Archives for posts with tag: Shields Lake

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.



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…

For a while now, I’ve been sharing photos from the Harris Stilson photography collection with you. Well, thanks to PBS Channel 23’s Virginia Currents program, now you can get a better idea of the magnitude and significance of my great-grandfather’s pictures and movies as well as the scope of Richmond In Sight projects.
The crew of Virginia Currents spent almost six hours at my house recently and the resulting program, which aired for the first time last night, is an amazing feat of ingenuity and creativity. They squeezed six hours of film into a ten minute segment…and did a great job. Yes, it was “only” about ten minutes long but viewers saw lots  of pictures and a few clips of Harry’s movies as well. The film clips included kids lined up at the Byrd Theatre, the Shields Lake high dive, downtown scenes of streetcars and pedestrians, a tiny glimpse of what jewels these 1929-1031 films are.
During filming, Randy and I were seated beside a child-sized secretary built by Harry’s wife, Mary. On it is a Stilson picture of that same secretary displaying two cameras. I inherited those cameras, including the movie camera, instructions, price list and the October 1928 journal entry stating “Miss Day from 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.” Miss Day was an astute salesperson because Harry’s surviving movies began in 1929.
Mary Stilson's miniature secretary


If you missed the program last night, don’t fret. Saturday, April 13th at 5:30 PM and Sunday, April 14th at 1:00 PM will be your next opportunities to see the show. The program will be online by April 19th as well. And if you did watch Virginia Currents and enjoyed it, think about making a donation to our local PBS station. This  snapshot into the lives of Virginians is a valuable part of Channel 23’s repertoire but funding has been cut and the program is in jeopardy of disappearing. Let the station know how vital this program is to our community.
The expression “beggers can’t be choosers” is a bit inaccurate in this case. I am begging for donations to Richmond In Sight because in order to restore and share those movies, we need money. Your tax-deductive gift to Richmond In Sight through VCU Libraries can make that possible but if you choose to give to Virginia Currents instead, I will understand. Just choose one, please. We’re both worthy causes focusing on our neighbors and our home towns.
Meanwhile, take a look at for more pictures and stories and to see more cool stuff.