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1812 Wickham House

Wickham-Valentine museum

The Wickham House seen from the Valentine Garden
Courtesy of The Valentine

The 1812 Wickham House (also known as the Wickham-Valentine House) is an elegant neoclassical building located in Richmond, Virginia, that was designed by Boston architect Alexander Parris (1780–1852) for prominent local attorney John Wickham (1763–1839) and his wife Elizabeth McClurg Wickham (1781–1853). The property is currently operated as a historic house museum by the Valentine—a museum in downtown Richmond that has been collecting, preserving and interpreting Richmond’s 400-year history for over a century.

The library ceiling illustrates John Wickham’s interest in education with a neo-classical painting of a compass, books, protractor and an astronomical instrument called an astrolabe. In the drawing room, neoclassical female figures copied from Thomas Hope’s Costume of the Ancients (1809) indicate that this room was designed and furnished for formal public entertainment.

Wickham-Valentine Staircase

The 1812 Wickham House Staircase
The Valentine

A recent discovery of a fragment of original wallpaper in a 19th-century rat’s nest led museum staff to reinterpret the bedchamber of Dr. James McClurg (1746–1823), the father of Elizabeth McClurg who lived in the house from 1815 until his death. The 2017 “Wickham Stripe” wallpaper was block-printed using custom-carved pear wood printing blocks and distemper paint on a special French-made paper that is hand-seamed using rabbit glue.

John and his second wife Elizabeth raised 19 children in the house, with the help of 15 enslaved people and one paid housekeeper. After Elizabeth’s death in 1853, the house changed hands several times before Mann S. Valentine II (1824–1892), a successful businessman and collector of fine and decorative art and historical artifacts, purchased the house in 1882. Valentine made his fortune through his invention of Valentine’s Meat Juice, originally marketed as a health tonic in the late-19th century.

As his collection grew, Valentine envisioned his private collection becoming the basis for a public museum with a mission to education Richmond’s citizens about history, art and culture. With his death in 1892, his will established the Valentine Museum, and his heirs began six years of renovations to the 1812 Wickham House. In 1898, the Valentine Museum formally re-opened as the first museum in Richmond. Mann’s brother Edward V. Valentine (1838–1930), a renowned sculptor, served as museum president until his death in 1930. His sculpture studio was moved to the museum campus, which was restored and is now one of only four 19th century sculpture studios open to the public in the United States.

Restoration of the Library Ceiling painting

McClurg Bed Chamber in the 1812 Wickham House
The Valentine

By 1928, the Valentine Museum’s collections had expanded into a series of adjacent mid-19th century row houses, and the 1812 Wickham House was reinterpreted as a house museum. The 1812 Wickham House underwent several transitions in the mid-20th century, most recently returning to the Federal era/Wickham period (circa 1820s). This last major restoration, which took place in the early 1990s, was driven in large part by the discovery of the house’s original surviving wall paintings. Most recently, in June 2012 the Valentine approved a reinterpretation and refurnishing plan for the interiors. Since then, curators have acquired a number of important items belonging to the Wickhams, including the original Baltimore-made mahogany dining room table where the family would have shared their meals with friends.

The current museum interpretation of the property allows visitors to learn not only about the Wickham family, servants and enslaved household, but also Federal-period Richmond through social history, material culture, architecture, textiles and other artifacts.

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 Valentine’s mission is to engage, educate and challenge a diverse audience by collecting, preserving and interpreting Richmond's history.

The house is part of the Valentine, 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 film Shared Spaces, Separate Stories (2017) provides an opportunity to see interactions between free and enslaved individuals during the early 1800s and encourages visitors to become aware of the interactions that often go unmentioned in formal written histories.  Guided tours of the 1812 Wickham House are included with admission to the museum and offer visitors a glimpse into the public and private worlds of the Wickham family.

For information, call 804-649-0711 or visit The Valentine website. The Wickham-Valentine House has been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey.

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