This house, now occupied by the Valentine Museum, was erected in 1812 for John Wickham, Esquire, who selected Robert Mills as the architect. The walls are very thick, and the doors are made of mahogany with silver-plated knobs, locks and hinges. The exterior of the house is stately, its interior commodious, and the spiral stairway the best architectural feature of the house.
Mr. and Mrs. Wickham reared a large family here, and while resident here their daughter Julia became the wife of the distinguished jurist, Benjamin Watkins Leigh. The wealth and wit of old Richmond were entertained in this mansion during the Wickham regime. Tom Moore, the beloved Irish poet, was feted by Mr. Wickham, though before he built this house. During the poet’s visit to Richmond, in 1803, he wrote home that his host would adorn any court.
A very famous drama drew the attention of all America to Richmond in 1807. This was the celebrated trial of Aaron Burr, for treason. John Marshall was the presiding judge, and Mr. Wickham was leading counsel for the defense. Among the witnesses were Andrew Jackson and General Williamson, U.S.A. The belief was general that Burr owed his acquittal to the eloquence and ability Mr. Wickham had displayed in his argument for him. Burr was entertained by Mr. Wickham after the trial.
One enters the charming garden from the rear portico which runs entirely across the house. Around the garden there is a high, brick wall covered with grapevines, Virginia creeper, and ivy. About midway the garden walk a terrace, or fall, cuts the garden in two. The fall is covered with ivy brought from Kenilworth Castle, and over the iron arch at the top of the fall a perpetual rose is growing. There is statuary standing in the shrubbery. Beds of mint and bergamot do their part in adding to the green effect, as does a large magnolia tree.
After Mr. Wickham’s death the house passed through various hands, among them the Ballard family and that of Alexander Brooks. It was afterwards bought by Mann S. Valentine, where he and his family lived for many years. In his will, dated 1892, Mr. Valentine left his home as a public museum, containing the finest collection of Indian relics in the world, a large library, pictures, curios, china and antique furniture. The bequest included an endowment fund to sustain the museum.