Arts & Events » Architecture

Mothers & Houses

This year’s Mother’s Day House and Garden Tour features eight houses in the Museum District.

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What was once suburbia is now full-fledged urban.

After the Civil War, the area now known as the Museum District was nothing but farmland when Oliver Schoolcraft built a horse racetrack between what is now Grove Avenue and Cary Street. Racing aside, it took the advent of streetcar lines to make developers see dollar signs where fields were the norm.

In 1889, several notable Richmond figures including marquee names such as Major James H. Dooley and Joseph Bryan, formed the West End Land Development Company and laid out plans for a large suburban development not far from downtown. As early as the mid-1890s, and lasting through the early 1940s, the Museum District was a construction site as rowhouses, detached townhouses, churches, schools, and apartment buildings in an array of architectural styles -Classical Revival, Tudor Revival, Mediterranean Revival, Craftsman, Art Deco- were built along tree lined streets. Eyeing the potential of the area, Richmond annexed much of the neighborhood in 1904 as growth continued and the neighborhood became more urbanized.

Nestled between the more densely settled Fan and the West End, the Museum District represents one of Richmond’s most significant collections of early 20th century architecture. The district, formerly called West of the Boulevard, is notable for including 22 properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It became the state’s third largest historic district in 1993 and was added in its entirety to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994. With historic status, residents felt the time was ripe for showing off with a house tour.

The tour's founder, Nita Parry, grew up in Georgia where southern home and garden tours were de rigueur. Eager to do something similar to showcase the Museum District, Parry was inspired after reading about a Mother's Day tour in Galveston and set the wheels in motion to make it happen for the first time in 1995. At the time, there wasn't much going on in Richmond for Mother's Day besides brunch, and because more established neighborhoods hosted their annual events in other seasons, the timing felt right.

3017 Hanover Ave. - RICHARD BARRETT
  • Richard Barrett
  • 3017 Hanover Ave.

This year’s Museum District Association Mother’s Day House and Garden Tour features eight houses along Ellwood, Floyd, Hanover, Kensington, and Monument Avenues, with the Virginia Museum of History & Culture serving as the tour’s hospitality center and the Belmont Library offering restroom facilities. For safety, all participants are required to wear facemasks while inside the homes on the tour.

Over two decades of presenting the Mother’s Day Tour has resulted in an evolution in focus. With time, the tour has become a more inclusive, relaxed experience with a wide variety of homes varying in size and style.

“In recent years, the tour has featured rental properties and popular business locations as well as traditional family homes,” says M.A. Powers, house tour committee member. “As a result, we’ve noticed a much more diverse group of tour-goers including younger guests, more men, and an increased number of families.”

Some homeowners reach out directly to express their interest in being featured, while others are approached by the House Tour committee, who use cheerful "You've been spotted!" notes left at homes they're interested in to make contact.

Proceeds from the tour are reinvested in the neighborhood for maintenance, beautification and enhanced safety, as well as supporting neighborhood local nonprofits. Previous recipients include Albert Hill Middle School, William Fox Elementary PTA, T. J. High School’s Viking Fund, Prevent A Litter Veterinary Hospital, Health Brigade, and EnRichmond Foundation, for the benefit of Humphrey Calder Park

Through its tour proceeds, the Museum District Association also committed to supporting graduates of Thomas Jefferson High School who are seeking post-secondary education. In 2018, a scholarship fund was established that allows the MDA to present an annual scholarship to two or more graduates who have maintained at least a 3.0 GPA and have no more than 10 absences during each year of attendance at TJHS.

Besides contributing to worthwhile causes, the Mother’s Day Tour allows attendees to satisfy a natural curiosity about other people’s houses, perhaps more so given that Museum District homes are all so stylistically different.

“Who doesn't wonder how their neighbors decorate their homes?” says house tour committee member Janine Doyle. “Some tour attendees even take notes while they view homes, writing down ideas for their own decorating endeavors.”

2095 Ellwood Ave. - RICHARD BARRETT
  • Richard Barrett
  • 2095 Ellwood Ave.

For homeowners on the tour, there’s a bit more work involved. Powers recalls a tour where a homeowner was stressed out the morning of the tour because he hadn’t touched up the paint around an alarm sensor that had been moved at the last minute.

“The sensor was up high in a corner of the living room and a committee member assured him that no one would notice the tiny spot that he missed,” Powers says, adding that partway through the tour, the homeowner slipped back into his house. “As he was passing through the living room, he heard a tourgoer whisper to another guest that the painter missed a spot. Be careful what you say on the tour!”

Museum District Association Mother’s Day House and Garden Tour is held on Sunday, May 8 from 1-6 p.m. Tickets available at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/2022-museum-district-associations-mothers-day-house-garden-tour-tickets-308698354087 and must be picked up at the Virginia Museum of History and Culture.