Monday, October 17, 2016

The 7 Hills of Richmond, VA: Oregon Hill

This is Part 5 of Blog Series: The Seven Hills of Richmond, VA. Find the Intro here. Oregon Hill
Oregon Hill began as a blue collar working class neighborhood in the northern portion of downtown Richmond. Began as a plateau between two ravines, the post-Civil War neighborhood was constructed of rowhouses to accommodate industrial workers in a grid-like manner. The land, once owned by William Byrd,  named the hill Belvidere (or "beautiful view") as it overlooked the James River as well as Shockoe and Church Hill. Its name refers to the quip that employees moving there to be closer to their workplace might as well be moving westward to Oregon.
William Byrd II
What we know today as Oregon Hill, was once owned by William Byrd, was passed down to his son William Byrd II (who is known as the Founder of Richmond- and the man whom Byrd Park is named after today). Born in Charles City County, Byrd II had high interests in land development, both public and private. In 1733, he began planning and establishing the cities of Petersburg, VA and Richmond, VA, a project his father had began. In April 1737, Richmond was established at the falls of the James River, after William Byrd announces it in the Virginia Gazette. Once areas of Oregon Hill was inherited by Byrd's son, William Byrd III, a notorious gambler who was in great debt), sold the land of Belvidere (their country home sitting on Oregon Hill), along with its surrounding hundred acres, in a lottery.  Won by the Hylton family, who passed the land onto Colonel John Harvie. The Harvie family consolidated to 500 acres and passed along to his daughter Jacqueline Harvie, after his accidental death in 1807. This land was later transitioned to an ambitious development, called the Town of Sydney.
The Town of Sydney, which is what we know today as Oregon Hill & portions of the Fan District, created a street grid to begin the neighborhood of homes. Along with George Winston, a master builder and brick layer, aided the construction. His share of land, what we know today as Cary Street), known as Westham Turnpike, is where the first townhouses in the Town of Sydney was built. Winston, along with his black apprentices, helped build the Virginia State Capitol and the Penitentiary (that once sat in Oregon Hill, to the south of Belvidere, demolished in 1991). One of the most famous model home of the Town of Sydney, is the Jacob House, and owned by John Jacob, who is considered to be one of the first residents of Oregon Hill.
As the neighborhood expanded, so did the residents of Oregon Hill. Once Tredegar Iron Works and Albemarle Paper Company were built, they became major employers in the 1850's. Most of the workers who were employed by these companies resided in the nearby neigbborood of Oregon Hill. During the reconstruction post- Civil War, where most office buildings were replaced with single-family homes we see today. The land where Riverside Park stands today was acquired by the state in 1869.  Oregon Hill went through many transformations as the factory jobs dwindled. Today, the historically working-class neighborhood is now home to a mix of old and new; it includes an eclectic mix of locals, artists, musician and students who attend VCU.

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