[Three] communities grew up around the Tredegar Iron Works: Oregon Hill, Penitentiary Bottom, and Gamble's Hill. Today little remains of these communities. A part of Oregon hill still survives, but Penitentiary Bottom and Gamble's Hill are both gone, torn down after years of decay and neglect. Their evolution mirrored the industrial, commercial and social development of the city and the diversity of the urban experience in Richmond and the nation.
Oregon Hill was once the location of "Belvidere," the home of William Byrd III. Before the Civil War, the hillside was divided into small lots where workers and builders constructed small brick and frame houses. Early in its development, the area was once described as being far from the city as Oregon, and so the neighborhood became known as Oregon Hill. Those who built their houses on the hill, native Virginians and immigrants alike, created a close-knit community of white, skilled industrial and craft workers. For well over one hundred years, Oregon Hill was home to many of Richmond's oldest working families. As the fortunes of Tredegar and other industrial employers declined in the 20th century, poverty and neglect took its toll on Oregon Hill. Although the houses closest to the river have been torn down, the western part of Oregon Hill remains.
Penitentiary Bottom lay between Oregon Hill to the west and Gamble's Hill to the east. As the neighborhood developed in the shadow of the Virginia State Penitentiary, it covered roughly six square blocks and housed mostly white, native-born workers. Nevertheless, the presence of the Second African Baptist Church, first built in 1846, suggest a considerable African American population from the earliest times. By 1880, African Americans made up nearly half of the Bottom's population and by 1920 that number had increased to almost seventy percent. Penitentiary Bottom became typical of neighborhood segregation in Richmond in the era of Jim Crow. Confined to an area in which they owned virtually none of the housing, and where absentee landlords had little incentive to make repairs, residents of the Bottom watched as their neighborhood entered a spiral of deterioration and decline. The evolution of Penitentiary Bottom was an example of the results of race-based social policy as African Americans first saw whites move out and then seal off, through legislation and low wages, virtually all avenues of escape.
Gamble's Hill is now home to the headquarters of Ethyl Corporation. Named after Revolutionary War veteran Robert Gamble, the neighborhood of Gamble's Hill developed as a middle- and upper-middle class community of managers, entrepreneurs, professionals and city officials. Homes were erected on the hill beginning in the early 1800's but the major development occurred after the Civil War. Managers from Tredegar and other ironworks called the Hill home. Around the turn of the century, the new "streetcar suburbs" began to lure families from Gamble's Hill and soon the neighborhood became home to factory employees, retail clerks and service workers living in boarding houses and apartments. After World War II, housing on Gamble's Hill was badly deteriorated and eventually abandoned. In 1961, Ethyl Corporation began construction of their new headquarters.