About a decade after work started on the Hickory Hill residential development in the wake of the Great Recession, the Hanover County community of single-family homes and cul-de-sacs is about halfway finished.
Roughly 140 homes have either been built or are under construction at the development north of state Route 54 between Interstate 95 and U.S. 301, said Todd Rogers, co-founder of RCI Builders who leads a group of local investors spearheading the development of Hickory Hill.
The group bought 1,732 acres of the Hickory Hill estate for the project in 2007. Construction began in 2009.
The plans ultimately call for 277 homes on larger lots in a development that has 560 acres of common areas with 755 acres set aside in a preservation area.
“For the most part, the common areas are undeveloped, and they really just give you another level of privacy,” Rogers said. “Hardly ever do you sit on your back porch and see another person’s back porch.”
It’s a neighborhood of homes that rest on 1- to 1.5-acre lots where residents value their privacy, said Rogers, adding that the community will eventually have about 9 miles of walking trails, which includes sidewalks as well as walking paths.
The development has a mix of farmhouse and Craftsman-style homes ranging in price from $450,000 up to $1 million.
The houses are in Hanover’s school district, a sought-after school system in the area, Rogers said. There’s also high-speed internet in the community, a service that can be tough to find in a rural setting, he said.
“Even though we’re considered a rural development, we have all the amenities of a suburban development,” said Rogers, who also is one of the co-owners of Hometown Realty.
Matt Farr, 40, said the schools were a draw when he and his wife moved to Hickory Hill about two years ago. The family has a second-grader and a fourth-grader enrolled in Hanover Public Schools.
The family moved to Hickory Hill from Bluefield in rural Tazewell County in Southwest Virginia. Farr said he was drawn to the rural aspect of Hickory Hill, with its woods and larger lot sizes for homes.
Farr said they had been looking for a rural setting and a “suburban family atmosphere” when settling on their new home.
“You still have distance between neighbors, but you still have close neighbors” you know, Farr said of Hickory Hill.
Hickory Hill was in developers’ sights for decades, even before Rogers’ investment group purchased the land in 2007 that make up the development.
The property was once part of the Hickory Hill plantation owned for generations by the Wickham family, including Williams Carter Wickham, a Confederate general, according to the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.
A Florida-based developer in the late 1980s pursued a $1.2 billion plan to develop the 3,200-acre parcel that included the plantation property. That proposal called for 4,700 homes, 8.5 million square feet of office space, retail and light industrial centers and an 18-hole golf course, among other features.
It would have been the county’s largest development and one of the largest in the Richmond area.
As that plan was being considered, descendants of slaves who worked at the Hickory Hill plantation worried about the fate of a cemetery and slave quarters on that former plantation, according to a 1988 article in the Richmond News Leader.
The Florida developer’s plans eventually fizzled in 1990 when the developer withdrew, citing a weak real estate market and a lack of support to change the county’s comprehensive plan to help pave the way for the massive project.
Rogers and his investment group bought 1,732 acres of the Hickory Hill estate for the new residential development.
Work started around 2009, Rogers said, but construction was slow in the beginning from the aftermath of the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009, he said.
Building activity in the development really started to progress in 2014, he said.
One of the most well-known properties at Hickory Hill is a 19th-century manor house and gardens that rest on a 50-acre lot that Rogers’ investment group sold to preservationist Shannon Pritchard.
Pritchard said in a recent interview that he bought the home so he could restore it, adding that it was in disrepair and had been used by an animal rescue group at the time he bought it.
“Everything had to be done. It hadn’t been updated since 1930. It had animals living in it. It was being used as a kennel,” Pritchard said. “It required a total renovation from top to bottom.”
The Hickory Hill estate was occupied by federal forces during the Civil War, according to a 1974 nomination form to put the plantation on the National Register of Historic Places. Wickham was captured at the plantation by Union troops, as was Confederate Gen. W.H.F. “Rooney” Lee, the son of Robert E. Lee, according to the nomination form on the state Department of Historic Resources’ website.
The manor home was built in the 1820s, said the nomination form on the agency’s website. The home burned in 1875, and the house was rebuilt into the current brick building in a form that is “reminiscent of the antebellum period,” the agency’s website says.
Pritchard said that although the house was damaged by the fire, it didn’t completely burn down, adding that the home was lived in while it was rebuilt.
Pritchard has spent years restoring it, but he now plans to put the 7,400-square-foot home with a dozen fireplaces on the market.
The house along with its 50-acre grounds would be put up for sale at some point in the coming months when social distancing restrictions imposed during the coronavirus pandemic are loosened.
“It’s a brand-new house in a 200-year-old frame,” Pritchard said.
This year’s Homearama is slated to feature Hickory Hill.
Presented by the Home Building Association of Richmond, Homearama will showcase the sprawling development and the work of half a dozen homebuilders — RCI Builders, Eagle Construction of VA, LifeStyle Home Builders, Southern Traditions, Vertical Builders and PerrinCrest Custom Homes.
Danna Markland, the CEO of the homebuilding association, said organizers still hope to have Homearama in June showcasing six newly built homes at the Hickory Hill development, but the exact date has not been picked.
Markland said the group is weighing whether to have people come to Hickory Hill to tour the homes or whether they will instead have a virtual tour of the homes there.