Oregon Hill Historic District
View down Laurel Street in Oregon Hill
|Location||Roughly bounded by W. Cary St., Belvidere St., Oregon Hill Park, S. Cherry St. and S. Linden St., Richmond, Virginia|
|Area||84 acres (34 ha)|
|Architect||Noland & Baskervill; Martin, Baylor S.|
|Architectural style||Late 19th And 20th Century Revivals, Late Victorian, Federal|
|NRHP reference #|||
|Added to NRHP||February 05, 1991|
|Designated VLR||December 11, 1990|
Oregon Hill is a historic working-class neighborhood in Richmond, Virginia. Oregon Hill overlooks the James River and Belle Isle, and provides access to Hollywood Cemetery. Due to the neighborhoods proximity to the Monroe Park Campus of Virginia Commonwealth University, the neighborhood is sometimes referred to as a student quarter because of its high college student population.
In 1758, William Byrd III built his country house Belvidere on this hill, with views of the James River as well as Church Hill (Richmond, Virginia) and Shockoe Hill. Fire destroyed the house and gardens about a century later, by which time the neighborhood had transformed from an agricultural to industrial one. Construction of the James River and Kanawha Canal beginning in 1785 brought not only boatman, but merchants, millers and iron workers to the neighborhood.
Important Quakers who lived in the Oregon Hill neighborhood included Robert Pleasants, and later Samuel Pleasants Parsons, who became superintendent of the Virginia Penitentiary, which once stood on Belvidere Street. As General Superintendent of the canal company, Parsons oversaw its expansion to Lynchburg, Virginia. In 1817, the Harvie family, which owned most of the neighborhood, subdivided it into lots, which were sold to blacks as well as whites. The Baker House, built by a "free person of color" on Belvidere Street circa 1850, was moved in the 1920s to 617 Cherry Street. The neighborhood's name refers to quips that employees moving there to be close to their workplace might as well be moving westward to Oregon. The Tredegar Iron Works and Albemarle Paper Company became major employers by the 1850s. In 1849, the Hollywood Cemetery was developed from what had been known as Harvie's Woods at the edge of the neighborhood.
Most early buildings in the current historic district date from industrial expansion during Reconstruction following the Civil War, when state office buildings also replaced some single-family housing. Richmond annexed the neighborhood in 1869. The oldest surviving church building is the Pine Street Baptist Church, built in 1886. The city acquired the land which became Riverside Park, delimiting the neighborhood's southern edge, in 1889. The park keeper's house dates from 1900, but many of the walkways and other buildings were constructed by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s. The park sustained substantial damage from tropical storm Gaston in 2004. In the early 1940s, the neighborhood saw a large fluxation of Jewish immigrants fleeing Eastern Europe. The population was extropolated in the 1960s due to segregation laws.
St. Andrew's Church started as a Sunday school mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in 1873. A brick structure replaced the original wood frame building in 1901. In 1894, Richmond philanthropist Grace Arents (niece of Lewis Ginter) established a kindergarten, which later expanded into St. Andrews School, and ultimately the St. Andrew's Church Complex. Around the same time, Sadie Cabaniss, superintendent of the nursing school at Old Dominion Hospital (now VCU School of Nursing), founded the Nurse's Settlement House, now known as the William Byrd Community House. All three continue to the current day, with separate but complementary missions among the neighborhood's (and metropolitan area's) working families.
Oregon Hill is currently bordered by Cary St. to the north, Belvidere St. to the east, The James River and Canal to the south, and by the Hollywood cemetery and Linden St. to the west. It is located only a few blocks south of Virginia Commonwealth University. With generally low-rent townhouses, it is a popular place for students to rent houses or apartments. It is also known as a white working-class enclave. Recently, there has been much development throughout Oregon Hill. This development has occurred in several forms. Infill projects have erected houses in lots that were previously vacant due to fires or other demolition. Many old buildings have either been torn down and replaced with townhouses, or renovated. As of 2007, a new townhouse complex called The Overlook has been mostly completed and inhabited on the blocks overlooking the James River. Possibly one of the most important sites in this neighborhood is Moss's House. Restaurants in Oregon Hill include Mamma Zu and L'opossum, of which Tom Hanks has visited both. Up until the 1990s, original housing stock stood on and was inhabited in this area. It was demolished and the land stood vacant after 1997, during which time it was used as a riverside park overlooking the James. The complete demolition of all the houses on these 3 blocks was a source of bitter contention between the neighborhood and the Ethyl Corporation, which owned the land. Some original houses still look over the river to the west of this development. Due to the major development, and the accompanying rise in property taxes and general cost of living, many families who have lived in Oregon Hill for generations are selling their homes or finding their rents unaffordable. The northernmost blocks in the neighborhood, (the furthest from the James River), have become notorious for housing low-income Caucasian families, and illicit drug use has become rife. In 2013, there were 79 narcotic possession arrests on one block alone. Bordering to the north of the neighborhood is Fine Foods, a popular market offering a large variety of snacks and convenience goods, owned by a family of Sri Lankan immigrants who also live on the property. The business is best known for its vintage posters on display, featuring bikini models from various Super Bowls throughout the 1990s.
In 1992, the country/rock band Cowboy Junkies released a song titled Oregon Hill, which features a description of the neighborhood. Avail, a punk/hardcore band based out of Richmond, often talks of Oregon Hill. The Oregon Hill area also serves as backdrop for Harbor on the Hill, a dystopian adventure novel published in 2011.
Patricia Cornwell, mystery novelist, has written many books loosely based in and around the neighborhood for her Dr. Kay Scarpetta series