Archives for posts with tag: Richmond history

Segregation in the early 1900s was pervasive. In Richmond, Jackson Ward was the premier African-American community but it was comprised of Jewish immigrants as well. According to “Miss Ruby” Turner, a well-known activist for race relations, even in Jackson Ward people divided by race. Miss Ruby was quoted in my book, On the West Clay Line describing how each neighborhood had black families, then what she called a “Jew store” with the owners living above it and “Jew families” living beside the store. Please understand that Miss Ruby’s language was not derogatory. She declared “Jews…they are my friends. Where did we learn what we know about God? From whom did we learn it? From the Jews!” A visit with Miss Ruby was always a lesson in tolerance and diversity. She went on to say “People who carry this hatred (of other religions & races)…they may look good on the outside but they’re miserable.” She also pointed out that segregation existed even within the black community. “The people on the other side of Lombardy were “the other” colored folks. We colored folks were a little bit above the “other colored folks.” Also the people that lived down Second Street way and Brook Avenue…we were more segregated than y’all were. That’s the way it was.” Trust Miss Ruby to point out that not only color but also money and education created separation and bitterness back then just as it does in America today.

However, segregation has always been selective in Richmond. Irving Haggins remembered that his playmate, Gilbert Grossman, was a white Jewish boy who was not allowed to play with any other black kids. Mr. Haggins laughed when he said “I guess, to him, we seemed like the most prominent ones in the neighborhood.” Harry Stilson’s opinion of segregation was expressed in his speech of 1907 when he suggested integrated schools and churches to promote diversity. I don’t think either term “integration” or “diversity” was common back then but that’s what Harry advocated and his actions spoke louder than words. One of my favorite Stilson photographs is of Harry’s son, Don, and his friend.0153 Don & Denny.jpg

A hot issue was segregation on streetcars. In 1904, before Harry Stilson came to Richmond and became a streetcar driver, the General Assembly passed the “Act Concerning Public Transportation” which allowed segregation on streetcars. The Virginia Passenger & Power Company decided to enforce that law which led to a boycott of streetcars by African-Americans. John Mitchell, Jr. and Maggie Walker, both prominent leaders in Richmond’s black community, supported that resistance action. There had been friction between Richmond’s African-American streetcar passengers and conductors for some time. Conductors were assigned the job of separating black from white on streetcars and as the car ran its route, the racial makeup of the car changed. That allowed conductors to move black passengers farther back, sometimes several times during one trip.

0157 black men streetcar

One fact worth remembering is this: streetcar fares were expensive and the black passengers who had paid for the ride deserved that seat. Miss Ruby: “Streetcar fare was seven cents and the bus was eight cents and my mother, instead of using the streetcar or bus, she’d use that money for food. And we’d walk.” The streetcar boycott, like later bus boycotts, was effective but over time, it lost momentum and, by the time Harry went to work as a streetcar motorman, black passengers sat in the back and whites in the front as evidenced by this African-American woman, the only passenger on the car.

streetcar woman

I’ve noticed that Harry often captured black and white people together in daily activities. These unknown boys in Jackson Ward are one example and another is the two icemen in front of Harry’s home on Grayland Avenue. I have no proof that he was trying to make a point in those photographs; after all, I inherited about 5,000 of his images, but they support his contention that “familiarity” would create “better citizens having more respect for each other and less strife.”

0020 white & black kid in carriage   Ice men

We don’t segregate on public transportation any longer. Harry would be pleased. But I don’t think he’d be happy with the racial tensions of America in 2018. None of us should. Black History is celebrated for one month. Why not all year? Harry called for more respect and less strife a century ago. Isn’t it time that his words were fulfilled? And all God’s children said “Amen.”

003 Main St,black man

 

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Hartshorn Memorial College was the first African-American women’s school to award baccalaureate degrees and it was located in Richmond, where Maggie Walker Governor’s School now stands. There was a streetcar stop at the school and Harry Stilson’s car lingered there so he could take photographs of students, staff, and buildings.

Hartshorn and Elwin.resized - Copy

The 1920 U.S. Census lists Miss Julia Elwin, teacher, shown above, as living at 1600 W. Leigh, so she lived on campus. Hartshorn’s teachers were white with the exception of  the wife of a Virginia Union professor but that was common in those days. Virginia Union was the first school in the country to have African-American teachers and Harry took pictures of them, too. Unfortunately, he didn’t label the pictures of Dr. Riggler and Dr. Jones so I can’t identify them. In the photo below, students are “tatting” but, while Hartshorn taught domestic skills, it concentrated on academics and the teachers who graduated pursued careers in Richmond and elsewhere.

Hartshorn tatting

Hartshorn lineup

Harry’s journal had a cryptic note: “Maude E. Brown & Iva Clarke” among Hartshorn photos so I called Virginia Union where their archivist confirmed that those were those of students…of high school. I had not realized that Hartshorn was also a high school until then. Iva’s great-niece is still in Richmond. Someone recognized the name and asked her friend “Is she your great-aunt?” More proof of my conviction that Richmond’s not six degrees of separation but maybe two.

maude brown iva clarke

I wonder if Miss Julia was supervising girls in the dorm December 6, 1920. In the photo below, Harry’s tripod is at the fence and you might not be able to see this but a man is crawling out of the first floor corner window of this dorm.  Harry took pictures of significant events as well as insignificant events like this one. It was only important to the parents of the girl in that corner room!

Hartshorn for blog

Hartshorn’s ‘brother school,’ Virginia Union, offered an unusual feature in its infancy: a working farm, power plant and water supply. Its adjacent Industrial Training School housed pigs, cows, and chickens and vegetable gardens and students were expected to maintain the plant and farm, which supplied the school as well as generating income. The wagon below, in front of Hartshorn, was probably in route to Virginia Union just across the trestle where Union student Percy Jones stood. This was a rare Stilson photo of  Virginia Union, possibly because it was not on his streetcar route.

wagon Bull

068 Percy VUU

Hartshorn was torn down around 1932 when the school merged with Virginia Union. It  sickens me to think of the destruction of those glorious buildings. During World War I, this dorm was decorated with patriotic flags and Harry took a picture of his conductor in front of it.  According to Wikipedia, Hartshorn students were not allowed to ride streetcars but that didn’t prevent my great-grandfather from participating in the lives of the girls of Hartshorn. He documented their faces and the face of African-American education in Richmond, a part of Black History Month that we should know and honor.

streetcar man hartshorn

Hartshorn and Elwin for blog

 

My great-grandfather, streetcar man and photographer Harry Stilson, didn’t take as many Christmas pictures as you would expect. Or, if he did, they didn’t survive. I’ve shared most of these before but maybe you didn’t see them  or don’t mind seeing them again. If that’s the case, about Christmas trees…

Xmas tree blog

Christmas trees were usually cedar, it seems. I have no idea who the folks below are but the piano is a player piano and the tree is circled by a white fence.

Christmas family

Those fences must have been popular because there’s also one around the base of the family tree on Grayland Avenue, between Cary Street & the Downtown Expressway. The children are Harry’s grandkids, Howard and Norma Lynch and neighbor, Ralph Carr. Many of the ornaments adorning those long-ago Christmas trees hang on my tree every year.

nkl hdl rc  house ornament  Stilson Christmas ornaments

 

 

In those days, gifts weren’t lavish. An orange, one toy (often recycled) and that was about it. My father and his friend Ralph Carr displayed all their vehicles in this Christmas Day photo but there is no way to tell which was the new prized possession that year. I think the building may be in the ‘village’ beneath the tree above.

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Bike parade! I doubt any of these were new gifts but an audience of neighbors  inspired the kids to mount up and hit the sidewalk on December 26, 1927.

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We are currently trying to separate damaged negatives that are stuck together. If the attempt is successful, there may be more holiday images to share in the future. Whatever we salvage will be added to the 5,000 or so Stilson photographs we have now and I’d consider that a wonderful Christmas present.

 

 

Before Harry Stilson was a streetcar driver, he was a farmer. I have his journals from the late 1800s that include details, everything from seed purchases to his code for wind direction and weather. In 1907, Harry packed his household and animals into a freight car and moved from Michigan to Virginia. He and his son Leon rode in that freight car with the livestock. What a miserable trip that must have been.  My great-grandmother’s letter acknowledging his arrival expressed sympathy for the “poor animals” but disregarded the discomfort experienced by her husband and son. They rented a farm in Orange, Virginia in 1907 but farming here proved harder than expected. Michigan hogs died in the Virginia heat. Finances were dire, domestic life was tense, and two years later, Mary Stilson returned to Michigan to care for her mother while Harry moved to Richmond with their three children and applied for a job on the streetcars. Changing careers didn’t change the farmer in Harry, though. His photo collection contains hundreds of animal images and his letters to family discussed livestock and crops.  He kept chickens in the back yard of his Carytown home as did his neighbors, the Garbers. Below is “Best cock in show,”owned by a neighbor on Westhampton Avenue (now Cary Street)  and chickens in the poultry show at the “old Coliseum,” Lombardy & Broad, now condos.

best-cock-in-show coliseum-poultry

Someone in the family must have contemplated an additional income stream because I found this 1932 booklet “Making Money with Rabbits” which was published by R.C. Gulley & Co., 314 E. Main Street, Richmond, VA. It might have been his younger son because, while Don followed his father into streetcar work, he hated it and saved to buy a farm.making-money-rabbits

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He succeeded in his dream and purchased property on Route 5 in Charles City County. I have the hand-drawn, colored-pencil survey of Red Hill Farm from 1888 and the deed. Mostly, though, I cherish my memories of Red Hill. The house never had heat or indoor plumbing but I loved visiting, picking vegetables, even helping with sheep shearing. I also remember animals like Mabel, the blind horse who plowed following her partner, Ned. Even animals of earlier decades were preserved in film, like the Stilson hog below.

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The entire family was involved in Don’s investment and visited often. Don commuted to work in Richmond  after he bought Red Hill Farm which must have been difficult even without long farming hours before and after driving to town. Stilson movies include footage from farm visits and one scene is significant. Moving picture cameras were rare back then but what I have is perhaps unique. I found an October 1928 journal entry stating “Miss Day of Galeski Optical has loaned me free of charge a moving picture camera and projection” so I know where and when he got his camera.  The movie camera, complete with instructions, was discovered in my aunt’s basement. Upon inspection, a pretty boring picture of Don plowing was revealed to actually be Harry taking a movie and I even have the movie clip he was filming so my documentation of Stilson movies is amazingly complete. See why historians love Harry and Richmond In Sight material? You can’t beat provenance like that!

hhs-camera-and-plow

I’m often frustrated by the fact that every animal, from dogs to cows, is named but people and places often aren’t, perhaps an indication of how significant animals were to everyday life in the early 1900s or maybe it’s simply a sign of how dysfunctional my family was. Either way, the Stilson legacy includes lots of four-legged photo subjects.

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Above: Hand-tinted cow “Daisy” at Red Hill Farm

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

It’s been a long time since my last entry and I apologize. Sometimes real life interferes with my Richmond In Sight projects like this blog. Let me try to make it up to you with this. Fourth of July is upon us with all the traditional activities: fireworks, homemade ice cream, cook outs, and parades. Last week I attended a Richmond Pops Band concert and the M.C. introduced “76 Trombones” by explaining that every town wanted a brass band because of the popularity of John Philip Sousa and other composers. That inspired me to write this about Richmond’s bands back in the early 1900s because they were certainly a significant part of celebrations.

I know my great-grandfather loved music because I inherited his Victrola and record collection but his photographs and movies are visual evidence of his love for brass bands. Harry Stilson took lots of pictures of parades. His movies include a Monument Avenue parade that we believe is the 4th of July. I’ll share a few images along with a brief history lesson about how much Richmond loved its bands.

The John Marshall High School cadets were prominently displayed in Harry’s photos. As a little boy, Bill Long lived across from the 6th Street Armory where the cadets practiced at noon. The streets were closed for those practices. Can you imagine that happening today?

Armstc1922

This picture of the John Marshall band was labeled “Idlewood Park” and is on Sheppard Street. Most of the houses in the background are still standing.

IdlewildPrk

The Elks were famous for their bands. When Richmond’s “new” City Hall (now “Old City Hall”) was completed, festivities included the Atlanta Elks Band.

AtlantaElks

There were African-American Elks lodges, too, and many of my oral history sources recall the Elks’ band fondly. The drum major with his remarkable white shako plume was firmly embedded in the memory of every kid in Jackson Ward. There was always a Sunday afternoon parade and some of my most memorable Stilson pictures were snapped as “the band played on.” This is the Elks band on 17th Street and the steep hill behind them may not be there anymore because Fairfield Avenue/Oliver Hill/17th Street has changed so dramatically.

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When Richmond’s black troops returned from France near the end of World War I, the Elks band was part of the parade and celebration.

071 Elks Armistice parade bk

Parades were big events, no matter the occasion. This crowd is on Leigh Street and Hartshorn College, where Maggie Walker Governor School is now located, was behind the spectators. We think the parade may have been Virginia Union cadets but this gives you an idea of how popular bands and parades were in the early 1900s.

Negro parade Lombardy & Leigh

This photograph is of a Macon, Georgia brass band and while we can read Thomas Hardeman on the drum, we can’t confirm whether it was a military or civilian band. Either way, you can imagine the John Philip Sousa music and the excitement of the crowd. The band is on Theatre Row (between 7th & 8th on Broad Street) and you can see the Lyric and Bijou Theatres in the background.

Macon Ga band

And finally, here is a clip from a Stilson 4th of July film. It’s Monument Avenue and a tiny bit of the fence around the Matthew Fontaine Maury statue is in the far right of the picture. It’s blurry because it’s taken from Harry’s movie but I like it because the drum major is followed by a little boy dressed as a drum major also leading the band.

Monument

There were even some great Stilson photographs of parades and bands before the music began. These are three of Richmond’s first African-American Girl Scouts before they even had their uniforms. We had one of the first black Girl Scout troops and I can only identify them as scouts because Harry described them as “Girl Scouts marking time before the parade.” Thanks for the heads up, Harry!

girls scouts bk

Just a glimpse into the bands and music that inspired Richmond spectators back when streetcars rumbled along our cobblestoned streets. Maybe you won’t be watching a 4th of July parade Monday but if you listen closely, you might hear an echo of yesterday’s brass bands.

 

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.

086 secretary,old   secretary now reszed

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.