John Lewis brought his family to this spot in the Shenandoah Valley as the pioneering settlers in the year of Washington’s birth - 1732. A few years later William Beverley, a wealthy planter and merchant, won a grant of 118,000 acres here “in consideration for inducing a large number of settlers to the community.” The town was laid out in 1747 and took the name of Lady Rebecca Staunton Gooch, wife to Royal Lieutenant-Governor Sir William Gooch. Thanks to its central location the settlement attracted the government and the with the westernmost courthouse in British North America prior to the Revolution was constructed here. It was no small thing - Augusta County in the 1700s extended (theoretically) as far west as the Mississippi River. In 1801 when Staunton was incorporated as a town the population totaled 800.
Staunton grew as a market town for the fertile Shenandoah Valley and small industries churning out carriages and boots and blankets followed. The Virginia Central Railroad arrived in 1854 and during the Civil War the town served as an important supply depot for the Confederacy. Union troops arrived in 1864 and destroyed the railroad station and Staunton’s manufacturing capacity but spared much of the town.
The post-war years saw Staunton embark on an economic and building boom. In 1908 it became the first city in America to adopt a city manager form of government based on the corporate form of organization. The elected council appoints a city manager who administers municipal affairs.
The urban renewal fever sweeping America in the 1960s struck Staunton and more than 30 downtown buildings fell before a wrecking ball, igniting the creation of the Historic Staunton Foundation to help preserve much of the streetscape seen today. Much of that streetscape is the vision of one man - Thomas J. Collins, an architect responsible for over 200 buildings in the Staunton area. The nimble Collins worked in many styles we will encounter on our walking tour and we will begin with one of his creations for the railroad that primed the pump for Staunton’s growth...
Chesapeake & Ohio Station
42 Middlebrook Avenue
The Virginia Central Railroad chugged into town in 1854 and built the first station here. The commercial district it spawned came to be known as the Wharf District because the trains pulled into sidings and the cargo was loaded directly into neighboring warehouses via gangplanks. The first station was burned to the ground by Union troops during the Civil War in 1864 and its replacement was destroyed by a runaway train in 1890. The third station, designed in a bungalow style by famed architect Thomas Jasper Collins, was the charm and has stood since 1902. The freight office, freight depot, signal tower, water tank and water standpipe are all there with it. Collins came to Staunton from Washington, D.C. in 1891 at the age of 47 to work for the Staunton Development Company. Before he could unpack the good china the company went bust and Collins was set adrift. He busied himself with designing or renovating more than 200 buildings around his adopted town until her retired in 1911. His son and grandson would continue shaping the streetscape at T.J. Collins and Son until 1997 with the roster of buildings touched by the firm climbing to more than 1000.
ACROSS THE STREET IS..
The American Hotel
125 South Augusta Street
As soon as the railroad arrived in 1854 a posh Greek Revival guest house was constructed across the street to receive arriving passengers. When Ulysses. S. Grant’s Presidential train stopped in Staunton in 1874 he was serenaded by the legendary Stonewall Brigade Band playing from the hotel portico. It was said that the band hailed the Union General for ordering its instruments spared from destruction during the Civil War. That portico was razed in 1891 and the hotel was soon converted into a produce dealer’s warehouse. Save for decades when it was vacant, that was how the building spent the 20th century. It has recently received a restoration to revive its Greek Revival origins.
WALK UP AUGUSTA STREET AWAY FROM THE TRAIN STATION (THE AMERICAN HOTEL WILL BE ON YOUR LEFT).
Hoge & Hutchinson Building
119-123 Augusta Street
Warehouses weren’t simply utilitarian commodities in the 1880s. This two-story, six bay brick building for the wholesale grocery house of Hoge & Hutchinson was decorated in the Italianate style with a bracketed cornice at the roofline and prominent window hoods.
Historic Staunton Building
120-124 Augusta Street
Unlike its neighbors across the city, this Victorian commercial building’s facade is pressed metal, not brick.
TURN RIGHT ON JOHNSON STREET.
Augusta County Courthouse
northeast corner of Johnson and Augusta streets
This is the fifth, and by far the longest tenured, county courthouse to stand on this site. The handiwork of T.J. Collins, it features a temple front with a richly decorated entablature overflowing with cornucopias, animal heads, rosettes and foliated squares. There are eight pediments around the courthouse and the roof is toped by a domed cupola supporting a bronze statue of Justice. The first county courthouse was a crude log structure erected on the southwest corner of the lot.
TURN RIGHT ON NEW STREET AND WALK A FEW STEPS TO THE END.
White Star Mills
1 Mill Street
T.J. Collins brought a touch of design to the functionality of a flour mill with his distinctive trapezoidal plans for White Star Mills in 1892. Upper floors of dark brick are supported by a ground floor of rough light-colored stone. Inside, elevator hauled grain from the basement floor to the top of the mill and gravity and horizontal conveyors carried the kernels through the milling equipment. Once one of the largest granaries in the Shenandoah Valley, White Star Mills continued to produce flour until 1966.
RETURN TO JOHNSON STREET AND TURN RIGHT. WALK UP THE HILL ON KALORAMA STREET (THE ROAD TO YOUR LEFT).
Stonewall Jackson Hotel & Conference Center
24 South Market Street at Kalorama Street
H.L. Stevens & Company of New York City, one of America’s leading designers of statement hotels in small-city America in the early 1900s, created this Colonial Revival landmark in 1924. The price tag - including marble floors, cut-glass chandeliers and a one-of-a-kind Wurlitzer organ - was $750,000. Eighty years later a $21 million renovation blended modern amenities with the restoration of many of the original features of the 124-room hotel. The nine-story brick confection, the tallest building in town, was topped by its iconic neon calling card on the roof in 1950.
CONTINUE ON KALORAMA STREET.
215 Kalorama Street
This was one of the first commissions landed by T.J. Collins when he came to Staunton in 1891, a residence for City treasurer Arista Hoge. Collins adapted elements of the Richardsonian Romanesque style (recessed corner entrance behind a powerful arch, corner turret, and rough stone exterior) and the Victorian Stick Style (small front gable) to create the three-story house known around town as “the castle.”
227 Kalorama Street
This hill overlooking the town was called Gospel Hill beginning in the 1790s when religious meetings were conducted here by Sampson Eagon. A century later this block began harboring some of the town’s most elegant residences. The Jacobean house at #227 was another creation of T.J. Collins in 1898. Gospel Hill was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.
TURN LEFT ON COALTER STREET.
Woodrow Wilson Birthplace and Presidential Library
18-24 North Coalter Street
Woodrow Wilson, who would become the 28th President of the United States, was born in the house on December 28, 1856 as the third of four children of Dr. Joseph Ruggles Wilson. At the time, the house at #24 was serving as the Manse of the First Presbyterian Church where Reverend Wilson was pastor. President Wilson died in 1924 and a group of his family and friends purchased the Manse from Mary Baldwin College in 1938 to form the Woodrow Wilson Birthplace Foundation. The house at #18 that was added to the foundation was built in 1870 and remodeled by T.J. Collins.
WALK BACK TO BEVERLEY STREET AND TURN RIGHT.
Sampson Eagon Inn
238 East Beverly Street
According to local lore this is the site where Sampson Eager held Methodist revival meetings in his blacksmith shop. T.J. Collins remodeled the 1840s-era house that was built here and gave it a classical appearance. In recent years it has operated as an upscale guest house.
AT THE BOTTOM OF THE HILL TURN LEFT ON NEW STREET.
R.R. Smith Center
20-22 New Street
Architect T.J. Collins turned to the French Second Empire style to create the luxury Eakleton Hotel in 1894. The symmetrical building features a central tower piercing a mansard roof. Collins gave his hotel decorative flourishes such as fancy brickwork and wrought iron balconies. The hotel changed hands many times and went through a major Colonial Revival at one point. Like many of its downtown American cousins the grand hotel fell on hard times until it closed in the 1950s. New life was breathed into the old hotel by a consortium of non-profits including the Augusta County Historical Society, Historic Staunton Foundation, and the Staunton Augusta Art Center. It was named for its major benefactor, trucking magnate R.R. “Jake” Smith.
WALK BACK TO BEVERLEY STREET AND TURN LEFT.
125 East Beverley Street
This stage was born as the New Theatre on June 16, 1913 as a vaudeville and film venue. The opportunity to design a grand entertainment palace lured go-to Staunton architect T.J. Collins out of retirement to assist his sons on the project. It would be their last collaboration. The result was a richly ornamented Italian Renaissance Revival inspired by the palazzos in Florence. In the 1920s Hollywood’s Warner Brothers added the New Theatre to its roster of movie palaces and it became one of the first theaters in Virginia wired for sound, screening the world’s first “talkie,” The Jazz Singer, in 1927. A fire gutted the building on January 23, 1936 and afterwards America’s leading theater architect, John Eberson, was retained to oversee the reconstruction. Eberson was known for his atmospheric creations that transported patrons to exotic lands but, with funds a scarce commodity during the Depression, at the New Theatre he worked with the existing classical motifs. The grand re-opening took place in December 1936 with a new name - the Dixie Theater. Fourteen-year-old Mildred Klotz won the $50 prize for suggesting the winning name in a contest. The Dixie has been presenting movies ever since. The terra cotta from the original facade can still be seen.
113 East Beverley Street
This expansive brick building was constructed as a Grange Hall in the mid-1800s. It was purchased by the City in 1878 which installed the government on the first floor and used the space above as an opera house. In 1929 architect Sam Collins provided a Colonial Revival makeover and afterwards the building was used exclusively as City Hall
19-21 East Beverley Street
This 1911 commercial building was constructed of brick just like its neighbors back in the 1860s but its facade was sheathed in gleaming white terra cotta panels - imported from New York at a cost of $825 - that accentuate its Venetian Revival design.
11 East Beverley Street
Julius Witz operated two furniture companies at the turn of the 20th century, one in Waynesboro and one in Staunton. He constructed this Colonial Revival building for his showroom and warehouse in 1906.
7 East Beverley Street
William Wholey hired T.J. Collins in 1899 to design a store for his tobacco and cigar business. Look up past the undistinguished alterations at street level to see the twin stone towers Collins created to mimic the appearance of a 14th-century Venetian warehouse.
The Marquis Building
2-4 East Beverley Street
One of the standouts of downtown, the Marquis Building came from the pen of T.J. Collins. He incorporated an unusual entrance through the corner turret and added classical elements like roof pediments. The Romanesque-styled windows are trimmed in limestone. Collins used this building for his own offices.
National Valley Bank
12-14 West Beverley Street
National Valley is Staunton’s oldest bank, taking its first deposits in 1865. Things went well enough that by 1903 the bank was able to commission T.J. Collins to create this Beaux Arts monument to finance. The arched entranceway was modeled on the Roman Arch of Titus and is flanked by a quartet of engaged, fluted Corinthian columns. Inside depositors were greeted by an awe-inspiring coffered ceiling with an oval, stained glass skylight.
National Valley Trust Department\
6-10 West Beverley Street
This Neoclassical vault for National Valley came along in 1923, executed in limestone and granite from a design by T.J. Collins & Son. The pedimented entrance with Tuscan columns is dwarfed by the full-height, recessed glass wall.
Masonic Temple Building
7-13 West Beverley Street
The Masons have been active in Staunton since 1786. This brawny 5 1/2-story building joined the city streetscape in 1896. Chicago architect I.E.A. Ross decorated the building with an eclectic mix of classical and medieval details.
27 West Beverley Street
This corner building was constructed in 1890 as the home of Staunton’s first YMCA. It included a gym, a running track, a lending library and a bowling alley. With its corner clock tower, the building has been a local icon for over a century. The Clock was manufactured by the E. Howard Clock Company in Roxbury Massachusetts, a companyfounded in 1842 and still in business today. The YMCA didn’t last nearly as long here - the organization moved to a larger space on Augusta Street in 1914. A parade of retailers have occupied the space in the years since, most notably Woolworth’s.
Stonewall Jackson School
217 West Beverley Street
This was Staunton’s first permanent public school when it was constructed in 1887 but its early graduates would not recognize it within a few decades. The versatile T.J. Collins gave the venerable school an English Tudor Revival facelift in 1913.
Trinity Episcopal Church
214 West Beverley Street
Trinity Church, the oldest church in Staunton and known for its first eighty years as “Augusta Parish,” was founded in 1746, one year after Augusta County became an independent entity, and one year before the City of Staunton was established. The first meetinghouse on this site was raised in 1763; the current Gothic Revival building dates to 1855. Trinity Church has a varied collection of stained glass windows installed from the mid-nineteenth century until the 1970s. Thirteen of the windows are made of early 20th century opalescent glass; twelve by the Tiffany Studios. The parish house to the rear is a Gothic Revival brick structure added in 1872.
TURN RIGHT ON CHURCH STREET.
18 Church Street
This brick house with elaborate scrollwork on the bracketed eaves, window surrounds and porch columns was constructed around 1880. It stands as a rare example of the Victorian Eastlake style in Staunton.
northeast corner of Church and Johnson streets
Another unusual look in Staunton is this brick house designed in 1872 by William A. Pratt in the Jacobean Revival style. It is distinguished by fine brickwork and clustered chimney pots. Today it does duty as the rectory for Trinity Church.
120 Church Street
This was the home of Judge Archibald Stuart, personal friend and lawyer for Thomas Jefferson. The earliest parts of the house date to 1791 and it has remained in the family for over 200 years. Family tradition likes to maintain that Jefferson had a hand in its design and presented plans to Stuart as a wedding gift but there is no evidence for that.
WALK BACK TO JOHNSON STREET AND TURN RIGHT.
Board and Batten House
118 West Johnson Street
This simple vernacular building lays claim to being the oldest unaltered house in Staunton, dating back to the mid-1850s. Board-and-batten siding is an exterior treatment of vertical boards with battens covering the seams.
TURN RIGHT ON LEWIS STREET.
111 South Lewis Street at Johnson Street
In 1871 Dr. S.P. Hite began concocting his first patent medicine, Hite’s Pain Remedy, at Moffett’s Creek, Virginia. Claiming to cure everything from headaches to gangrene, Hite peddled his potion by horseback. He sold enough to outfit a sales wagon and blanketed the countryside, introducing and demonstrating his remedy. He moved to Staunton and this building in 1893 and stayed until 1905 when he relocated to Roanoke. Hite’s firm eventually manufactured a line of over 80 drugs and flavoring extracts.
CONTINUE TO THE END OF LEWIS STREET AND TURN LEFT ON MIDDLEBROOK STREET (THE BACK OF THE TWO ROADS) AND WALK UP TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT AT THE RAILROAD STATION.