Sherwood Park (Richmond, Virginia)

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Sherwood Park is one of several historical neighborhoods that comprise the area known as Northside in the city of Richmond, Virginia.

Among the streetcar suburbs commissioned in 1891 by local businessman Lewis Ginter, Sherwood Park's original design was laid out in 1892 by the firm of acclaimed landscape architect Frederick Law Ulmsted. [1] Due to economic, social and political factors during Ginter's lifetime, Olmsted's elegant design of gently curved streets was never realized. Development of modern Sherwood Park accelerated during the late 1920s and continued through 1940-1950. Today the community has evolved into a diverse upper-middle-class neighborhood of tree lined streets, bike lanes, a variety of architectural styles and sidewalks throughout.

Origins of the neighborhood[edit]

Lewis Ginter, Richmond Financier, Real Estate Developer and Philanthropist

Following the Civil War, Lewis Ginter, one of the city's wealthiest residents, initiated several suburban beautification and development projects. He created the Sherwood Land Company in 1891 to promote his various projects. The name Sherwood was taken from an old estate along Brook Turnpike dating from the early 1800s that belong to a New York banker whom Ginter had partnered with after the war.[2] Ginter purchased the Sherwood estate and incorporated it into the Sherwood Park development. Such early suburban street-car communities were created so that business men in downtown Richmond could retreat from the city to the countryside. The first electric street car in the city was installed in 1888. Other developments included Ginter Park, Laburnum Park (developed by the family of Joseph Bryan), and Bellevue. As a respected philanthropist, Ginter notably donated land for the relocation of Union Theological Seminary from Farmville VA to Richmond on land adjacent to the future Sherwood Park.[1]

By the time Ginter had initiated these developments, Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr. had established himself as the preeminent landscape architect in the nation. Among Olmsted's notable and lasting achievements was the creation of the gardens at George W. Vanderbilt's massive Biltmore estate in Asheville NC. The Biltmore project led Olmsted to Richmond VA to procure trees, shrubs, and vines at the Franklin Davis & Co. nursery in Richmond. It was there on one of their regular forays through Richmond to Biltmore that an associate of Ginter in the Sherwood Land Company, Edward H. Bissell, met Olmsted in 1888. By then Olmsted was already an enthusiastic proponent of the newly developing suburbs throughout the country. The Sherwood Land Company engaged Olmstead's firm to assist in the development of "Brook Turnpike", now Brook Rd., which was a wide parkway that connected downtown to Ginter's suburban Northside properties. This initial collaboration between their respective firms established the relationship between Olmsted and Ginter.[1]

Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr., American landscape architect

By 1891, the Sherwood Park development was on Olmsted's firm's design docket. The earliest plans included a broad tree-lined parkway with irregular curves called Brookland Parkway that even today follows the plans set out in the firm's preliminary drawings. As originally conceived, the parkway would be large enough to accommodate a street-car line in the central median that would not disturb the nearby horse-drawn carriage traffic. The street-cars however were never implemented. The development lots along the development's curving roads varied in size with the largest sites reserved to face Brookland Parkway. There were smaller lots located on the western edge along Hermitage Ave. These smaller lots with easy access to the electric streetcars were part of Olmsted's efforts for people to provide people with modest incomes access to rural conditions. Its final design, with its winding roads, numerous public grounds, access to public transportation, secluded yards and varying lot sizes embodied many of Olmsted's suburban design principles as had been applied to other developments in other states.[1]

A number of factors would eventually undermine the creation of Sherwood Park as Olmsted's firm envisioned. The city of Richmond was a racially segregated city and Ginter insisted on a large surrounding fence to keep the large nearby black population out. Olmsted's firm redrew the borders so that a gated community could be built to wall off the site from its unwelcome neighbors. An engineer was hired in 1892 who did not appreciate the artistry of Olmsted's design and the streets were laid out in a more grid-like pattern rather than the more difficult to construct and less economical curves in the original design. Ginter was concerned that as much as 33% of the land was devoted to public use and therefore not salable. The number of large lots were reduced, the smallest lots were eliminated and a large public area in the southwest corner was removed. Apparently Ginter approved these changes and as a consequence there is no evidence of further cooperation between the Sherwood Land Company and Olmsted's firm after 1893. Ginter's health was failing and he appeared to have greater interest in the development of nearby Ginter Park. Moreover, it appeared that Ginter Park was more favored by wealthy whites moving into the suburbs who wanted to avoid the black community in nearby Douglas Court (the current site of Virginia Union University). The financial panic of 1893 contributed to the slow down of the project and Ginter died in 1897.[1]

Development of Sherwood Park remained slow through 1917 while work progressed more rapidly in nearby Ginter Park.[3] The first lot sales in Ginter Place occurred in 1898, more than twenty years before any building in Sherwood Park. Development in Sherwood Park did not begin in earnest until 1926, and only in 1929 was the first model home at 3320 Loxley Road offered for sale. Progress was further hindered by the Great Depression but new construction began during the period from 1930 to 1940. In the 1950s, further changes occurred with the construction of the Richmond–Petersburg Turnpike which cut off the southwest corner of the development, an area the Olmsted firm originally planned as a common area with a clubhouse and tennis courts. Little remains in modern Sherwood Park resembling Olmsted's original design. The most notable similarity is the gently curving Brookland Parkway with its luscious crepe myrtle tree borders that dazzle commuters during the summer months.[1][4]

Landscape drawing of Frederick L. Olmsted firm's 1892 plan for Sherwood Park, Richmond VA

Westwood Tract[edit]


In 1887, Dr. Hunter Holmes McGuire acquired a tract of land located in the northeastern corner of modern Sherwood Park known as Westwood for his private country retreat.[5] McGuire was personal physician to Stonewall Jackson, Lewis Ginter, and one of the founders of the Medical College of Virginia. In addition, McGuire served on the board of directors of Ginter's Sherwood Land Company.[2] McGuire updated and expanded an existing frame and stucco house located on the site since the 1790s that became known as the McGuire Cottage.[6]

McGuire Cottage in 2017

By 1890, Ginter had begun plans for a new development to be called Sherwood Park and Westwood was incorporated into Sherwood Park. Following the death of McGuire in 1900, Union Theological Seminary acquired the cottage and adjoining property for future development. Three historic neighborhoods, Ginter Park, Laburnum Park, and Sherwood Park adjoin the 34-acre park-like tract which lies across the intersection of Brook Rd. and Westwood Ave. from the seminary complex. The historic McGuire Cottage, two abandoned dormitory complexes, and a few other buildings were located within the tract.[7] Grassy lawns, recreational features such as athletic fields and tennis courts, many mature trees, a community walking track, and a meditation labyrinth added to the vibrance and vitality of the neighborhood and to the Seminary.

Westwood marker on Brook Rd.


Following a significant decline in its endowment fund from 1997 to 2009, the Seminary in 2009 began a restructuring plan that involved changing its name to “Union Presbyterian Seminary”, cuts in personnel, property and programs, and initiation of a large capital campaign.[8] The western side of the Seminary campus was sold in 1997 to Baptist Theological Seminary Richmond [9] and was subsequently acquired by Veritas School in 2013.[10][11] In 2014, the Seminary announced a plan to develop the entire Westwood tract with single family housing and rental units.[12] A zoning ordinance passed for the Westwood tract in 1953 by the Richmond City Council gave permission to the Seminary to build multifamily dwellings on the site, according to the standards of the time.[13] While the neighboring communities had enjoyed a cordial relationship with the Seminary since their mutual inception, the residents reacted swiftly to the pending disruption of the historic character of the neighborhood, the prospect of increased urbanization and congestion surrounding the development, and the loss of recreational facilities that were already scarce in the Northside region. Numerous formal community engagement meetings, individual meetings, and city council hearings were held with the local residents. The Seminary decided to limit its original plans by construction of a 300-unit apartment complex on just 15 acres on the eastern section of the site along Brook Rd and adjacent to Ginter Park.[14] Nevertheless, the new plan called for inserting more households onto one block of Brook Road than had been built over a century in all of Sherwood Park, which proved to be unacceptable to the residents who claimed that the revised plan packed in too many dwelling units, would contributed to traffic congestion, and failed to take account of the historic patterns of the surrounding blocks.[5]

In April 2017, the president of the Seminary reiterated the Seminary's intention to revive a decades-old plan to develop the tract for the expansion of the Seminary. The plan called for the construction of luxury apartments that would in part provide student housing with the remaining part becoming public housing that would help to subsidize the housing for the Seminary students. The Seminary's stated position was that the development could have a positive effect on the community and provide housing alternatives to a younger generation of families.[15] The final plan called for the remaining 19 acres to remain as community land, a portion of which was reserved for a charitable urban farm.[16] The existing walking track used by a variety of people would be modified but preserved. Sherwood Park and other local residents were not reassured and, despite a last minute court suit and appeals by residents to the mayor and local officials, construction began on the site in the summer of 2017.[17][18]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Kaliss, Gregory J. (2016). "Richmond's Sherwood Park: A Forgotten Olmsted Neighborhood". Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. 124 (4): 316–346.
  2. ^ a b Burns, Brian (2011). Lewis Ginter, Richmond’s Gilded Age Icon. Charleston, SC: The History Press. p. 116. ISBN 978-1-62584-223-7.
  3. ^ Harnesberger, Douglas; Thorn, Anne (June 1982). "Ginter Park Historic District Nomination" (PDF). The Virginia Department of Historic Resources. Retrieved February 25, 2018.
  4. ^ "Brookland Parkway Richmond VA". The Cultural Landscape Foundation. Retrieved February 21, 2018.
  5. ^ a b "Richmond's Westwood Tract - background information for a neighborhood under assault". Urban Scale Richmond. April 25, 2017. Retrieved July 31, 2017.
  6. ^ "The McGuire Cottage" (PDF). Retrieved August 4, 2017.
  7. ^ "Sherwood Park Civic Association Boundaries" (PDF). Retrieved December 24, 2017.
  8. ^ Terry, Edward (May 28, 2009). "Union Theological Seminary chooses 'dying' brand name". The Layman. Retrieved December 12, 2017.
  9. ^ Dilday, Robert (January 18, 2013). "BTSR to sell much of campus by June". Baptist News. Retrieved December 12, 2017.
  10. ^ Reid, Zachary (January 19, 2013). "Private K-12 school to buy seminary property in North Richmond". The Richmond Times-Dispatch. Retrieved December 12, 2017.
  11. ^ Demeria, Katie (July 21, 2015). "School closes on first piece of $10M campus". Richmond BizSense. Retrieved December 12, 2017.
  12. ^ Rolett, Burl (September 5, 2014). "Seminary enters the real estate business". Richmond BizSense. Retrieved September 11, 2017.
  13. ^ Zoning Ordinance No. 53-21-31, City of Richmond, February 9, 1953.
  14. ^ "2016 Virginia's Most Endangered Historic Places". Preservation Virginia. April 25, 2017. Retrieved July 27, 2017.
  15. ^ Blount, Brian K. (April 23, 2017). "Westwood Tract plan is right for Union Presbyterian Seminary and right for the community". The Richmond Times-Dispatch. Retrieved July 31, 2017.
  16. ^ "19 Acres Westwood Tract Proposal - Shalom Farms". Shalom Farms. April 30, 2016. Retrieved August 3, 2017.
  17. ^ Alix, Bryan (April 25, 2017). "Northside residents file suit to stop Westwood Tract development". Retrieved September 18, 2017.
  18. ^ Freeman, Jr., Vernon; Holmberg, Mark (August 11, 2017). "16 Oak Trees Torn Down to Make Way for Westwood Tract Development". Retrieved September 16, 2017.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 37°34′30″N 77°27′18″W / 37.575°N 77.455°W / 37.575; -77.455