Richmond, Virginia is one of the oldest and most historic cities in the South. It has its share of lovely old homes and interesting architecture, but none that offer the educational experience of Wickham House.
Located in the city’s downtown district, Wickham House is an impressive neoclassical style house owned by the Wickham family in the early 19th century. Built in 1812, the house is made of brick and covered in stucco and it has magnificent gardens in the back. In the first one hundred years of its existence the gardens were so large they extended for a city block.
John Wickham was a wealthy lawyer and best known as the attorney that represented Aaron Burr in his treason trial before the U. S. Supreme Court. The house was later purchased by the Valentine family, and upon the death of Mr. Mann Valentine he left enough money and collections to begin a small museum downstairs in his home. The additional dependencies on the property, once sheds or storage buildings, have been turned into the exhibiting venues and are all attached to the Wickham House.
Upon entering the foyer, the wealth of John Wickham is noticed immediately. The free-floating staircase is stunning. It is shaped like an artist’s palette and has dogwood and magnolia motifs carved into its wooden frame. The colors on the carpeting and walls all add to the expressions of wealth, in addition to the lovely design and fine architecture throughout.
What would not have been noticed, if not uncovered recently, was Wickham’s love of learning. On the ceiling in the library, and on the walls and above doors in several rooms, historians have found artwork beneath two hundred years of paint, that reflect Wickham’s keen interest in the arts. Scenes from Homer’s “Iliad” were uncovered above the doorways in the parlor. On the walls in the drawing room were found paintings of symbols of Greek classical themes of music, dancing and entertainment. The ceiling in the library showed the tools used by the ancient Greek mathematicians of a protractor, ruler and pencil.
The house has been altered a number of times, each time trying to re-frame its public appeal and keep its audience. The Wickham House is now in its third theme transition, and appears to be shifting its direction towards a fourth. It has been a residence, a museum, later a house museum, and now it seems inspired to be an archaeological resource.
Clearly, one of the most interesting treasures in Richmond, the Wickham House is an absolute must-see for anyone who enjoys old houses and those yearning for an education in architecture of the past.
It is part of the Valentine Richmond History Center and is located at 1015 East Clay Street, Richmond, Virginia.