Part of Richmond’s charm is the many encapsulated “neighborhoods” within its boundaries. The Fan (name derived from its shape on paper with its streets “fanning” out) has its own identity, different from Church Hill or Oregon Hill. Bon Air, the Victorian resort where families withdrew for its “good air”, was where I grew up.  A century later, that sense of withdrawing from the city to a pastoral serenity prevails.

Early Bon Air was kind of a 1900 version of today’s Richmonders going to ‘tha rivah’. Families relocated for the summer, some staying in the Bon Air Hotel on Buford Road. I was raised on stories of men strolling down to the train station, coffee cup in hand, commuting to downtown Richmond, my grandmother riding her horse to work at the post office (a building on Rockaway, maybe 8’x10′, still there), playing baseball against Midlothian coal miners. The city was so far from country life in Bon Air that my great-grandmother mailed fresh eggs to cousins in Church Hill.

Our family compound, located on Huguenot Road, is anchored by the 1760 home,Strawberry Hill. Its history includes  court sessions held in the front yard, with my great-grandfather as magistrate. My grandmother loved to tell the story of the accused whose lawyer told him he would definitely be convicted so he hightailed it off through the field and woods, where he was finally captured and returned to trial…where he was, indeed, convicted.

My grandparents, Sue and Ernest Sneed, built Sneed’s Store and Service Station in 1930 from ‘recycled’ materials. In other words, they dismantled an attached shed and rebuilt it as a grocery store. Several years ago, I met a man who told me his family room ceiling was the tin ceiling from Sneed’s Store. When it was torn down, his brother was one of the workers and he hauled it home for yet another life. My grandparents would have loved the idea that the tin ceiling, given to them from a previous building, used in their store for decades, lives on in Bon Air.

The store served as community center, news central and credit center. Items were “charged” in a handwritten ledger.  Check the prices…gas $1.65 and it filled the tank!

Life was simpler then. When my mom was little, her daddy walked home through the field for his hot lunch, leaving the store unattended. If someone needed gas, they honked and he left his meal to serve them. When Granddaddy died, the Richmond Times Dispatch wrote “his station was a community center in the way that the old general stores were, and Mr. Sneed was confessor, friend-in-need and counselor for many of his neighbors.”

As a child, Huguenot Road was two lanes, with little traffic. The fire department was volunteer. Thanks to the baby boom, school was held in shifts, with classes in Bon Air Methodist and Bon Air Baptist until Crestwood Elementary was completed to handle the overflow from Bon Air Elementary.

When I was growing up, most of Bon Air was related to me. I sent postcards (from tha rivah) to my grandmother, addressed to “Momee, Bon Air, Virginia” and she got them. These days, I have to add a last name and zip code but you can’t yell ‘hey’ without a Sneed or two answering ‘hey’ back at you. And it’s still “bon” to me.

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