Oregon Hill Real Estate
Oregon Hill Historic District is a fine 19th and early 20th-century working class neighborhood with architecture and streetscapes that illustrate how industrial workers lived. Located near the Tredegar Iron Works, the area developed as a working class community in the first half of the 19th century. After the Civil War, the neighborhood’s residents helped Richmond regain its stature as a southern industrial and commercial center. Heiress Grace Evelyn Arents played an important role in providing services to the residents of the district.
Oregon Hill is a plateau between two ravines with spectacular views of the James River and Shockoe and Church Hills. The dramatic view from the hill prompted William Byrd III, who owned nearly all of Richmond at the time, to name the hill Belvidere. Byrd built his country house of the same name in the southern portion of the present neighborhood in 1758. The house and its extensive gardens stood until their destruction by fire in 1854.
In the early 19th century, the Harvie family owned what is now Oregon Hill. In 1817, they subdivided the property into streets and lots, with the Sidney subdivision located north of Spring Street and the Belvidera subdivision to the south of that street. In spite of this early town planning, the neighborhood remained an unincorporated rural enclave during the first half of the 19th century. Two buildings from the 1817 era survive, both associated with prominent members of the Society of Friends. The Jacob House at 619 West Cary, built by George Winston, originally stood across from the present location of the building. The 1816 Samuel Pleasants Parsons House at Spring and Belvidere Streets was the residence of an early superintendent of the now demolished Virginia Penitentiary once in the vicinity.
In 1847, the Harvie Family platted their property east of Belvidere and south of the penitentiary as the Oregon Hill subdivision. The community’s name came from the witty geographic observation that a pedestrian excursion trip from the center of Richmond to Oregon Hill seemed the equivalent of a trip to Oregon by the standards of the day. The original portion of Oregon Hill consisted of modest houses east of Belvidere and south of Spring Street. Its early occupants were a mixture of white and African American laborers and artisans. This area, just outside the boundary of the district, was demolished to construct the Virginia War Memorial and state office buildings. The Baker House, a building from this lost early portion of the neighborhood, still survives. Constructed on Belvidere St. in the 1850s by a “Free Person of Color,” the house was moved to 617 S. Cherry Street in the 1920s.
The Belvidere subdivision and a portion of the Sidney subdivision came to be known as Oregon Hill as development expanded westward from Oregon Hill proper. Begun in 1785, the James River and Kanawha Canal provided employment for boatmen and assisted the growth of the iron, flour milling, and quarrying industries along the river. The workers working on the canal and in these industries purchased large lots in the present district to build homes. They found convenient access to their employment via the canal towpath. So many ironworkers lived in the neighborhood that by 1856 Samuel Mordecai referred to it as the home of the “Sons of Vulcan.”
As residences in the neighborhood increased, so did commercial buildings. A substantial number date from between 1870 and 1910. These brick and wood frame buildings have storefronts with cornices, kick plates, large windows, and substantial wood or pressed metal cornices. Good examples include the Pine Street Barber Shop at 334 South Pine Street (originally the Pine Street Pharmacy), the 700 block of West Cary Street, and the corner of Albemarle and Laurel Streets. One church building from this period survives, the Gothic-style Pine Street Baptist Church constructed in 1886 at 401 South Pine Street.
In spite of several major demolitions in the 1970s and 1990s, Oregon Hill has witnessed vigorous preservation activity led by neighborhood residents. The Oregon Hill Home Improvement Council (OHHIC) organized in 1973, and since then has been responsible for the construction a large number of in-fill units and the rehabilitation of existing units for affordable housing. In 1990, the Oregon Hill Community History Association surveyed and nominated the district to the National Register of Historic Places. Developers and individuals have rehabilitated a large number of buildings in the district in recent years. These efforts have protected the integrity of the district core, making Oregon Hill one of the best-preserved 19th century neighborhoods in Richmond and one of the finest collections of worker housing anywhere.