Place

Walker Historic Home

 a greyscale circa 1923 picture of the Maggie L. Walker home from the front
The Maggie L. Walker Historic Home is part of the Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site

NPS Photo

Quick Facts

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This Italianate style home on Leigh Street in the historic Jackson Ward community became well known as the longest and last home of the pioneering bank president, civil rights and women's rights leader, Maggie L. Walker. Today the home is a National Historic Landmark and is part of the Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site.  

Architecture

The home was built in 1883 by architect George Boyd, a formerly enslaved man from Goochland, VA. His inspiration was the Italianate style of architecture that lasted in the United States from the mid 1800s to the 1890's, inspired by the style of Italian villas. One of the main features of the Italianate style that can be seen on the Maggie L. Walker home is the low angled roof and highly decorated overhanging eaves. The eaves are also supplemented with decorated brackets called corbels supporting the weight of the eaves. Another one of the features indicating the Italianate influence is the tall narrow windows on the front of the house. The Italianate style heavily accentuated vertical structures and also utilized window sashes, which can also be seen on the Walker house. The porch of the house is also a common piece of Italianate style buildings in the United States and the columns, both locate outside and inside the home, evoke the memory of the Italian Renaissance. The interiors of the Italianate style were less defined than the exteriors, however there were some notable ideas present in the Walker home. One of them is that most of the rooms will have multiple entrances and exits, and this is very evident in the Walker home with most rooms having three doorways, even the bedrooms, which all connect to each other and to the hallway.

Before the Walker Family

While the most famous family that resided in this house would be Mrs. Walker and her family, she was not the originally owner of the home. Originally built in 1883, the home's original owner would be Doctor James Ferguson and his family. When the Ferguson family moves into the home, it would only be a two floor, five room house. This isn't as much information known about the family in the home as there would be for the second family to live in this home, the Jones.

Doctor Robert E Jones and his family would be the second owners of 110 ½ E. Leigh Street and would own the home until 1904 when Maggie L. Walker buys the home. During their time in the home in the 1890's, they would make several major structural changes to the home, which would then be inherited by the Walker family when they move in.

One of the largest changes the Jones family makes to the home is adding several upstairs bedrooms to the home. When they first move into the home, there would only be two upstairs rooms, but they grow the house by extending the hallway and adding five more rooms on the second floor.

They also add a key feature to the house today, the kitchen. Previous to their upgrade, the kitchen was not attached to the house, but they added it onto the first floor at the rear of the house, making cooking easier, especially since the kitchen and dining room were now connected to each other.

The third major addition added to the home by the Jones was the west wing on the first floor that Dr. Jones used as a waiting room and examination room for his patients. This change would give the home one of its more unique features which are two front doors, which still exists to this day. The Jones family would eventually sell the home to Maggie L. Walker in 1904.

Walker Family Moves In

While Maggie L. Walker buys 110 ½ in 1904, she and her family delay their move for another year as they makes two upgrades to the home. One of the upgrades Maggie L. Walker makes to the home before moving in is the installation of electricity throughout the home. Before the electricity is installed, the lighting in the house was all gas-powered and instead of replacing all the light features, they were retrofit to be electric powered keeping the old gas aesthetic with the functionality of electricity. The other major upgrade Mrs. Walker would add to the house was a central heating system using a furnace in the basement of the home, replacing the need for fireplaces to heat the home. The fireplaces would still be used by the family for relaxing evenings in together.  

When the upgrades finished the Walker family would move into the house at 110½ E. Leigh Street. There are originally six members of the family that move into the house together. Maggie L. Walker and her husband Armstead, their two sons, Russell E.T. Walker and Melvin DeWitt Walker, their foster daughter, Margaret "Polly" Anderson, and Mrs. Walker's mother, Elizabeth Mitchell.

Throughout the 1900s and 1910s, the Walker family continued to change the house adding furnishings and making more minor changes, such as adding a pressed tin ceiling in the dining room. The family also changed through this time as well, growing in number as both sons would marry, with Russell marrying Harriet "Hattie" Naomi Frazier in 1912 and Russell would marry Ethel B. Robinson in 1919. Polly would also marry a man named Maurice Payne and all three of the married couples would continue to reside in the home with Mrs. Walker and her husband Armstead, and her mother Elizabeth. The Walker family would continue to grow as as both Russell and Melvin each have a daughter and son before 1920 and Melvin would have two more daughters in the early 1920s to bring a total of four grandchildren into the home by 1924.

As the Walker family grew in numbers, so did the house, as Mrs. Walker decided through the 1920s to add rooms onto the house to suit a larger family. One of the main additions added to the home would be when the side porch on the west side is transformed into an interior room. This new interior room would be known by Mrs. Walker's grandchildren as Melvin's Den, as Melvin Walker would use this room to host his friends and guests for games of poker or relaxing music nights using an electric victrola located in the room.  

The larger of the additions that would take place at the Walker home during the 1920s would be a large addition of many rooms on the back-side of the home on both the second and ground floor. Added to the rear of the house, these rooms on the bottom floor would serve a variety of purposes for the family, such as a room with three sinks and a stove to do laundry, a bathroom, which the first floor lacked before the addition, and also a bedroom use by Polly and Maurice. The second floor of the addition added several rooms used mostly by Melvin's side of the family, including a bedroom for Melvin and Ethel, their two daughters, Mamie Evelyn and Elizabeth, and a sleeping porch used by their son, Armstead.

One of the last major changes to the structure of the home would be added in 1928 when an elevator is added onto the rear most room of the house. Earlier in her life, Mrs. Walker was diagnosed with diabetes and it will take a toll on her life. By the beginning of 1928, she experiences weakness in her legs that makes walking difficult. She first adopts a set of leg braces, and while they were cumbersome, they helped to stave of the coming paralysis. Mrs. Walker took action as her condition developed and employed Charles T. Russell to design the elevator, as he had also designed her additions and also several of the buildings for the Independent Order of St. Luke. Finally finished between March 17th and March 24th, 1928.

The House After Maggie L. Walker

Maggie L. Walker continued to live in 110½ E. Leigh Street with her family until she passed away December 15th, 1934. Initially, the home would come under the ownership of Melvin Walker, Mrs. Walker's only surviving son. Melvin only owned the house for less than a year as he passes away in 1935. Shortly after this happens, Hattie NF Walker, Russell's widow, would gain ownership of the home and continued to live there with her daughter, Maggie Laura Walker and Polly. Hattie would follow in Mrs. Walker's footsteps by becoming the Right Worthy Grand Secretary for the Independent Order of St. Luke in 1937. When Hattie Walker becomes owner of the home, she makes it her mission to keep the house as Mrs. Walker wanted it, so she keeps many of the furniture and objects Mrs. Walker collected during his time in the home. She thought that the best way to keep Mrs. Walker's memory alive is to keep the house as she intended. For more than 30 years Hattie Walker preserved the home with the dream of turning it into a museum to honor the legacy of her mother-in-law, Maggie L. Walker. While Hattie Walker would pass away in 1974, her dream of turning the home into a museum was realized through her daughter, Maggie Laura Walker, when she sold it to the National Park Service in 1979 where it is still preserved as part of the Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site.

Maggie L Walker National Historic Site

Last updated: July 24, 2021