Richmond Views was created to share images from the Harris Stilson photography collection and to compliment Richmond In Sight. Harry was my great-grandfather and a Richmond streetcar motorman whose camera rode the cars with him every day from 1909-1934. My books, presentations, and the images I share on WWBT Channel 12’s Face book page on Throwback Thursday are my gift of love to Richmond and are usually of people and places that Harry knew. A discovery yesterday inspired me to write about…flowers.

Howard Lynch, hand-colored flowers on Grayland Avenue porch

Howard Lynch, hand-colored flowers on Grayland Avenue porch

Harry Stilson loved flowers. Maymont was delighted when we donated photos and a film he took (in color!) of the Italian Gardens and other sites in the park. Those movies were taken around 1930. His passion for growing flowers is evident in his journal entries as he recorded details about his flower beds. One set of photos was labeled “Harry in his dahlia garden”. He even rented a vacant lot across the street from his home on Grayland Avenue to expand his horticultural efforts.

Flower boxes on Stilson home, Grayland Avenue

Flower boxes on Stilson home, Grayland Avenue


His wife, Mary, was a Garden Club member and as passionate about flowers as Harry. She introduced him to a flower called the night-blooming cereus which blooms once a year…for a single night. He sat up for two nights so he wouldn’t miss this unique event.

Mary wrote "first night-blooming cereus Harry ever saw"

Mary wrote “first night-blooming cereus Harry ever saw”


So what convinced me to write about flowers today? Yesterday I found a single pink lady slipper in the edge of my woods. These delicate and rare flowers, a member of the orchid family, grew on our family property in Bon Air but I have never seen any on my land until yesterday. So, like Harry Stilson, I wanted to document this fragile gift and to share it. Our pictures were taken with the new, very expensive Canon T3I camera that we bought for use in working with Harry’s negatives and photographs.

Single pink lady sliper

Single pink lady sliper

Harry’s pictures, on the other hand, were taken with a variety of cameras, two of which I inherited along with his tripod and other accessories. I also have his moving picture camera with its entire history documented,starting with the journal entry “Miss Day of Galeski Optical has loaned me free of charge a moving picture camera and projection in the hopes that I will buy one in the coming year” to the actual camera in its original box, complete with instructions and price list, to the movies which are now restored thanks to our partnership with VCU Libraries, and finally to the photograph of Harry, movie camera in hand, filming the movie that we possess and will be sharing in presentations.

Harry Stilson's moving picture camera

Harry Stilson’s moving picture camera

Inside view of Harry's moving picture camera

Inside view of Harry’s moving picture camera


I also have a photo of the secretary his wife built (you heard right…his wife) upon which Harry’s camera and moving picture camera were displayed. Oh, yeah…I also have the secretary. How cool is that?

The Stilson secretary

The Stilson secretary

Mary Stilson built  this miniature secretary for her son, Leon

Mary Stilson built this miniature secretary for her son, Leon


Having said all that, I hope you understand why I felt an entry about flowers was appropriate. What I found yesterday is no night-blooming cereus but it’s a gift. A awe-inspiring, rare gift…kind of like the Harris Stilson collection. A gift from my family to every family who ever lived in the city where streetcars ran, Harry’s beloved Richmond, Virginia. Even if you never lived here, this gift is for you.
Mary Stilson's cactus with enormous blooms on my porch

Mary Stilson’s cactus with enormous blooms on my porch

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