The Friends of Fonticello Park want to acknowledge that long before there was settlement in this area, the Powhatan people inhabited this land. This history of the park is what occurred after the land was stolen and settled. A number of artifacts have been found near the spring over the years and attests to early use by indigenous communities. Additionally, we want to acknowledge that while we have been unable to find definitive evidence in our research, it is likely that this farm also depended on the stolen labor of enslaved people. We will continue our quest to uncover the full truth.
There are lots of embedded links in the history below. Be sure to click them to see the primary sources we found in our research of the park.
The house, known as “Fonticello,” was most likely built around 1760 and the named was derived from the “Indians”, and sat in the center of what is now the park, facing toward present day Bainbridge. It was most likely built by William Smith, who died in 1801 . It came into the family of Frederick Clark through the sale of Smith’s estate in 1813 by his son, Beverly Smith. During the Civil War, federal union soldiers were camped all around Manchester, including at Fonticello. No additional information has been uncovered about William Smith’s or Frederick Clark’s families.
In April 1863, the property was listed as for sale at auction by Jas. M. Taylor & Sons, Auctioneers, describing it as a “Beautiful Suburban Residence with 40 Acres of Valuable and Highly Improved Land.” The property is listed as consisting of a “commodious brick residence, with a kitchen, quarter, barn, stables, ice house, spring house and dairy.” The spring is mentioned and noted as discharging a gallon of water an hour and emptying into a pond. The land is noted as growing the “choisest vegetables”. It is unclear if the land was purchased at the auction that took place on April 22nd at 4:30pm.
The property was again listed in February 1868 “for rent at auction” by AC Pulliam, Auctioneer. A much more sparse listing, it only noted that it would be up for rent via auction on March 5, 1868. In 1872, Pocahontas Clark, Frederick Clark’s daughter, sold 40 acres, including the house, to William Garland Taylor. In 1923, the News Leader ran a column titled, “Richmond In Bygone Days” which discusses the establishment of the Manchester Gas-Light company formed 50 years earlier (1873) by several residents of Manchester, among them, William G Taylor, banker.
Between this time and the 1890s, there is not much mention of Fonticello or the Taylor family in the news. On July 21, 1886, the Richmond Whig noted that “Swansboro is booming”(Weisiger), the land having been largely farmland until this time. At that time, William Garland Taylor was one of only a few homes in the neighborhood. In May 1891, the Richmond Times Dispatch included a section in the paper called “Crispy Manchester Notes: Cullings of General Interest on the Other Side of the River” and noted that William Garland Taylor was having another story added to the Fonticello house and the work was being done by a Mr. T.H. Norvell.
A natural spring was on the property and formed a quarter acre lake near present day Perry and 28th Street. On October 21, 1892, the Times ran a piece called “News of Manchester: The People of South Richmond” and reported that Mr. W.G. Taylor had been “awarded a premium at the Exposition for lithia water from his spring.” Perhaps this was the moment Taylor decided to capitalize on the spring and start the Fonticello Lithia Springs Company. As early as 185, literature about the Fonticello Lithia Spring boasted the endorsement of its curative powers from doctors and users.
He also opened a shop at 621 East Main street near the intersection of 7th and Main Street in downtown Richmond to sell his water. It is unclear what year this shop was opened.
During the 1890s, his daughters Louise and Kathleen were hosting parties at the Fonticello home and courting their suiters. In 1896, his eldest daughter, Louise, married Mr. Edgards R Lafferty at the Fonticello estate. Then in 1898, his daughter, Nannie Garland Taylor, marries Anton Hofer Theirmann at St. Paul’s church with a reception at the Jefferson.
On July 7, 1898, a five year old girl almost drowned in the lake on the property. After returning from the Spring, the child was playing around the lake when she fell in to a section about five feet deep. A man across the lake noticed the girl and yelled to other closer to her to come to her assistance. A young woman grabbed the child by the arm, while a young man jumped in to save her. From the article, it seems the two may have been there with the child, as it is noted they then left for their home in Goat Hill.
It seems the Taylor family was seeing great success during the early 1900’s and the Fonticello name and water was well known, not only in Virginia, but across the country. It appears the family was quite well received. The family’s affairs showed up frequently in the society sections of the newspapers and in 1901, Fonticello water was listed in the prize list for a Carnival. In 1902, Miss Taylor of Fonticello was among the ladies present at the Governor’s Mansion for a social gathering of the inauguration of Governor Montague. It is unclear which daughter this was, but it would have had to have been either Kathleen or Eugenia, as the other Taylor daughters were already married. Miss Kathleen Taylor’s engagement was announced in November 1902, and she was married on December 4th, once again at the Fonticello estate.
On July 7, 1903, Mrs. Nannie R Taylor, William’s wife, died. In her will, she left Fonticello to her husband. The paper reports that day that will of Nannie Taylor stood in the name of J.E. Taylor, trustee, and passed the 40 acre Fonticello Spring property to her husband. It is unclear why the property was held by Nannie R Taylor originally and not her husband.
Over the years, the house and office were broken into several times of the years, including in 1902, when a man named Henry Washington was accused of breaking into the Springs office and sent to jail for 8 months. In 1909, Robert Hobson was in court for breaking into the Fonticello home. Then again in 1901 John Finney was tried for disorderly conduct for roving in the kitchen of the Fonticello house. It is worth noting that all three of these men were black which draws into question the details of these arrests and their legitimacy, considering the race relations in the country at the time.
William Garland Taylor was elected to the Chamber of Commerce in 1908. In 1910, the paper announced that Fonticello was to have a large bottling plant able to make 1,000 bottles of water an hour. The plant was reported to take 60 days to build, pumping water from the spring to the plant. The building was designed by Architect A. F. Huntt, of Richmond, and built by Contractor Bass, of Manchester. Around this same time, the Richmond Testing Laboratory reported the water from both the spring and the bottling plant to be free of contamination and that any accidental contamination was impossible. The report states that the spring was surrounded entirely by a glass house.
On August 11, 1910, William Garland Taylor, age 74, died suddenly in his home of an apparent stroke. His obituary in the Richmond Virginian (pg 1) (pg 2) tells the story of his life in as much detail as can be found (below). The article notes that at that point, the home, Fonticello was over 100 years old and got it’s name from the “Indians”.
Mr. Garland was born in Manchester in 1836, most likely in his father’s house on Porter Street between 9th and 10th streets. His father, Dr. Samuel Taylor, was a distinguished physician and his grandfather, Samuel Taylor III, a member of the State convention in 1829. His mother was Sydney Francis Brown, who died in 1839, when he was just three years old. His father remarried, Sarah Catherine Brown, his mother’s sister and his aunt. (You can see the rough family tree we have put together here.)
WG Taylor attended the commons schools in Richmond, and at age 16 began working at the Farmers’ State bank. When the Confederacy was formed, he began working for the treasury department and was a member of the Richmond Home Guards. After the Civil War, Taylor formed his own banking business with two other men, Isaacs and Williams under the name “Isaacs, Taylor and Williams.” As previously noted, he also helped start the Manchester Gas-Light company and served on the Chamber of Commerce, neither of which are noted in his obituary.
WG Taylor was remembered as a kind and charismatic man, as well as a kind and indulgent father. The obituary states he was loved by many and had friends on the 100s.
Mr. Taylor was buried in Hollywood Cemetery, next to his wife. His gravestone can be found on the Hollywood Cemetery Burial records.
It seems after his father’s death, Richard Taylor, William’s oldest child, took over the operation of the Fonticello Lithia Spring company as the “manager”. It is unclear if he also lived in the home. About a month after William’s death though, the News Leader ran a story about Richard stocking the lake with ducks and geese he wounded on the James River and then brought to the pond.
In December 1912, the Fonticello Mineral Spring company was sold by the heirs to John Garland Pollard and new charter granted under the name Fonticello Mineral Springs Company. Approximately $30,000 in preferred stock was offered to the public that year while another $25,000 was taken by Taylor’s heirs as part of the sale. The 40 acres of land which the spring sat on was sold to a syndicate headed by Dr. J.C. Walton, for $175,000, who planned to build a “sanatarium” on the site. The land had been on sale, apparently, since W.G. Taylor’s death two years earlier. The property was to be turned over to the new enterprise by January 1, 1913. The news from January 1913 ran stores about the health resort and summer hotel that was to be built on the land by the Lithia Springs Mineral Company. The News Leader reported on January 17th that the Fonticello Mineral Springs Company was under the leadership of John Pollard, president, and J.C. Walton, Vice President (pg. 1) (pg. 2). The article suggested the sale of the water would continue.
The 1910’s saw many advertisements for Fonticello Lithia Spring water, many purporting the health benefits of the water as a selling point with the endorsement of doctors. By 1913, the ads were selling the “radio active” properties of the water as a beneficial for all kinds of ailments and had the backing of many doctors. A front page article in the Times Dispatch on March 23, 1913, titled “Gushing Waters in Old Virginia: Fonticello Spring, Near Richmond, as a Sample,” told the story of Fonticello, what experts say about the curative powers of mineral water (including “radio-activity, which seems to be a peculiar and a very valuable feature of the product of the Fonticello Spring.”), as well as the plans for the sanitarium and hotel (pg. 1) (pg. 2). In April 2-13, the Richmond Virginian again ran a front page article about the “Elixir of Life” found in the gushing waters of Fonticello (pg. 1) (pg. 2).
It is unclear when the plan for the hotel and sanitarium fell apart, but on February 7, 1915, Richmond Times Dispatch ran the first announcement of the plan to subdivide the Fonticello property and sell the land off in lots, with the plan to secure the 12 acre section where the house and spring are undeveloped for a private park. Hence, the Fonticello Park was created alongside the establishment of what is now the Woodland Heights and Swansboro neighborhoods. The subdivision was named “Fonticello Park” and was to “join Woodland Heights.” On tax records for homes in this area still today, Fonticello is the subdivision listed. In the same month, it was announced that Miss L.M. Krouse would take over as manager of the Fonticello and Broad Rock Water companies, effective March 1. On May 9, 1915, advertisements for the lots began running and by the 30th of the same month, over 46% of lots had been sold. On May 29th, the Evening Journal reported that lots at the corner of 30th and Bainbridge had been purchased by the fire department and would house what would “probably be known as Engine House No. 17.” The sale became official on July 31, 1915. The lot was sold by the Fonticello Mineral Springs Corporation to the City of Richmond for $1,500. In the advertisements below, you can see the rendering of the lake near Perry and 28th. Of special note is the presence of a vineyard near 29th and Bainbridge. Additionally, the advertisements state the land owners will have exclusive use of the park and springs.
About a year late, on June 7, 1916, the Evening Journal reported that the Fonticello property, including the famous spring was being foreclosed on and sold at auction. The headline states that the property was bought by “man who won prize in Louisiana Lottery” by the name of Mr. Norvell, who held the second mortgage of $25,000. Mr. Pollard had become attorney general and under reorganization of the corporation, Mr. Norvell had become president. The bank received noticed from Mr. Norvell that the overdue interest on the property would not be paid and ordered the property advertised. The first mortgage, for $75,000, was still held by the heirs of William G Taylor at this time. After W.G. Taylor’s death, the property was sold and his heirs received $75,000 cash, $75,000 in first mortgage bonds and about $20,000 in stock. At the time of the auction, the stock was valued at $42,000 but was in danger of being wiped out unless special terms were reached in the sale. The auction notes that while the property had not be subdivided (we assume they mean the 12 acres that are now the park), gas, sewer and water mains had been laid and development would be easy. On June 12, 1916, the trustee’s sale of Fonticello Park and Springs was advertised in the Evening Journal noting that it would be sold as a whole. It mentions “the Fonticello Park Lots” (shown above), as well as a second block of land in the plan for Woodland Heights situated near Semmes and 28th and includes mention of the tract of land bounded by 287th, Perry, 29th and Bainbridge, where the spring and home sat. In September 23, 2016, Alderman Powers offered a resolution to buy Fonticello Springs for a city park. The News Leader ran a notice on April 26, 1923, that the Fonticello Lots were being sold by the Penny Brothers with approximately 150 lots offered between $300-$600 each. Over half had been sold by 1pm.
In June 1923, City Councilman Carter Jones from Madison Ward, starts advocating for a park on the southside, noting the inequality that park are opening for the white children of Richmond, but that there was no park on the southside for the over 1,500 black children who lived here. The article notes that a site has been acquired, rent free and that the price of the equipment has been reduced by a gift from Mrs. Barton H Wise of Morris Street, but that the city needed to secure the additional funding of $125 needed.
Carter Jones is quoted as saying, “There is no great need in the city. The children of this section are entirely without room for legitimate outdoor play. The vacant lots that they might have used, with or without permission last year, now are taken by buildings.”
Carter Jones authored the resolution to take over the Fonticello Springs property from the Taylor estate and make a park of it. The resolution was approved by the Council May 16, 1924. By June 1924, advertisements for the remaining lots (right) mention the new city park which Richmond was planning to acquire. In September 1924, the Parents Association of Asbury Methodist offered resolution of thanks to Carter Jones for his support of a southside playground.
The petition for the acquisition of the land was filed in Hustings Court, Part II, Oct. 27, 1924. Four years later the property was obtained via Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals case “Fonticello Mineral Springs Co. v. City of Richmond, 147 Va. 355 (1927).” The charter of the City of Richmond allowed the the city to acquire the land by condemnation when a price could not be agreed upon. It was offered first to the City for $100,000 then $90,000, both of which the City rejected, which is how the sale ended up in court. After the city instituted the proceedings to take the property by condemnation, the court case notes James E. Grass wanted the property for a Coca-Cola bottling plant. The City of Richmond won the case and the park was name for Carter Jones. The Taylor homestead, located in or near the present traffic circle, was pulled down in 1934. (Richmond Times Dispatch. September 17, 1950).
From the 1930s to the 1970s, the park saw heavy use from local high schools and sports leagues. Football, women’s tennis, baseball, and soccer were all played in the park. Teams from all over the state competed there. But no other sport has the same long history with the park as baseball does. In the 1970’s, the Fonticello Chiefs were one of the leading semi-pro squads in the area. The only mention of the park in the 1980s was in ThroTTle Magazine announcing a live reggae show with Oneness of Juju, A.A.E. and Yuth Rahkirs on July 3, 1983.
In the 1990’s, the City of Richmond Parks and Recreation department through “Project Ready” brought summer camps to the park, along with jobs, education and family counseling. Established by City Manager Robert C. Bobb, the goal of the program was to reconnect with students who had dropped out or were in danger of doing so. Camps were for kids ages 11 – 17 and ran during the summer from 9am to 5pm.
The park also used to hold an annual South Side Reunion on in September of each year. The event was put on by the South Side Reunion committee, which encouraged community pride and also raised money for student scholarships. The first one was held in 1994.
The event featured sports, games, music and community spirit. It was open to the public and acted as a scholarship for the Charlie Davenport Sydnor Scholarship Fund.
During the 1999 South Side Reunion, the committee sold bricks from the original Blackwell Elementary school for $5 each as part of their student scholarship. (The school was originally opened in 1888 as the Matthew Fontaine Maury School for Colored Children. During reconstruction, it was renamed to Paul Laurence Dunbar school. Then it was again renamed to James H Blackwell, a renowned teacher at the school.)
Coming soon…park history after the turn of the century…
Much of the History on this page is taken from the book, Old Manchester and It’s Environs: 1769 -1910 by Benjamin B. Weisiger, III (1993). Some additional information was gleaned from a Richmond Family Magazine Article, Richmond as a City of Springs (June 14, 2020). Many of the images in the above gallery were found at the Library of Virginia by neighbor Matthew Daniel and posted to the Friends Facebook page in 2020 by another neighbor. The picture of the man drinking from the spring is from the 1950s and was posted on the Richmond Times Dispatch. The last picture of the swing sets is from April 1977 and was found on the VCU Library website.
October 21, 2022: Additional information is being added to this page based on research from the Library of Virginia. Links for primary sources are embedded in the history. If you would like to see the historical repository of primary sources, we’ve found, please feel free to check it out here.
FRIENDS OF FONTICELLO PARK
2715 Bainbridge Street
Richmond, VA 23225
© 2023 Friends of Fonticello Park, Richmond, Virginia. The Friends of Fonticello Park is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization.