Friday, May 4, 2018

Alexander Parris

This the story of three mansions designed & built here in Richmond by the talented architect, Alexander Parris, a native of Maine, who gained later prominence in Boston. Two of the mansions stand still today.

Parris designed the Virginia Governor's mansion, or "Executive Mansion", which was built in 1813. It is located on the northeast corner of the Capitol grounds. The mansion's first occupant was Governor James Bourbon. It would have otherwise been Governor George W. Smith, who unfortunately perished in the 1811 theater fire.

Executive Mansion

Parris also designed a house for John Wickham on Clay Street, which is now part of the Valentine Historical Center. Wickham, was a prominent local lawyer & a close friend of John Marshall, who successfully defended Aaron Burr in his treason trial here in Richmond in 1807. Marshall was the presiding judge. Burr was famous for killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel three years earlier in 1804.

Wickham House
Wickham Staircase

Here in Richmond, Burr was accused of being involved with some sort of "cabal" or conspiracy to "run off with the football" & start their own independent country out on the Midwestern frontier but was acquitted because of lack of evidence. Burr was treated like a celebrity while he awaited trial, receiving flowers & gifts from his admirers while being housed comfortably in the recently built, freshly painted Virginia State Penitentiary which may as well have been a hotel.

John Marshall

John Wickham

Aaron Burr

Finally, Parris designed Bellville, a mansion built for John Bell, which burned in 1841. Unfortunately, there are no available pictures of Bellville, which was eventually bought by John Mayo Jr., the grandson of William Mayo, who laid out the original town of Richmond in Shockoe Bottom for the town's founder, William Byrd II. John Mayo Jr. completed building his father's bridge across the James River back in the 1788, allowing him to become a prosperous local merchant. The current Mayo bridge, or 14th street bridge, was built in 1913, supports Rte 360 & is the oldest "highway bridge" in the country. Mayo eventually purchased the land that would be called "Mayo's addition", which at the time was far out in Henrico county but well within the city limits today. Mayo's addition was huge, encompassing the land on the north side of today's Park Avenue from Meadow street as far west as Roseneath Road & as far north as Bryan Park. He built a house somewhere in the vicinity of land between the Science Museum & the Diamond ballpark, and named it the "Hermitage", which burned in the 1850's. The only image of the Hermitage that I know of is a water color painting by Benjamin Latrobe. Mayo & his wife Abigail lived at the Hermitage until he purchased the Bellville mansion in 1817, which if it still stood today, would block Grace street between Ryland & Harrison streets. It was at Bellville in 1818, where the wedding was held for Mayo's daughter, Maria, and a young army officer from Petersburg, brigadier General Winfield Scott, who would go on to an illustrious military career. Mayo, who died the following year, gifted the couple with a slice of his land as a wedding dowry, a sector of land between Boulevard & Roseneath known today as "Scott's Addition".  

Winfield Scott
General Winfield Scott, or old "Fuss n Feathers", went on to become the commanding General of the U.S. Army in the war against Mexico & ended his career as the top General & military consultant to President Abraham Lincoln during the early years of the American Civil War, before getting unceremoniously replaced by General George McClellan. Ironically, it was Winfield Scott's initially dismissed "Anaconda Plan" blockade strategy deployed later that is now credited by most historians as the strategy that ultimately defeated the Confederacy. Both Robert E. Lee & Jeb Stuart, who are memorialized on Monument avenue as Confederate heroes, served as junior officers under Scott during the war with Mexico. "Scott's Addition", named for the guy credited with defeating them, is noted as Richmond's first "Industrial Park".

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