The western part of this area, named for St. John's Church and known by that name and as Richmond Hill, dates from the original layout of Richmond in 1737. William Byrd donated two lots for Henrico Parish Church, but their initially inaccessible location on the highest point in the new town delayed construction of a church until 1741. The area was annexed by Richmond in 1780, but substantial building began only after 1800. Each block or square was divided into four large lots. Architectural historian Mary Wingfield Scott dubbed the few early dwellings on these lots “plantations-in-town” because they had that appearance—a brick or frame house surrounded by a rambling group of outbuildings and gardens. Development of the area was largely impeded because the grid plan did not consider the rough, hilly topography. Until the 1840s the only means of access to the neighborhood was 25th Street, a steep, ungraded hill. The neighborhood began to develop substantially in the 1840s, as tobacconists whose factories or business concerns were located in the valley sought the more healthful air of the hill. After 1850 the suburban landscape began to disappear as the large lots were subdivided and detached town houses, semidetached double houses, and rows of three or more houses were built. By 1900 the area had been filled in and decline set in.
By the 1950s the neighborhood directly around the church was threatened by such neglect that the William Byrd Branch of APVA bought two significant houses with the intention of restoring them for later sale with protective covenants. This led to the founding in 1956 of the Historic Richmond Foundation, which initially focused on a pilot block, just west of the church, known as Carrington Square. A collaboration of individuals with government and nonprofit organizations succeeded in restoring it, and, in time, the entire neighborhood.
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