Archives for posts with tag: Stilson photos

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.




Memories are strange things. Recently I was referred to a 95 year-old woman who grew up in Jackson Ward. I took my projector and flash drive and started showing pictures on her wall but she couldn’t tell me when she was born or where. I reminded myself that even if she coudn’t help me at all, I could share pictures of her childhood with her and it would be a good day. So I described what I knew about each picture and the show went on.

Then the image of a little girl popped up and this very old lady pointed at it and said “I remember that child. She was a playmate of mine.” I asked if she recalled her name (which I knew because Harry had thankfully written “Miss Rubin Lee Moore” on the back of the photo.) She answered “Rubin Lee Moore. Her parents were Earnest Lee and Sadie Moore and they went to Hampton Institute with my parents.”

THIS is why I write the books and make the presentations anywhere I can. Because of a Harry Stilson photograph, a dear old lady whose memory is failing rapidly was transported to the days of babydolls and jacks, when she was a little girl with parents who loved her and “Uncle Earnest and Aunt Sadie” who brought Rubin Lee over to play. 

Thank you for being part of the project that will put these memories into the gnarled hands of aged residents of Jackson Ward and transform them into the little boys and girls Harry photographed nearly 90 years ago. If you can share this project with friends, please do. You’ll be rewarded in ways far beyond books and note cards.

We have five days to collect pledges to meet our Kickstarter goal or we won’t be funded (translation: we get nothing). Please check our project out by following this link:

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.

I almost missed the daffodils. Sure, I saw the yellow splashes of color around Richmond, sometimes bravely defiant against a late snow, sometimes urging endurance: keep the faith, Spring is coming. But my own daffodils almost came and went without my noticing. Shame on me.

Sure, I’ve been really busy. Richmond In Sight presentations and book signings, my “real” job as a real estate broker, an aunt with progressing Alzheimer’s, my ‘baby’s’ wedding preparations…but how could I have missed these glorious bursts of yellow around my yard?

Both sides of my family have always considered flowers essential to happiness. My maternal grandmother, Sue Sneed Fleming (Momee), cherished her flowers and taught me everything I know. Her English boxwoods, rooted and given as gifts, are everywhere from Reveille United Methodist Church to the time capsule in Bon Air. She gave each of her 24 grandchildren English boxwoods and we treasure them.

I shared her old Bon Air Garden Club notebooks with the Midlothian Garden Club house tour in December and of course, people recognized her name and told stories about Momee. Her silver-plated bowl, purchased with Green Stamps, still has a taped label on the bottom, “Sue Sneed Bon Air 1945”, and I’ve filled it with arrangements ever since she died and I claimed the bowl for my own.

My cousin Bob Sneed continues the family tradition with Sneed’s Garden Center, located where my grandmother’s first “garden shop” was part of Sneed’s Store in Bon Air. I worked there with my grandmother and Momee “paid” me in vases from the Williamsburg Pottery. The Pottery in those days was one small building nearly as tiny as Momee’s garden shop. I treasure those pottery pieces.

The Stilson/Lynch side of the family was just as obsessive about flowers. I displayed my great-grandmother’s 1939 garden club brochure during the Midlothian Garden Club tour but I also have old catalogs, even seeds from the 1960s… and I have Harry Stilson’s pictures. He was so proud of his dahlias that he even took movies of his flower beds. I’m not sure what he thought would be moving in those “moving pictures” but he took them. His movies, donated to VCU Libraries, include Maymont’s Italian gardens and others.


Grayland Avenue climbing roses

Rose hand-painted by Mary Stilson

Rose hand-painted by Mary Stilson



Harry Stilson in his flower beds


Garden shows at the “Old Coliseum” on Broad near Lombardy, now lofts, showed displays and were noted “Mary with Harvard in far end of room in chairs” on the back of one picture so I assume that my great-grandmother had an entry that year.

Coliseum flower show

Coliseum flower show entries

Coliseum “yard” display including awning and seating from Stilson home

Mary Stilson also grew a night-blooming cereus, which blooms one night a year and Harry captured it on film. Family lore claims he stayed up two nights waiting for the momentous event. He declared it was worth the missed sleep as the blooms literally burst open before your eyes, flooding the room with fragrance.

Night-blooming cerius at 3021 Grayland Avenue

Richmond is blessed with glorious gardens, private and public. Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens are a real treasure. It’s worth the membership fee to be able to stop in when you need a ‘flower fix’. Even in the dead of winter, the conservatory offers fragrance and color. And the gardens in spring and summer are beyond words. Rich colors,heady perfumes, lavish displays of everything from orchids to zinneas. The extravagant rose gardens alone are worth a visit.

Richmond’s azaleas steal the show in early spring with a blaze of color, overwhelming whole yards with their massive blooms. Dogwoods decorate the woods and tulips and other spring bulbs splash vivid reds and yellows through green grass. Richmond in the spring is exuberant and wild.

Forget the adage to stop and smell the roses. Stop and revel in the glorious hope of spring in our own back yards, hope as near as that sassy yellow jonquil nodding as you pass. What a gift we are given in the glory of flowers. Indulge and be thankful.

Howard Lynch on Grayland porch

Howard Lynch on Grayland porch

Howard’s picture hand-painted by his grandmother, Mary Stilson