The Interplay of Race and Development

Lily Hazelton

Franklin Street has generally been a place of commerce. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries many things changed, but the main use of Franklin Street remained as a place of business. The businesses on the street changed; they moved around, they altered their merchandise, purpose, and ownership. Franklin Street was somewhat of a conundrum. The businesses from a physical and economic standpoint changed considerably, but the ethnic and racial makeup of the street did not change at all. In many ways change in one area could often lead to another—an influx of racially diverse business men, or merchants wanting to set up shop in an area, could lead to physical change as these people built new store or home, while the building and development of new homes, spaces, or businesses could also invite ethnicity into a neighborhood. Franklin Street does not follow this pattern. Franklin Street went through many physical changes in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but its ethnic and racial diversity did not. Without this equilibrium in its development, it was nearly impossible for Franklin Street to establish a constant industry.

When the physical and ethnic makeup of a street changes, there are many possible reasons for each aspect. Natural disasters such as flooding or fires could destroy a building, commissioned projects could lead to new development, and events in other parts of the city, or even in other states or countries could lead to an immigration or larger influx of ethnicities into a certain area. The natural destruction or commissioned developments are the most likely reasons there was such a physical change on Franklin Street. The section of Franklin Street east of capital square transformed into a business region at the turn of the century. A change or growth in an industry or business, such as the printing industry, is the main reason for this. With Franklin Street becoming an increasingly desirable area to establish business, it became the most desirable and practical location for expansion.

Since at least 1875, for example, J.W. Ferguson & Sons had been a well-known printing company in Richmond, and was even advertising in the Richmond City Directories as late as 1893[1]. Sometime between 1911 and 1919, however, J.W. Ferguson & Sons Printing decided to move their business from the corner of Fourteenth and Main Street to the corner of Fourteenth and Franklin Street. It is interesting that after spending almost forty years in one spot the business was suddenly moved up the street, and at the same time that they moved, more then ten other printing, or printing related businesses, all in fairly large buildings, appeared within a one block radius on either side of Ferguson & Son’s new home[2]. Around 1919 Franklin Street seemed to be the new home of a large portion of the printing industry in Richmond. By the end of the nineteenth century printing had gone from being created using heavy wooden hand presses and traditional methods in small dingy workshops to an industry dominated by fewer, larger firms in factories with machinery specifically designed for such work,[3] and established in either new or recently renovated buildings[2].

Besides the growth and change in the printing industry, though, Franklin Street went through many other changes as well at the start of the twentieth century. Between 1905 and 1919, and again between 1919 and 1925, the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps show only two buildings and businesses that are the same on the two separate maps of the block along Franklin Street, between Fourteenth Street and Mayo, or Ballard, Street. One business and building that stayed the same over those six years was the relatively new W.H. Miles Shoes Co., Inc. owned by Walter H. Miles, previously a sales clerk for the large Stephen Putney & Co. which sold shoes on Main Street. The only other constant over those six years was J.W. Ferguson & Sons Inc., a business that had already been established in Richmond for almost fifty years—and actually only recently shut down in 2006[2],[4].

Though this block of Franklin Street went through a lot of physical change, the racial and ethnic makeup of it did not. Despite having been freed from slavery, and gaining a few more rights as citizens,  African Americans did not see much improvement in their economic standing, and the largest concentration of African American jobs and workers was found in unskilled labor and service jobs. In 1900 the percentage of African Americans, both men and women, who held positions as a proprietor, manager, or official was just one percent throughout the United States, and tended to be even lower in southern states[5]. The large amount of physical change on Franklin Street might actually have been one of the causes for the lack of racial diversity in the area. Due to their social and economic standing, many African American workers would not have had the economic means to start or build a business in this area of Franklin Street, and the few who did possess the means most likely would have chosen a more central location. While there may have been a few African Americans working in the shops and factories on Franklin Street, it is highly unlikely that they would have owned a business in the area, nor was it likely that they held any position in which they might be readily recognized, and so they went unrecorded in the Richmond City Directories.

The constant physical change and the lack of racial change are both prominent patterns in the development of Franklin Street. African Americans did not have the means to build a building or start a business. Vice versa, the lack of racial change, or really any change in the social demographic may explain why so many places were built and destroyed, and so may people went in and out of business. The only places with the metal to withstand the test of time were two businesses that were established in the community, and had ties to an established business.  Racial change and physical change feed off each other, when these two aspects are in some state of equilibrium, then an area has the power to develop an industry that works for the local demographic. Without these two aspects working together, the only businesses with a chance to be successful must already have community ties, and be relevant to the demographic. With no racial change, and a surplus of physical change, Franklin Street never had the chance to thrive.


[1] Richmond City Directory (Richmond: Hill Directory Company, 1893)

[2] “Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps (1919),” map, Digital Sanborn Maps 1867-1970,

http://sanborn.umi.com/va/9064/dateid-000005.htm?CCSI=14043n.

[3] The British Library, “Printing During the Nineteenth Century,” Aspects of the Victorian Book, last modified 2011, http://www.bl.uk/collections/early/victorian/pr_print.html.

[4] “Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps (1925),” map, Digital Sanborn Maps 1867-1970,

http://sanborn.umi.com/va/9064/dateid-000006.htm?CCSI=14043n.

[5] Thomas N. Maloney, “African Americans in the Twentieth Century,”Economic History Encyclopedia, last modified February 1, 2010, http://eh.net/encyclopedia/article/maloney.african.american.

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