“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.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018


The Union Hotel, Main at Nineteenth
streets, built in 1817 to the
designs of Otis Manson.
This is the second part of a series on the Taverns and Hotels of Richmond. The first part is found here. The demand on the part of travelers and visitors for food and overnight lodging has usually been met by the provision of rooms (or beds) rented by the night in buildings provided by private enterprise, unless capital for that purpose exceeded local resources. In that case, institutions or individual landowners would provide guest lodging.  Over time, the building types that served travelers changed in response to changing levels of prosperity and demand.  The American luxury hotel, typified by Richmonds Jefferson Hotel of 1895, had its origins in the early nineteenth-century taverns and hotels financed by merchants and developers to ease travel, promote business interests, and answer civic and social needs.

This new building type appeared in Richmond in 1817.  The Union Hotel, located at Main and Nineteenth streets, was built for Dr. John Adams and designed by architect Otis Manson, who was associated on at least one project with architect Robert Mills (he and Mills prepared plans for a new Richmond City Jail that wasnt built at about the same time [Records of the Common Hall, 17 March 1817]). It represented a more architecturally sophisticated response to the demand for overnight accommodations, the first to rise above the primitive level of inns and taverns [Scott]. 

The Union Hotel from Charles H. Corey, A History of Richmond Theological Seminary. Richmond VA: Union University, 1895. Probably originally part of hotel promotional literature.
Its architectural form responded to the development of the first-class hotel as a civic amenity in major American cities. The most notable example of the new hotel was the Exchange Coffee House in Boston, a remarkable seven-story structure, designed by architect Asher Benjamin, that provided 300 rooms, banquet halls, and other public amenities. Its destruction by fire [in 1818] was a civic calamity [Daniel Boorstin, The Americans, 1966, 136].

The Exchange Coffee House in Boston [Wikipedia].
Like the Boston building, the Union Hotel featured an applied exterior architectural treatment and unprecedented height. Dr. John Adams must have intended that the new Richmond hotel serve a similar role in the city. The row of tall windows on the main floor suggests two entertaining rooms on the interior.   Manson provided the four-story hotel with a tall piano nobile with arch-headed floor-length windows that was topped by a two-story row of applied Doric half columns fronting the bedroom floors. The walls, stuccoed to resemble stone, were terminated in a pattern book Doric entablature featuring carved paterae between the triglyphs. The building was sheltered under a shallow hipped roof with a balustraded deck. A three-story wing stood to the rear. The cupola in the advertising lithograph shown above was probably added by the artist to improve the view, which was intended to show how large the building was.
Detail of the Union Hotel's cornice, 1865.

The Union Hotel in the period immediately after the Civil War [VCU archive]. Like many earlier taverns, it featured a wide portico across the front.
As Bryan Clark Green has observed, Richmond hotels, beginning with the Union Hotel, had about a twenty-year life-span before they appeared outmoded [NR form, Ninth Street Office Building]. By the early 1840s, when the Exchange Hotel was built, equipped with toilets, central heat, and running water, the Union Hotel was no longer fashionable. Although it was returned to use as a hotel, it was rented as the site of the predecessor of the Medical College of Virginia when the school was opened in 1838. It was used as barracks in 1847 during the Mexican-American War, but was back in operation in 1850, when it was visited by President Zachary Taylor [Christian]. It was purchased in 1870 by the trustees of the Richmond Institute, forerunner of Virginia Union University, as the colleges main academic building. In much the same way, the Exchange was replaced in favor by the Spottswood Hotel, new in 1859-60 and the favorite of Confederate politicians and officers.

In spite of the ostensible twenty-year rule, the ancient Eagle Tavern maintained its superlative reputation for decades, even in competition with newer hostelries. In 1825, Lafayettes dinner at the Eagle Tavern was matched by one at the newer Union Hotel. John Tyler was entertained at the Union Hotel in 1827 (and again in 1836), but John Randolph was feted at the Eagle in 1827 and the Washington birthday ball was held there in 1832. The Eagle, by this time known as a hotel, burned in 1839 [Christian]. No image survives of this popular place of entertainment. According to one source, a popular song in Richmond during the antebellum period included the lines I dined at the Union, got drunk at the Bell, and lost all my money at the Eagle Hotel [John K. Trammell. Travelers to War-time Richmond, Americas Civil War, Sept 1996, http://www.historynet.com/travelers-to-wartime-richmond-sept-96-americas-civil-war-feature.htm].

Exchange Hotel with the second bridge to the Ballard House.

The elevation of the Exchange Hotel can be seen in this 1845 Virginia Mutual policy at the top and the central courtyard can be seen in the 1851 Virginia Mutual policy below.

The cupola of the Exchange Hotel can be seen seen here from the west in a detail from an 1865 panorama [center right, Library of Congress].
The Exchange Bank opened in June 1841 and the new Exchange Hotel the next month. The name Exchange is a clue to the buildings proposed use by merchants and dealers to further their business. It was built near the tobacco warehouses at the foot of Shockoe Hill for a stock company of Richmond businessmen. Their intention was to encourage commerce by providing visitors to the city with a luxurious and even palatial hotel. After that date, most entertainments were held at the Exchange, including one for Charles Dickens in the following year [Christian]. The front was ornamented with four colossal, engaged, Ionic columns supporting a massive entablature and flaked by tall narrow, bow-fronted bays. The building was topped by a cupola resembling a circular Roman temple. The interior featured marble floors, a large vestibule ornamented with statuary, a great hall, a ladies dining room, a gentlemens drawing rooms, a dining room accommodating 300, reading rooms, and a ballroom, all surrounding a landscaped central courtyard [Bryan Clark Green et al, Lost Virginia: Vanished Architecture of the Old Dominion, 2001: 175].

The St. Charles Hotel can be seen to the far left and the Exchange Hotel to the right in this 1860s panorama of the city looking west from Church Hill.


Byrds Warehouse, site of the Exchange Hotel, in 1835. The trapezoidal site became available after the warehouse burned. Like the warehouse, the hotel was well placed at the foot of the hill between the lower commercial city and the upper capitol.

The Exchange Hotel and Ballard House seen on the 1876 Beers Map. The central courtyard of the Exchange was improved with paths and a central element such as a fountain.

The Exchange Hotel represented a new version of the first-class hotel taking shape in most of the nations major cities. Beginning with Isaiah Rogers Tremont House of 1827-30 in Boston, American hotels borrowed from the monumental forms of  public buildings.  The Tremont House gave an unmistakable impression of elegance and public purpose, for which the Greek-revival orders, stylish in that day, were, of course, admirably suited. . . [and] confirmed a feeling as different as possible from that of the 18th-centry inn [Daniel Boorstin, The Americans: The National Experience, 1966] Rogers Astor House in New York (1832-36), Jacques Bussière de Pouillys St. Louis Hotel in New Orleans (1838), and C.H. Reichardts Charleston Hotel (1839) had extensive reception rooms, fully expressed orders, and central rotundas [Pevsner, Building Types, 175-76]. These were comfortable, even palatial, buildings that employed the architectural orders on both the interior and exterior to create a sense of grandeur and importance for the commercial and social transactions that took place within. 

When Alexander Macay, an English lawyer, visited New Orleans in 1846-47, he remarked that with us hotels are regarded as purely private property, and it is seldom that, in their appearance, the stand out from the mass of private houses around them. In America they are looked upon much more in the light of public concerns, and generally assume in their exterior the character of public buildings. Daniel Boorstin observed that lacking a royal palace as a center of Society, Americans created their counterpart in the community hotel. The Peoples Palace was a building constructed with the extravagant optimism expressly to serve all who could pay the price. . . . From the early days of the 19th century, hotels were social centers. . . . The hotel lobby, like the outer rooms of a royal palace, became a loitering place, a headquarters of gossip, a vantage point for a glimpse of the great, the rich, and the powerful [Boorstin, 1966, 135].

The Ballard House was built across the street from the Exchange Hotel in 1855-56 [1865, LOC].

The five-story Ballard House was built by hotelier John P. Ballard in 1855-56 as a more modern hotel across the street from the Exchange Hotel, which Ballard had purchased in 1851. As can be seen in the photograph from just after the end of the Civil War, the Ballard was a plain tripartite building which relied on the shapes and details of the fenestration to enliven the facade.  Ballard connected the two buildings by a bridge at the second floor level allowing them to share facilities. The first floor of the Exchange was leased out to stores and the cellars were rented for storage. The hotels survived the evacuation fire and were refitted, but were unable to compete with the new Jefferson Hotel after 1895, the Exchange was demolished in 1900 and the Ballard House in 1920 [Virginia Historical Society, A Guide to the Exchange Hotel and Ballard House Records, 1865-1889].  

The main section of the Powhatan House (later Fords Hotel) on Broad Street in the post-Civil War period [Shadows in Silver].

The Powhatan House (later Fords Hotel) seen in a post-Civl War post card, at Eleventh and Broad Streets.http://[mississippiconfederates.wordpress.com/2012/02/03/lines-on-the-back-of-a-confederate-note/]
The Powhatan Boarding House, a four-story brick hotel, fronted on Broad Street north of the Capitol.  It began as a row of commercial structures facing Broad Street and known as Southgates Buildings, which housed shops on the first floor and a boarding house above. In 1831, James McKildoe enlarged Southgates Buildings to make the Powhatan House, which Mary Wingfield Scott says it was the most popular hostelry in the city before the construction of the Exchange Hotel. It was popular with politicians like Daniel Webster and Henry Clay. It was much enlarged over time. When President Millard Filmore visited in 1851, he was put up at what was by then known as the Powhatan Hotel, from which he visited the Constitutional Convention then in session [Christian 173]. In its expanded form, it was later known as Fords Hotel from the 1870s until the early twentieth century [Scott, Old Richmond Neighborhoods, 97]. Like the other taverns and hotels, it featured a wide portico on which guests could watch the activities in the street. The hotel featured a luxurious lobby, dining room, and the usual barroom and barbershop.

Fords Hotel struggled to compete with more modern hotels as time passed. It was closed temporarily for renovations in 1903: from to-day forth the hotel will be known as The Powhatan, a return to its antebellum name. The rates of the renovated and rehabilitated house will be fixed at from 12 to 13 per day, according to accommodations desired. It will be conducted on the American plan. Baths will be put in, everything brightened and renewed and its cuisine and service will be made a feature hereafter [Times Dispatch, 1 October 1903]. The structure was demolished in 1911-12 to be the site of a new city courthouse that was never built [NR form, Ninth Street Office Building and John K. Trammell, "Travelers to wartime Richmond had a wide choice of luxurious hotels, inns and taverns, Civil War Times Sept 1996. http://www.historynet.com/travelers-to-wartime-richmond-sept-96-americas-civil-war-feature.htm].

Many of the hotels of the time are shown on this detail from Ferslewss Map of Richmond (1859) including the Powhatan House , the St. Clair (northwest of the Capitol), the American, the Exchange , the St. Charles , and Union Hotel (in lower right corner).
By 1859, the citys taverns had all been transformed into hotels. Most of these hotels were located in a circuit around the Capitol and few were left in the older part of town east of Shockoe Creek. The citys principal hotels, listed on Ferslews Map of 1859, were as follows:

-The American Hotel (a five-story structure south of the Capitol, at Twelfth and Main, built c 1840). It was rebuilt soon after the war and was later known as the Lexington Hotel. 

-The Exchange Hotel (the hollow square to the right of the center, built 1841)

-The Powhatan House (northeast of the Capitol, 1831)

-The Broad Street Hotel (on the northwest corner of Broad Street and Ninth near the RF&P Railroad Depot)

-The Central Hotel (an enlarged version of the old Washington Tavern west of the Capitol)

-The Columbian Hotel (on the east die of Shockoe Slip)

-The St. Charles Hotel ((labeled City Hotel, southeast of the Exchange, a four-story building at Fifteenth and Main, converted into Confederate Hospital #8, built c 1846)

A view of the American Hotel in 1858 at the corner of Main and Twelfth streets.

The Spottswood Hotel opened just before the Civil War. Seen here in 1865 at the SE corner of Eighth and Main. It burned in 1870 [LOC].

Spottswood Hotel, 1865

Hotels built in the late antebellum years, like the Ballard House, tended to be much less exuberant on the exterior, but even more luxurious and comfortable on the interior.  The new five-story Spottswood Hotel, built at Eighth and Main, was like an elongated version of a Richmond commercial building with no discernable main entry and no colonnade above its cast iron storefronts. Not until 1895, with the opening of the Jefferson Hotel, would Richmond hotels again join civic buildings and churches in employing elaborate architectural detailing. In spite of its plain exterior, when it opened in 1860 the Spottswood Hotel became the citys most popular destination for travelers. Competing against the famous Exchange/Ballard Hotel, it was the favorite hotel for official visitors to the Confederate capital. Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis both took rooms there until permanent homes could be found for them.  

A view of the American Hotel in 1858 at the corner of Main and Twelfth streets.

Immediately after the Civil War, the old hotels were refitted and reopened for business. New hotels, such as the second American Hotel, tended to follow the old patterns with new stylistic flourishes like arched cast iron window heads. 

Not until the 1880s was Richmonds economy recovered sufficiently to think of building a great new hotel to symbolize its joining in the renewed growth of the New South. Lewis Ginter (1824-1897), a extremely wealthy tobacco manufacturer, played the role of civic philanthropist toward the end of his life.  Ginter was a leader in a plan which originated as early as 1882 with the city's chamber of commerce, to construct a modern hotel in the western part of the city, augmenting the superannuated accommodation available downtown [Christian, 1912, 419, 446]. The Exchange Hotel of 1841, and the Ballard Hotel of 1856 undoubtedly appeared to him to be progressive or modern. By 1892 Lewis Ginter had personally taken up the hotel scheme, determined to act as a benefactor and tastemaker to his burgeoning adopted city.  The projects extraordinary scale, complex plan, and high cost suggest that other factors, including the effective boosting of Richmond, outweighed practical profitability among Ginters intentions.

Jefferson Hotel [Department of Historic Resources].
The rectangular site selected by Lewis Ginter for the hotel occupied approximately one-half of a square or block west of downtown Richmond, between Franklin and Main streets, in what had been the city's most fashionable residential neighborhood for many years. The pressure of postwar industry and commerce in the citys old center sparked new construction in the old residential areas to the west. The Franklin Street front was intended from the start to appeal to an elite clientele by its relationships of scale and form to its fashionable residential setting, while the flush Main Street front, which served as an entrance for commercial travelers, responded to the commercial functions located along Main Street and the streetcar line that ran its length.

The Jeffersons Pompeian-style Palm Court with the central statue of Jefferson.

Jefferson Hotel Rotunda before the fire of 1901 that destroyed the south end of the hotel [Cook Collection, Valentine Museum].
The most direct inspiration for the Franklin Street front would seem to have been the Casino at Monte Carlo by Charles Garnier (1878-79). Visitors entering on the Franklin Street front found themselves in a central foyer, called the Marble Hall, detailed in the Doric order. A central archway opposite the entry gave a glimpse of the glazed Palm Court beyond, detailed like a Pompeian peristyle court. A grand staircase led down to a two-story glazed court known as the "Rotunda" or "Office Rotunda" on the lower level which gave access to amenities intended for the hotels male visitors and city residents,  such as a bar room, grill, billiard room, and barber shop. Remarkably, Carèrre and Hastings Rotunda recalled the sculpture court of 1820-39 at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, as roofed with glass in 1867 [see our commentary on the Ecole here].  The architects even imitated and elaborated the slender iron colonnettes that were added to support the gabled glass roof at the École.

Casino de Monte Carlo, Concert Hall, Charles Garnier, 1879

Jefferson Hotel

The young firm of Carrère and Hastings evoked the full depth of French academic classicism at this important project in the opening phase of the American Renaissance. The complexity and originality of the design grew out of the Jefferson's relatively small scale, generous capitalization, expansive functional program, and the personal direction of its developer.  Few commercial enterprises then or later have embodied such an ambitious effort at using art and architecture to fill a social and civic role.
Additional hotels were built in the years following, including Murphy's Hotel, the Hotel Richmond, the William Byrd Hotel, but none equaled the Jefferson, which, in spite of a disastrous fire in 1901, still operates in a substantial part of the original structure.    

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