THE HISTORIC CALL HOUSE

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The earliest record of the house is an insurance policy of May, 1796, when it was owned by John Hopkins. At that time it stood at the southeast corner of Broad and Ninth Streets. It was latter moved to it's current location and an annex was added to the house.

If these walls could talk...

The Call house is one of the oldest houses still standing in Richmond. The earliest record is an insurance policy of May, 1796, when it was owned by John Hopkins and occupied by “Monsieur Chevilee.” At that time it stood at the southeast corner of Broad and Ninth Streets. John Hopkins was Commissioner of Loans, whose own home was at the northwest corner of Seventh and Broad. Mordecai evidently confused this latter house with the Ninth and Broad property when he wrote that Hopkins retired his house at Seventh and Broad to Chevallié—an easy mistake to have made, since Mordecai was only a boy when Hopkins sold the house further east and probably did not remember that he ever owned two houses in the same neighborhood. It is interesting to know one home of that signi cant person, Jean-Auguste-Marie Chevallié, agent of Beaumarchais and later one of the founders of milling in Virginia, whose name is generally Anglicized to John A. Chevallié.

In 1798 Hopkins sold the house he was renting to Chevallié to Daniel Call, who lived there until 1820 and owned it until his death twenty years later. Daniel Call, brother-in-law of John Marshall, was one of the most distinguished lawyers of his day and is still remembered as the author of Call’s Reports. Of his appearance, his great-grandson says that he had such a large mouth that the saying was, “If he yawns, you’re gone, by God!” At the time of his death we nd under the caption “Death of one of the Patriarchs of the City!’’ the following notice:

We announce with deep regret the death of Daniel Call, Esq.... one of the oldest inhabitants—and the oldest lawyer at the Richmond Bar. He was distinguished as an eminent lawyer, as a gentleman of ne judgment— of much literary taste as well as profound legal lore—universally respected in the walks of private life—the beloved associate, the intimate friend, and the brother- in-law of Chief Justice Marshall.1

In 1820 Call had purchased what was afterwards called the Pelouze house, at Eighth and Marshall Streets, where he spent the last twenty years of his life. The little wooden Broad Street house was rented to various people, among them John Fox, John G. Williams and L. Sutherland. In 1844 Call’s daughter, Mrs. Cameron, sold the square off in lots, the one where the house stood being bought by Valentine and Breedon. Mann S. Valentine I soon bought his partners share, and he notes that he rented the wooden house and kitchen for $300 a year. In 1849, when he was about to erect his big dwelling and store (see below, page 274) he sold the former Call home to Alexander Brooks, who paid him $169 for “one wooden house’’ and $1.25 for the paling fence! The house was rolled up the street to its present location at Madison and Grace. The fact is mentioned in Walthall’s Hidden Things Brought to Light, and the late Mr. E. V. Valentine told me that as a boy he followed it up Grace Street.

The second phase of the Call house now began. Until 1870 it belonged to Mr. and Mrs. Brooks, after which it was the property and home of Wilson C. Thomas, a tobacco manufacturer. In 1883 it became the property of All Saints Church. Until the rst church building was erected, on Madison Street just south of the house, services were held in the Call house. During the years between 1888 and 1936 it was rented, chie y to various private schools, so that it is a familiar spot to several generations of Richmonders. Among these schools were Miss Mary Johnson’s in the ’nineties, the Richmond

Art Club in the early 1900’s, and Mrs. Benson’s Tutoring School for about twenty- ve years following that. In 1907 the trustees of All Saints had sold the property to Mr. Peter Mayo, one of the leaders in building both the old and the newer All Saints. Mr. Mayo was dissuaded from pulling down the Call house by Mrs. Benson’s pleas that he repair it instead. She sublet parts of the house to other schools, among them Miss Ella Binford’s dancing-class and Miss Susie Slaughter’s school for boys.

In 1936 the heirs of Mr. Mayo sold the property for $25,000 to Frank A. Bliley. After long negotiations with the Building Inspectors department, Mr. Bliley was allowed to carry out his wish to re-proof the old house and use it as an undertaking establishment. The house was practically taken down and rebuilt. The most radical changes that have been made are the addition of a fence too imposing for the house, the marquee added to the west side, and the substitution of a small porch for the long one with Doric columns that formerly ran the full length of the house. Of course the inside is entirely altered, but it probably bore little resemblance to what it looked like in Call’s day even before Mr. Bliley’s restoration.

It is dif cult to tell, even from a series of insurance plats, just what the house looked like when it stood at Ninth and Broad Streets. The wing does not appear before the policy of 1836 and then is said to be one story, not two. In only one policy is any porch indicated, that of 1822, when the house is shown with a small square porch, probably similar in shape to the entrance made in the restoration. Perhaps Mr. Brooks put the long veranda on when he erected it at Madison Street.

In spite of all the changes that have passed over it, the Call house is charming and serves is an example of how an old dwelling can be adapted for business purposes if there is suf cient will to preserve it