History Of Custom Ornamental Iron Railings In Richmond, Virginia

Richmond, Virginia has a long, rich history of custom ornamental iron railings that has been compared to the ornamental iron railings found in New Orleans. Richmond, Virginia, as the seat of the confederate capital, was a boom town on the banks of the James River. It had enjoyed such historical stature due its unique geographical position on a major waterway, its proximity to Washington D.C., and because of the founding fathers of the United States who came from Virginia, including Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and other lesser known, but no less important individuals, such as John Blair, Jefferson Davis, James McClurg, and many others. In fact, Patrick Henry’s pivotal “Give me liberty or give me death” speech was given at Saint John’s church, a small chapel in downtown Richmond, Virginia.

Although a victory by the northern army during the civil war almost destroyed Richmond, the importance of the city did not entirely diminish. The existing industries, one of the foremost being Phillip Morris, ensured the city would continue to grow despite the loss.

Following the civil war Victorian, Beaux Arts, and Second Empire Style architectures began to flourish in the historic downtown area surrounding Monument Avenue which most residents call “The Fan”. This architecture depended heavily on custom ornamental iron products which included forged steel and ornamental cast iron that accentuated the heavily ornate housing sprawl that centered around a Greek Revival row house theme. The Greek Revival row houses included fluted columns and usually a low balustrade, but often times in place of a balustrade an ornamental steel barrier railing would be used. Local blacksmiths would take careful measurements of a house’s porch and return to his shop where he would custom build each component out of iron to fit the exact dimensions of the porch. This method was used because, unlike wood, the tools required to build a railing were too heavy or impractical to take to the site. Therefore, iron railings were rarely custom built on-site.

Using this model, the Mayers family would become the foremost producer of custom ornamental iron products in Richmond. Virtually every ornamental iron business in Richmond, Virginia can trace its roots to the first Mayers family business. Although Virginia Railing and Gates has grown far beyond its small family roots, the principle of offering the highest possible quality at a reasonable price still drive operating practices.