It’s really hot here in Richmond. You hear people saying “I wonder how they survived before air conditioning!” Well, here’s how. This is Harry Stilson’s backyard at 3021 Grayland Avenue, then known as Chaffin Street. For the uninitiated, that’s between Carytown (which is on what was called Westhampton Avenue) and the Downtown Express. These girls were neighbors, one named Isabel. He also took moving pictures of them cooling off in a hose. Those films, now restored, will be available as presentations by Richmond In Sight. We’ll be showing them around town so stay tuned.

Grayland Avenue's answer to the beach

Grayland Avenue’s answer to the beach

The miracle is that folks back then survived the suits, hats and gloves considered required attire even in Richmond’s heat. Here’s the water festival at Shields Lake image to remind you that shorts, T-shirts and flip flops lost out to formal attire in the early 1900s.

Shields Lake water festival

Shields Lake water festival

The Stilsons fled to the beach to escape the heat but they also liked fishing on the Chesapeake Bay so Deltaville and Yorktown fishing trips appear regularly in the Stilson collection. Again, all beach and ocean excursions demanded proper dress. Harry’s son, Don, and daughter, Anita, must have been sweltering at Virginia Beach.

Anita and Don Stilson, Virginia Beach

When the Stilsons moved from Michigan in 1907, Harry and his son Leon rode to Orange, Virginia in a freight car with the stock. Family finances took a hit when their chickens, unaccustomed to Virginia humidity, died of the heat shortly after the move. This picture isn’t in Unionville, where they rented a farm, but in Richmond, at their neighbor’s house. I’m guessing that Mrs. Garber’s hens were Richmond-bred and pragmatic about the stifling heat.

Chickens on Grayland Avenue

Chickens on Grayland Avenue

I realize that this blog entry is all over the place but then so is my family’s life these days. My daughter Anne and her husband are having triplets and things have been a bit hectic. She’s in the hospital until the babies are born but I was overdue on sharing more of Harry’s stuff so I’m throwing this together in a hurry. I hope you will forgive me. I’m not promising to do better in the future. I think God strikes you dead for THAT kind of lie and three little baby girls will need me to change them so I don’t want to take the chance on missing some of the fun ahead.
If you’re in Richmond and suffering hot, humid days, just remember it could be worse. At least you don’t have to wear wool suits to go to the grocery store or park. Bring on the T-shirts and flip flops…

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