The neighborhood has its roots in speculative development during the late 19th century. The burgeoning population of Richmond created numerous problems for the city, including sanitation and infrastructure issues and racial conflicts. Speculators became interested in the relatively inexpensive land directly north of the city in Henrico County, just as the invention of the electric streetcar made development of suburban neighborhoods a feasible alternative to life in the city. These entrepreneurs were able to capitalize on concerns of the upper and middle class inhabitants of the Richmond touting their suburban developments as a better way of life.
Lewis Ginter, a wealthy businessman who made his money in the tobacco industry, laid the foundation for development in the Hermitage area in 1897 by constructing his own streetcar line, the Lakeside Line, which ran down the center of Hermitage Road and terminated at the Lakeside Zoo and Wheel Club. Several grand estates already existed along Hermitage Road, but infill from three separate neighborhood developments introduced narrower lots and smaller-scale construction to the area and opened it up to the middle class.
The neighborhood contains illustrations of the full range of domestic architectural styles and building forms popular during the late-19th and early-20th centuries with expressions of these styles to meet the needs of an economically diverse population. The buildings along Hermitage Road are predominantly rectangular in plan, center-passage, and double-pile dwellings of three and five bays with hipped or side-gable roofs. The Colonial Revival style is the most prevalent treatment. Typical Colonial Revival side porches, side wings, and/or port cochères are on nearly half of the district’s buildings.
Several noteworthy high style, architect-designed residences of the late-19th and early-20th centuries are in the district. D. Wiley Anderson designed a number of these homes. A prominent architect practicing in Richmond’s Northside during this time, Anderson frequently designed Late Victorian and Colonial Revival-style buildings but was popular for his eclectic combinations. One of the purest examples of his Late Victorian architecture is Holly Lawn, a c. 1900 Queen Anne dwelling at 4015 Hermitage Road. This house is three stories with a compound form and an irregularly shaped roof. Its stylistic details include a buff colored brick façade with decorative detailing, fish scale slate roof shingles, polygonal towers, and roof finials.
Montrose at 4104 Hermitage Road is another example of Anderson’s Late Victorian work. Built for the Edmund Strudwick family c. 1898, this Richardsonian Romanesque home is the only one of its kind on Hermitage. The three-story, four-bay residence has a mansard roof with parapet cross-gables, ashlar stonework, battlements, and Romanesque arches. The house faced the threat of demolition in 1988, but the community rallied and created a local historic district to protect it.
Rosedale at 4016 Hermitage Road is an excellent example of Anderson’s eclectic designs. Combining Queen Anne and Colonial Revival elements, Anderson juxtaposed a complex Queen Anne building form and roof form against a four-bay façade that gives the impression of Colonial Revival symmetry, and embellished it with Colonial Revival detailing. Anderson designed the c. 1897 home for John Pope, a prominent Richmond businessman and a real estate partner of Lewis Ginter.
Shadyhurst at 4106 Hermitage Road is illustrative of Anderson’s more purely Colonial Revival style. The house dates to c. 1899 and originally belonged to J. Clements Shafer, a private secretary to Lewis Ginter. Characterized by a large wrap-around shed roof porch supported by slender, square columns, it has a standing seam metal roof and a cornice with modillions. The home originally had a three-room servant’s cottage, a stable, and a carriage house, but only the servant’s cottage remains today.
The Hermitage Road Historic District is still a peaceful, elegant neighborhood that remains in many ways a streetcar suburb from more than a century ago. Except for the wide, grassy median that replaced the trolley line running down the center of the avenue, little else has changed. Because of its timelessness, this area is one of the most sought-after neighborhoods in the city.