Archives for posts with tag: Byrd Park

Red-lining wasn’t a term on my radar until I became a Realtor in 1986. It’s the practice of drawing map lines on minority neighborhoods to designate “risky” loan areas for lenders. I grew up in Richmond very much aware of segregation in housing but not the word “red-lining.” When my great-grandfather, Harry Stilson, ran a Richmond streetcar route from 1909 until his death in 1934, neighborhoods were segregated…sort of.

Denny or Henry

                                                 Don’s neighbor holding the Stilson cat

Jackson Ward was comprised mostly of African-Americans and Jewish immigrants and there was separation within the neighborhoods but you might have a pocket of three or four Jewish families, then black, then Jewish again. For a while, Harry lived in the Byrd Park area on Gilbert Street and they must have had black neighbors because my great-uncle Don was photographed beside his African-American friend and one envelope of negatives described “Don and his colored friends from the neighborhood playing in the yard.” City neighborhoods were segregated but often block by block or even house by house. My oral history sources confirmed that in their stories. Aleck Mollen’s father, a Jewish storeowner in Shockoe Bottom, lived above the family store and rented the basement to a black family. Mr. Mollen said “They lived there and they didn’t bother us and we didn’t bother them. We just all lived there.” One of my white sources recalled that his family was so poor that they envied the black kids whose families owned their homes.

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                        Jewish storekeepers Mr. & Mrs. Shurrick’s store, 17th & Fairfield

Lenders weren’t concerned about making (or not making) loans to African-Americans in particular areas because they didn’t give mortgages to any black folks. In those days, there were few borrowing options available to African-Americans and insurance was rarely offered to blacks.

093 belmont

Social organizations such as the Independent Order of St. Luke and the Astoria Beneficial Society filled that gap. Members paid dues and were eligible for burial insurance or medical bill assistance. Harry noted a donation in his journal: “3/2/19 To help bury a colored man .25” so the practice of pitching in extended beyond social societies.

0055 hearse

Hearse (third vehicle down) at tobacco factory, Bowe Street, presumably belonging  to                                          African-American funeral home across street

Maggie L. Walker was instrumental in offering mortgages and encouraging home ownership to African-Americans in Richmond through her St. Luke Penny Saving Bank but owning a home was difficult for minorities and to have Census records state that your home was “O” (owned) instead of “R” (rented) was a matter of extreme pride. Harry Stilson’s friend Samuel F. Sparrow and his wife Mary C. Sparrow owned their house at 602 Elizabeth Street. Harry took house pictures for them to share on a trip to Philadelphia. I wish I could identify that home but it’s an unlabeled house in a collection of hundreds of unidentified locations and 602 Elizabeth Street no longer exists. Across the street from Maggie L. Walker Governor School, Elizabeth Street is just a block long these days and the Sparrow home only exists in Harry’s journal and perhaps in a Stilson photograph. I find satisfaction in reading in the 1920 U.S. Census that a railroad porter and his wife were homeowners and knowing that my great-grandfather was a visitor in their home on several occasions.

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                                                   Sam & Mary Sparrow & Mary Taylor

As a real estate broker and as an American, it appalls me to hear that African-Americans still face discrimination in lending. Studies document vast discrepancies in the number of approved loans of households whose only differences were color. It was wrong in Harry’s time and it’s even more unacceptable in his great-granddaughter’s time.  Knowing how hard Sam & Mary Sparrow worked to own their home, it breaks my heart to think that families today can’t do the same. Harry Stilson wouldn’t approve of red-lining and we shouldn’t allow it either.


On this Fourth of July, how about a collage of images of traditional events celebrating our Declaration of Independence from England?  Because I’m heading out to a family celebration later and have to get the homemade ice cream frozen, I don’t have time to look for photos dated July 4th in my great-grandfather’s collection (it’s 5,000 images, after all!) but we’ll start with a photo of the graveyard of St. John’s Church where Patrick Henry gave his “Give me liberty or give me death” speech. If you have never seen a re-enactment of that speech, you need to correct that this summer. Go to for schedules.


The next pictures are of a Monument Avenue 4th of July parade. Harry also took movies of this event which show cadets, soldiers, and others. There’s also a Confederate entry in the parade. Last July 4th I wrote my blog about bands so you might want to scroll back to that for those pictures. Parades, music, fireworks.  All part of our national celebration.

Monument ave band

Fourth of July means vacation for some and that means BEACH. It did even in Harry Stilson’s day. He took mini-vacations (all that his streetcar schedule allowed) to Virginia Beach, Buckroe, Newport News, Yorktown, and the Bay. That means, of course, that he took photos of the beach, too. First picture is Virginia Beach, second is beauty pageant at Virginia Beach (I also have movies of that), third is Yorktown ferry, and fourth is Virginia Beach Coast guard station. Last is what the beach looked like back then.

crowd   contest

yorktown ferry    coast guard

houses on beach

If you couldn’t get to the beach, there was Shields Lake. Harry took pictures of divers as well as movies, which I share in presentations. If you have a pool that requires maintaining the chlorine, you throw in a few tablets. At Shields Lake, this man went around the lake dispensing chlorine from his boat. That allowed the swimmers to cool off in the humid Richmond summer days.

diving  chlorinating

Idlewood Park, now absorbed into the Downtown Expressway and Fountain Lake, was the place for ice-skating in winter and boating in summer. The buildings in the background are still there if you want to match then and now. Idlewood rowers

The Fourth also means baseball. Whether it’s a neighborhood kids’ team or the Squirrels at the Diamond, which will always be Parker Field to me, it’s as American as mom and apple pie. Here’s a team at Byrd Park. By the way, in Harry’s time, the Virginia State Fair was held on the grounds where the Diamond stands today. this team is at Idlewood Park/Byrd Park.

ball team

When life in these United States feels like it’s careening ahead like the roller coaster at Virginia Beach behind Harry here, it’s comforting to recall that a century after Harry Stilson preserved these summer scenes, we’re still celebrating with the same activities.


Easter in Richmond… white dogwoods, symbolic of Jesus on the cross, pink dogwoods a dash of color among the white, azaleas, stunning in their brilliance, purple wisteria languidly dripping from branches…aren’t we grateful to be living in Richmond, Virginia?
Harry Stilson’s photo collection includes a bouquet of floral photographs. He even took ‘moving pictures’ of flowers. Not sure why since they looked pretty sedentary to me but they’re a pleasure to see what grew here in the early 1900s. He also documented Spring in all its glory and especially Easter. Byrd Park had an annual Easter egg hunt and I don’t know if the Stilson grandchildren participated or not but they did get baskets filled with candy. The evidence is below:


Grayland Gang at Easter

Grayland Gang at Easter

The older girl is Minnie Arnold, a Grayland Avenue neighbor. She pops up frequently in Harry’s pictures and took photographs with her own Brownie camera. Her next-door neighbor, Mr. Stilson, developed them for her. I even have a picture of her with her camera, reminiscent of so many pictures of Harry, camera in hand. The other kids are Howard and Norma Kathleen Lynch, my father and aunt and the background is Grayland Avenue.
Another tradition in Byrd Park was the May Pole and of course, Harry documented the celebration. I remember my mom making me a blue dress for a May Pole (what do you call it? Dance? Wrapping?) Whatever it’s called, I was a participant of that whatever at Miss Susan Gary’s play school in Bon Air. I probably wasn’t as graceful as these girls are but our home movies include scenes from the May Pole dance . Obviously, May Day is worth recording both in the early 1900s and the early 1950s.

084 May pole

May Pole at Byrd Park

Richmond offers a multitude of Easter activities, from egg hunts to the Easter Parade on Monument Avenue. My aunt, Margaret, wasn’t in a parade but her grandfather, Harry, labeled the picture “Margaret out on the town” so she was kind of “on parade.”

014 MAL

Margaret dressed up on Grayland Avenue


My mom has barbeque, potato salad, and all the fixin’s for about 120 people every year.  Originally it was the Sneed family, but now it encompasses a large “extended family”. The egg hunt is massive, four separate areas, about 750 eggs. It won’t be the same this year without my aunt, Sue Bahen, egg-hiding supervisor and assigner-of-ages-and-areas-for-hunters but we’ll feel her presence. For decades, my grandmother, Sue Sneed Fleming, made about 100 little construction Easter baskets and filled them with jelly beans. All of the cousins have cherished memories of running to Momee for our little paper basket and a hug. Memories like those don’t die. Like Spring and Easter itself, they are resurrected and are kept in our hearts forever.
The “extended family” I mentioned includes my niece’s brother-in-law who visits from the Netherlands. His girlfriend told Mom that wisteria is called “blue rain” in the Netherlands. Yeah, I can see that. Whatever you call it, it’s elegant but somehow decadent. When I’m not cutting it back and cursing it, I’m in love with it. Just like I’m in love with Richmond, especially this time of year.
In summary, Richmond is a delight in the Spring and a joy at Easter. Parks beckon, parades amuse, and children’s laughter rings out as they discover yet another colored egg, maybe even the prize egg at the Sneed Family Easter egg hunt. Go on, make some memories. And don’t forget the camera. One day Richmonders will be poring over your images and feeling grateful to live in RVA.