The garden of renowned Harlem Renaissance poet Anne Spencer formed the setting for discussions among African American writers and civil rights activists such as W.E.B. Du Bois in the early and mid-twentieth century. Mrs. Spencer’s husband Edward built the Queen Anne style house shortly after their marriage in 1903, doubling the size of the garden by purchasing the neighboring lot. Following Mrs. Spencer’s death in 1975, her son Chauncey invited horticulturist Jane Baber White to rehabilitate the garden, which had become overgrown. White led the Hillside Garden Club through two campaigns in 1983 and 2008, twice receiving the Common Wealth Award from the Garden Club of Virginia.
The primary point of entry to the house is a checkboard pathway, which connects the Pierce Street sidewalk to the covered front porch. The half-acre gardens, located behind the house, are accessed from the back door or from the turf driveway crisscrossed with brick paths. Stepping stones wind through dense beds of groundcover under specimen dogwood trees. Passing through a fence and arbor painted robin’s egg blue, the formality of the garden increases. A brick-lined path leads to the Writing Cottage. The adjacent vine-covered pergola provides shade for a square seating area with a view towards a second arbor and axial, hedged pathway. A pool is located at the terminus of the pathway, filled with water pumped through a central fountain and a sculpted, cast iron African sculpture gifted to Mrs. Spencer by Du Bois. A curved bench positioned towards the house overlooks shrubs and roses originally planted by Mrs. Spencer as well as replicas of Mr. Spencer’s birdhouses. The house was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.