Graced by Architecture

Charles Hancock

4/27/11

Is Richmond like Ancient Greece? Richmond always holds some form of an atmosphere but what developed that atmosphere? The city has a political, social, and geographic identity, all of which are defined by history and the people of that history. However, there is another, overlooked, identity. This other identity also depends on the history of Richmond and other histories of the world, other than Richmond itself. This aspect adds atmosphere and character to the city. It can define certain sections of the city and determine what those streets might be like for decades to come. Architecture is key to the look and feel of he city. Key buildings developed early define how a certain street may look for the next few years. Grace Street is an excellent example of this manifestation of architecture. Key buildings on certain parts of the street lead the way in the look of the street and the standard that it holds relative to the rest of the city in the matter of architecture.

Walking up to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, the first thing that might be noticed is how powerful and esthetically pleasing the design may seem to an antebellum Richmond citizen. The façade greets the viewer with tall thick columns with impressive capitals and sturdy pediment. Especially after it was first completed in 1845, it may have seen particularly impressive on Grace Street. It had a spire that was 225 feet tall and the entire design dominated Grace Street as an icon of Greek Revival Architecture. Thomas S. Stewart built the Church in 1845 and is famous for producing many other buildings with a similar style.   The Greek Revival style lasted from about 1820 to 1860. The style incorporated the ideas of architecture used by the Greeks. The church used columns with decorative capitals and carvings.[i] St. Paul’s Church acts as an ideal example of that Greek Revival.[ii] Stewart implemented columns along the façade of the building. These columns are fluted down the sides with Corinthian capitals. The use of the columns gives the church a very impressive standing. The columns hold up a bold blank pediment.[iii] Pediments normally depicted scenes from Greek mythology, but since this is a Christian church it remains blank.[iv] Although it remains blank, it acts a strong and sturdy looking façade for the church. The interior of the church also contains Greek influenced architectural designs. Even though it is a Christian church, in order to remain true to the Greek style, Christian imagery cannot be found in the Greek design. Although the interior may have the layout of the church with a naïve, narthex and an apse, the surrounding architecture, such as the columns remain neutral in religious depiction. As a result of the architectural constancy the design takes on an esthetically pleasing look. Today the tower that once was 225 feet tall is now half that size, due to the fact that a hurricane made the spire unstable. Without the tower topped by a half dome loses some essence of impact or grandeur on the church.[v]  Regardless, the building is still an impressive structure and an icon of Grace Street.

St. Paul’s not only successfully impresses by means of architecture, but also by its history. Being built in 1845, it was in Richmond during the Civil War and the place of worship for many historical figures such as Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis. Jefferson Davis was in the church at the time that he heard of Robert E Lee’s defeat at Petersburg leading to the vents of the evacuation of Richmond. Over the years, the church has been very popular and always had a good contingency making it a place to be on Grace Street, which furthers the attention, received by the street.[vi] Overall the church retains a beautiful and strong presence on Grace Street and a leader in architectural style on Grace Street.

St. Paul’s is not the only building to stand out on Grace Street. The Haxall-Hunter McGuire House is an example of architecture that is similar to St. Paul’s yet able to differ as well. The house came about seventeen years after St. Paul’s completion and Grace Street received yet another architectural example built by Dr. Roth W. Haxall. He bought the site in 1860 and completed the house in 1862. By the time it had been demolished in 1926 it had been known as The Haxall-Hunter McGuire House, due to the series of different families that had owned it over the years.[vii] What is interesting to note is that it was built at the end of the Greek Revival period.  Looking at pictures of the building it is apparent that it was influenced by this movement but not entirely dedicated to it. Standing at the façade of the building, one notices that it too uses columns in its main doorway. Obviously, there are not as many columns as St. Paul’s may have, but rather acts as a way to what seems to almost tribute the architectural style. The Haxall house not only emulates St. Paul’s by just having columns, the columns themselves are similar to that of St. Paul’s. By looking at the detail of the columns you can see that they are also fluted columns with Corinthian capitals, just like St. Paul’s. The rest of the building, however, shies away from The Greek revival theme. The house almost looks slightly Gothic. The subtle archway above the columns almost seems to represent what might be seen at the front of a French Gothic Cathedral in Europe. The windows also hearken back to what you might see from a Gothic Cathedral. By comparing Chartres Cathedral in France to the Haxall House, it is apparent that the windows above the threshold and then on the third floor as well, are similar if not mimic the arches seen on the exterior.[viii] Even the coronations rimming the roof of the Haxall House are similar to the top of the front wall. The diversity of architecture is similar to a melting pot of so many different types of architecture from different times and different places in the world.

Chartres Cathedral in Chartres, France is a masterpiece of Gothic Architecture

Even the most basic of houses on Grace Street retained this unique blend of architecture.  Regardless of how simple it looked the C Thompkins-MacFarland House proves to be an example to the architecture of Grace Street. Keeping an attention to detail, the entrance to the house has columns. To no surprise these columns are fluted and caped with a Corinthian Capitol. Even though the architect may change, or the time period, certain parts of the buildings on Grace street architecture remain constant.[ix] This house, however simple in comparison to St. Paul’s, still abides by the general style of the Grace Street buildings.

Whether residential or religious, the buildings of Grace Street all abide by a similar style. Some of the buildings vary, in the case of the Haxall house and its connections to Gothic architecture, but that diversity and sameness is what gives Grace that particular identity. It is fascinating that by choice of architecture can determine how an entire block chose’s to look and model their buildings for a decade to come. There is a reason Grace Street was known as “one of Richmond’s most fashionable neighborhoods.”[x]


[i]U.S. Department of the Interior, “St. Paul’s Church,” nps.gov,
http://www.nps.gov/‌history/‌nr/‌travel/‌richmond/
‌StPaul.html.

[ii] St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, “Architecture,” St. Paul’s Episcopal
Church, last modified 2007, http://www.stpauls-episcopal.org/‌index.php/
‌who/‌history_architecture/‌architecture/.

[iii] “9th and Grace Streets, looking west.,” Valentine Richmond History
Center.

[iv] St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, “Architecture,” St. Paul’s Episcopal
Church, last modified 2007, http://www.stpauls-episcopal.org/‌index.php/
‌who/‌history_architecture/‌architecture/.

[v] St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, “Architecture,” St. Paul’s Episcopal
Church, last modified 2007, http://www.stpauls-episcopal.org/‌index.php/
‌who/‌history_architecture/‌architecture/.

[vi] U.S. Department of the Interior. “St. Paul’s Church.” nps.gov. U.S. Department of the Interior, n.d. Web.
16 Apr. 2011. <http://www.nps.gov/history/nr/travel/richmond/
StPaul.html>.

[vii] “Haxall-Hunter McGuire House, 513 E. Grace Street, s.w. corner of 6th
and Grace Streets.,” 1922, Cook Collection, Valentine Richmond History Center.

[viii] ” “1100-1450: Gothic,” About.com, last modified 2011,
http://architecture.about.com/‌od/‌periodsstyles/‌ig/
‌Historic-Styles/‌Gothic.htm.

[ix] C. Thompkins-MacFarland House, 610 E. Grace Street. N.d. Cook Collection,
Valentine Richmond History Center.

[x]U.S. Department of the Interior, “Grace Street Commercial Historic
District,” nps.gov, http://www.nps.gov/‌history/‌nr/‌travel/
‌richmond/‌GraceHD.html.

St. Paul's Church

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