By Danielle Wilson
In a neighborhood rapidly changing, one house on Hanover Avenue in the Museum District has stayed the same, and so has its owner. James “Jimmy” Boehling has been a fixture on this street for decades.
“I’ve lived here 86 years, I wasn’t born here but I was just a ten month-old baby when they brought me here,” said Boehling, whose family moved to the Hanover Avenue home in 1926 from a smaller house on Allen Avenue.
They needed more space for their growing family and wanted to be near St. Benedict’s Parish, where the family attended services weekly and the children went to school. Boehling says back then the neighborhood was filled with 30 children laughing, playing and growing up together.
During his childhood on Hanover Avenue, Boehling played baseball in nearby fields that are now paved parking lots, he ice skated on ponds that no longer freeze in the winter, and frequented corner markets now torn down.
Hi-tech automobiles have replaced streetcars, milk and ice are no longer delivered daily on a truck and farming is not the primary industry in the area anymore. But for 87-year-old Boehling, time has stood still. His home is the same five-bedroom, two-bathroom house he grew up in with his 12 brothers and sisters.
An antique radio sits upstairs in one of the home’s five bedrooms. In another bedroom, an original Singer sewing machine sits by one of the beds with a basket filled with needles, pins and thread. A portrait of his grandmother hangs over the fireplace as it has been since 1988, when his mother died.
“My mother had it there so I just left everything like it was when she died so I just left all these pictures and furniture just like she had it,” said Boehling referring to the portrait.
Some things have changed over the years. Central heat now warms the home in place of the large fireplaces. He has updated his kitchen a little, by adding in a modern flat top stove, refrigerator, microwave and toaster oven. A flat screen TV sits in a room adjacent to the kitchen.
Boehling and his home are a treasure to his neighborhood in its own right. Kathy Stein, like many of Boehling’s neighbors, was attracted to Hanover Avenue because of the history of the homes and the architectural detail. She has found Boehling to be one of the hidden jewels of her neighborhood.
“I think it’s probably one of the most endearing things about this street. He knows all the stories of all our homes and makes us appreciate not just the architecture but the story behind it as well,” said Stein.
Boehling has become the unofficial neighborhood historian and his home serves as a historical artifact. Jimmy Boehling plans on staying on Hanover Avenue for years to come.
“I want to stay here by myself as long as I can, you know I like this neighborhood. I would have a hard time leaving it,” said Boehling.
Danielle Wilson is a graduate journalism student at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. who has chosen to showcase the Museum District as part of her graduate studies. She is a native of Danville, VA and currently resides in Richmond. She holds a B.S. in Mass Communications and Spanish from VCU.