Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Violet Bank sits atop Archer's Hill looking towards Blandford & Petersburg

Violet Bank is an architecturally sophisticated Federal-style plantation dependency, built on the banks of the Appomattox River in 1815. Noteworthy architectural features of this unusual one-story house include three-part bays, intricate woodwork and elaborate plaster ceilings. The plasterwork, some of the finest Federal plaster ornamentation in Virginia, is based on the designs of Asher Benjamin's American Builder's Companion (1806), an architectural pattern book widely used by Virginia builders. Asher Benjamin's designs also provided inspiration for detailing found nearby at Magnolia Grange and Battersea. Violet Bank was never a bank, but was proably so name for poetic reasons..
The first house at this site was built by Thomas Shore, burned shortly after construction, and was rebuilt by Shore's widow, Jane Grey, and her second husband Henry Haxall. The unusual three-part bays indicate that Shore may have been inspired by noted architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe, who visited Shore in 1796 during construction of the first house. Latrobe inspired the designs of several Richmond townhouses, that also feature three-part bays.
General Robert E. Lee used the house for his headquarters from June through November of 1864 and was in residence when he learned of the explosion created by Union forces that resulted in a 135-foot wide crater and killed around 300 Confederate soldiers, part of the long siege of Petersburg. Following the Civil War, Violet Bank was repeatedly subdivided until it was reduced to a single lot in 1919. The house served as the home of the Colonial Heights Post No. 284 of the American Legion from 1947 until 1959. Now operated as a house museum, it features a collection of Civil War artifacts, as well as a collection of furniture dating from 1815 to 1873, textiles and ceramics.

Violet Bank is located at 303 Virginia Ave. east of U.S. Rte. 1 in Colonial Heights. It is open Tuesday-Saturday from 10:00am to 5:00pm, and Sunday from 1:00pm to 6:00pm. Please call 804-520-9395 or visit www.colonial-heights.com/RecVioletBank.htm for further information. Violet Bank has also been documented by the Historic American Buildings Survey.