Oregon Hill is a nineteenth-century working-class neighborhood that retains its original character and all of its component parts: residential streetscapes, churches, commercial buildings, and schools. The origins of Oregon Hill go back to c. 1750, when William Byrd III built Belvedere (destroyed), a grand country house, on a site at the southern end of the present neighborhood, with a majestic view of the James River as it cascades and winds through Richmond. A deep ravine to the east and northeast of the community effectively cut the neighborhood off from Richmond proper, and Oregon Hill remained isolated.
In 1795 the James River and Kanawha Canal was completed around the falls of the James. The canal eventually brought industries to the foot of Oregon Hill and provided a path into the city for neighborhood residences. In 1798 the Commonwealth of Virginia constructed a penitentiary (demolished c. 1922), based on the designs of Benjamin Henry Latrobe, just to the east of the present neighborhood. In 1816 a group of developers laid out Sydney, an ambitious suburb west of the city, which incorporated most of Oregon Hill and the Fan. After the burning of Belvedere in 1851, the southern portion of the neighborhood was divided into lots. At this time Oregon Hill, because it was within walking distance of major industries, began to develop as a working-class suburb. After the Civil War, construction by real estate developers and residents created a dense streetscape. To serve this growing community, Grace Evelyn Arents, heiress to the fortune of Richmond tobacco magnate Lewis Ginter, took on Oregon Hill as her cause. She financed and sometimes oversaw the construction of a large collection of community buildings, some of which are described here. The recent history of Oregon Hill has included the intrusion of I-195 and demolition of many houses.
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