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The Continuing legacy of Historic Preservation
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Union Hill Historic District

Union Hill

Union Hill
City of Richmond
Department of Community Development

Union Hill Historic District is located in the city’s east end.  The streets of the district follow the terrain rather than the rigid grid of the rest of the Richmond, creating interesting triangular blocks that give the neighborhood a unique character found nowhere else in the city.  Union Hill is primarily a residential district, though a few churches and commercial buildings are concentrated primarily along 25th and Venable Streets.  The neighborhood is significant for its distinctive pattern of residential development and its extraordinary collection of modest 19th century domestic housing.

Early development in Union Hill occurred at the beginning of the 19th century, when John Adams and Benjamin Mosby laid out lots around Venable Street, a part of the stage coach road to Williamsburg.  Very few people constructed homes in the district at this time, but most of these were attractive, modest worker dwellings.  The area eventually experienced tremendous growth during the late antebellum period.  Some of the neighborhood’s more affluent residents built investment properties on the hill to accommodate the growing number of working class residents.  The neighborhood was both an economically and racially mixed suburb known to be a stable and safe community.

Annexed by the city in 1867, Union Hill continued to grow throughout the period following the Civil War.  Several events contributed to its rapid growth between 1865 and 1917.  The filling and grading of the great ravine at the southern edge of the neighborhood in 1882 to create Jefferson Avenue ended the isolation of Union Hill from the rest of the city. In 1888, the Sprague Electric Railway Motor Company designated Jefferson Avenue as a trolley route facilitating commuting for existing residents and making the area more attractive to potential inhabitants.  The new accessibility to Union Hill prompted construction of a number of churches, businesses, and industries in the area.  Substantially built out by World War I, Union Hill saw very little residential development throughout the rest of the 20th century.

The oldest surviving building in the district is the Adam Miller house at 2410 Venable Street.  Constructed in 1824, this two-story, Flemish-bond brick dwelling rests on a raised foundation and has a single pile, side hall plan.  Nearly 80 buildings from the late antebellum period still stand in the neighborhood.  The houses in the 800 block of North 25th Street are typical Union Hill dwellings of this time.  Two-story, frame, Greek Revival-style residences set on raised brick foundations with shallow gable roofs, interior end chimneys, and small porticoes at the entrances were common.  The buildings all have side-hall plans and are for the most part three bays wide.  Well-executed brick examples, with similar proportions and details, are at 616 North 21st Street, 701 North 23rd Street, and 801 North 24th Street.  The Mettert houses, 2223 and 2225 Venable Street, built as investment properties, are atypical because of their center hall plans.  Union Hill also contains a collection of Greek Revival cottages.  All are modest one-story dwellings with gable roofs.  Some are set on raised foundations.  Several of these cottages are on North 23rd Street, including 611, 622, and 705. 

Union Hill 2

Union Hill
City of Richmond
Department of Community Development

Between 1870 and 1890, Italianate became the dominant style of residential architecture in the neighborhood.  These buildings are mostly two-story three-bay frame dwellings with shed roofs and full façade porches.  Diminutive brackets garnish their otherwise plain box cornices, and porches often have ornamental sawn brackets and turned posts.  The dwellings at 509 and 511 North 21st Street, 517 Mosby Street, and 2000 Cedar Street are examples. The home at 2215 Venable Street is one of the few brick Italianate dwellings on Union Hill.  It has a more vertical presentation and a slightly more elaborated cornice that is continued and amplified in Late Victorian houses. 

Around 1890, the houses of Union Hill take on a more vertical appearance and have more elaborate sawn work porches and cornices.  Many fine examples of Late Victorian brick and frame dwellings are on Venable Street.  Of particular note are the frame houses at 2117 and 2119 Venable Street with their delicate brackets, sawn balustrades, and iron cresting on the porch and roof.  Hiram Oliver built a group of frame-attached houses in the closing decade of the 19th century in the 2200 block of M Street.  They are noteworthy for their square bays with pedimented roofs and sawn work porches.

During the late 1930s and early 1940s, Union Hill and adjacent neighborhoods in Richmond's east end underwent an economic and demographic transformation.  Union Hill became impoverished and neglected losing historic buildings through deterioration and demolition. Fortunately, the area was untouched by the wide-scale demolition and redevelopment projects associated with urban renewal programs in other parts of the city.  Despite changes, Union Hill retains its unique character and historic quality.  Though still a fragile neighborhood, renewed interest in historic preservation has led to the rehabilitation of many of the architectural gems in the district.

Plan your visit

Union Hill Historic District is roughly bounded by Mosby St. to the west, Carrington St. to the north, 25th St. to the east, and Jefferson Ave. to the south. The district is about a quarter of a mile northeast of downtown Richmond.

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