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This blog is a companion to my Richmond In Sight work. We created that non-profit to preserve, restore, and share the nearly 5,000 surviving images that my great-grandfather, Harry Stilson, took of Richmond and elsewhere in the early 1900s. The sharing part is accomplished by presentations, books, and our online presence so my fourth book continues that effort. Previous ones focused on neighborhoods, with On the West Clay Line (Jackson Ward, Carver, Newtowne, & Navy Hill) and Up & Down Church Hill concentrating on Church Hill and Shockoe but the new book is different. One reader called and said “It grabbed me and pulled me into those boys’ lives. I felt like Leon Stilson was right beside me.” From Richmond to France contains story and images of young men who went to war but it’s not a military history. It’s told in the words of my great-uncle Leon, other soldiers and sailors, and their relatives. It’s more about adjusting to Camp Lee, now Fort Lee, coping with homesickness, straw mattresses, and learning to survive in battle than it is about battles.   

From Richmond book cover

2017 is the 100th anniversary of America’s entrance into World War I. Many of us know little about that time or that war but it was more than a turning point for our country. Before then, America’s military numbered about 135,000…total. We weren’t considered a force to contend with, military or otherwise.  The Great War changed that. We expanded to millions of soldiers and became a world leader. Our presence in France changed the world’s perception of the U.S. but there were other significant effects of America going to war overseas.

mess hall

Wealthy Americans took world tours and traveled to Europe but the majority of ‘soldier boys’ that fought in France had never left the country before. Many had never left their city borders. The impact on their lives can’t be overestimated. They experienced the horrors of war but they were also exposed to other cultures, languages, and architecture that existed centuries before our nation was born. The song “How You Gonna Keep Them Down on the Farm (after they’ve seen Paree)” was popular for a reason. It echoed the sentiments of parents throughout rural America. Their sons came home looking at life through a different lens.

Sam Beasley

American soldiers’ interaction with Europe influenced our nation’s health as well. Returning soldiers and others carried the Spanish Influenza home with them. According to the National Archives, more people died of the flu than were killed in the war. One example of the scope and randomness of that pandemic comes from Clyde Goode whose father served in an engineering company . Ralph Goode survived the war, then returned home to discover that his mother died of the flu while he was en route from France. The epidemic was so prevalent that references to influenza even appeared in my great-grandfather’s journal. Harry described deaths of fellow streetcar men and the survival of a neighbor from the influenza during the war. Death was as near as next door or as distant as an ocean away.

burial at sea

Despite reluctance by veterans to describe battle conditions, details did emerge. Horrific battles with unbelievable carnage left survivors damaged in various ways. Men came home without limbs and with nightmares. One man told me his uncle came home with a wooden hand. Lives changed for those men and for the families who waited for their return.

This isn’t a depressing book of war woes, though. The stories are funny and a glimpse into the innocence of our world in 1917. Leon was introduced to gambling and dancing, to “smokers.” He wrote “This company had a smoker last Tuesday night. I don’t think the word applies very well. We had 5 or 6 wrestling matches and 4 or 5 boxing matches. After that was over and in between, bouts of plenty of music, a piano, banjo, violin, and singing. Then we went downstairs to the mess hall to eat all the ice cream and cake we wanted. Then the cigars and cigarettes were passed out and the men given permission to smoke in the mess hall which is against the rules at all other times. The lights were put out at eleven o’clock and everybody went to bed.”

beans

He explains passes:  “I did not ask to go this week as we have no uniforms as yet and my clothes are dirty. “ He also writes about what happens when young men are away from home and get that pass: “A private took a corporal home with him to Richmond last Saturday and the corporal went out of a house where they had went to visit and took the private’s automobile which he did not know how to drive and proceeded to go crazy on Broad Street and ended up by smashing the car up against a tobacco factory. Now he is in jail with a $50.00 fine unpaid.”

From Richmond to France is also about Armistice, the aftermath of war, and the healing that came later. When a Gold Star Family made news last summer, many Americans were unfamiliar with the term but it was familiar to everyone in the Great War and afterwards. A unique piece of history included Gold Star Mother Pilgrimages. Congress authorized a program in which mothers and widows traveled to France to see their loved ones’ graves so Paris in 1932 is also part of my book.

Eiffel tower

If you read this blog, you’ll appreciate the books based on Harry Stilson’s images and oral histories of Richmonders. I tell people that they aren’t my books. I just assemble them. They’re the stories and the images of our city’s past and they direct our future by lessons within the pages. This story’s time has come.  Contact me directly or go to www.richmondinsight.com to purchase From Richmond to France. Support our efforts to share Harry’s images and be “grabbed” at the same time. I promise that it is a story you won’t soon forget.

5 ton tractor

 

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I spend a lot of time identifying people and places in my great-grandfather’s photos. I also wonder about the children Harry Stilson captured in his images and what their lives were like, what they grew up to be. Black History Month looks back at where we have been but it also looks forward to where we are going, a concern to many. Harry’s streetcar rumbled along the cobblestoned streets of Jackson Ward with his camera tucked beside his seat. I know this because Morris Goldberg told me so and he knew my great-grandfather when Morris was a kid of nine or so.

Morris Goldberg

Mr. Goldberg at Hancock & Clay, site of Goldberg’s Store

I first met Morris after hearing a voice in a crowd say “I knew a streetcar man named Stilson. He let me drive the streetcar.” Those two sentences define Harry in a way. While his surviving 5,000 photographs and movies capture events, places, workers, and more, they include hundreds, maybe thousands, of pictures of children. He took their photographs and sold them to support his photography hobby but many were because they caught his eye and his fancy. I only know these little cuties are girl scouts because Harry described them as “girl scouts marking time waiting for parade.” Richmond had one of the first African-American Girl Scout troops in America and these girls didn’t even have their uniforms yet.

girls scouts bk

He was intrigued by twins. I have dozens of pictures of twins, all ages and colors. I can only imagine his delight had he been able to photograph his great-great-great grandchildren…triplets. These twins appeared in several photos, including one with Harry’s own grandchildren, my father and aunt, which was on Marshall Street.

twins, Jackson Ward reszed

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Harry’s grandkids, Howard & Norma Kathleen Lynch & twins on Marshall Street

Kids in action tickled him. Kids with goat wagons of laundry, kids swimming or diving, teenagers goofing around.

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When the Richmond Times Dispatch wrote about my work, Irma Dillard contacted them to say she was raised on stories of Mr. Stilson watching out for her mom and friends in Jackson Ward. I shared pictures with her of her mother and friends that she had never known existed. Her mom is the girl with the white tights and glasses in the photo below. Her mother became a teacher and I’ve met lots of her former students, which is exciting. Seeing these kids and then knowing that they went on to acquire the education their parents often lacked, to teach and inspire future generations of Richmond kids humbles me.

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Some of Harry’s kids disappeared and have frustrated my efforts to locate descendants. I want to share pictures and collect oral history from their families. Children like “Miss Rubin Lee Moore” as Harry labeled her photo. I can’t find her in census records but an incredible thing happened while I was trying to interview an elderly lady. It was clear that her dementia was advanced. She couldn’t recall where or when she was born but I thought I’d show her the 20 photos I’d brought anyhow. As this image appeared, she said “I knew that child. She was a childhood playmate of mine.” I asked if she remembered her name and she said “Rubin Lee Moore. Her parents were Sadie and Ernest Lee Moore. Her parents went to Hampton Institute with my parents.” I was blown away.

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I know Ernest Lee Moore was an African-American soldier in World War I but I can find no record of Rubin Lee except for Harry’s picture and Mrs. Warden’s identification of a little girl from over 80 years ago. Finding kin nearly a century ago when the name is a common one like Moore is nearly impossible but I still try. These kids matter. Their lives matter. Just one reason I do this work, why I created a non-profit to (hopefully) provide financial assistance for these searches, this slice of Richmond history. I know that one of Harry’s “kids” grew up to teach generations of Richmond children, that her daughter is now an attorney. I want to know more about the rest of Harry’s kids. Don’t you?

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Some Christmas gifts are always in style, always exciting. Riding toys of any sort but especially bicycles or tricycles inspire joy in 1926 or 2016. Richmond In Sight’s collection of my great-grandfather’s photographs prove that. The Harris Stilson Collection includes a few Christmas pictures that could just as easily be now. This tricycle parade was the day after Christmas, 1927 on Carytown’s Grayland Avenue with a neighbor’s mother & grandmother admiring the procession.

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That photograph of my father, Howard Lynch, his sister, Norma Kathleen, neighbor Minnie Arnold and an unknown child is as relevant as the picture that follows below. That’s my triplet grandchildren on a popular “trike” variation: no pedals so kids balance themselves and learn to ride a bicycle easier. At least that’s the theory. First, they need to learn to sit on the seat. There’s a reason parents are young…they need stamina!15731824_10154893722050909_7168745008375094271_o

Some folks are never too old for bikes. Harry Stilson tests his grandson’s new bike in this picture and I can almost hear my father pleading for his bike back.

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Chia pets, pet rocks, and Cindy Lauper attire pass from favor but some toys are timeless. Dolls, trucks, and little structures endure as favorites. I bought my kids Fisher-Price garages, airports, and houses but these are really, really cool, too. Howard and his friend, Ralph Carr, proudly display their gifts and I wish at least one of those had survived for me to treasure decades later.

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Harry looks delighted to be with his grandchildren as they show off their belongings. My aunt Margaret was born with only one full arm but she rode this tricycle and later bicycles and looks thrilled to be doing it.  Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

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Margaret loved dolls. I have a few of her dolls, still but sadly, her Charlie McCarthy ventriloquist doll and her Madame Alexander Dionne quintuplet dolls disappeared over the years.  I do, however, have the china tea set that Margaret is using here. Somehow it survived decades in her basement in an open box. The question is: will it survive the grandchildren?

margarets-tea-party

This child below is NOT happy. Don’t know who she is but she’s the sister of a little boy  in other pictures and I’m guessing they are along Harry’s West Clay Line streetcar route in Jackson Ward. I am always hopeful that someone will see one of Harry’s images and recognize a relative. It’s happened before and is always my Christmas wish.

girl-crying-toys

This last image was captured from a Stilson film and is too timely to leave out. The Byrd Theatre opened December 24, 1928 and we believe this may be the first movie matinee. The kids are all wearing Lindy hats, leather aviator caps imitating Charles Lindbergh because he had recently visited Richmond. Howard and Norma certainly wore theirs with pride. There seems to be a history of movie events at Christmas, huh? Perhaps none as significant as the opening of the historic Byrd Theatre but I know lots of families whose holiday traditions include movies, at home like us with The Muppets Christmas Carol and How the Grinch Stole Christmas (both the “real people” and the “tartoon” version, as my granddaughter calls it) or at the theater. Traditions are priceless and whatever form they take, they are to be cherished.   022-byrd-kids

As you pick up wrapping paper and try to figure out where to store the presents your children received, remember this: some of those toys will be forgotten tomorrow but a few  will be treasured for generations. I know…the triplets love toys from the past.

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This isn’t my usual blog entry. If you enjoy reading Richmond Views, you may know that it is part of Richmond In Sight, which is non-profit and was created to preserve, restore, and share the photography collection of my great-grandfather, Harris Stilson. Harry was a Richmond streetcar motorman (driver) in the early 1900s whose camera never left his side. He was the poor man’s photographer, capturing images of ordinary events like cobblestone repairing and extraordinary events like the return of Richmond troops from France in World War I. People flagged down the streetcar, asked him to take their picture, which he did. He developed the photos and delivered them along the streetcar route.

Those images, some 5,000 of them, are the basis for my books, From A Richmond Streetcar, On the West Clay Line, Up & Down Church Hill, and my upcoming book, From Richmond to France. They are also shared in presentations at venues like historical associations, schools, churches, synagogues, retirement homes, anywhere I am invited. I do those without fee. Sometimes a donation is made to RIS but almost all of my work, from organizing, creating databases, preserving, restoring, writing blogs, social media sharing, presentations, researching, collecting oral histories, identifying people and places in the Stilson collection, writing and publishing books, participating in neighborhood events like Celebrate Jackson Ward, and so much more comes from my own pocket. That brings me to why I am writing today.

Richmond In Sight is a participant in Amazon’s program Amazon Smile. When you purchase from Amazon, you can designate RIS as your chosen organization and Amazon donates a fraction of the purchase price to RIS. We’re talking pennies but I’ll take anything I can get. Doing this work is my gift to Richmond but it’s a very expensive gift and my means are limited. If you purchase items through Amazon, please click on the link that sends a bit of your money to continuing Harry’s projects.

Here’s the really critical part: today is Prime Day, one of the biggest sales days for Amazon and Richmond In Sight can really benefit from your purchases. If you’re taking advantage of special prices today, make your money REALLY count.

Today is #PrimeDay! #StartWithaSmile and @Amazon donates to Richmond in Sight. Go to http://smile.amazon.com/gp/charity/homepage.html?orig=%2Fgp%2Fbrowse.html%3Fnode%3D11448061011&ein=47-1678153

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Hat shop or department, Peggy Gay Hats, undetermined location, Richmond, VA

Now that Black History Month is over, March is Women’s History Month and Richmond In Sight is on top of that, too. Harry Stilson’s wife, Mary, wasn’t your usual “little woman.” Literally, sure, she was tiny but she had the determination and ingenuity of an Amazon. Mary Perry

Mary Elizabeth Perry was born in Michigan in 1885 into a hard life. She lost her father as a child and became responsible for the family’s survival. Mary juggled school and work, fighting to get her education and teacher’s certificate. Once money ran out and the family lived in a tent for six months. The Seventh Day Adventist Church, which the Perry family attended, held camp meetings in tents but those tents weren’t designed for extended periods of habitation. Mary, her mother, and younger brother pitched their “church meeting tent” beside the Grand River and lived there. The photo below isn’t the Perry tent but it’s similar to the one they owned. Sounds like fun but Michigan summer nights are really cold and the campsite didn’t provide conveniences like water (other than the river) or electricity.

church meeting tent

Mary sold taffy and popcorn to tourists visiting the resort hotel across Michigan’s Grand River which paid for food and the Ferris Institute certificate needed to teach. When school opened and a pay check was promised, they moved into a rented house. Below is one of her teaching contracts. MPS contract

Teaching was dangerous in those days. I have Mary’s school bell but the horse whip she kept by her side for protection from the larger boys went missing over the decades.

The (mis)adventures of Mary and Harry Stilson are described in my first book, From A Richmond Streetcar so I won’t repeat them but in 1907 Mary left her husband and children in Virginia to return to Michigan and care for her invalid mother. She built the house they lived in, which is still standing, an enlarged version of the small house Mary built.

During those tumultuous years, Mary divorced her husband, a scandalous action in those days. She and Harry reconciled after several years and the death of their son in World War I but apparently never remarried. In 1930 census records, they are both listed as divorced and she states her role as Harris Stilson’s housekeeper and relative. To the world, however, they appeared as a middle-aged married couple. Here, on the porch of their home on Grayland Avenue, they look content. 025 harry,mary

Harry must not have objected to her unusual talents because he preserved the record of her carpentry for posterity. Here’s Harry’s photo of the child-sized secretary she built for her son out of scrap wood. His camera and movie camera sit atop it so I put them back for the “now” picture.

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Mary continued her carpentry, restoring the farmhouse her son bought in Charles City County. A 1935 Garden Club tour brochure included Red Hill Farm on its program and listed Mary’s “renovation costs” of $109. The description noted that much of her material was “found around the property.” In other words, she recycled. In later years, she put in a bathroom for her daughter’s family and converted one room into a kitchen for my parents’ half of the home place. Not your usual women’s work.

My upcoming book relates her journey to France as a Gold Star Mother to view her son’s grave. Harry taught her to take photographs and I have the envelope of her first efforts labeled “Mary’s first lesson in picture taking.” mary's first lesson

After her lessons, she sailed off, recorded her experience in photographs, and brought them home for her husband (or whatever he was!) to develop. Not too tame a life for a girl with no money, no education, and nothing but grit to keep her going. That same 1930 census stated that Mary did not attend school, although she supported her family as a teacher. She educated herself like she taught herself carpentry, drawing, and photograph-tinting. Mary Perry Stilson wasn’t famous but she is worthy of admiration in this month recognizing Women’s History.

 

 

Education and self-improvement were valued by my great-grandparents, Harris & Mary Stilson. Both were teachers in Michigan. Harry actually used schooling as an inducement to marriage. He offered to pay for classes that Mary Perry needed but couldn’t afford… if she would marry him. Mary’s teaching skills were beneficial when the family moved to Orange, Virginia, and money was tight. Public schools were rare in those days so Mary taught class in their living room. It put food on the table.

Robert E. Lee school roomEducation wasn’t always available in a schoolroom environment. Harry took correspondence classes and I have textbooks dating from 1892. White’s School for the Reed Organ & Melodeon included music for “Come Where the Rippling Waters Flow.”

reedThe Stilsons’ daughter, Anita, continued that tradition of correspondence schooling, taking classes from White School of Costume Art. One lesson advises studying “style magazines for type.” The text continued, “Study every line and trimming effect from neck line to hem and compare or change according to those best suited to your type.” Anita must have been a determined student because my mom credited her mother-in-law with teaching her proper tailoring. Those skills enabled me to wear dresses that looked “store-bought” but were homemade.

White School of Costume Art lesson

White School of Costume Art lesson

Harry, on the other hand, didn’t study style but electricity, bookkeeping, hydraulics, even hypnosis.

hydraulicsHis books on hypnosis are a hoot. Personal Magnetism & How to Develop It by Paul Weller, promised that “Sage’s Revolving Mirror, endorsed by the largest schools of hypnotism in the world” is “the only mechanical device ever invented that is absolutely sure to produce hypnotism in every case.” I haven’t found the revolving mirror or Rev. J.S. Wharton, M.D.’s hypnotic ball in the massive collection of Stilson memorabilia but they could be here somewhere. What does a revolving mirror look like, anyway?

hypnosis pictHarry’s grandchildren chose more traditional learning methods. Howard & Norma “Kit” Lynch attended Robert E. Lee School.  Harry took movies of recess there and this is a still from that movie.

RELeeschool01Norma, particularly, was a good student. She was class valedictorian at Midlothian High School, worked at the Pentagon designing munitions during WWII, and became the second female bridge engineer in the Virginia Highway Department, now known as VDOT. Kit was an avid reader. She owned an eclectic collection of books, some of which I consulted when writing books on Richmond’s past, but Kit also depended on Richmond’s library. As a little girl, her library card with its metal stamped identification number was well-used.

NKL library cardAll sorts of literary endeavors appealed to Harris Stilson. In 1907, the Ladies’ Literary Club in Danbury, Michigan invited him to visit and give a talk. I have that hand-written speech and share it in presentations. Harry’s journal mentioned library visits and I’ve even found a book or two stamped “Portland Library” (Oops!) so it’s only appropriate for his great-granddaughter to make presentations and share his films in libraries a century later.

Stilson photo of Ida Cauthorn reading book, 1207 Brook Avenue

Stilson photo of Ida Cauthorn reading book, 1207 Brook Avenue

I’ve given presentations at libraries in Henrico, Chesterfield, at VCU, and I’m going to Rockville next month, but November will offer an experience unlike my usual talks. I’ve been asked to participate in Midlothian Library’s Festival of the Written Word as part of a panel of local authors. Maybe I should read Harry’s books on hypnosis to see if I can hypnotize panel members and audience into barking…or buying my books of Harry’s images! Maybe not. After all, I have no proof that Harry passed those correspondence classes in “personal magnetism, hypnosis, and suggestion” or that the techniques even worked!

personal magnatismI promise not to hypnotize you but I do promise to share my process of collecting oral histories, researching Stilson images, restoring them, and combining them with stories to place you on Richmond’s cobblestoned streets back when streetcars ran. If you’re in the Richmond area, you might want to be part of the Festival of the Written Word on November 7th. Here’s the info:

LibposterStory of my life…I published this last night and then found a magazine page, no way to identify the publication,  in the Stilson stuff that BEGGED to be included. It was in an article about Christmas gifts and labeled “Book tree for mobile readers.” Well, that was probably in the 50s, way before e-books, iphones, even computers, so we’re a lot more mobile in our reading. A great gift for Christmas this year! So here it is…

"Book tree" for mobile readers, unknown magazine

“Book tree” for mobile readers, unknown magazine

The 2015 Road World Championships are in Richmond this week. Very exciting…and also appropriate. Richmond’s love affair with two-wheeled travel goes back a long way. My great-grandfather, Harris Stilson, was a Richmond streetcar driver and amateur photographer back in the early 1900s and he understood the romance of the road. His collection of photographs is massive,around 5,000 images, and many of them include bicycles. In my books based on his photographs, I include oral histories shared by the “kids” who played on Richmond’s streets, rode its streetcars, and sometimes careened down Richmond’s hills on their bikes.
01 3bikesBob Griggs, known to a generation of Richmond’s kids as Sailor Bob, was raised in Church Hill. He shared memories in my book, Up & Down Church Hill, and recalled this memorable bicycle story. Bob Griggs: “I was all over within range, didn’t go very far except for one time. I took several of the boys with me, I don’t know what possessed me to do it. My grandmother lived down in Hanover where the Chickahominy Swamp is. So we got on our bicycles early in the morning and I said “Let’s go out, we can ride out Oakwood over to Creighton Road and down through the battlegrounds and down to the swamp.
I knew where I was going but they were getting weary. I said, “No, it’s just a little further, we can make it.” We left about 8:00 in the morning and about 1:30 in the afternoon we were just getting back on to Church Hill. By that time, my father was coming down the street in his car.” Bob’s other grandmother lived with his family and had been worried. She called his father at work and said “Robert’s gone off, I don’t know where he is. He should be back.” (His father) said “Where you been?” I told him and he didn’t get mad. He just said “Don’t do that again.”

"Vest child on Vine Street"

“Vest child on Vine Street”

Aleck Mollen  grew up living above the family store. Those shops were in Shockoe Bottom on Main Street and later 17th Street. I asked Aleck if he rode a bicycle. Here is his answer: “Always (rode) streetcars. 17th street was the cobblestone street and it would take a better bike rider than myself.” He wasn’t alone in his decision not to risk a tumble. Several of my oral history sources said they walked or rode the streetcar because they didn’t have bikes and couldn’t ride them on the steep hills and cobblestoned streets of Richmond anyhow.
During and after the Great Depression, times were tough. Most of my oral history sources were poor but so was everyone else. Bootsie Madison described transportation in his youth: “None of us had money for buses or anything like that.  It was quite an experience to be there on Church Hill, places to go, no money, only way to get there was thumb, ride a bike or walk. I’d get up at 4 o’clock in the morning to carry my newspapers, get some money.” Bootsie owned a bicycle and that gave him freedom to go farther afield than many of my friends who related stories of their childhoods. Most of them walked or rode the streetcar. Some even rode Harris Stilson’s streetcar.

Bikes, newspaper boys & parade, downtown RIchmond

Bikes, newspaper boys & parade, downtown RIchmond

When Harry Stilson wasn’t operating a streetcar, he was with his family on Grayland Avenue in Carytown. Harry spent a lot of time with his grandson, my father, Howard Lynch. Harry’s photographs of Howard on wheels began with toddler’s vehicles and advanced as Howard grew.

Harry's granddaughter, Norma, on tricycle

Harry’s granddaughter, Norma, on tricycle

One Christmas Day was documented with a procession of tricycles and three-wheelers on Grayland Avenue. Evelyn Sheppard, Howard & Norma Lynch rode along the sidewalk while Minnie Arnold watched and Mrs. Sheppard and her mother supervised the parade from the porch.

Grayland Avenue kids on Christmas Day

Grayland Avenue kids on Christmas Day

As he grew up, Howard longed for a “new” bike. In those days, the term “new” meant new to you.  In later years, my father wrote this on the back of a photograph of John Marshall cadets: “Ball park! Between Sheppard Street & the Boulevard, facing Idlewood Avenue. Howard Lynch with his 26” Fox Bicycle bought from Stuart Guthrow of 3033 Grayland Avenue.” Stuart was a neighbor of the Stilson and Lynch families who lived on Grayland Avenue and I assume Stuart got a new bike. For Howard, though, his “new” bike was a wonderful thing. Even in his old age, he became animated when describing his bike and the places he went on it.

Howard Lynch & new bike, John Marshall cadets at Idlewood Park

Howard Lynch & new bike, John Marshall cadets at Idlewood Park

Several pictures taken by my grandmother and others show Harry Stilson on a bike. Not his bike but Howard’s. I suspect when your grandfather asked to borrow your bike, you didn’t refuse.

Harry Stilson riding on Grayland Avenue

Harry Stilson riding on Grayland Avenue

Paul Nolde, of the Nolde’s Bakery family, wrote vignettes about growing up in Church Hill at the request of his son, Richard. I’ve been friends with Richard and his brother Wayne since elementary school and was thrilled when Richard shared his father’s glimpses into Richmond life in the early 1900s. Mr. Nolde never said if he rode bikes himself but his sons have always been avid riders so it might have been in the genes. I remember being impressed in high school and later when I heard of bike rides to Williamsburg and elsewhere. Perhaps that bicycling stamina originated in pumping up and down the hills of Church Hill. Paul Nolde did, however, describe an event that Harry Stilson recorded in his ‘moving pictures.’ You can watch a clip of that Stilson film on our Facebook page. That event was a bike marathon at Shields Lake in Byrd Park. Mr. Nolde: “There was some kind of a marathon with bicycles around Byrd Park Lake in the 1920s.”

Bicycle Marathon Byrd Park 1929, also in Stilson movies

Bicycle Marathon Byrd Park 1929, also in Stilson movies

Richmond’s history of bicycling is rich. The Lakeside Wheel Club is a notable example but not all bikers were in clubs.  Harris Stilson’s photographs often caught a biker on the sidelines. When troops returned from France at the end of World War I, Harry photographed them at Broad Street Station (now Science Museum) on the grounds. One image shows two men with bikes observing the soldiers.

Troops returning from France at end of WWI, Broad Street Station

Troops returning from France at end of WWI, Broad Street Station

Bicycles were ridden by messengers and delivery boys and letters in the Stilson collection mention deliveries of that sort. When Harry Stilson received the Western Union telegram informing him of his son’s death in World War I, it probably came by bicycle.

Boy on bike, probably Jackson Ward

Boy on bike, probably Jackson Ward

All facets of life in Richmond in the early 1900s were affected by two-wheel traffic. One of my oral history sources built a wagon to deliver groceries because he couldn’t afford a bike. “A bike would have been nice,” he declared. Bicycles were coveted possessions. Howard Lynch would have testified to that. He could describe his 26” Fox bicycle’s features nearly 70 years after he first rode it. Bob Griggs explored the world on his bike. Bootsie Madison rescued himself from truancy and poverty on his bike, with daring dashes down hills to school and paper routes. Paul Nolde remembered exciting marathons at Shields Lake over 60 years after the races were won. All these years later, we in Richmond reminisce. The glory of that freedom. The terror of those hills.  Lots of stories, lots of pictures. Bicycles. There’s magic in them.

Grayland Avenue kids

Grayland Avenue kids

Visit us again later this week for more bicycle images and stories.