The 1911 Hapke-Geiger House may be the only standing Stickley Craftsman house in Virginia and one of a few hundred in the nation. Photo by Brooke Marsh
The 20th century’s rude interruptions of landscape through road expansion that grew the wending rural route of Robious Road gave the Hapke-Geiger House both an address — 11171 — and a precarious roadside perch amid a verdant 3-acre patch. The half-timbered enchanted cottage sprung from an imaginative leap by Wisconsin-born evangel of the American Craftsman style, Gustav Stickley (1858-1942). The son of German immigrants, he created catalogs of mail-order house plans that inspired enterprising dreamers. Two of them were German immigrants Theodore and Mathilda Hapke. When they moved from Chicago to Chesterfield County they appear to have brought with them plans for a Stickley Craftsman house. (Only a house originating from plans published by Stickley through his magazine The Craftsman is considered to be a true Craftsman home.)
An Architectural Mash-up
The 3,000-square-foot Hapke-Geiger House, for which Stickley published the plans in January 1909, features a center-hall plan flanked by side porches reminiscent of an 18th-century American pattern. The Arts and Crafts exterior is folded around interior architectural ornament from the Colonial Revival branch of the American Renaissance. The house is a well-executed architectural mash-up.
Stickley advocated situating houses amid trees and nature. He emphasized end-to-end view floor plans and the authenticity of materials. Romans knew of concrete, but as a utilitarian building material it went in and out of favor until the early 20th century when architects debated its merits for residential use. Frank Lloyd Wright’s experiments with the material occurred just five years prior. Concrete’s lack of aesthetic appeal offered a safety factor in defense against fire. Stickley added half-timber adornments to soften the slab effect.
“Gustav Stickley democratized the [Arts and Crafts] movement through mail order,” explained former Virginia Commonwealth University professor and art historian Charles Brownell in 2005. “It’s an American success story.”
A Checkered Past
The Hapkes weave an erratic trail as documented in 2005 by Virginia Commonwealth University architectural history graduate student Victoria Katsuko Carter. Her study of the house traced the Hapke’s arrival in the United States: Theodore, German-born (1867) and native Russian Mathilda (1880). By 1899 they lived in Nebraska, where daughter Julia was born. The couple next moved to New York state, where Carter speculates the Hapkes became acquainted with Stickley’s
work. Stickley rose to prominence in 1901 after publishing the first issue of his magazine, The Craftsman. The couple and their family arrived in Chesterfield in 1910.
Stickley employed several architects, thus the author of the Hapke’s house plan remains unknown. “Stickley was a central figure in the Arts and Crafts movement, but he was not a trained architect,” Carter observes. His fame rested in his furniture, décor and theory.
According to tradition in the DesChamps family, who became the later owners, Theodore Hapke was arrested as a German spy during World War I. This isn’t borne out by the record — though authorities on July 16, 1917 arrested Hapke’s uncle Emil Karl “Fritz” Vietor, a successful tobacco exporter, and the German Consul in Richmond. The Times-Dispatch described Vietor’s arrest at his office as “a precautionary rather than a punitive measure.”
After the Hapke residency, the house became the apparent seat of nefarious activity. During Prohibition, houses scattered outside Richmond transformed into transgressive resorts where ne’er do well scions of wealthy families — and sometimes their older respected fathers — might ride the streetcar or commuter train to where they wouldn’t be readily discovered taking their leisure. During repairs, the DesChamps found cell batteries under the bathroom floor and behind one of the walls, which may have been used for a radio aerial run up the chimney. A party house requires music, and, perhaps, a means to monitor police and/or dispatches of hooch.
When the grade of Robious Road was altered in the 1990s, water began draining into the property that later owners, the Geigers, argued compromised the house’s habitability. The last resident was painter and poet Blanche Geiger, who moved into the house in 1955. While she was dying in 1998, Geiger videotaped her demand for compensation from the county due to the change in the road’s level.
After her death, the Geiger family used the house for storage while considering a conversion into a bed-and-breakfast and planted a screen of trees to obscure busy Robious Road. The house has since been renovated by her great-nephew, current owner Jay DesChamps, including the roof, wiring, re-glazing of original windows and upgrading the mechanical systems. The Hapke-Geiger house is currently for sale as a commercial property.