I saw thee once — once only — years ago: // I must not say how many — but not many.
It was a July midnight; and from out // A full-orbed moon, that, like thine own soul, soaring,
Sought a precipitate pathway up through heaven, // There fell a silvery-silken veil of light,
With quietude, and sultriness, and slumber, // Upon the upturn’d faces of a thousand
Roses that grew in an enchanted garden, // Where no wind dared to stir, unless on tiptoe —
Fell on the upturn’d faces of these roses // That gave out, in return for the love-light,
Their odorous souls in an ecstatic death — // Fell on the upturn’d faces of these roses
That smiled and died in this parterre, enchanted // By thee, and by the poetry of thy presence.
-First stanza of ‘To Helen’ by Edgar Allan Poe
In the early 1800s, there grew a garden in the middle of Richmond. In it, a young dark-haired poet caused mischief amongst the roses and courted his first love under the linden trees. As the plants flourished, a row of homes along its southern edge did, too, the block hosting gatherings, residents and guests of great importance through the Civil War and long after. Today, visitors can relive history in the same parlors, porches and garden as guests of the Linden Row Inn, a boutique hotel preserving some of Richmond’s deepest roots.
In 1816, Richmond businessman Charles Ellis purchased a block of land on Franklin Street, unaware of the history that would take place in its walls. Ellis used the plot as a private garden in which his children and their friend, a young Edgar Allan Poe, would play. Poe would return to the garden throughout adolescence and adulthood, leading many scholars to believe this was the same garden described in To Helen. Five years before Poe died in 1849, construction began on a row of five Greek Revival homes called Linden Square, and by 1853, five more lined Franklin Street, becoming known as Linden Row. Over the next century, some of Richmond’s most elite would gather here in what would become one of the most sought-after addresses in the city.
During the Civil War, Linden Row became a hotspot in the Confederate capital. Military leaders would gather in the home of Virginia Pegram, whose three sons all served in the Confederate army. Her parlor (now suite 220 in the inn and the same one Travel Well visited) served as a social gathering place for her sons, their comrades and some of the most notable members of society of the time. Pegram and her daughter, Mary, also opened a school which neighbored the existing Southern Female Institute just two doors down. A third school occupied a Linden Row home in the 1890’s. Virginia Ellett’s school for girls educated many notable women, including the first woman to serve in the British House of Commons. The rest of the Linden Row homes also welcomed prestigious residents and guests in the coming decades.
Though Ellett’s school later moved, Linden Row remained a special place to one of its students: preservationist Mary Wingfield Scott, who grew up in the affluent Franklin Street neighborhood. By the time she purchased the homes for preservation in the 1950s, commercialization was taking over downtown Richmond. Two of the homes had already been knocked down and the eight remaining homes had been converted to apartments and storefronts. Determined to save a piece of the city’s history, she purchased seven of the homes and served as landlord for nearly two decades while she preserved them.
While restoring Linden Row’s original architecture and antiques, Scott breathed new life into the property. As early as the 1920s, Scott herself was in a public relationship with partner Virginia Withers and even adopted children in a time when such activities were virtually nonexistent and socially forbidden. This “‘never ask permission’ frame of mind” stuck with her as she worked in high tops and fur coats alongside African-American friends as she restored the row homes, ignoring lingering confederate views, racism and southern societal rules of the era.
Scott donated the property to the Historic Richmond Foundation in 1980 under the condition that the historic design be maintained. In 1985, two years after Scott passed away, the property was purchased and converted to a 70-room inn by 1988. By this time, the garden had been bricked over and carriage houses took up some of its remaining square footage, but the linden trees remained. The restorations preserved the architectural detail and personality of the property while converting the row homes and garden buildings to guest rooms featuring a mix of antiques on loan from Historic Richmond and updated furnishings. The garden, too, was restored with brick paving, a fountain and landscaping.
The Linden Row Inn Today
Linden Row’s current owner, Savara Properties, works closely with Historic Richmond to preserve this history while also providing guests with the necessary modern comforts, said sales coordinator Casey Watson. Period furniture and antique decor hide flat screen TVs and energy efficient light bulbs. Modern bathroom facilities and large porches blend seamlessly with the original architecture. Restored fireplaces create a homey feel while central heating does the leg work, and the entire inn has free Wifi. Guests enjoy complimentary access to the YMCA fitness facility one block away, and the continental breakfast has food and snack options for everyone, from waffles to fruit and yogurt.
What often goes unseen, however, is its ideals beyond antiques and architecture. Linden Row is Virginia Green certified, a self-certification program of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality requiring optional linen service, recycling, water and energy conservation, and green events. In addition to preserving the environment, the inn plays an active role in preserving its community by supporting a long list of local beneficiaries, such as the Children’s Hospital of Richmond Foundation and the Richmond Animal League.
Furthermore, in a time when the equal rights movement is still on rocky ground in the south, Linden Row’s support of the LGBT community could make its preservationist proud. The inn’s nondiscriminatory policies and open support of LGBT guests, personnel, community members and events earned it a TAG Approved rating in an accommodations program by Community Marketing, Inc. (CMI provides education and training to companies open to LGBT markets and created the Gay and Lesbian Convention Visitors Bureau, of which Visit Richmond is a partner.)
Today’s Linden Row Inn is a great example of a boutique property both rooting into its unique history and flourishing in community and modern values. Guests can enjoy a stay at the inn from $129/night for a garden room to $279+ for a parlor suite, along with seasonal and year-round experience packages.