carved magnolia buds and blossoms, rare and well-preserved decorative paintings, and a refined Federal style drawing room with an original pair of Charles-Honoré Lannuier card tables.

The home’s wall paintings alone are worth the visit. In keeping with the neoclassical principle that decorations should reflect the purpose of the room, many of the walls in the house are painted according to a specific theme. The library ceiling, for example, pays homage to John Wickham’s passion for knowledge and learning with a painting of a compass, books, protractor, and an astronomical instrument called an astrolabe. The center of the painting is original and has been carefully restored. In the drawing room, merry scenes from Thomas Hope’s Costume of the Ancients (1809) remind the visitor that this space was used to entertain and relax. The dining room is adorned with food and wine motifs.

Wickham-Valentine Staircase

Wickham-Valentine Staircase
Valentine Richmond History Center

John and his second wife Elizabeth raised 19 children in the house, with the help of 15 slaves and one paid housekeeper. After Elizabeth’s death in 1853 (John passed away in 1839), the house changed hands several times before Mann S. Valentine II, a successful entrepreneur and collector of artifacts, purchased the house in 1882. Mann made his fortune through the curiously named Valentine’s Meat Juice, a health tonic of pure beef juice.  Rumor had it that his collection began with a cigar box filled with arrowheads.

As his personal collection grew, Mann envisioned a museum devoted to history, art, and culture and began in 1892 to go about establishing just such a place. Upon his death the following year, he bequeathed both the house and his personal collection of art and artifacts to the people of Richmond, along with an endowment. In 1898, the house became the Valentine Museum, the first museum in Richmond. Mann’s brother Edward, a renowned sculptor, served as museum president until his death in 1930. The museum is fortunate to have in its collection all of the sculpture, papers, furniture, and memorabilia that Edward Valentine bequeathed in his will and has carefully restored Edward’s sculpture studio.

Restoration of the Library Ceiling painting

Restoration of the Wickham-Valentine House Library Ceiling Painting
Valentine Richmond History Center

By 1928, the collection had moved entirely to adjacent row houses acquired by the institution, and the Wickham House became a house museum. The house underwent several transitions in the 20th century, most recently returning to the Federal era/Wickham period. This last restoration, which took place in the 1990s, was driven in large part by the discovery of the original surviving wall paintings. Since then, the museum has continued to acquire items belonging to the Wickham family, including a Breguet mantle clock, decorative urns, and original furniture.

The Valentine Museum became the Valentine Richmond History Center in 2001 and has as its mission to engage, educate, and challenge a diverse audience by collecting, preserving, and interpreting Richmond's history. Guided tours of the Wickham House are included with admission to the History Center and offer visitors a glimpse into the public and private world of the Wickham family. Visitors also may access the basement level of the house, where a self-guided tour explores the lives and private spaces of the family’s slaves.

Plan your visit
The Wickham-Valentine House, a National Historic Landmark, is located at 1015 E. Clay St.  Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file. The house is part of the Valentine Richmond History Center, which includes exhibitions, archives (available by appointment), Edward V. Valentine’s sculpture studio, Café Richmond, the Valentine Gift Shop, and meeting and event facilities. The History Center is open to the public Tuesday-Saturday 10:00am to 5:00pm, Sunday 12:00 to 5:00pm.  Visitors may purchase a Court End Passport that includes admission to the Valentine Richmond History Center, the Wickham-Valentine House, the John Marshall House, and Monumental Church (open weekends May through October). Fees for adults are $10, seniors/students $7. Tours of the Wickham-Valentine House are available every hour Tuesday-Saturday from 11:00am to 4:00pm and Sunday 1:00pm to 4:00pm. For information, call 804-649-0711 or visit The Valentine Richmond History Center website. The Wickham-Valentine House has been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey.
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