Author: Tim Brinkley
Acknowledgments given to Hibernia Cuthbert and the Cuthbert Family.
“It was a snowy day in the second week of December (1958) that saw the move from Fillmore Street and Harrison Street to the beautiful new home on the hill. Plans as detailed as for a beachhead invasion had been set up, and exact schedules made. With customary efficiency a local transfer company loaded heavy furniture and residents’ possessions, while volunteer drivers ferried some ladies in private automobiles, and ambulances carried others. Back and forth between the two locations until well after nightfall hummed a busy little taxicab, the dispatcher generously volunteering its use as long as needed. And lending official importance to the entire operation was the police escort which accompanied the transport of the liquor supply.” Hibernia Cuthbert: We Ladies
The story of Petersburg Home for Ladies, filled with providential events and fortuitous phenomenon, weaves the lives of everyday people into a tale of fascination which spans decades. While the Ladies Home moved into the Jefferson Street location in 1958, it was an interaction taking place over twenty years prior which allowed for such a favorable moment.
In 1932, Petersburg Home for Ladies Petersburg Home for Ladies was operating out of the 407 Harrison Street and 405 Harrison Street buildings and local artist Anna Dunlop was just opening her art studio and founding the Petersburg School of Arts, which would eventually become known as The Petersburg Area Art League. In 1934 the Petersburg Home for Ladies Board of Directors commissioned four portraits to be painted by Anna Dunlop (read our article about Anna and her portraits). These four portraits still grace the halls of Petersburg Home for Ladies connecting our present to our past and reminding us of the interrelatedness we all share with our beloved City of Petersburg.
Anna Dunlop is believed to have been born around the year 1874 with her mother Margaret Jarratt born 21 years earlier around the year 1853. Locally Anna Dunlop is still known for her contribution to the cultural arts in our region. According to the Petersburg Public Library records, Anna studied art at Columbia University before traveling to Europe to study in Paris with French artist Raphael Collins and Great Britain with American artist James McNeill Whistler.
The 1940 Census in Petersburg Virginia reveals that amidst the two sentinel-like willow oaks on 311 Jefferson Street stood the modest home of Margaret Jarratt. Now age 66, Anna Dunlop, the eldest daughter of Margaret Jarratt, lived in this home along with her sister Margaret Langfitt and her niece Margaret Langfitt. (Public Domain Image of the 1940 census in Petersburg Virginia taken from Ancestry.com)
Directly across the street, Poplar Lawn Park was filled with a myriad of activities, from children playing to Camp Lee soldiers practicing their formations. At that time the world was focused on the war in Europe, Cary Grant was the current Hollywood heart throb, the national eye looked towards the east coast as travelers hiked the Appalachian trail, and Petersburg Home for Ladies was well established between the Fillmore Street and Harrison Street Campuses. But expansion was coming as the vision for the Ladies Home continued to grow.
The Petersburg Home for Ladies Board of Directors’ meeting taking place on December 7, 1957 was exciting to say the least. It was decided during this meeting that the parcel of ground, then owned by Anna Dunlop, known as 311 Jefferson Street would be purchased by Petersburg Home for Ladies for the purpose of building a brand-new facility. (Picture taken from the 1957 Board Minutes archived at Petersburg Home for Ladies).
Soon the local community was buzzing with information about a new 34 bedroom building to be built on the Jefferson Street hill overlooking Poplar Lawn Park. A ground breaking ceremony was held by the Petersburg Home for Ladies Board of Directors, presided over by Mrs. Herbert C. Waller Lightfoot with the support of Reverend C. Sydney Swann Jr. Of Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church.
While the Progress Index describes a projected $310,000 building, the “turn key” cost, including the architects’ fees, was $342,215.08. The wisdom of our founders established Petersburg Home for Ladies as the icon of elegant living with exceptional care that the local community has grown to cherish throughout the decades. Since the move in 1958, the Ladies Home has renovated and expanded many times. From the addition of the Recreation Room in 1972, Jefferson Hall in 1995, Magnolia Hall in 2013, Courtyard renovation in 2019, or most recently the Lobby renovations currently planned for 2023, Petersburg Home for Ladies withstands the test of time and steadfastly remains as a beacon of security, companionship, care, love and an agent of blessing to all whom we touch.