RICHMOND, Va. — When new HGTV program “Richmond Rehabbers” selected a historic house on the 1300 block of West Cary Street for the pilot season’s fourth episode, they had no idea the wonders they would find inside.
The Rehabbers have extensive experience breathing new life into the old bones of rundown Richmond rowhouses, and they had little reason to believe that their latest property would be unusual. “Of course we knew the history of the block,” said showrunner Adam Jameson.
“What makes these homes truly special is that they’ve been a part of generations of Richmonders’ lives, with all these stories written all over them, but we had no idea what we were in for.”
The show took an unexpected turn on Thursday morning as cameras rolled on one Rehabber’s quest to open up the floor plan by removing a non-load-bearing wall. As plaster was cleared away, they saw that the space inside the wall had been carefully packed with newspapers and used as a place of safe-keeping for years of successive roommate’s heirlooms.
“This is the kind of find you dream about,” said show host Breese Romano. “Obviously with each of these houses you are looking for unique features such as original copper piping, antique ice boxes, or intact period chimneys. It’s so rare and such a surprise that we get to uncover someone’s treasured possessions, left behind so future generations can truly reach in and touch the history of a home.”
The hosts cautiously retrieved each artifact, carefully wrapped in newspapers dating back as far as 2003, peeling away the protective layers to reveal one of the richest bong finds in the city’s history. These ranged from plastic bongs that a specialist identified as the product of a Chinese workshop in the early 2000s, a hand-blown double retracted fixed-head bubbler bong that could have been crafted as recently as 2015, to a homemade smoking device built from gatorade bottles and duct tape.
“These bongs belonged to generations of Richmond-area college students,” extolled James Abernathy, a youth culture specialist at VCU. “This is not the stockpile of a single collector, but rather a trove that has been contributed to over the ages by young people who knew these items could not return with them to their family homes. Each one tells a different tale.”
After donating the recovered items to the Virginia Historical Society, the show proceeded to transform the cheap rental rowhouse into an unaffordable modern luxury home in the heart of a frat district.
Rumor has it that the History Channel is now considering a spinoff program focusing on Richmond culture as captured through the lense of smoking apparatuses, entitled “Toking History.”