Despite its ties to significant events in American history, Colonial Heights is surprisingly new.
The Marquis de Lafayette may have climbed to the top of its bluffs to fire across the Appomattox River on British troops stationed in Petersburg during the Revolutionary War. And Gen. Robert E. Lee may have used the town’s present-day Violet Bank Museum as his headquarters during the siege of Petersburg in 1864. But Colonial Heights itself didn’t get started until the early 1900s.
Still, the city is old enough to boast one historic district, Chesterfield Highlands, which earned a listing in the Virginia Landmarks Register last year. (A listing in the National Register of Historic Places is pending.) And a nomination for another neighborhood, Violet Bank, is in the early stages of preparation.
In fact, the 50-acre Violet Bank neighborhood, which runs north from Royal Oak and Virginia avenues to Lee Avenue and east from the Boulevard to Lafayette, Bristol and Jackson avenues, includes portions of three of Colonial Heights’ earliest subdivisions.
In 1912, Thomas Marshall Bellamy Sr., a Norfolk-based developer, platted the Colonial Heights Extended subdivision on land that had been part of the Violet Bank Farm, said Jamie Sherry, neighborhood revitalization planner for Colonial Heights’ Department of Planning and Community Development. Three years later, the Greater Petersburg Development Corporation subdivided another parcel of the former farm into the developments of Riverside Park and Riverside Park Annex.
The entirety of Colonial Heights Extended lies within the Violet Bank neighborhood, while only portions of the Riverside Park and Riverside Park Annex subdivisions do.
“The Virginia Department of Historic Resources has discussed and approved the boundaries for the proposed Violet Bank historic district,” Sherry said. “However, based on recent nominations, it might recommend separating out the subdivisions” into separate historic districts.
Advances in transportation fueled the suburban expansion seen in many U.S. cities at the turn of the 20th century, and Colonial Heights was no exception.
There, the Richmond-Petersburg Interurban Street Railway “fostered suburban growth by offering affordable and convenient transportation from outlying areas to jobs in nearby cities,” said Nancy Kraus, the local historian who wrote the nomination for Chesterfield Highlands’ listing in the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places. “Following the successful introduction of the interurban railway, the transformation of ‘the heights’ from undeveloped farmland to a town of suburbs was rapid.”
By 1924, developers had platted eight subdivisions in the growing town, she added.
The majority of the houses in the Violet Bank neighborhood were built between 1920 and 1949. Today, there are approximately 233 homes in the neighborhood.
“Like most of the historic neighborhoods in the city of Colonial Heights, Violet Bank is composed of architectural styles popular in the first half of the 20th century,” Kraus said. “It includes examples of Victorian/Queen Ann; Craftsman/Bungalow; Colonial Revival; and Dutch and Tudor Revival, as well as Cape Cod and Ranch.”
Some of the houses may be interesting stories in themselves, too. On a visit to the neighborhood in 2008, architectural historian Rosemary Thornton identified 24 homes in Violet Bank that may have been “kit homes,” Sherry said. Kit homes, which were popular during Violet Bank’s primary years of construction, were shipped in pre-cut parts and assembled onsite by local workers.
The Violet Bank Museum remains the area’s most significant structure, though. Built circa 1815, the Federal-style structure was originally the main house for the Violet Bank Farm and is best known for serving as Lee’s headquarters from the latter part of June to September 1864. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a Virginia Historic Landmark.
Many of today’s homebuyers appreciate living in a neighborhood with historic ties, said Joyce Simmons, a Colonial Heights resident and real estate agent with Swearingen Realty, the city’s oldest real estate company.
But the average home price in the Violet Bank neighborhood is one of the primary drivers for sales there, she added.
“Most of the homes sell for under $100,000,” she said. “They’re very reasonably priced for first-time homebuyers.”