Address: Between East Broad Street and East Grace Street, bounded by 23rd and 24th streets
In the early 1950s Richmond’s downtown was still vibrant with residents, retail, restaurants, and electric street cars and yet Church Hill, our city’s oldest neighborhood and certainly one of the most beautiful, was in a deplorable state of disrepair. In 1956 the Historic Richmond Foundation began its valiant efforts to save and restore the neighborhood and its many treasures. Rather than develop properties haphazardly across the neighborhood, a single “pilot block” was selected and restored to be an example to all of Church Hill’s massive potential.
The block (south of Broad Street between 23rd and 24th streets) had its buildings restored and occupied, its yards landscaped and planted and its street lamps lit by gas, all of which added to its ambience. The final stroke of genius was to establish the cobblestone-paved alley as a mews. Landscape architect Ralph Griswold was selected to design the space.
The cobblestone paving of the original alley remained in place and was supplemented by acquiring the back 30 feet of the private yards of those buildings facing Broad. In this previously overlooked service space, Griswold planted intensely with lush ornamental grasses, seasonal flowers, crape myrtle and magnolia. Woven through the landscaping are paths paved in reclaimed brick which intersect at several points to create intimate spaces. One is a brick patio with antique, Victorian garden benches; another is a small gazebo-like structure made with salvaged wrought iron.
The result of this effort is an unexpected urban garden that feels more curated than manicured. The various period features of the Mews, coupled with the views of the surrounding gardens and historic buildings, amount to a veritable outdoor museum of traditional English garden design. The view eastward through the alley frames the St. John’s churchyard, giving the Mews its name.
Since the restoration of Church Hill began more than 50 years ago, much has changed in the now-treasured neighborhood. Small shops and restaurants once again fill its storefronts and homes and gardens are lovingly cared for by their dedicated inhabitants. Thankfully, walking through the shaded secrecy of St. John’s Mews has remained as wonderful and romantic an experience as it’s always been.