The place now known as Amber Grove is a special events venue established in 1997. From its humble beginnings, it has grown into one of Richmond’s premier wedding and special event venues. The house itself and surrounding lands have a long and varied history. What follows are some of the historical highlights.
The farm sits on top of what geologists call the Otterdale Sands, formed at the end of the second Ice Age. The land once looked like a giant sand dune. Over the millennia, it became covered with vegetation and forest. It was a hunting ground to the Monacan Indians. It is one of the highest points in terms of elevation in Chesterfield County.
The modern history of this place begins in 1850 when a settler named Vincent Markham migrated up Swift Creek from the present DuPont area of Richmond and bought 350 acres of land including what is now Amber Grove. He and his sons, Vincent Jr. and George built a house on this site. Vincent Jr. married a woman named Julia Elam in 1854 who died in childbirth in 1856. Her grave marker is in the Inn’s courtyard. After her death, Vincent Jr. lost all interest in the farm and moved to Colorado to prospect for gold. He later became a noted federal judge in that area.
In the meantime, Vincent Sr. died in 1859 leaving the care of the farm to George and his wife, Adelaide Cheatham. George borrowed $5000 from his brother-in-law Thomas Cheatham so he could expand his farming operation based on cattle, corn and tobacco. Ominously, the date on the loan was April 9, 1861. Three days later, Fort Sumter changed everything. Lee’s Retreat came through this area in April of 1865 and it is believed that some Confederate units rested here before making their final journey to Appomattox.
In 1866, George defaulted on the note held by Mr. Cheatham. For reasons not completely clear, he was asked to leave the farm never to return. Thomas then had David Mack Goode appointed to be his sister’s trustee. Mr. Goode bought the farm from Adelaide and Vincent Markham Jr. in 1871. He owned it until his death in 1883. The land was then divided up among his four children the eldest of whom was named Ambrose Goode. Present-day Amber Grove was a part of Ambrose’s share. Over the next twenty years, Ambrose bought out his siblings and ran the 350 acre farm as a dairy from 1884 until his retirement in 1946.
It is not known what happened to the old Markham homestead, whether it burned down or was torn down. What is known is that Ambrose and his wife, Rebecca Bailey built the present house in 1884. It was originally a “two-over-two”, two rooms downstairs and two upstairs, with the present suite built behind the house as a separate building for the dining room and kitchen. Around 1900, the Goodes connected the kitchen building to the main house and built an addition on the front where the present kitchen is located. They used the space as a parlor.
In 1946, the Goodes sold the farm to the Franklin Brothers. The Franklins ran what had become known as the Goode Farm as a farming operation and the house itself as rental property until they sold it to Doug Sowers, a local land developer in 1982. Mr. Sowers then sold the house and 25 surrounding acres to the Craddock family in 1983.
The Craddocks completely renovated the house, including pulling up all the original heart pine flooring, building a new sub-floor and then laying the old flooring back down where it had been. They also rebuilt the back stairway and added the present entranceway to the dining room. The Craddocks sold the house to the Adams family in 1986 who, in turn, sold it to Jean Thayer in 1990. She bought it for her daughter, Gail Richter who wanted a place to raise horses. Gail renovated the barn, originally built in 1923, and added most of the existing white fencing.
Ms. Richter moved away in 1995 and the house became rental property once more until John McBride bought it in 1997. His intention was to operate a country inn where he could host weddings and other social functions. He tore off the front of the house and built a 2400 sq. ft. addition including the front porch and columns. Mr. McBride continues in his role as site and event coordinator.
In its long history, this land has been used as a hunting ground, farm, dairy, private residence, horse operation and now, a place for people to gather in celebration of life. It has become a tranquil island of what once was surrounded by a sea of modern suburbia. One can only hope that Amber Grove can stay that way for many years to come.