Before the name became attached to malls or subdivisions, Stony Point was the Larus family estate and today is a place for learning.
Lewis Griffin Larus in 1915 bought 49 acres at Stony Point. He was the son of Charles Durning Larus, who with brother Herbert Clinton Larus in 1877 formed the Larus & Brother tobacco-manufacturing company. Its House of Edgeworth line of pipe tobacco was introduced in 1903.
Lewis Larus became vice president of the firm. His subsequent acquisitions at Stony Point increased the estate’s embrace to 500 acres. Larus remade Dr. John W. Bransford’s existing Queen Anne summer-retreat house by adding a rooftop captain’s walk and a columned veranda. Nearby was Bon Air, where rail and streetcar lines allowed easy access for Richmonders seeking pleasant hilltop breezes. The bluffs there are 200 feet above sea level.
A fireplace spark ignited the house in late 1924. The wealthy and urbane Larus was determined to rebuild, grander and safer. He commissioned Richmond architectural partners Henry Baskervill and A. Garey Lambert to create a house suitable to one who was nicknamed “Squire.”
He chose to build in a fanciful mixture of English Tudor, Elizabethan and Jacobean styles. Architectural critics described the style as “Tudorbethan” or “Stockbroker Tudor.” The look thrived among Richmond Anglophiles in the affluent and middle classes during the mid-1920s.
The renowned Charles Gillette designed Stony Point’s gardens. A field of daffodils was the delight of Larus’ wife Anne Gavin Traylor Larus, who in 1935 was Richmond’s first Christmas Mother. She died in 1949, and Squire married the widow Katherine Harris.
On the grounds were maintained chickens and cows for milk and butter. The Squire also cultivated grapes that provided Second Presbyterian Church’s communion wine because, the story goes, once the church ran short and diluted the wine with water. Afterward, Larus told the minister, “I’ll provide the wine, but you ever dilute it, I’ll quit.”
During Stony Point’s 1925 construction, the Larus company bankrolled a radio outlet they named WRVA, also known as the “Edgeworth Tobacco Station.” Elegant receptions greeted radio celebrities and business-related visitors at Stony Point. “They entertained quite a lot,” says Robert Lee Traylor Larus Jr., a Larus grandson who now resides next to Stony Point.
Five children grew up in the 24-room house, and Robert Larus recalls climbing into the dark corners of the attic among stored Persian rugs and hulking steamer trunks.
The distance from main roads and the hill’s height provided an atmosphere of seclusion. The Squire stood at his bedroom window and sometimes viewed the distant Blue Ridge. He didn’t own all he surveyed, but on a good day it must’ve felt like it.
By the mid-1960s, the Larus children were grown and living elsewhere. Squire died in 1966. The remaining family agreed to rent the house to Charles S. Valentine Jr. and Elizabeth Williams Gookin, who taught elementary classes at St. Michael’s School in Bon Air.
They opened Stony Point School that same year with eight grades and Valentine as principal. This year, Richmond opened the Lewis G. Larus Park off Huguenot Road near Stony Point Shopping Center.
The house still seems removed, and the views of rolling forests are notable. Yet below the hill’s brow are the rooftops of Saks and Dillard’s. Their engine-like air-conditioning units hum softly. Squire Lewis at his bedroom window wouldn’t have seen them.