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Fashionable Franklin Street

T.C. Williams, Jr.’s name is inextricably linked to Agecroft, but he only lived in the house for a little over a year before his death at the age of 64. Therefore, people often ask, “Where did he live before Agecroft?” Prior to buying Agecroft and developing Windsor Farms, Williams had lived, for most of his life, on West Franklin Street. Now a part of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Monroe Park Campus, West Franklin St, especially the 800 and 900 blocks, was home to Richmond’s wealthy. In fact, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, West Franklin was considered THE most fashionable street on which to live in Richmond. T.C.’s father, Thomas Williams, Sr., moved the family from Danville back to Richmond sometime after the end of the Civil War. Around 1870, the patriarch bought a white brick house and small farm property at 816 West Franklin Street for his growing family. The 1870 Federal census reveals that Thomas Sr, and his wife, Ella, had five children at the time: Susan (9), Thomas Jr. (5), Mary (3), Ella (2) and Edward, an infant. Over the course of the next decade, Thomas Sr.’s tobacco business prospered, and the family was able to hire live-in servants to make life easier. Edward seems to have died young, but two more sons, Adolphus and Robert (who also seems to have died in childhood), were born. In addition, Thomas’ brother, Adolph, who worked in real estate, also moved in. Supporting this family in 1880 were five African Americans: a butler (Alfred West), a coachman (Mack Mumor), a cook and servant (Julia Smith), a nurse for the children (Fannie Smith) and a washerwoman (Sarah Harris). T.C., Sr., passed in 1889, at age 57. Susan/Suzanne was the first to move out when she married. Adolphus did the same in 1899, and he and his bride moved just down the street to number 800.The following year, Thomas, Jr., sold 816 and purchased 824 West Franklin Street, just down the street, as the house was better suited for his mother as she aged. The Williams began an extensive remodeling project on 824 shortly after purchasing the home.

Black and white photograph of a large masonry house that once stood at 824 W Franklin Street
824 West Franklin Street

The Virginia Museum of History and Culture E. Claiborne Robins, Jr. Research Library houses papers relating to the Williams family, including the contract and invoices from the extensive remodel of 824. The project was contracted to the D.S. Hess & Co., of New York City and took over a year to complete. Mrs. Williams and her daughter, Mary, made trips to New York to pick out furnishings and the company representative made regular trips to Richmond to check on the progress. The invoices for the large home list five bedrooms, at least four bathrooms, a conservatory, a reception room, a parlor, two libraries, a sewing room, a trunk room, a second-story verandah, a billiards room, various sitting rooms, servants’ rooms, staircases and halls. Out back were the stables. The house was renovated with the choicest materials—marble, gilding, porcelain tubs, custom built furniture, built-in woodwork and decorative plaster ceilings. Wood fretwork from the house at 816 was removed and installed at 824. Finally, an elevator, the same type of lift that had been installed at the White House, was installed for Mrs. Williams. The cost of these renovations totaled more than $55,000 which would be the equivalent of nearly $2,000,000 today! While we have the exterior photograph of 824 West Franklin Street, we have not yet discovered any interior photographs. Reading through the construction invoices, and seeing the choices made when building Agecroft Hall in Windsor Farms, one can begin to imagine a luxurious home with grand furnishings. As for the family, Mrs. Williams passed away in 1902 shortly after the house was completed. Mary Williams moved out in 1921 when Thomas married Elizabeth (Bessie) Booker, and Thomas and Bessie lived at 824 West Franklin Street until they moved to Agecroft Hall. Sadly neither house stands today; 824 West Franklin St was demolished in 1937, and 816 followed suit 1952. Today, it is the census records and archived invoices that give us a view into the family’s life before Agecroft.





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