A Significant Discovery on B. Henry Latrobe’s “Clifton”, Richmond, Virginia

Following my research on Richmond’s South Cathedral Place, I was assigned a topic that had led many previous researchers to dead end after dead end: a long-demolished Richmond structure attributed to our country’s first professionally trained architect and first Architect of the Capitol, B. Henry Latrobe. Latrobe could be considered an architectural historian’s ultimate celebrity … Continue reading A Significant Discovery on B. Henry Latrobe’s “Clifton”, Richmond, Virginia

Matching carriages in Latrobe perspectives

Latrobe made his presentation perspective on the “Clifton” house on this particular piece of ground just come to life.  Just as he had done with previous, important presentation drawings for residential commissions such as the Pennock House or Sedgeley Villa, he depicted the owners of the home engaged in some activity, and even illustrated the … Continue reading Matching carriages in Latrobe perspectives

The Original Clifton Drawings at Library of Congress

Spring break is past now and it seems I have been all too lax in reporting my research findings.  Prior to the break I took a trip up to Washington, D.C. to visit the Library of Congress’ Prints & Photographs Division, where the original Clifton drawings are preserved and housed in cold storage.  My appointment with Reference Librarian Marilyn Ibach resulted in the most incredible research session of my academic (and professional) career thus far.  After 2 hours of carefully studying and inspecting the two drawings, I came away with such an immense feeling of fulfillment and respect for that opportunity.  The drawings were absolutely incredible — especially the perspective.  One simply cannot grasp the level of detail from reproductions in books.  I took many pictures of both, front and back, and although I am not certain that I uncovered a spectacular clue to our mystery, I do have a much clearer understanding of the exactness of the site and detail imparted from Latrobe. (Click on the images throughout this post for a larger version.)

Back side of the perspective drawing.

The inspection began with the back side of the Clifton perspective drawing.  A handwritten inquiry “Belvidere?” was inscribed in pencil on the lower center portion of the paper, identified as staff notes.  On the lower left corner were additional internal staff notations that we deduced were from the Conservation Division for Preservation, when the drawings were sent to be preserved.  There was also some discoloration and staining (possibly some watermarking) along the right hand side from top to bottom.  Otherwise, there were no pricking marks that I could detect (we did not expect to see any) or any surface disruptions that would have seemed original to the drawing.  These details are hardly visible from any reproductions generally accessible in books today.  Also hard to notice is the indication for use of square columns at the attached portions of the wings to the main building, while the two free-standing columns at either side are to be round.  I also wondered if Latrobe envisioned a tumbled or more natural stone for the foundation of the structure.  I detected some pink randomized splashes of color along that area. Continue reading “The Original Clifton Drawings at Library of Congress”

Tracing Richmonder Benjamin James Harris

First owner of Clifton, Benjamin James Harris, has an interesting, yet spotty history.  I am working to uncover as much about him as possible, in the hopes of establishing a feasible connection to the commission from Latrobe.  So far my chronology is:

1808, March Harris owned a house at 11th & Main, called “Harris’s High House” which burned in this month

1808, May Harris bought 3 lots [more details to come]

1808? Commissions “Clifton” design plans from B.H. Latrobe

1812, Aug 3 Harris writes pantent request to Thomas Jefferson – DC? Re: Cotton & water purification (for an actual image of the letter and transcription, see below.)

1813, Feb 6 John M. Gordon, Lynchburg, Virginia, to Benjamin James Harris, Richmond, Virginia: power of attorney from John Bullock.

1814 A patent granted to Harris for a fireproof ceiling

ca 1814-1815 Purchased and moved to Belvidere estate (previously owned by Col. Harvie)

1817 Formed business partnership w/ Geo. Winston & Jacqueline B. Harvie (Col. Harvie’s son) to develop Sydney (The Fan)

1819, Dec 29 Daughter Caroline Virginia born to Harris and wife Sarah (d. Feb 17, 1871)

ca 1825 Transfer of Clifton to Madison Walthall

1839 Harris is tried and acquitted in Richmond for whipping a slave girl to death, via William Poe testimony

??? Bankruptcy from investment in Sydney town and economic downturn

??? Harris goes to New Orleans in an attempt to recoup his finances

??? Harris moves to Kentucy, becomes a maniac, dies (qtd Slavery in the United States: a social, political, and historical …, Volume 2 By Junius P. Rodriguez, p 611) Continue reading “Tracing Richmonder Benjamin James Harris”