The clapboard house at 217 W. Grace St. was built in 1794, while Thomas Jefferson and George Washington still lived — but on the southeast corner of Ninth and Broad.
And therein lies our story.
John Hopkins, United States commissioner of loans, lived at the northwest corner of Seventh and Broad streets and constructed the house nearby as investment property. Its first occupant was French national Jean-August Marie Chevallié. He came to Virginia during the Revolution as a (possibly secret) agent for Pierre Beaumarchais, watchmaker, writer, musician and spy. Chevallié soon prospered in the renowned Richmond milling business.
Daniel Call lived in the house from 1798 to 1820. Call was a student of George Wythe, John Marshall's brother-in-law and a lawyer of distinction. Also among Wythe's pupils were Jefferson and Henry Clay.
Call married Wythe's niece Elizabeth Taliaferro (pronounced "Tolliver" in Ruchmund-ese). She died in 1793 following the birth of their daughter Anne. In May 1797 he wed Lucy Nelson Ambler, sister-in-law of attorney and statesman John Marshall. Call handled cases involving Virginia's elite. He also voluntarily recorded the precedents of court proceedings and began publishing them as books in 1801.
Besides Call's intellectual pursuits, he was also known for the size of his gob. Call's mouth was so large that his great-grandson recalled, "If he yawns, you're gone by God!"
After Call moved out in 1820, he kept the house as rental property until his death in 1840. Mann S. Valentine I bought the site and later sold "one wooden house" to Alexander Brooks, $169 for the house and $1.25 for the fence. Brooks rolled the house up Grace Street to Madison. The family lived there for decades.
The house in 1883 became the property of All Saints Episcopal Church. Various private schools during 1888 to 1936 held classes there, including those taught by author and women's rights activist Mary Johnston.
During the early 1900s, the Call house became a gathering place for the Richmond Art Club and was saved in 1906 when All Saints trustee Peter Mayo was dissuaded from tearing it down.
Extensive interior alteration and modernization was required in 1936 by the Frank A. Bliley Funeral Home. The mortuary left around 1981.
The building then housed Alexander Dean clothiers and later the Medical College of Virginia Pre-Natal Health Center. Today, as they did in the past, the floors resound with running young feet and walls echo with children's laughter. The Richmond Preparatory Christian Academy convened its kindergarten classes there in 2006.
Though uprooted, moved and made over, the Call House's history demonstrates the colorful life of an old house allowed to endure.
Call's Quoits Daniel Call also belonged, with father-in-law John Marshall, to the "Quoits Club," a group of 25 prominent men who biweekly met at a shady spring north of Broad and just west of Hancock Street. Club co-founder the Rev. John Buchanan owned the property. They feasted on barbecue roasted at the site, consumed mint juleps and engaged in hurling brass rings at pegs, a game similar to horseshoes called Quoits. Club rules forbade the membership to speak of politics.