“First, What kind of life was lived in this place, that is, Why and how did its builders build as they did?
And second, what rules with general validity and applicability did they follow?”
Carroll William Westfall, Learning From Pompeii.

Thursday, March 16, 2023



...The division of dwelling place and working place was no recognized feature of the social structure of the towns which our ancestors inhabited. The journey to work, the lonely lodger paying his rent out of a factory wage or an office salary, are the distinguishing marks of our society, not of theirs. We are forced to suppose that in industrial and commercial matters the working family was assumed to be self-sufficient on its labour, in spite of the vicissitudes of the market.[1]


                                                            Peter Laslett. The World We Have Lost.


A good portion of the population lived over stores in this part of the city, probably more than two thousand, within an area of a few squares.


                                                                        Dan Murphy’s Reminiscences [concerning Main Street,

                                                                                Richmond in the early nineteenth century] 


Towns in seventeenth and early eighteenth-century Virginia were almost entirely oriented around commerce. Towns were required in order to concentrate the availability of products and services needed for the organization of commerce and agriculture. The distribution of land in Richmond began in the 1730s, by which time the surveying of land and the regional manner of laying out of towns was well developed.  The lots in 1730s Richmond were established for the building of merchant enterprises. 

In most cases merchants lived in the same structures occupied by their shops and stores, although by the mid-eighteenth century the most financially independent citizens began to build suburban dwellings on hills around the town, where the noisome air and bustling activity could be avoided. For the first 70 years the town was made up of one- and two-story frame structures like those built throughout the Tidewater region during this period. The half-acre lots appear to have been considered large enough for a main building and the domestic offices and garden needed to support an urban family without rural property. Most buildings were placed near the front edge of the property with the implicit understanding that eventual subdivision of the lots would create a virtual wall of buildings. Its helpful to think of the similar but much more populous Duke of Gloucester Street in Colonial Williamsburg in this regard.

The basic building of the Virginia town until the antebellum period was the store/dwelling. One memoir of the area around Main and Governor Street in early Richmond emphasizes this fact: A good portion of the population lived over stores in this part of the city, probably more than two thousand, within an area of a few squares.[2] The value of land for commercial use led to the lining of the principal routes with long rows of these store/dwellings. The gradual infilling of the towns grid took many years, as civic institutions, service functions, and professions multiplied. As space became more valuable, secondary commercial and service buildings spread to secondary streets. The construction and placement of these basic buildings were governed by the grammar of regional vernacular architecture and by rules established by the town government to ensure regularity and safety.

Sir John Summerson called this basic building block of the British town "the unit house," “with a narrow frontage to the street, [and] rooms back and front on each floor,” and the front room on the ground floor often containing a store [Summerson, Architecture in Britain 1530-1830. (London, 1954) 56].” 

Nicholson Store, Williamsburg (above, by 1750, restored 1949-50) and Fielding Lewis Store, Fredericksburg (below, 1749)

Examples of urban stores in Virginia from the mid-eighteenth century include the store that forms the core of the Market Square Tavern in Williamsburg, the Nicholson Store, also in Williamsburg, and the Lewis Store of 1749 in Fredericksburg. Stores in Virginia tended to be built of framed wood, were placed with their shortest wall to the street (often the gable end) and consisted of an unheated sales room in front and a heated counting room or office to the rear. The owner/shopkeeper and his apprentice employees lived upstairs in a half-story garret, a full second floor, or in a domestic wing.

The plan shown here is often cited as an example of the kinds of English store buildings familiar to the colonists. From Joseph Moxon, Mechanick Exercises (London, 1703), cited in "Architectural Report on Archibald Blair's Storehouse," (CW Division of Architecture, 1949), p. 7

According to Colonial Williamsburg's Division of Architecture,    

The floor plan of the store seems to be typical of eighteenth-century design. The outside dimensions of the building measured 36 by 24 feet and the lower floor was divided into two separate sections. This conforms in striking fashion to a general plan published in England early in the century. In this volume, Joseph Moxon offers a plan 20 feet by 40 with a similar first floor division and almost identical treatment of the entrance and front windows. Several other stores in the colony followed the same general arrangement. John Frazer's stores at West Point were "twenty eight Feet by sixteen each," one of which had a "Lodging Room, with a Brick Chimney, at one End,…" Alexander and Peterfield Trent advertised for bids on the construction of their store at Rocky Ridge which was to be "forty four Feet by twenty two, ten Feet Pitch, with a Cellar…," and a store at Newcastle owned by Samuel Pearson was described as "a large commodious storehouse thirty six Feet by twenty six,… Similarly, a piece of rental property in Norfolk measured "36 by 24 wh a Cellar abt 5 feet high Brick parts to the 2d floor a fire place Countg Room & Bed Chambers…" at one end.[4]

Houses of workers and public servants and industrial structures lined secondary streets and the main street outside the commercial zone. Some of these houses were also built by developers in pairs or longer rows. While these arrangements did economize on space and material, the choice to build iterative multi-family buildings was also deeply rooted in European urban tradition.  As the commercial nucleus grew in scale the suburban dwellings on the edges were replaced with more store/dwellings.  Public buildings were placed in significant locations above and beyond the rules governing the placement of basic buildings. 

As a town dominated by merchants, basic building made up the background fabric of the city. The city's tissue was ordered by a tight grid of squares and routes that were organized around civic buildings that, in accord with their significance in the hierarchy of civil order, were given special architectural distinction. Due to their association with political authority, these buildings, such as markets, courthouses, and schools, were generally located in significant places on public land outside the grid of lots.  

For more information on Richmond's civic order, see Understanding Richmond's Urban Order. For related information on Richmond's urban form, see this article on the Matrix Route in Richmond

[1] Laslett, Peter. The World We Have Lost: English Society before and after the Coming of Industry. (1961) New York NY: Charles Scribners Sons, 1971.

[2] Newspaper account, “Dan Murphy’s Reminiscences, Part II,” author’s collection, no date, no source.

[3] quoted in Marcus Whiffen, The Eighteenth-Century Houses of Williamsburg, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1960.71-74.

[4] Colonial Williamsburg, Prentis Store Historical Report, Block 18-1 Building 5.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Pleasure Gardens: Escaping the Heat in Summertime Richmond


A public pleasure garden was a privately-owned ornamental ground or piece of land, open to the public as a resort or amusement area, and operated as a business. In privately-owned public gardens, man was attempting to control nature as well as insert his new ideas about the world--and occasionally even some of his curious machines--into a purely ornamental garden. The commercial pleasure garden was the ultimate garden. Here was nature so controlled by man, that the garden was purely an artform. Here art & capitalism wed. This garden produced no crops but still rendered a profit for its owner [American Garden History blog]. 

One of the prominent urban landscape features of  the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century American city was the pleasure garden. Richmonds several public gardens were examples of this property type- the privately owned garden open to the public- that were operated for profit in both European and American cities. As leisure time and ready cash increased in the mid-eighteenth century, these offered a retreat from the heat and smells of the city as well as an opportunity for outdoor social interaction in the cool of the evening.  In the American cities, such gardens began attached to taverns. They featured formal designs made up of square parterres, straight, hedge-lined walks, and shade trees. 

In Richmond, these orderly landscaped environments contrasted with most of the public land available to the general public. Other than the rough terrain of c 1800 Capitol Square, the public "commons" set apart in 1737 consisted of flood-prone, undeveloped land along the east bank of Shockoe Creek, the edge of the north bank of the James, and nearby Chapel Island. While these were excellent for washing clothes, fishing and strolling, they didn't provide the more orderly setting needed for agreeable sociability. 

Thomas Rowlandson, Vaux-Hall Gardens, c 1779, depicting Samuel Johnson, Oliver Goldsmith, 
Mary Robinson and other prominent Londoners during an evening concert under the trees.

One of the first in New York, appearing on a map from the 1740s, was Spring Garden, a rectangle 120 feet wide and 300 feet long, laid out in parterres and featuring a small building, probably a brewery. It shared its name with the New Spring Gardens, the prototypical English pleasure garden in London. Known after 1785 as Vauxhall Gardens, London's most famous garden was privately operated from as early as 1660 until 1859. New York's Vauxhall Garden opened in 1767 beside the Hudson River.  

The Vauxhall Gardens, Broome Street, New York City, its second location, 1803

Later in the eighteenth century, the proliferating number of pleasure gardens in the states emulated Londons public gardens by added covered areas for use in wet weather, arbors for private dining. Many included kitchens and a house for the proprietor, as well as fountains and other ornamental landscape features [Thomas M. Garrett, “A History of Pleasure Gardens in New York City, 1700-1865, Ph.D. dissertation, New York University, 1978].

Richmond's Falling Gardens (seen at center at bottom) on Mijacah Bates Map, 1835

The earliest public garden in Richmond appears to have been the Falling Gardens, a five-acre tract remembered by Samuel Mordecai in 1856. It occupied a prominent hillside site behind Bowlers Tavern on the north side of Franklin Street, located where the City Hotel later stood. The garden, overlooking Shockoe Creek, was operated by an elderly Quaker gentleman named William Lowndes. The history of the Falling Gardens tract and the meandering of Shockoe Creek is told in a lawsuit between the heirs of Lowndes and a neighboring property owner [Thomas J. Michie. Virginia Reports. Jefferson..33 Grattan,1730-1880. 446-42].  In addition to a cool outdoor retreat, the garden provided a bathhouse with both hot and cold water. 

Pryor's or Haymarket Gardens at the end of 7th St. on Ross's Mill Canal and next to the 
Armory [Young's Map, 1809]

Richmonds best known early nineteenth-century pleasure garden was probably  Haymarket or Priors Garden, located next to the Armory, where the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad Depot stood in the 1850s, near the south end of Eighth Street. It occupied “quite a capacious inclosure, with a graduated lawn in front of the large mansion, which, with its extended wings and pinions, divided the lawn from the garden in the rear. A succession of grassy or flowery slopes and terrace extended down to the river, or rather to Rosss canal (now Haxalls,) and the upper portion of the garden commanded a fine view of the river, the islands, and of the country beyond. Like the pleasure gardens of London, Haymarket Garden provided fireworks, equestrians, rope-dancers for spectacle, ice cream and cake for refreshment, washed down by lemonade and “porteree.  The Haymarket Gardens were operated by Maj. John Pryor, who provided the broad walks with serpentine alleys,” from which the view of the falls was excellent.

Benjamin H. Latrobe. Sketch of the lower end of the Falls of James River, Virginia, 1796 [Maryland Historical Society 1796. Jeffrey Ruggles has perceptively identified the structure at center right as the main building at the Haymarket Garden and the half-concealed building to its right as Ross's Mill. 

The large grounds had room for a number of attractions. Among the amusements were a “Riding Machine or Flying Gigs, wherein eight persons can be conveyed at a rate of two to five hundred yards in a minute. . . . Its effects are delightful to the riders and peculiarly efficacious to those of weak nervous habits.”  According to newspaper announcements, One thousand persons could be accommodated in the structures surrounding the musical gallery, and “the lower part of the dancing House is also open for entertainment when Balls, Ice Creams, Coffee Cake, and all kinds of Fruit and the best of Liquors will be constantly provided. Activities included masquerade balls, not to mention card parties, said by one correspondent to be the most dangerous, because “they afford many more opportunities for a display of those fopperies of love and habits of dissipation so fatal to the happiness of society.” The garden also catered to gaming activities, such “the Sports of the Pit,” cock-fighting and bear-bating, as well as quoits, bowling, and shuffleboard [Dabney (1976) 84-85]. 

Vauxhall Garden was shown on a plan for river improvements in 1829 [Survey of James 
River between the dock and the islands, Virginia Board of Public Works]. 

Another popular Richmond retreat, Vauxhall Garden, was in existence as early as 1802. Like its prototype in London, it was located in close relation to the river, although, in the provincial setting of Richmond, Vauxhall Garden offered refreshment and entertainment on a much smaller scale. It was placed on a small artificial island in the river shallows reached by a footbridge from Mayos Bridge. The garden was equipped with a small house for refreshments or other purpose [Jonathan Conlin, Pleasure Garden from Vauxhall Garden to Coney Island, 2013]. Later, in the 1860s, a larger, natural island in the river to the west of Mayos Island, was named Vauxhall Island. It was used for military encampments, barbecues, and political meetings.  

Another, but somewhat less popular pleasure garden, at least in Samuel Mordecais memory, was the French Garden, which occupied a site on nineteen acres along the ravines on the north edge of the city, purchased in 1792. These were operated for a decade by a refugee from Santo Domingo. Another garden was located at Mitchells Spring, northeast of Academy Hill. At one point, Jackson’s Pleasure Garden stood at the corner of Second and Leigh streets was “illuminated with 2,000 variegated lights” [Dabney (1976) 85].

The Rev. John Buchanan’s set aside a shady tract containing a clear, copious spring on his large holdings west of the city for use as a private park and water source. The spring tract was a popular recreational ground favored by Justice John Marshall and the celebratory games and barbecues held by the Richmond Quoits Club.

Illustration of Peter Stumpf's Brewery, 1890s, showing a circular spring house at the center of 
the historic Buchanan's Spring property, not far from the current Science Museum of Virginia.

Buchanan's Spring tract became known as Spring Park and a circular pavilion was added that helped to keep patrons cool. This tract, much reduced in size was redeveloped in 1868 as a beer garden and brewery known as the Spring Park Brewery. Owner E. J. Euker advertised a 4th of July Picnic in 1868 at the “coolest place around Richmond” and entertained by a “grand QUADRILLE BAND." He later took on Henry Bowler as a partner and the business was renamed “Eagle Brewery” in 1879. The historic Buchanan Spring was redeveloped by brewer and hotelier Peter Stumpf in 1893 as a beer garden and brewery with a new four-story brick building. It was known later as the Home Brewing Company. The building still stands at the corner of Clay and Harrison streets in the historic Carver neighborhood.

Similarly the James River Steam Brewery was opened in the 1870s by D.G Yuengling Jr. It 
included landscaped grounds that served as a beer garden, but closed in 1879.

Beginning in the 1850s, as the population increased, the city provided a series of public parks in addition to Capitol Square, which provided more accessible options of recreation. The need for private gardens decreased and they disappeared by the turn of the nineteenth century. One exception was Sauer's Gardens, that took the model of a privately owned and maintained public amenity at the center of a new residential subdivision. It was developed in the 1920s by Conrad Frederick Sauer, owner of the Sauer's Spice Company. The Japanese-inspired garden included a pagoda, fountain, lake and a range of "artificial mountains". 

Contemporary photograph of Sauer's Gardens 

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Exploring the Classical Garden at Richmond's Maymont Estate

The principal meaning of the gardens at Maymont, as understood by classically educated people like James Dooley, was that mankind was placed in the world to manage and organize otherwise chaotic natural forces like water and vegetative growth in order to promote the civic good. Gardens, both decorative and practical, were like books that reinforced the lessons of order that were inherent in all cultures and periods, even as they provided the leisure for contemplation of this comprehensible vision of the natural world.    

Aerial photo of Maymont, 1920, Maymont Foundation. The Italian Garden can be seen to the upper left.  

Maymont, Richmond's great public garden, was built as the landscaped suburban estate of James H. Dooley (1841-1922), a lawyer, philanthropist, and financier, and his wife, Sallie May Dooley (c1845-1925), a social and cultural leader. The 100-acre farm on the edge of Richmond was purchased in 1886 by the Dooleys when Sallie fell in love with the spectacular views of the James River to be had from the central ridge and with the large oaks that studded the grounds. James F. Dooley had studied Roman literature as part of a classical education at Georgetown College, from which he graduated first in his class. Sarah (Sallie) Dooley loved gardening, flowers, and travel.

The Dooleys' travels opened them to a wide variety of garden settings, including the gentle and informal English landscapes, the elaborate terraces and fountains of French and Italian gardens, and the gardens of Japan. The classical past inspired temples and, very likely, the garden's central waterfall, while a love for the Renaissance and Baroque villas on the outskirts of Rome led them to build an American version of an Italian garden that, with its cliff-top terraces and bubbling fountains, would astound friends and visitors. 

No matter that there was no water supply at the top of the hill; with gasoline pumps, anything was possible. They worked from 1907 to 1911 with Richmond architects Noland and Baskervill to base their Italian Cascade on the similar feature at the Villa Torlonia outside Rome, but they added a massive naturalistic waterfall like that at the Villa Gregoriana at Tivoli. At the bottom of the hill, with the waterfall as a backdrop linking it to the Italian Garden, they soon after added one of the nations finest and oldest extant Japanese-style gardens. For that purpose, James and Sallie Dooley are thought to have employed Y. Muto, a Japanese landscape designer, to arrange the rocks and water courses in 1911-12.  

The Dooleys began with modest Victorian landscape features. As their wealth increased, they expanded the scope of their gardening efforts and embraced the growing movement known as the American Renaissance, which took its inspiration from continental European sources. As Dale Wheary has observed, as country places proliferated across the country, so too did the number of fashionable garden styles- Italian, French, Colonial, Japanese, and other thematic styles. Eclectic landscapes included several different types of gardens, much like outdoor rooms, connected by naturalistic areas, such as park-like, English-style lawns.” [1]

The Sublime, the Beautiful, and the Industrial

On closing this general view of beauty, it naturally occurs, that we should compare it with the sublime; and in this comparison there appears a remarkable contrast. For sublime objects are vast in their dimensions, beautiful ones comparatively small: beauty should be smooth and polished; the great, rugged and negligent. . .

                                                Edmund Burke, 1756

Starting in the seventeenth century, British philosophers explored the relationship between Beauty- a controlled experience of light and movement- and the Sublime- an experience of awe associated with a boundless and even threatening natural world. As Richmond expanded in the late eighteenth century, wealthy landowners, merchants, and industrialists built villas on the hills around the city.  Starting with Belvedere, William Byrd IIIs 1758 house west of the city, the elite built their houses on the low bluffs overlooking the broken and dramatic landscape at the fall line. The view of the roaring river, passing over the many layers of granite falls for a distance of six miles, was an object of contemplation and awe, suggesting the limitless power of nature. The setting of the city was highly praised by visitors who enjoyed the dramatic views of the river and the sound of the thunder of the falls. Its noisy, rockstrewn landscape provided an appropriately American setting for Jeffersons Capitol temple set high on Shockoe Hill.

Quarry at Maymont: an industrial feature that was adapted as part of the finished landscape.
Cities have always required places, often on their edges, where order breaks down- games can be played, military companies drilled, leisure time spent in strolling, and where citizens gather to pull their supper directly from the rapidly passing wilderness.  On the edges of rivers, natural forces can be collected and used to fuel noisy, smelly, and often unsightly mills and factories. In Richmond, the land along the river was used for recreational, transportation, and industrial activities.  Quarries exploited the granite outcroppings, mills took advantage of the rapid change in water level at the falls of the James, and canal locks moved boats through the change in elevation.

The altered landscape visible at Maymont at the end of the nineteenth century proved to be an ideal setting for picturesque garden effects. When James and Sallie Dooley reused the former farm overlooking the river and the abandoned quarry operation to create the gardens at Maymont, they were following in the footsteps of generations of wealthy Richmonders. As they and their employees sculpted a garden, everyone involved in the project, from house servants, coachmen, and gardeners to the Dooleys peers in the city, were touched by the ambitious scale of its idea. In a way, the estate as it exists today recapitulates the entire natural, social, and economic history of the region, from wilderness to a farm and from a private ornamental estate to an extraordinarily valuable public asset. Today, everyone is able to participate in the grand vision of the Dooleys and the other philanthropists who have enlarged it.

The Dooleys Vision

According to Major Dooley, his wife fell in love with the place and begged him to buy it. She brought to the project a passion for gardening and considerable knowledge about horticulture. He was involved in the creation of the gardens and probably brought to bear his classical education in the planning of some of the architectural forms and literary references to be found in the gardens design, but Sallie May Dooley is given credit by her husband for much of the energy that went into its realization.[2] Much of the garden derives from its spectacular location overlooking the falls, now concealed by vegetation. Vision, in the sense of gazing out at the natural world, is built into the design of Maymont. The gazebos placed around the garden were stations from which the Dooleys could admire views over the landscape, both wild and cultivated.

Sallie May Dooley experimented with landscape effects and planting patterns in the grounds around the mansion in the 1890s. She and her husband planted an outdoor museum of rare trees among the large oaks that had first attracted her attention. Mrs. Dooley would daily walk the grounds with Mr. Taliaferro, the estate manager, to supervise the planning, planting, and care of Maymonts landscape and gardens” [3] Major Dooley, however, is given credit for the idea of the Italian Garden in an article written in 1908.[4]

Maymont today. The Italian Garden and Grotto are shown at the lower right.

The Dooley's intentions at Maymont are difficult to track, due to lack of documentation, but the larger Maymont landscape seems to inhabit two distinct modes of design. The first is the Victorian, during which the Dooleys began their adventure in country living. The picturesque Ornamental Lawn near the Victorian mansion at Maymont and the surrounding English Park-style landscape and Arboretum reflected the gardening styles popularized in mid-nineteenth-century American publications. The second mode is known as the American Renaissance, which prompted the Dooleys emulation of the great gardens of Renaissance and Baroque Italy. Publications in the 1890s and early 1900s, as well as the success of Chicagos Columbian Exposition in 1893, encouraged a return to classical forms and planning principles. Likewise, the Japanese Garden, which is neatly dovetailed with the Italian Garden, grew from examples at late nineteenth-century worlds fairs. It also showed the Dooleys interest in expanding their horizons beyond the simplicity of the American gardening tradition.

 American Renaissance

The great country house as it is now understood is a new type of dwelling, a sumptuous house, built at large expense, often palatial in its dimensions, furnished in the richest manner and placed on an estate, perhaps large enough to admit of independent farming operations, and in most cases with a garden which is an integral part of the architectural scheme. 

                                                   Barr Ferree, American Estates and Gardens,1904 [5]

The stylistic focus of the Dooleys shifted in the new century along with the tastes of writers like Edith Wharton, who encouraged the adoption of consistent programs of garden design and interior decoration based on classical European prototypes. This movement that spanned across the arts is know as the American Renaissance and it affected painting, sculpture, and architecture, as well as garden design. The Dooleys redecorated their parlors at the Dooley Mansion in eighteenth-century French style and, in 1912, after Grand Tour-style trips to Europe, built and furnished Swanannoa, a palatial summer home in the mountains west of Richmond modeled after Romes Villa Medici. The gardens and house at Swannanoa are closely integrated, as was advocated by proponents of the American Renaissance and the allied American Country House movement. In contrast with Swanannoa, the marked disconnect between Maymonts very Victorian mansion and the Italian- and Japanese-inspired gardens completed nearly twenty years later points out the change in the Dooleys perspective.

As their project at Maymont progressed, the childless couple seem to have decided to expand their private suburban estate, transforming it into a treasure house intended for the cultural education and recreation of Richmonders long after they were gone. They wished for it to serve as a presentation of the fine arts, found alike in the elaborate gardens and the mansion, which they equipped with curios, paintings, tapestry, sculpture, and musical instruments representing the best of the nation's European inheritance. It would appear that as their wealth increased, their program became more ambitious. James and Sallie May Dooley began their relationship with the fashionable architectural firm of Nolan and Baskervill in 1904, when they commissioned a up-to-date new Carriage House.

Aerial view today. Maymont Mansion is located to the upper left, the cascade at the center below the Italian Garden, and
Japanese Garden at the lower center. 
Maymonts hanging Italian Garden and Cascade (1907-1910) and the extensive Japanese Garden (1911-1912) were on a very different scale from the Dooleys previous efforts. These, by their escalation in scale, order, and dramatic effect and by their literary and historical associations, were unprecedented in Virginia. They were capable of engendering strong emotional effects by a cumulative series of spectacles, including waterfalls, complex views of distant objectives, and contrast between a foreground of delicate flowers backed by massed foliage and picturesque structures. The unavoidable impression was of the contrast of ordered civilization in the garden with the sublime, romantic chaos of wilderness, represented by the noisy James River beyond.

There does not appear to have been a fully realized master plan for the landscape. In fact there are few documents that record the intentions of the designers and virtually no accounts of the garden's effect on viewers in the early accounts that have surfaced. Any connections between iconography, the owners' intentions, and perceived meanings is speculative. At the largest scale, a visitor's progress through the gardens, after leaving the house, moved from very formal to picturesque. It began in the rectilinear parterres and tightly organized cascades of the Italian Garden, progressed by means of the Grotto to the studied naturalism of the Japanese Landscape, and ended in a (no longer accessible) rock garden, called the Rocky Overlook, on a granite outcrop at the far east end of the property.

The garden was expanded over a period of four years, but the sequence of construction shows unexpected relationships between sections of the garden. For instance, architectural drawings show that the water supply system was designed from the beginning to serve the Upper Terrace and Cascade as completed in 1908-1909, perhaps, but not necessarily, before the concept of the Japanese Garden was conceived.[6] 

he full design for the upper terrace was presented to Major Dooley in early 1908 in a rendered sketch plan and elevation showing elaborate planting beds, Italian cypresses, and other decorative accessories.[7] The Dooleys expanded the Italian Garden over the next three years with two terraces below and in front of the original one, all completed by 1911.

The Via Florum

A minute's walk will transport the visitor from the small, uneasy, lava stones of the Roman pavement into broad, gravelled carriage-drives, whence a little farther stroll brings him to the soft turf of a beautiful seclusion. A seclusion, but seldom a solitude; for priest, noble, and populace, stranger and native, all who breathe Roman air, find free admission, and come hither to taste the languid enjoyment of the day-dream that they call life.

                                                            The gardens of the Villa Borghese, described by Hawthorne, in The Marble Faun

The Italian Garden is separated from the mansion both visually and physically and is reached by means of a path made of roughly finished stones. The route to and through garden (the Via Florum) can be seen to actually begin as the guest exits the Mansion through the porte cochere, where a copy of Canova's statue of Three Graces is placed as an object of contemplation above a small reflecting pool.  Sculpture in the nineteenth century, was often selected as a part of a decorative program in which the subjects of work of art corresponded to the theme or use of the building or landscape. This marble sculpture, a copy of a nineteenth-century original by Canova, begins the progress of the gardens with a reference to the goddesses of beauty, amusement, and festivity appropriate to gardens.  

Entrance to the Via Florum and the Italian Garden from the west
The garden enclosure is entered through a rough stone gateway, above which is inscribed Via Florum (the Way of Flowers). The term, which reminds us of James Dooley's education in classical literature in the Latin language, appears to be a play by him on the name of the principal road through the Roman Forum, the Via Sacra, or Sacred Way. This miniature triumphal arch provides access to a long rose-covered colonnade or pergola that runs along the upper terrace of the garden. 

The Via Florum is similar to the cool, sheltered, longitudinal avenues typical of Renaissance gardens. The three levels of the terrace are reached by wide granite stairs. The parterres on the upper level are Italian in inspiration but originally made use of plants appropriate to the place and season of use. Since the Dooleys escaped the heated summer season at Swanannoa, the gardens at Maymont focused on spring flowers.

Postcard showing the Via Florum pergola and the large circular temple in the Italian Garden with its original tile roof.  
The Italian Garden has its roots in the ancient world. The Roman writer Cicero enjoyed a luxurious villa in Tusculum, southeast of Rome. Pliny the Elder had two villas, one in the Tuscan hills and the other by the sea. His descriptions, along with the ruins at Tivoli, were sources for later garden designers wishing to emulate the settings of classical villas. As we have seen, James Dooley, had been exposed at Georgetown College to classical and Renaissance literature and was intellectually equipped to imagine such a classically inspired garden [8].

  Detail from Maxfield Parrish, The Cascade, Villa Torlonia, Frascati, from
Edith Wharton, Italian Villas and their Gardens, 1904.

The Cascade

It was in the guidance of rushing water that the Roman garden-architects of the seventeenth century showed their poetic feeling and endless versatility.                           

                                                 Edith Wharton, 1904

The direct inspiration for the Cascade and the Fountain Pool located above it was Carlo Madernos 1623 garden at the Villa Torlonia in Frascati, near the site of Ciceros villa at Tusculum. This was an important and accessible destination in the Dooleys era, but we don't have evidence that they visited it. Their experience may have derived entirely from books. An article in the local paper makes clear the careful study of sources that went into the garden's design: drawings, photographs and measurements of the best specimens of this character of artistic work abroad have been used by the landscape gardeners in charge of the work. . . ”[9] 

Detail, Plan of the Villa Torlonia. Geoffrey Alan Jellicoe, Italian Gardens of the Renaissance, 1925. Note the large pool at the top and the cascade just below. At the Villa Torlonia, the grotto takes the form of a "water theater" at the bottom. 

Maymont Cascade today
Upper Cascade at the Villa Torlonia at Frascati in 1903,
Charles Latham, The Gardens of Italy, 1905

As at Frascati, the cascade at Maymont is fed by an oval-shaped ornamental reservoir and ends abruptly in a spectacular feature which dramatizes the power and beauty of water. There, the water flows into an arcaded theatre in which water is the main actor, centered on a nymphaeum or grotto.  At Maymont, the picturesque waterfall, fed by the cascade, serves a similar role to that of the Baroque water theatre, but with an origin in a later, more picturesque, period of garden design. As we will see below, it is related to a famous nineteenth-century garden at Tivoli with a complex history, built around the falls of the Aniene River. The grotto found at the Villa Torlonia was not forgotten, however, but its counterpart was displaced to the east, where Maymonts Grotto is built into the base of the bluff near the Old Pump House. 

John Singer Sargeant, The Fountain, Villa Torlonia, Frascati, Italy, 1907.

Images and descriptions of the popular garden at Frascati were published by the early 1890s. Edith Wharton said of the Torlonia cascade in 1904, that it is the most beautiful example of fountain-architecture in Frascati. . .  The upper terrace is enclosed by ilexes and in its center is one of the most beautiful fountains in Italy-- a large basin surrounded by a richly sculptured balustrade”[10] According to Henry Baskervills niece, the Dooleys sent him to Italy to acquire garden ornaments and find inspiration, so it entirely possible that he visited Frascati and was impressed by the Villa Torlonia. 

The Meaning of the Garden

Whatever its source, the Italian Garden, as built, seems to embody a kind of multivalent narrative structure with a classical underpinning.  Meaning is suggested by the name Via Florum as inscribed over the entry archway.  The name that could refer either to the rose-covered pergola beyond or to the entire garden as a pathway to an understanding of nature. Garden meaning is here also inherent in the kinds of forms and structures chosen by the Dooleys. Classical architecture, flower beds, fountains, waterfalls, stairs, and grottoes carry an intrinsic meaning.[11]  

Domed summer house at the east end of the pergola

Major Dooley's "Temple"

Temples and Springs

We had quite a loss by the storm also.  Our beautiful temple, that I got in Venice, was blown down and badly broken.  I expect it will cost me some hundreds of dollars to restore it.

                                          James F. Dooley, 1913

One of the few clues we have about James Dooley's vision for the garden is his name for the tiny peripteral Italian gazebo at the eastern end of the Italian Garden, which he had purchased at Venice. He called it "our beautiful temple," and may have seen it as a miniature allusion to the tempiettos placed at the ends of vistas in Baroque gardens. Another classical allusion can be found in the large circular, temple-form "summer house" at the end of the Via Florum pergola- another structure ultimately based in Roman models. Dooley may have intended for these temples to refer to more elaborate temple-form structures in European gardens that carried symbolic and mythological meanings.

Edward Lear, The Waterfall and Temple at Tivoli.

J.M.W. Turner, Tivoli, 1826-27 [Tate Gallery]. The painting shows the
Temple of the Sibyl or Vesta perched high above the waterfall at Tivoli.

The Waterfall

The past few days I have been at Tivoli, and have seen one of the first spectacles of nature. The waterfalls there with the ruins, and the whole complexity of landscapes, are of a class of subjects, acquaintance with which is an enrichment of our whole nature to its utmost reach.


The 45-foot Waterfall, the Dooleys most spectacular garden feature, lies between the Italian Garden terrace and the Japanese Garden. The water supply plans documented in 1908 confirm that the waterfall, readily suggested by the bare rock and jagged cliff left behind by the former quarry, was part of the garden concept from as early as 1907, and that it was seen by the Dooleys not only a backdrop for the as-yet unrealized Japanese Garden, but as a key linking element in the overall design garden design. At first the cascade appears to have been relatively small. The volume of the waterfall was increased after 1911, very likely so that it could be more effective when seen from the new Japanese Garden below. The upper part of the falls beside the cascade was at the same time improved by the creation of a series of ledges, possibly to enhance its appearance from the cascade stairs.

Maymont Waterfall with the Italian Garden seen above and the edge of the Cascade to the right.

The context of the Maymont Waterfall, with the circular "summer house" temple placed high above it, resemble the dramatic gorge at Tivoli, where the antique, circular Temple of Vesta is perched at the head of a famous gorge caused by the waterfall of a branch of the Tiber. The gorge in ancient times had been selected by powerful Romans as a site for a series of cool summer retreats. It was developed as a picturesque public park by Pope Gregory XVI in 1843. The park was known as the Villa Gregoriana. Until about 1915, this naturalistic landscape flanking the waterfalls at Tivoli was one of the principal destinations on the Grand Tour. Since the nearby Villa d'Este, with its famous terraces and fountains, was closed to the public during the early years of the 20th century, the principal experience of many visitors of the watery landscape of Tivoli was the Villa Gregoriana. 

The popular Baedeker tourist guide for 1896 said of the Villa Gregoriana:

"Visitors. . . . reach a Terrace planted with olives, whence we obtain a charming view of the Temple of the Sybyl above us, and, below, of the new waterfall (about 330 ft. high). . . We now return to the path, which descends at first in zigzags and afterwards in steps, We descend to the lowest point to which it leads and finally mount a flight of stone steps, wet with spray, to the fantastically shaped Siren's Grotto."[12]
Perhaps more than any other landscape south of the Alps, the Tivoli waterfall was identified by poets and artists with the concept of the Sublime [13] The wild scene, topped by the circular temple, was depicted countless times by painters including Lorraine, Poussin, Ingres, and Turner. At the bottom of the gorge, below the ruins of ancient Roman villas, were several cave-like grottos, identified with subterranean gods and river nymphs, which caught the imagination of visitors. The cliff in the former quarry at Maymont presented the Dooley's with an opportunity to recreate, on a smaller scale, a sense of the sublime like that at Tivoli.  


Consuls, emperors, and popes, the great men of every age, have found no better way of immortalizing their memories than by the shifting, indestructible, ever new, yet unchanging, upgush and downfall of water. They have written their names in that unstable element, and proved it a more durable record than brass or marble.

                              Hawthorne, The Marble Faun [14]

Water, both still and moving, has been an essential feature of garden design in the West since Roman times. The harnessing of the power of water for the improvement of mankind is symbolized in a garden by its channeling into jets and pools. As constructed between 1908 and 1911, the Maymont waterworks, including the picturesque Water Tower that supplied the fountains at Maymont, relied on established systems of hydraulic engineering familiar from the gardens of Italy and France.[15] The most famous Italian gardens, like those in the hills around Frascati, received their water from copious streams and aqueducts at higher elevations.

In his Italian Gardens of 1894, American architect Charles Platt describes how the fountains worked: one of the chief peculiarities of the villas at Frascati is the importance given to such reservoirs. Frequently the water has to be brought from a long distance, and before it is distributed through the fountains and watercourses it is concentrated in a large reservoir at the highest point of the villa, and of this a feature of unusual interest is made.”[16]

“Reservoir at the top of the Cascade, Villa Torlonia,”
Geoffrey Alan Jellicoe. Italian Gardens of the Renaissance, 1925 

Maymont's reservoir today, a recreation of the hilltop pool at the Villa Torlonia.

Like the Cascade, the Fountain Pool at Maymont had its model in the reservoir at the top of the Villa Torlonia gardens. It is likely, based on a 1908 piping layout, that the waterfall was initially intended to be fed only by the outflow from the bottom of the cascade. It seems likely that the waterfall was enlarged in 1911-12 and given a new outlet under the upper terrace wall to improve its appearance from the Japanese Garden. At the same time, the architects added a new garden feature, the Fountain Pool, at the east end of the Carriage House. It served, not only as a beautiful oval basin served by a high central jet, but as a nine-foot-deep reservoir or tank to supply additional water to the waterfall.[17] The reservoir seems to have been needed to reduce the pressure from the water tower in order to make more volume available to the cascade and the expanded waterfall. The reservoir was later reduced in depth from nine feet to just a few feet. 

Unlike the terrain surrounding Rome, the plateaus around Richmond were high and dry. Drinking water was drawn from springs in the hillsides (several were exploited as part of the landscape at Maymont) and from the elaborate canal system that skirted the falls of the James River and supplied the citys many mills. As was the case in the gardens of the French king at Versailles, up-to-date machines, like the gasoline pump that remains in place within the Old Pump House near the Grotto, were needed at Maymont to move the increasing amounts of water from low-lying streams into reservoirs or tanks elevated above the gardens. 

The Maymont Grotto today.

The Grotto

And after having remained at the entry some time, two contrary emotions arose in me, fear and desire, fear of the threatening dark grotto, desire to see whether there were any marvelous things within it.
                                                     Leonardo da Vinci

Extensive use of water and shade emphasize the garden at Maymont as a cool retreat from the heat and activity of the city. As was the case at the Villa Gregoriana at Tivoli, the path extending from the lower terminus of the Cascade originally led down by a series of zigzags, not to the Japanese Garden, but towards the Grotto added in 1911-12, which is the actual termination (or beginning) of the Italian Garden.

The grotto at the base of the bluff, with its dripping tufa ceiling artificially fed by pipes and its embedded stalactites, restored in 2007, provides not only an allusion to the idea of coolness found in subterranean retreats like the grottos at Tivoli and Villa Torlonia, but to the power of the earth (reinforced by the pair of flanking lion sculptures) and to messages obtained from the underworld. In contrast to formal gardens and bright uplands, artificial grottos were intended as places within the country house landscape to contemplate the irregular, hidden or grotesque aspects of the natural world."[18] While some grottos were lined with shells and featured figures of river gods, stalactites and stalagmites were brought from Virginia caverns to realistically line Maymonts Grotto.

Arnold Houbraken- Aeneas and the Sibyl in the Underworld

The progress of mythical heros such as Aeneas from earth to the underworld and back was re-enacted in the Baroque gardens of Europe by movement between highly finished pieces of architecture and the rough forms of rustic stone formations such as grottos. The Aeneid was a key textbook of the classical education enjoyed by Major Dooley. It is possible, but by no means certain, that James Dooley may have been thinking, not only of grottoes in Italian gardens, but of the Sibyls Grotto in Cumae, near which Virgils Aeneas descended into Hades to receive predictions of the future greatness of Rome. On the other hand, the Grotto at Maymont may simply serve to underline the value of water within and without the garden as a source of life and meaning. 

Japanese Garden today
Japanese Garden

Fine natural cascades abound all over Japan, but, on the principle of following classical models, it is customary, in an elaborate garden, to represent a famous waterfall in the south of China known to the Japanese as Rozan.      

                                                                        Josiah Conder, 1893

The Japanese Garden at Maymont, reached by descending the Italian cascade fountain, was one of the most spectacular of a number of similar private gardens built in the period before the First World War. Immediately following the creation of the Italian Garden, the Japanese Garden was created, based in a former quarry at the base of the naturalistic 45-foot waterfall made possible by the Dooleys waterworks. It was built in 1911-12, probably by Japanese landscape gardener Y. Muto. He came to the U.S. in response to the increasing elite interest in Japanese arts in America. This followed the opening of Japan to commerce and displays of Japanese decorative arts and gardening traditions at international fairs like the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition of 1876 and the Worlds Columbian Exposition of 1893. The new garden brought out the natural beauty in what was, as a quarry on the edge of a canal basin, a former industrial site. Like other Japanese-style gardens in America, the Maymont example is as much a product of the interests of its patrons as it is a representation of the spiritual and aesthetic themes of Japanese gardening traditions.


James Dooleys classical studies had prepared him to appreciate Italy and the new garden he and Sallie May Dooley planned was a dramatic departure from what preceded at Maymont. It was also dramatically different from anything Richmond had ever seen. The classical past inspired temples and the big waterfall, while a love for the Renaissance and Baroque villas on the outskirts of Rome led them to build an American version of an Italian garden that, with its cliff-top terraces and bubbling fountains, would astound friends and visitors.

Maymont became a public park in 1926, Since that time it has evolved into an extensive, interconnected landscape filled with opportunities for enjoyment and learning that can be understood by a close reading of its landscape and materials. Information about the estate, such as the embedded classical references or the concealed hydraulics that bring the gardens to life, can spark additional interest in the estate and gardens.


[1] Wheary, typescript, The Italian Garden at Maymont, 1999, 2009.
[2] “Ever since [1893], Mrs. Dooley has been devoting her time and energies and her studies to making this place beautiful.  We do not cultivate it for profit; we tried to get it in grass, and make it as beautiful as possible, and to that end she put out six hundred rose bushes and thousands of other flowers, and purchased the most costly evergreens from all parts of the world, and all those beautiful cherry trees they have in Japan, at great cost, and set them out in this place. She has covered it with the work of her own hands and some twenty men we have there. . . . from Dooley testimony 1906, files of Maymont Foundation.
[3] Wheary, 2000, 2009.
[4] Richmond Times-Dispatch, 12 October 1908].
[5] Barr Feree, American Estates and Gardens, 1904, quoted in Dale Wheary, Maymont, Gilded Age Estate, An interpretive Overview. 2000, revised 2013.
[6] Noland and Baskervill, Plan Showing Part of Maymont, Country Seat of Major James H. Dooley, March 1908.
[7] Noland and Baskervill, Sketch for Garden at Maymont."
[8] A contemporary article, dated 12 October, 1908, gives him credit for the concept of the garden, and says he began the work while his wife was away for the summer as a surprise for her. This was, probably, at least an exaggeration, since the earliest drawings date from 1907 and Sallie May Dooley would likely have shared in so important a development, but it demonstrates Major Dooleys full imaginative involvement [Richmond Times-Dispatch, 12 October 1908, cited in Wheary, 2000].
[9] Richmond Times-Dispatch 12 October 1908.
[10] Edith Wharton, Italian Villas and Their Gardens, 1904.
[11] Certainly, the books and commentaries available at the time concentrate on garden form and ignore any deeper meaning, except in a few instances where the forms and materials themselves constitute the meaning, as in Edith Whartons observation quoted above.
[12] Italy: Handbook for Travelers. Second Part, Central Italy and Rome. Leipsic and London, Karl Baedeker, 12th edition (1896)
[13 Kristina Taylor, Villa Gregoriana at Tivoli: an overlooked Sublime landscape. The Garden History Society.
[14] The American author Nathaniel Hawthorne published The Marble Faun: or The Romance of Monte Beni in 1860. The popular and influential work, part Gothic romance and part travel book, is set in the gardens and ruins of mid-nineteenth-century Rome. Its romantic plot traces the adventures of three American artists and a mysterious young Italian aristocrat. It confirmed a strong American interest in Italian art and culture.
[15] A March 1908 site plan shows that the original hydraulic system consisted of a five-inch pipe that ran south of the stone barn from the eastern edge of the property and ended at the head of the cascade, as yet unbuilt. At first glance, it looks like Major Dooley at first made use of the city water supply to power the rustic fountain and the hose bibs in the upper terrace, which was all that had been completed. It is also possible that the 5-inch pipe ran from the water tower along the service road to a point near the Hampton Street Gate and then returned to the garden along the south side of the Stone Barn. The new 50,000-gallon water tower next to the Coach House was designed in July 1908 and probably completed in 1909.
[16] Charles A. Platt. Italian Gardens, New York: Harper and Bros, 1896. 
[17] Noland and Baskervill, Pool at Maymont, February 1911.
[18] Naomi Miller, Heavenly Caves: Reflections on the Garden GrottoBraziller, 1982.