Bon Air is a neighborhood in northern Chesterfield County. Located roughly 8 miles west of Downtown Richmond, Bon Air was formed as a getaway for wealthy Richmonders. The name, meaning “good air” in french, was selected to evoke the bucolic countryside which Richmonders could now escape to.
The village was formed around the Bon Air Hotel, built in 1880 in stick style. The resort complex offered a range of amenities from croquet to jousting. Bowling and billiards were soon added, though restricted to male customers. A carpenter gothic chapel was built next to the hotel in 1882, presumably allowing weekending Richmonders to stay in Bon Air for Sunday. Immediately surrounding the resort complex a number of Richmonders built private vacation homes. The rest of the 1880s saw a growing number of permanent residents in Bon Air and an increasingly complex internal economy.
Richmond’s electric streetcar lines opened in 1888 bringing the most important change to Bon Air since its inception. The line was an outlet to channel additional vacationers from the city to the resort, but its efficiency made commuting the reverse direction feasible. The Bon Air hotel burned to the ground in 1889, reinforcing the shift from resort village to bedroom community, a status which Bon Air retains to this day.
Despite more than 100 years of suburban growth, the core of Bon Air still resembles a Victorian era getaway. The area is anchored by the 1881 annex of the Bon Air Hotel and includes a number of Victorian and stick style residences. This cluster of preserved buildings was listed as a National Historic District in 1988, 100 years after the streetcar reached it.
Today, Bon Air is part of Chesterfield County. The area has no independent municipal structure; it carries only the unimaginative title of “census designated place.” Though the core village has been seamlessly integrated into a larger suburban landscape, the residents of Bon Air continue to celebrate their distinct architectural and historical heritage.
Photographs by author