Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The 7 Hills of Richmond, VA: Union Hill

This is Part 2 of Blog Series: The Seven Hills of Richmond, VA. Find the Intro here. Union Hill

Union Hill, named for the joining of two hills, for which the unique neighborhood rests. It is between Church Hill and backs into a ravine, where currently Interstate 95 sits. As a result of the difficult terrain, city planners adjusted the "neighborhood grid" to accommodate the difficult and rugged terrain, thus instead creating narrow, curvy streets on hills. Union Hill was very separated from most of the other neighborhoods because of this, which created its own uniquely diverse independent community.
Most of the community homes are as uniquely shaped as the streets themselves, often seen in various trapezoid and rectangular shapes, irregular in comparison to the other neighborhoods in Richmond. The earliest known home in Union Hill belonged to Henry Mettert and was built between 1805-1810. However, sadly this home was demolished in 1940. The only home standing during this time today is the Adam Miller House. Built in 1824, it is a two-story Flemish-bond brick dwelling on a raised foundation owned by local farmer Adam Miller. Although the house burned in the 1870's, it was repaired and still stands in its full glory at 2410 Venable Street today.
During the Antebellum period, Richmond had a huge expansion of neighborhoods, particular Union Hill, which adopted the plantation-style home design. Most homes at this time were designed for modest, working-class families- such as tailors, tanners, butchers, and carpenters. As the boom of the industrialization continued, Union Hill had a diverse community of immigrant residents, particularly German-born families. However, the more affluent residents built investment properties right in the heart of Union Hill - renting them out for those who could not afford to purchase a home outright.
By 1867, the population of Union Hill has grown to such a degree, the area was annexed into the city. However, in 1882, the great divide at the southern edge of Union Hill was grated and filled to create Church Hill Avenue (renamed Jefferson Avenue in 1905). As the Sprague Electric Railway Motor Company created its trolley routes in Richmond, the first large-scale electric trolley line in the world, Richmonders were moving about the city. And, in 1888, it added Jefferson Avenue on its route, allowing Union Hill to become a more attractive neighborhood to potential inhabitants.
At the turn of the twentieth century, little residential development flourished in Union Hill as most of the neighborhood and area had already been built out. However, commercial development was on the rise for this little area. A&P Tea Company, Perkinson's Quality Ice Cream and Baker's Inn Confectionary were some of the first establishments to take roots in Union Hill. By the early 1940's, this working class neighborhood became impoverished and neglected. Many of the homes were showing declined, had been boarded-up and vacant. However, in 2000, The City of Richmond created a program called Neighborhoods in Bloom to provide funding for rehab and reconstruction of homes to neighborhoods, including Union Hill.

Union Hill may be a small, irregular neighborhood of Richmond, but she is no less important. It is comprised of a mix of homes, churches and commercial buildings which balance the narrow, yet picturesque streets along the hilly terrain. It is a neighborhood that displays not only vernacular architecture but also a special sort of land plan not regularly found in Richmond. It is these qualities that locals understand and appreciate about Union hill which will allow for its preservation of this environment as it will the morals and character of future generations.

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