Tobacco and Trolleys: Industry and Transportation
Antebellum Architecture
Richmond's African American Heritage
The Continuing legacy of Historic Preservation
Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary

Boulevard Historic District
Confederate Memorial Chapel
 Home for Needy Confederate Women

Boulevard apartments

Boulevard apartment building
City of Richmond
Department of Community Development

Boulevard Historic District is a grand avenue that connects one of Richmond’s largest parks, Byrd Park, on the south, to Broad Street, a major transportation corridor on the north.  In the center of this historic corridor is the cultural campus the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and the Virginia Historical Society.  Lining the rest of the street are mostly town houses and apartments in a variety of architectural styles dating from 1915 to 1930.

The Sydney subdivision of 1817 provided the initial impetus for the development of the neighborhood.  This large speculative subdivision provided the layout of the streets and blocks in a large portion of the West End of Richmond.  Sydney became a rural enclave of country homes and farms.  The farms included the large tract of land north of Grove Avenue that Anthony Robinson and his heirs owned from the 1820’s to 1879.   The Robinson house of 1860, expanded in the 1870s to the present three stories, remains on the grounds of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.  It took nearly 100 years for this area to become a built out urban neighborhood.  

The first real step toward the development of the neighborhood came with the establishment of Reservoir Park, now Byrd Park, in 1873.  By 1890 the designer of the park, City Engineer Wilfred Cutshaw reconfigured Clover Street as the Boulevard.  This broad avenue extended from the reservoir in the park to West Broad Street providing a grand formal approach to the park. 

In 1884, the Commonwealth of Virginia chartered the Robert E. Lee Camp # 1, a home for needy Confederate Civil War veterans, and purchased the Robinson family estate to accommodate this residential facility.  In addition to reusing the Robinson House, the state constructed cabins for veterans from various southern states.  The state demolished the cabins in the 1930’s, but with the Robinson House, the Confederate Memorial Chapel of the Lee Camp from 1887 that Marion Dimmock designed remains.

The Boulevard as an urban neighborhood really began to take form with the building of the Confederate Battle Abbey, now the Center for Virginia History, which is the home of the Virginia Historical Society.  Philadelphia architects Bisell and Sinkler designed the original portion of this complex, a temple dating from 1911, as a home for Confederate-themed art and records of the Southern Confederacy.  

Shortly after Battle Abbey's construction, Richmond entered a period of tremendous growth and development.  The neighborhood of the Battle Abbey became the focus of Richmond developers.  The Davis Brothers, a design and build firm, became the largest and most successful developer on the Boulevard.   The firm created common floor plans for town houses and large apartment buildings.  The fevered pitch of speculative development by the Davis Brothers and others resulted in the building out of the neighborhood between 1915 and 1930.

Home for Needy Confederate Women

Home for Needy Confederate Women
Virginia Department of Historic Resources

Both apartments and town houses of this era were of brick and filled nearly the full width of each lot.  Because of their density, only narrow side passages separated the buildings making the sides and rears of the buildings difficult to see.  This provided a rationale for constructing the sides and rear of each building in an unadorned manner with plain common brick.  The distinctive architecture of each building came in the ornamental facades in one or a fusion of the following styles:

- Colonial Revival with Flemish bond brickwork and classical details.

- Arts and Crafts with steep-pitched gables, fine brickwork, and half timbering characteristic of British Arts and Crafts architecture.

- Spanish Eclectic with stucco cladding and tile roofs that evoke the architecture of the Mediterranean.

The town houses of the Boulevard were generally groupings of architecturally unified rows of detached side-hall town houses that speculators built.  Each town house typically has a full-width porch deck covered with either a full width porch, a one-bay entrance porch, or a cantilevered porch hood. 

The typically three story apartment buildings tend to dwarf the town houses of the street.  Massive porches, often with large classical columns, provided exterior porch rooms for the units fronting the Boulevard.  These buildings represented a new kind of fashionable urban living.  Their distinctive names such as “William Byrd” and “Lakeview” signified the cache of Boulevard apartment living during that era.  One of the largest apartment developments is the Tuscan Villa, a block-long Italian influenced courtyard apartments dating from 1920, at 501 to 515 North Boulevard.

Boulevard historic District

Boulevard Historic District
City of Richmond
Department of Community Development

When the Boulevard became an attractive residential district, houses of worship chose to locate there. Richmond architect Albert L. West designed the Boulevard Methodist Church at 321 North Boulevard in 1919 with its distinctive Ionic Portico.   The Gothic Revival Grace Baptist Church, now a Jewish synagogue, at North Boulevard and Grove Avenue, dates from 1923.  St. Marks Episcopal Church, which Noland and Baskervill designed at 20 North Boulevard, is a grand Colonial Revival with a portico, multi-staged tower, and a spire in the manner of British Georgian architect James Gibbs.

As the Confederate veterans began to die off, the site of the Robert E. Lee Camp developed as an institutional campus.  The Home for  Needy Confederate Women, a home for the elderly widows and daughters of Confederate veterans, is an elegant Neoclassical building Merrill Lee designed in 1932.  Located at 301 North Belmont, the building is now a part of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.  The original section of the Virginia Museum of fine Arts at the northeast corner of Boulevard and Grove Avenue dates from 1936 and is an outstanding Colonial Revival building, with a grand stair hall. The architects were Eggers and Higgins of New York with Peebles and Ferguson of Norfolk.  The last of these institutional buildings is the international headquarters of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, a modernist building the Richmond architectural firm of Ballou and Justice did the plans for in 1955 at 300 North Boulevard.

The Boulevard is an outstanding collection of architecture primarily from the second and third decades of the 20th century.  The district has distinct entrances on the north and south, an instructional campus in the center, and a unified array of religious buildings, residences, and apartments that tie the avenue together into a unified harmonious landscape.

Plan your visit

The Boulevard Historic District is located at 10—300 S. Boulevard and 10—800 N. Boulevard between Idlewood Ave. on the south and W. Broad St. on the north.  It is about two miles west of downtown Richmond in the West End and is accessible by the Boulevard exits of the Downtown Expressway and Interstates 64 and 95.  The individually National Register listed Confederate Memorial Chapel and Home for Needy Confederate Women are located at 2900 Grove Ave. and 301 N. Sheppard St. respectively. 

The Virginia Historical Society at 428 N. Boulevard is open Monday-Saturday 9:00pm to 5:00pm, Sunday 1:00pm to 5:00pm (museum galleries and shop open; library closed). For more information, visit the Virginia Historical Society.  The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts at 200 N. Boulevard is open Wednesday-Sunday 11:00am to 5:00pm, closed major holidays. For information on exhibits and special offerings, visit the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

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