Maymont may grow by one acre if St. Joseph's Villa can overturn the terms of an 80-year-old trust governing a small park created in memory of the late Richmond philanthropist Maj. James H. Dooley.
The lot, directly across from Maymont's Hampton Street entrance, is grassy and oblong, shaded by crape myrtles and other trees. In the center stands a tall stone monument to Dooley, ornately carved with the symbols of the authors of the Gospels a man, an ox, a lion and an eagle as well as other seals and symbols. An unusual vertical sundial is affixed to one side.
Upon his death in 1922, Dooley bequeathed the lot across from his residence at Maymont to the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph's Academy and Orphan Asylum. He also gave the Sisters $3 million and directed them to build three things there: "a home for crippled white children," a home for "orphan white girls" and another home for "destitute female white children."
After Dooley's death, the Sisters successfully requested that the homes be built instead at Hollybrook Farm on Brook Road. The farm is now St. Joseph's Villa, a nonprofit that serves homeless mothers, disabled children and children with special educational needs. The Hampton Street lot became a public square and a memorial to Dooley. The Villa says it spends about $10,000 per year on its maintenance.
Recently, Maymont offered to buy the lot for $187,500. In a legal petition filed March 9, St. Joseph's Villa seeks to overturn the terms of the Dooley trust so it can sell the lot.
Lynn Bayliss, a historian who is working on a biography of the Dooleys, says she "always cherished the hope" that St. Joseph's might allow ownership of the park to transfer to Maymont, "so that Maj. Dooley's intention would be more closely observed." The park sometimes looks a little unkempt, she says, and its iron gates are gone.
Geoffrey Platt, executive director of the Maymont Foundation, says the foundation and the Villa have been informally discussing transferring the land for years.
Maymont had, at one point, thought of building an office building there, Platt says, "but that has since been dropped." Now, he says, the park could perhaps become "a place where people could be oriented to Maymont." S
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