At the center of this neighborhood, which is bound by the CSX railroad and 250 Bypass and includes the Downtown Mall and areas north of the mall, is the oldest portion of the city. Court Square surrounds the Albemarle County Courthouse, and includes buildings that date back to the 1800s. The building that has been used as a courthouse for more than 200 years is one of America’s most historic—no other courthouse has served three early U.S. presidents at the same time. The original wood-frame courthouse was erected on a two-acre lot in 1762, when the city was founded by Dr. Thomas Walker.
The current heartbeat of the neighborhood is the pedestrian Downtown Mall, which was designed by Lawrence Halprin and constructed in the early 1970s. Today the mall is a mix of office space, restaurants and retail, with a focus on specialty shops and entertainment venues. The Sprint Pavilion anchors one end of the mall and hosts community festivals and concerts, including the popular summertime music series Fridays After Five.
Neighbors live in a mix of historic single-family homes, apartments and condominiums (two new projects are slated for Water Street). And although there are several parks in the area for residents to enjoy, the Confederate-era statues at Lee and Jackson parks have come under fire for being culturally offensive, and the Charlottesville City Council voted in February to relocate the Robert E. Lee statue and rename the park. A citizens-led lawsuit to halt tampering with the parks, donated by Paul Goodloe McIntire, was filed in March.
Average home price: $449,700 Size: 429 acres Population: 4,704 Distance from downtown: .5 miles Notable attractions: Downtown Mall, McGuffey Art Center, Court Square
Sources (for all neighborhood statistics): City of Charlottesville and United States Census Bureau
You’d never see it if you weren’t looking for it. The central attraction of the Park Lane Pool Club lies nestled beyond wrought iron gates on a private property, shadowed by four massive evergreens that were planted by the home’s former owner, William Rucker, who installed the pool in 1930 for his wife when her doctor prescribed more sunshine.
The pool club began in 1980, when 10 families in the neighborhood came together to create a club with enough annual dues to support the pool’s maintenance. Today, there are 40 families who each pay $400 a season (the pool is open Memorial Day through Labor Day), and in exchange they get 24/7 access to their own private pool, which has gradual steps on one end for entry, and gets as deep as 6.5′ on the other end (no diving, though!).
Over the years, club additions have included a wooden structure onsite outfitted with a bathroom and sink, as well as a storage shed for noodles, floaties and other essentials. No children are allowed at the pool without an adult, and adults have their own special event—once a week three members trade off hosting Friday Night Philosophy Society, an adults-only meetup with snacks, alcohol and, no doubt, lively conversation. And all members come together for a big Memorial Day kick-off bash.
The neighborhood pool club first formed when Ashlin Caravan was in high school. She admits there might have been a few clothing-optional late-night swim parties among groups of friends, but the threat of bothering the neighbors was minimal (no one lives on either side of the pool).
Today the pool club is run by a board that meets once a year, and oversees all club decisions, including membership. Pool membership is currently at capacity—one family has to drop out before another can join. When members use the pool they must sign themselves and other guests in so the board can track usage. Another caveat: All pool club members must live within walking distance. It is, after all, a neighborhood amenity at heart.
The Urban Agriculture Collective of Charlottesville brings residents from all over the city together every Wednesday evening, May to September, to harvest and grow organic fruits and vegetables in one of three gardens (Friendship Court, Sixth Street and West Street). The urban farming nonprofit broke ground in May of 2007 with the Friendship Court garden and the Sixth Street garden that June. Since its inception, the program has grown an average of 10,000 pounds of fresh veggies every year, which are distributed on market days to those with farm tokens, an alternative currency UACC uses to pay volunteers for their time.
702 Park St.
“North downtown—and Park street in particular—is a composed of many varying architectural styles from different periods of Charlottesville’s history. I think 702 is a great example of Colonial Revival residential design. Built in 1931, it is a fine example of the period of constrution. There are many ‘lesser’ examples of Colonial Revival brick homes scattered throughout North Downtown. Characteristics: one main block or volume, with the primary roof ridge parallel to the street, symmetrical facade with a center door/center hall plan. Not a dominate porch, but a smaller, refined porch with columns over a door with sidelights and ornamental fan light. Red-toned brick, white wood trim and decorative shutters. This is a five-bay façade, other smaller ones in the neighborhood are often three-bay versions. The houses along Evergreen Avenue are good examples of the ‘lesser’ versions.”—H. Adams Sutphin, Sutphin Architecture
Charlottesville’s first church remains rooted in helping people
Christ Episcopal Church’s history in the city runs deep: Its founding rector, Frederick Hatch, presided over the burial of Thomas Jefferson, and established the first church in the city. Hatch ministered at services (attended by Presbyterians and Methodists too) held in the county courthouse until the congregation’s first home was built in 1824. That Jeffersonian/Greek structure, located on High Street and facing Jefferson Street, was demolished in 1895, and the current building, whose entrance now faces First Street, was erected in its place.
The church, which currently has about 2,000 parishioners, with an average of 500 to 550 at a service, will celebrate its 200th anniversary in 2020 with a community event, says Rector Paul Walker. A parishioner who is a historian and a retired doctor is working on a complete history of the church, where giving back to its neighborhood is a priority.
Christ Church draws congregants of all ages—the 5pm Sunday service is particularly popular with UVA students. It also houses the Loaves & Fishes Food Pantry, which hosts a soup kitchen on Tuesday nights. Six years ago, a preschool was established in conjunction with the International Rescue Committee, and the church provides scholarships for refugee families. In addition, there is a fellows program for recent college graduates who are interested in learning more about church life and its role in the community.
In 2008, Kate Daughdrill came up with the idea for The Garage, a community arts space located on First Street behind the church’s office. Local musician Sam Bush, who became a fellow at Christ Church after graduating from UVA in 2009 and is now the church’s music minister, has picked up the torch from Daughdrill, and curates all of The Garage’s programming. Its concerts attract passersby who take a seat on the hill at Lee Park to enjoy a show. And then there are those who venture inside to participate in wooden spoon- and hat-making workshops, listen to play readings or take in a First Fridays gallery show.
Walker says he wants everyone to feel welcome at Christ Church, and that its message is simple: Love people as they are.
“I just love people, and getting to know them on a deeper, personal level,” he says.
In the city’s early history, the Belmont/Carlton neighborhood was popular for its location at the intersection of two major routes—Three Notch’d and Old Scottsville roads. It began to grow in the late 1800s when the Belmont Land Company purchased a 500-acre estate called the Belle-mont and subdivided it into lots for construction. Its closeness to the C&O railroad and a demand for employee housing contributed to the neighborhood’s prominence in the early 1900s, historians have said.
Around 1960, some Belmont residents began to feel that their neck of the woods was changing for the worse. Older homeowners died and commercial landlords bought their houses to convert them into cheap rental units. By the ’80s, rentals outnumbered owner-occupied homes, and the area’s reputation had become one of crime and neglect, according to a 2012 C-VILLE report.
But a lot has changed since then. Today, Belmont is one of the most desirable neighborhoods in town, thanks in part to a revitalization of its “downtown” area, now a notable destination for Italian, Mexican and Mediterranean cuisine, among others. The area attracts a wide range of inhabitants, including longtime residents, couples downsizing to smaller homes and young professionals who yearn to walk to and from their downtown jobs.
Average home price: $220,100 Size: 554 acres Population: 4,139 Distance from downtown: 1.3 miles Notable attractions: Mas, Tavola, Keevil & Keevil Grocery and Kitchen, Belmont Park
Blackberries to bus routes
Born in 1937, Norma Dennison was raised in her grandmother’s historic home on Stonehenge Avenue near Belmont Park. Though her family left the area after World War II to find work, she returned several years later and lives in the same house today.
The biggest differences she’s noticed in her neighborhood? “When I was a young girl, we never saw any cars at all,” she says. “We could sleigh ride down these hills, but now you can’t because of the cars.”
Speaking of transportation, these days there are more options than the single bus line that once connected Belmont with the rest of Charlottesville.
“Now we’ve got buses running all over the place,” she says. “I really have fun getting out there on them,” though she can no longer take one to the Paramount to catch a 10-cent movie, she adds. Those prices have gone up a bit.
The face of her neighborhood continues to change as well. For better or worse.
“They’re building, building, building,” she says, remembering when her neighborhood was mostly agricultural land and she could pick from a grove of blackberries in a hollow near Moore’s Creek. “We haven’t really changed that much, except for housing going up everywhere.”
And the prices of homes have skyrocketed.
“This is not the rich side of the city,” Dennison says. “But now? I would say [Belmont residents] have plenty of money. People are buying these expensive homes that they’re building clear down to Moore’s Creek.”
But she says the changes haven’t altered her perspective on the neighborhood. “It still feels like home.”
A converted mansion with a rich history
The Belmont mansion, once called the John Winn House, was built for its namesake in 1820 by a brick mason for Thomas Jefferson. In 1847, Slaughter Ficklin purchased the 551-acre estate, which blends Greek Revival and Federal styles, and renamed it Belmont after the original Belle-mont, a historic Jeffersonian-style home in Alabama. Ficklin later turned his property into a prominent horse farm.
The estate was subdivided in 1890 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. And though the mansion may still appear to house Charlottesville royalty, today it comprises a handful of apartments.
805 Belmont Ave.
“Vintage 100-plus-year-old Victorian on tree-lined Belmont Avenue. The style is quite notable and desirable but shares characteristics of the classic Belmont house—two-story, front porch, double-hung windows, slope roof, pine floors, lath and plaster walls, wood and masonry. 805 is authentic and special, but actually similar to its next door Victorian neighbors. It’s an example of an early tract house, in one of the oldest planned neighborhoods—an 1890s subdivision.”—Greg Jackson, Topia Design
Dinner with a view
With all the fuss made about “downtown” Belmont’s eateries, it’s a wonder other restaurants in the area get any play. But stop by Moose’s By The Creek, down near Hogwaller at the southern end of the neighborhood, on any given weekend and you’ll be greeted by a long line of hungry customers waiting for a table—and that’s only if you can find a spot in the parking lot. People from near and far venture to Moose’s for the curious collection of taxidermied animals wearing Mardi Gras beads and pro-Second Amendment propaganda hung generously on the walls—but they stay for the friendly staff and generous portions of Southern fare (and hot sauces!). One griddled “moose cake,” please.
One of the city’s oldest neighborhoods is called Woolen Mills because, well, a mill there used to manufacture woolens. And cottons, as well as uniforms for the Confederate Army. Many of the older, historic houses in the neighborhood were built to house mill workers and management, and about half were built after World War II. With its larger lots and country feel, Woolen Mills straddles a lot of lines—between city and country, water and land, rural and urban, poor and prosperous, with historic and contemporary architecture.
A longstanding issue for many residents is the Moores Creek Waste Treatment plant, the source of a longstanding stench that the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority is sinking over $9 million into remedying. Today, the neighborhood faces a proposed conservation overlay district that would require BAR approval for additions and new structures, and the mixed-use redevelopment of the still-standing mill complex across the Albemarle line.
Average home price: $241,600 Size: 277 acres Population: 1,870 Distance from downtown: 1.5 miles Notable attractions: Meade Park, Riverview Park, Firefly, Jack’n Jil
Standing in Louis Schultz and Laura Covert’s yard feels like the country, and not just because of the goats and ducks. When they bought the historic house on 1.5 acres in 1999, there was a plan for the garden, both formal and informal. The original two 5′ by 10′ raised beds have grown to six, producing much of what they eat. “That was the vision,” says Schultz. Covert grows the three sisters of squash, beans and corn favored by Native Americans, as well as pumpkins, tomatoes, greens and more. And the goats and ducks provide milk and eggs.
Schultz has had numerous battles with the city, but he was vindicated in at least one after being cited under the city’s weed ordinance in 2001 for not mowing. Charlottesville finally conceded that the native flora Schultz used for erosion control and to reduce mowing was actually kind of green and met the city’s vision statement of environmental sustainability.
Party to the people
Roger Voisinet’s annual shindig is a Woolen Mills institution. When he bought his historic house—which once belonged to the mill manager—on the then-dammed Rivanna River, “everyone concluded it was a great party backyard,” he says. And swimming was definitely on the agenda, thanks to a backyard swimming hole.
That was 35 years ago. The dam is gone and the party has become more sophisticated, says Voisinet, with bands and tents. “As my friends grew older, they had to be enticed,” he says.
Usually the party is the second Saturday in September, when the weather is still warm and people are back from summer vacations. Voisinet counts 29 parties in more than three decades, with around 400 people showing up to eat, drink and dance.
Last year he got married, and the 2016 party was, fittingly, called the Honeymoon River party.
Just south of West Main Street, Fifeville has some of the area’s least expensive housing in one of its most desirable locations. Its history details the city’s complicated story of revitalization and gentrification.
Fifeville formed in the 1880s from the subdivision of a chunk of farmland, most of which was owned by the Fife family. The area, originally a mixed-race neighborhood on the western side and a working class, predominately black neighborhood on the eastern side, was heavily developed until the 1920s with very little construction afterward.
Though, architecturally, the development still reflects that of the Reconstruction era, the gentrification that came along with the 20th century altered the neighborhood demographically. While some of the original population remains, the neighborhood is now replete with UVA professors and young, white-collar families.
Average home price: $224,800 Size: 328 acres Population: 3,389 Distance from downtown: 1.6 miles Notable attractions: Tonsler Park, Smith Aquatic Center
Resident rabble-rouser talks with paint
Longtime Fifeville resident and artist Edward Thomas is known for painting local.
Described by a colleague and former teacher as a proponent of marrying American plein air painting with a progressive political sensibility, Thomas is famous for “document[ing] something very specific about a time of transition in this city,” says Dick Crozier. But putting it simply, the artist says his mission is often “to paint anything that’s about to be bulldozed, to shame the developers in the future.”
We’ve seen it in a number of his pieces, whether that’s a series of four paintings of Trax nightclub being torn down in 2002, or a single sign in an empty meadow with only the letter “H,” for hospital, before Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital was born there.
Thomas recreates all manner of Charlottesville scenes, from the mundane (see his recent Instagram post, which shows a painting of a CenturyLink van on West Main), to the profound, seen in a bucolic local landscape or a glistening depiction of the Rotunda and UVA Lawn on a snowy night.
“I think everything has a soul if you study it hard enough and you try to replicate it,” Thomas told C-VILLE in a 2008 cover story on the artist. Also serving as an architect and historian, he built his current home in Fifeville, described in the article as “a kind of hipster Monticello.”
To purchase his work, drop by the Downtown Mall’s Consignment House, where it has been said that Dave Matthews Band violinist Boyd Tinsley once bought every large painting of Thomas’ hanging in the front window.
708, 712, 716 Nalle St.
“These three houses are right next to each other. They are all very similar in form and style, and though I haven’t been inside any of them, I think it’s a safe assumption that they all have (or at one time had) identical floor plans. This house type is ubiquitous throughout the neighborhood. With its cross gable and offset entry and stair, the houses are typically two bedrooms over two common rooms with a one-story room at the rear. However, the element on each of these houses that makes them quintessentially Fifeville is the generous front porch, a fantastically social gray zone between the public sidewalk and the private living room. With plenty of shade and a buffer of green, the porch allows my neighbors to engage in the dynamic street life in the comfort of their rocking chairs.”—Kate Tabony, Alloy Workshop
Though Locust Grove began in the late 19th century as the Locust Grove subdivision, the neighborhood really came into its own between the 1940s and the ’70s, with the bulk of its build-out and the addition of the 250 Bypass. This new road shifted the area from rural to suburban. Prior to that, Watson Avenue acted as the area’s main route for those traveling from Charlottesville to Richmond. The completion of St. Charles Place, in 2008, marks the newest residential section.
Average home price: $274,800 Size: 741 acres Population: 1,845 Distance from downtown: 1.6 miles Notable attractions: McIntire Park, Pen Park, Meadowcreek Golf Course
A city mansion with generations of history
When Downing L. Smith III was a child in the 1950s, he would sneak out of his bedroom window in his parents’ house and run across the yard into “the big house,” where his great-aunt Mamie would make him buckwheat pancakes.
“The big house,” as Smith knew it then, is the Locust Grove mansion, a Greek revival plantation house that was built in 1844 as part of “The Farm.” The property is not as big as it once was (parcels of its land have been sold off over time), but it looms pretty large in Charlottesville history—an entire neighborhood is named for it, after all.
But for Smith, who is retired from UVA’s McIntire School of Commerce, it’s just home—he’s lived all but nine of his 67 years on the property.
It’s where he helped with house upkeep for allowance money and heard ghost stories of wounded Confederate soldiers. It’s where he threw parties in the basement—foot-thick solid brick walls are excellent sound barriers, he says—and where he took care of his mother before she died. His dad’s World War II dress uniform is still in the attic. He and his wife, Gail, raised their two sons in the home.
Smith inherited the property and its various structures from his late father, Downing Smith II, a prosecuting attorney for Albemarle and Charlottesville, who inherited it from his father, Lemuel Franklin Smith, a Supreme Court judge who bought the estate at the urging of a friend.
“I feel a sort of stewardship towards the place,” Smith says while walking through the poppy garden with his rescue dog, Maggie, adding that in 2021, the estate—which has gone through plenty of changes over time —will have been in his family for more than 100 years.
As for the future of the place, “I don’t know what’s going to happen going forward,” Smith says. “It’s a lot of work, and eventually I will have to start paying people to do what [upkeep] I do now, and sometime down the road, we’re going to have to get rid of the place.” He doesn’t anticipate that either of his sons will move back to Charlottesville anytime soon. But for now, he’s content to live in this beautiful, but still humble, harbor that feels like something out of a novel. Sure, he says, he can see that. “But for me, it’s just normal, because I’ve lived here all my life,” he says, a wistful look in his eye.
Borne from a large farm at 810 Locust Ave. known as Locust Grove (from which nearby neighborhood Locust Grove borrows its name), the Martha Jefferson area really flourished after the completion of Martha Jefferson Hospital in 1903. Its rapid expansion spilled into nearby Jackson and Taylor streets and was, for a time, a source of unrest with area residents. Many of the homes were built for upper- and middle-class residents, providing a suburban feel while being close to downtown. MJH’s relocation to Pantops in 2011 brought the CFA Institute to the empty location, which continues to provide an anchor for the neighborhood.
Average home price: $337,700 Size: 266 acres Population: 2,689 Distance from downtown: .9 miles Notable attractions: Maplewood Cemetery Historical distinctions: Historic Conservation District (2010), National Register of Historic Places (2008), Virginia Landmarks Register (2007)
Take it or leave it
A freebie table spreads the awesome
In the Martha Jefferson neighborhood, there’s a little red table that contains random, rotating items—clothes, books, toys, canned goods, even a crib showed up once (though it was broken, and decidedly not awesome). This is known to residents as the Awesome Table.
There’s only one rule: Everything on the Awesome Table is free, but, as the sign says, if you take something, try to help someone else have an awesome day. That was the rule at the original Awesome Table, too, in Athens, Georgia, where homeowners Jen Lucas and Christopher Purcell found inspiration.
“Christopher used to live in Athens and there was an Awesome Table at a nearby home,” says Lucas. “He was a regular visitor to the table, leaving things and taking things and he just loved the idea of having one.”
The Charlottesville table made its debut on January 9, 2013, and has become a fixture in the area. In fact, a few other Awesome Tables have popped up in more neighborhoods since: “Hello, Awesome Table,” reads a post on the Awesome Table’s Facebook page. “Thank you for the inspiration. We’re hoping to live up to your Awesomeness over here on 8th Street NW. Awesome Lovers, come and check us out when you’re on this side of town.”
Currently located on Jefferson, the Awesome Table’s original location was up the street on the corner. But when Lucas and Purcell decided to move, they posted online that the Awesome Table would need a new home, hoping a resident would step up.
“In the end, three of them got together and decided among themselves which house would make the best spot for it,” Lucas says. “So it’s now right down the hill from our former house.” Pretty awesome, indeed.
Named for Fairfax Taylor, a slave who saved enough money to buy his family’s freedom and eventually became the first African-American to own property in the neighborhood, Taylor Street was subsumed by Martha Jefferson Hospital when it was located on Locust Avenue. Today, the name lives on in the Taylor Walk, a public garden on the grounds of the CFA Institute. “Very few people outside of our neighborhood know about this spot,” says a Martha Jefferson neighborhood resident of the peaceful spot, “even though it is for everyone’s enjoyment.”
306 12th St. NE
“On 12th and 13th streets is a neighborhood that I refer to as Charlottesville’s answer to Levitt Town (Long Island, New York). This neighborhood was developed in 1949 through the early ’50s as worker housing for people employed at Woolen Mills. Each house is identical, one story, 720 sq. ft. Many of these houses are still occupied by original occupants but as they either die or move on to other places, the houses are being bought by younger people who have begun to make major changes/additions to them.”—Bob Anderson
The history of the Starr Hill neighborhood can’t be told without the Jefferson School, a recognizable landmark that originally served as a school for freed slaves following the Civil War and eventually became the city’s first African-American high school (and one of only 10 in Virginia at that time). But Starr Hill, which gets its name from the wealthy and educated black families (or “stars”) who lived in the neighborhood, is also closely linked to Vinegar Hill, another predominately black neighborhood nearby. Loosely bordered by Preston Avenue, West Main and Fourth streets, what was once the Vinegar Hill neighborhood is now nonexistent, thanks to a city vote to raze the area in the 1960s, relocating a church, 30 businesses and 158 families, 140 of whom were black. In late 2016, City Council approved a $15,000 funding request from the Historic Resources Committee to add signage to Vinegar Hill Park —located at the western end of the Downtown Mall—explaining its history.
Average home price: $208,350 Size: 60 acres Population: 626 Distance from downtown: .8 miles Notable attractions: Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, Main Street Market, Blue Moon Diner, Continental Divide
Patricia Edwards, 68, has called the Starr Hill neighborhood home for most of her life. “I moved to the area for the first time with my mom and dad and older sister when I was 5 years old,” she says. “We stayed there for a while then moved a few blocks away into the Eighth and Page Street area, but we went to school and to church there, so we were always a part of that community, which I’d describe as sort of the place to be for prominent African-Americans in Charlottesville.”
After studying education at UVA, Edwards took a job teaching at Charlottesville High School for three years, then moved with her husband to St. Petersburg, Florida, where the two taught in public schools until 1986 when, wanting to raise their children closer to Edwards’ family, the couple returned to Starr Hill with their 4-year-old. “We rented for a while then bought a house in the late-’80s and built one when the Piedmont Housing Alliance came through [in the early 2000s] and was trying to spark up the neighborhood,” says Edwards. “They worked with area teachers by helping us level the playing field and enable us to build. And that led to several of the homes being renovated, which transformed the area from predominantly renters to homeowners.”
According to Edwards, the change was a good one and led to a rekindled sense of investiture—as well as increased diversity —in the neighborhood. “I hate the use of the term gentrification, because it implies the people who were here before weren’t gentry,” she says. “Starr Hill always had a mix of educational and socioeconomic backgrounds. There were students, ministers, teachers, businessmen and others that lived here alongside one another. Back then we had a greater concentration of more educated African-Americans, but now we have a broad mix of people, and I think that’s great.”
After returning to Starr Hill, Edwards taught special education at Charlottesville High School for nearly 25 years before retiring in 2011. “My mother, father, sister and husband were all teachers in the area, so education was a huge part of my life,” she says. “Because I’d put in those three years before moving, I actually taught the children of some of my first students, which was pretty amazing to see and recognize those faces, and know you’ve had an impact on the place where you live.”
Lightning in a bottle
Named for the music hall it inhabited when it first opened, the neighborhood’s eponymous Starr Hill Brewery remained on West Main Street for more than 15 years before moving to Crozet.
Church of their own
First Baptist has storied history
Empowered by the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, 800 black parishioners who had been worshiping from the balcony of First Baptist Church Park Street, the city’s only all-race church at the time, petitioned to establish their own church. While initially holding services on the main floor of the parent church under a white preacher (required by law), with the help of Reverend John Walker George, the church’s third and final white pastor, the congregation began meeting in the basement of the Delevan Hotel building, a former student-housing facility constructed by the University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors in 1823. At that point, the church became known as the Delevan Baptist Church, and by 1868 the group had pooled its resources and purchased the building. Under the leadership of Reverend M. T. Lewis it was torn down in 1876, and construction of the new church on the same site was completed in 1883. The church then became the First Colored Baptist Church of Charlottesville–the exact date when “colored” was dropped is unknown.
“Every time I step foot inside this old building I can’t help but be astounded by what those people were able to accomplish,” says Patricia Edwards, who says she’s been a member of the church since before she can remember. “Many of them were former slaves and the way they came together to build this place is humbling and inspiring.”
Described by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities as “instrumental in educating African-Americans during segregation, establishing the local chapter of the NAACP, integrating patients at the University of Virginia…[and] with members serving as the first black member on the Board of the Welfare Department and the first black member of the Charlottesville School Board,” the church was entered in the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.
Today, with 500 congregants and many visitors, as well as a weekly Internet broadcast, the church continues to thrive.
“I think that we’re definitely a pillar of this community,” says Board of Trustees member Ruby Patterson. “People bring their families and we make a point of doing a lot of youth outreach. We have a Boy Scout troop, youth programs, dance programs and many other things to get our youth involved in the church in different areas and keep them off the streets. Also, we serve as a homeless shelter from October through April, and offer a soup kitchen on Tuesdays during that time.”
Originally a parcel of land belonging to Alexander Garrett, one of Thomas Jefferson’s associates, the Ridge Street neighborhood was subdivided into lots and sold to families—both black and white—beginning in the 1830s. White families resided on the street’s northern end and African-American families owned homes at the southern end. With the increased prevalence of automobile travel in the 1930s and ’40s, however, many of the white homeowners moved to the suburbs, selling their Ridge Street houses and affording their black neighbors the opportunity to purchase the street’s more significant structures.
Average home price: $157,800 Size: 311 acres Population: 3,989 Distance from downtown: 1.7 miles Notable attractions: Mount Zion First African Baptist Church, Brazos Tacos, IX Art Park Historical distinctions: National Register of Historic Places (1982), Virginia Landmarks Register (1981)
A professional quilter paints with textiles
Although Amy Mikeska is the daughter of a quilter, she didn’t try her hand at the craft until her late 20s.
“It was like a gene activated and I had to start sewing,” she says. “My mom surprised me by signing me up for a quilt-making class at our local quilt shop, Cottonwood, in Meadowbrook Shopping Center. And I was hooked.”
Fast forward six years and Mikeska is a full-time quilter, running her business out of her home in the Ridge Street neighborhood. A graduate of the Pratt Institute, Mikeska finds that she puts her art degree to use when completing custom work on quilts.
“My background was in painting and drawing, so I am drawing all over these quilts,” she explains. “I do sketch-out designs and plan my quilts. I play with unexpected thread colors and bindings…I love piecing quilt tops and designing them and playing with color, but I do truly love the quilting part of a quilt, and many people don’t enjoy that part. So I’m happy to do it for them.”
Mikeska says it’s hard to pick her favorite project, but the one that comes to mind was borne out of necessity.
“I think my favorite quilt I ever made was actually used to pay a plumbing bill,” she says. “It was a full custom quilt and very colorful. I’m happy to know it’s getting use and love every day. It now lives in California.”
Amy Mikeska is a full-time quilter who runs her business out of her Ridge Street neighborhood home.
Is Ridge Street Charlottesville’s most community-minded neighborhood? Here are three reasons we think yes.
IX Art Park
Located at 522 Second St. SE, this public outdoor art park has become a cultural bastion in the community, replete with murals and interactive sculptures. A family-friendly experience, it houses a wide array of events, from yoga classes and human foosball tournaments to food truck courtyards and live music. And IX isn’t the only community-centric spot in this section of the neighborhood. The complex is also home to Computers4Kids, Adult Learning Center, Studio IX, Portico Church, Poetry Daily and Tinkersmiths Makerspace, which hosts free workshops on electronics, robotics and more.
Currently accepting applications from individuals and groups, ToGather Cville aims to take a four-lot piece of land on Ridge Street and transform it into a planned residential community based on social cohesion.
“ToGather Cville’s mission is to make it simple for individuals and families to live in close-knit intentional communities,” says project coordinator Graham Evans. “We provide a full suite of services to help groups imagine, design, finance, build and legally establish the community of their dreams, turning what could be an impossibly cumbersome set of obstacles into a guided design process.”
Created in 1999 by Alexis Ziegler, founder of Living Earth Farm, a zero-fossil-fuel-emission community in Louisa County, the nearly off-the-grid house (it uses only 9 percent of grid-tied energy) and gardens on Woodfolk Drive began as a supportive space for those suffering from mental health issues. It’s since morphed into a cooperative space that includes artists, environmentalists and others, but continues to be guided by its original tenets of sustainability, nonviolence and activism.
Two natural springs and the prominent owner of a large plot of land in the area, James Francis Fry, lend this neighborhood its name. Fry’s mansion, Azalea Hall, was impressive both architecturally and for its bountiful landscaping, awash with apple orchards, vegetable gardens and tobacco fields in the mid-1800s, but by the early 20th century, much of the estate was subdivided and developed into residential lots. Around that time, Fry’s Spring Beach Club—a now members-only facility that offers swimming and other summer programs—opened its door and to this day remains a focal point of both the Fry’s Spring and Jefferson Park Avenue neighborhoods.
Average home price: $263,000 Size: 592 acres Population: 3,097 Distance from downtown: 2.8 miles Notable attractions: Fry’s Spring Beach Club Historical distinctions: National Register of Historic Places (2014), Virginia Landmarks Register (2014)
If you show up to Fry’s Spring Beach Club for a lesson, a swim meet or to tour the place while you’re considering purchasing a membership, there’s a good chance you’ll be greeted by Beth Bullard, the volunteer president of the club’s swim team and the club’s de facto mom.
She’s also mom to seven of her own children—four biological, three adopted—and has fostered 16 others. Bullard first joined the beach club back in the early 1980s, but she and her husband, Todd, have been members consistently since 1988, after their first child was born.
The Bullards love Fry’s Spring Beach Club so much that in 1995, they moved into a house directly across the street on Jefferson Park Avenue. “The club has an old-school feel, sort of like what neighborhoods used to be, but a lot of people don’t let their kids run around in neighborhoods anymore,” she says.
Last year, Bullard organized lessons and meets for more than 300 children, many of whom were able to swim at the club because of her efforts. She applied for and received a grant from the Benjamin Hair Just Swim For Life Foundation, which gave swim lesson scholarships to 192 children in need. With membership rates starting at $407 for individuals and $835 for families, Bullard knows that many people in town can’t afford to join the club and thus miss out on the sense of community it offers, and the scholarships help with that.
Things get a little hectic—how could they not, with hundreds of swimmers and their families, plus her own seven kids to think about?—but that’s part of why Bullard is content in her corner of the Fry’s Spring neighborhood. “Life is never dull,” she says with a calm, bright smile.
Shortly after Sara Robinson gave birth to her first daughter in the summer of 2013, she sat on the sofa of her Mulberry Avenue bungalow and gazed out the window onto their cozy little Fry’s Spring street. “The world’s gone on without me,” she remembers thinking once her husband, John, had returned to work. Life “can be very isolating after you have a baby,” she says. You’re stuck to a sleeping, eating and changing schedule that doesn’t allow for much time out of the house, or leisure time at all. During those first few months, she often wished someone “would just knock on the door” to assure her that the world hadn’t left her behind.
Three years later, when Robinson had her second daughter in May 2016, she didn’t just have someone knocking at her door—she had two other women to share the experience of early motherhood.
Virginia Trower and Keith Miller moved in directly across the street from the Robinsons in August 2013, just weeks after the Robinsons’ first daughter was born; Meagan and Mike Donohoe moved in next door in July 2014. The couples live in nearly identical bungalows, and by fall 2015, all three women were pregnant with daughters.
During their pregnancies, the women checked in on each other with text messages, impromptu sidewalk chats and evening conversations that brought together all three couples on the Donohoes’ back deck. (The three supportive dads have grown closer, too, their wives say.) When Robinson was up with her younger daughter for a late-night feeding, she often looked out the window to see Trower’s light on across the street, or Donohoe’s on next door, and it felt like a special kind of solidarity.
“Early motherhood can feel so overwhelming,” says Trower. “To have two wonderful women right across the street who both so acutely relate…is enormously reassuring that maybe I’m actually doing okay at being a new mom.” They say it takes a village, but sometimes just a single street will do.
JEFFERSON PARK AVENUE
Developed in part by professors due to its close proximity to UVA, the Jefferson Park Avenue neighborhood, these days, comprises mostly students, thanks to a rezoning ordinance in 1976 that allowed R-3 (multi-family). A commercial area at the Maury-Fontaine-JPA intersection includes the neighborhood’s biggest draws for non-residents and leads traffic to nearby Scott Stadium. At the northern end is the Oakhurst-Gildersleeve pocket, which earned its own spot on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009 and features several homes designed by architect Eugene Bradbury.
Average home price: $254,000 Size: 244 acres Population: 3,745 Distance from downtown: 2.1 miles Notable attractions: UVA’s South Lawn, Durty Nelly’s, Wayside Takeout & Catering
Best of both worlds
Students and residents mix in this university neighborhood
Jefferson Park Avenue’s winding street is one of the only crossroads between Charlottesville residents and university students. For the students, it’s a quieter, cheaper, alternative to the corner; for the residents, it’s a vibrant yet homey community.
Beverly Amato—who was born and raised in and around the JPA area—says she loves being so close to the student body. As someone who never attended college, Amato enjoys being able to walk to the Lawn and glimpse pieces of UVA life.
“I like to wonder sometimes what they’re thinking,” Amato says. “Are they thinking about their studies or what party they went to last night? I wonder about their student life because I didn’t have a student life. They’re very separate worlds but I think we have a nice appreciation for both.”
So separate, in fact, that some students say they are often unaware that their neighbors are Charlottesville residents. Christian Goodwin, a third-year human biology major, worries that residents see students as out-of-touch with the working community.
“We got a noise complaint and that was the first time that I realized that the people across the street worked at the hospital,” Goodwin says. “If the only interaction you have is calling the police on someone, that’s going to leave a bad taste in your mouth, to say the least.”
The relatively low noise level, however, is a draw for many students trying to avoid the frequent parties of Greek life. Hannah Becker, a third-year civil engineering student, has lived at Woodrow Apartments for two years and says noise was a serious consideration for her.
“It’s hard to get work done when there’s a fraternity next door having a party,” Becker says, pointing out that parties in the JPA area are much fewer and far between.
Indeed, JPA residents say they have had very few problems with students in the area. Karen Myers, owner of Roxie Daisy, moved to the neighborhood five years ago and says students are generally respectful of the residents.
“We had an academic fraternity across the street that was making renovations and they got all the residents involved to make sure there weren’t going to be any problems,” Myers says.
One of the largest differences between the two populations is the rate of turnover. Students who live on JPA are normally out of the area within a couple years of entering it, but residents are more likely to stay in the neighborhood longer. Amato mentions a family home in the area that has been passed down for two generations and says that this kind of stability creates a real sense of community in the area.
“If you’ve lived in the same place for 10 years, you know your neighbors and they know you and you look out for each other. If something’s not quite right, we call and check up on one another,” Amato says.
Myers believes that the friendly community in the JPA neighborhood is a draw for students, rather than a deterrent, and that the unique blend of the populations holds benefits for both.
“[The students] stop sometimes and pet our dog or come sit on our stone columns to talk and I think sometimes it makes them feel like they’re at home,” Myers says. “I think having people around that aren’t just students helps. And for us too, it keeps us young.”
Originally one property on which the prominent Oakhurst home stood until it burned down in 1915, the Oakhurst-Gildersleeve Wood neighborhood is now a residential community housing mainly University of Virginia faculty. The neighborhood features a range of architectural styles—Craftsman, Colonial Revival, Tudor and Cape Cod, among them—including several designed by notable local architect Eugene Bradbury, and, in 2009, was added to the National Register of Historic Places. In the spring, the view down Gildersleeve Wood explodes with azalea, dogwood and cherry blossoms.
10TH & PAGE
Though some of the homes in the 10th & Page neighborhood were built as early as the 1800s, most of the development in that area of town didn’t come until the 1920s. Back then, 10th & Page (though it wasn’t known by that name at the time) was a desirable neighborhood for railroad employees, due to its close proximity to the C&O. Ditto residents of nearby Starr Hill and Vinegar Hill.
The dense neighborhood near the center of town also housed a number of residents notable to Charlottesville and beyond: contractor Benjamin Tonsler (Fifeville’s Tonsler Park is named for him), Roosevelt Brown (the first African-American football player from Charlottesville to be named to the NFL Hall of Fame) and John West (a former slave who accumulated an impressive amount of local real estate).
After the razing of Vinegar Hill in the 1960s, the Westhaven public housing complex on Hardy Drive was created for some of the displaced families, foreshadowing an affordable housing issue that still lives on in the neighborhood today.
Average home price: $185,300 Size: 111 acres Population: 1,220 Distance from downtown: 1 mile Notable attractions: Timbercreek Market, Three Notch’d Brewing Co., Asian Express
Everyone was welcome in Mama Blair’s house
When Patricia Blair Jones was growing up, her family’s home on 10 1/2 Street was always full of people. The small, two-bedroom house held the Blair family—John Jr. and Mary Payne Blair and their nine biological children—plus Mary’s mother, and anyone from the neighborhood who needed a bite to eat and a bed to sleep in.
“We had bunk beds,” recalls Jones, the baby of the family, and the siblings often slept two to a bunk, wearing their coats on cold nights if there weren’t enough blankets to go around. Two foster children slept in cots, one under the stairwell and another in the dining room.
“Mama Blair” took in children whose parents were unable to take care of them, and she fed plenty of neighborhood children and adults alike, sending them home to their own families after a meal of fried chicken, collard greens, mashed potatoes or, when times were especially tough, fried bologna and gravy with homemade bread. “She made a lot of soup,” Jones, now 62, says with a laugh. And no matter what her mom cooked, Jones says she always made “enough so that it could stretch for everybody.”
“We didn’t have much, but she made it the best she could,” Jones says, pride palpable in her voice. Both John Jr., who died young, and Mama Blair worked—as a nanny, a housekeeper and, famously, baking biscuits at the Venable School—and the kids helped out, too.
Jones remembers picking grapes for a neighbor who made her own wine. The woman didn’t let many kids into her yard, but she let the Blair kids in, and always sent them home with grapes for their dinner table. Jones also plucked dandelions off another neighbor’s lawn, and with the pennies she earned picking, she’d buy some sweets—cookies or candy—and give the change to Mama Blair.
“We didn’t have much,” Jones repeats as some of her grandchildren pedal bicycles and race scooters out in front of her current home on 10 ½ Street, only a few doors away from the house where she grew up. This house, with a porch full of rocking chairs and wicker furniture, is an inheritance from her husband’s uncle; it’s where Jones and her husband, Randy, raised their three children, rested after working night shifts and really started to “move up,” as she says. Aside from a little bit of time right after she and Randy were married, Jones has lived on 10 1/2 Street her entire life and thus her family, which now includes eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild, has lived on the street for more than a century.
The family may not have had much, but Jones is chock-full of memories, many of them happy. She remembers calling a Walton-style goodnight to everyone in the house at bedtime. Also, she and her siblings shared two bicycles among them and raced a dune buggy, made from wood and old roller skate wheels, up and down the street. She remembers picking fresh fruit from the peach, plum and cherry trees in the yard.
Now, when she sits on her porch on a warm evening, she greets every person who walks by by name. She knows the current and former residents of every home, and what those homes looked like before recent renovations.
Perhaps the biggest change Jones has seen in the neighborhood is its ethnic makeup—a number of white couples have moved onto the street, which was inhabited entirely by black families until recently, she says.
But some things haven’t changed at all. “We still have some of the older people, just a few,” Jones says. The established and new neighbors all know each other, and many of them reminisce about Mama Blair, who died in December 2012 and whose kindness knew no bounds. The kids still play outside, but not as much as previous generations did.
“It’s really still the same as when I was coming up,” Jones says, glancing at the pastel Easter decorations covering her front yard, a small extravagance that the Blair family might not have afforded years ago. “It’s just a little different.”
The only entrance to Johnson Village, a turn off Cherry Avenue onto Shamrock Road, is flanked by two white concrete pillars with the words “Johnson Village” etched in kelly green. Single-family ranch-style homes dominate the neighborhood developed by LeRoy Bruton in 1962 (Bruton himself lived on Trailridge Road), and gaslight lamps dot the sidewalks (residents pay for the gas to light them). Johnson Elementary School serves as the heart of the neighborhood, a place for community events as well as learning. The neighborhood is home to Charlottesville’s first black mayor, Charles Barbour, and has largely been populated by UVA and UVA Medical Center faculty, due to its proximity to both.
Average home price: $293,300 Size: 160 acres Population: 1,794 Distance from downtown: 2.7 miles Notable attractions: Johnson Elementary School
Meredith Richards advocates for retaining character
When Meredith and Larry Richards first moved to Charlottesville in 1969, they had just finished traveling through Europe in Meredith’s parents’ VW bus. The young couple—Meredith was pregnant with their son, Russell, at the time—had both finished grad school at the University of Illinois and they landed in Charlottesville because of Larry’s teaching position at UVA.
The Richardses made lots of friends in Fry’s Spring because many other UVA faculty lived there, and that’s also how they were introduced to Johnson Village on the other side of Cherry Avenue. They moved into their Trailridge Road home in the early 1980s when they found the perfect house with a brick wall behind the fireplace and exposed wooden beams running along the ceiling—it had a few different characteristics than the many other ranch-style single-family homes in the neighborhood.
Meredith became involved in the neighborhood association, which at the time organized a Halloween parade, Christmas decorations contest and an annual picnic, to name a few events. Her time with the association led to further civic engagement, and she served on the Charlottesville Planning Commission from 1994-96. After that, Richards ran for a seat on City Council on a platform of “enhancing our neighborhoods, because I felt like they were the building blocks of the city.” She served back-to-back terms from ’96 to 2004. One of the biggest issues the neighborhood has faced coincided with Richards’ time on council—the development of land on either side on the neighborhood that now houses Village Place (Craftsman-style homes) and Cherry Hill (townhomes and single-family homes).
Johnson Village developer LeRoy Bruton had always envisioned building on the land on either side of Johnson Village, and he ended up selling the parcels to another developer, who eventually sold it to Coran Capshaw. There is only one entrance into the neighborhood, onto Shamrock Road off Cherry Avenue, and Bruton’s plans included connecting the east end of Shamrock Road with Fifth Street. At that time, neither Fifth Street nor the land around Johnson Village was as developed as it is now.
Even though neighbors knew connecting Shamrock Road had always been the idea, “everyone in the neighborhood recognized that would completely destroy the character of our neighborhood as we knew it,” Richards says. “Turning Shamrock Road into a thoroughfare would have ruined one of the city’s most successful and stable neighborhoods. It wasn’t good for the city and it wasn’t good for this neighborhood.”
The entire neighborhood met with Capshaw in the early 2000s in the cafeteria of Johnson Elementary so they could express their concerns and also hear what his terms were. The meeting went well, with both sides making compromises: Although the planned unit developments were a little denser than the neighbors would have liked, Shamrock Road would stay self-contained in the neighborhood.
The neighbors’ galvanized effort worked, and today Johnson Village remains a place where people jog on the wide streets lined with sidewalks, families walk to school (there’s a cut-through path off Trailridge Road that leads to the Johnson Elementary) and where neighbors watch each other’s houses when someone goes on vacation.
Developed near the end of the 19th century, the historic Venable neighborhood was (and still is) home to many University of Virginia professors and, thanks to an enrollment boom in the 1970s that necessitated the conversion of boarding houses into rentals, many university undergrads and graduate students. The Corner business district, which originated in the mid-1800s, continues to be a draw to the Venable area, too.
Average home price: $231,400 Size: 398 acres Population: 4,599 Distance from downtown: 1.3 miles Notable attractions: Venable Elementary School, Gordon Avenue Library, the Corner
Charlottesville’s Ten Miler traverses the town
There’s one thing that connects a large swath of city neighborhoods—and it’s not the uphills. The Charlottesville Ten Miler takes off from Alderman Road and winds through the university, passes by Venable, snakes between 10th & Page and Rose Hill, loops around North Downtown and through the mall, then heads back again, continuing down West Main all the way to Lewis Mountain until the finish line.
“Running the course, you get a snapshot of the city,” says Nicole Brimer, the race’s current director. “Runners who are newer to town see areas of Charlottesville that are off the beaten path, and long-term locals who train and race the course get an intimate view of the sights of Charlottesville that it are easy to miss in driving around town.”
Designed by Ragged Mountain Running Shop co-owner Mark Lorenzoni in 1984, the course meanders through some of the area’s most beautiful places—the dogwood-lined streets of the university, Rugby Road and Lexington Avenue, the brick-paved paths of the Downtown Mall, Court Square and the Corner. And, says Brimer, it showcases a wide variety of life in Charlottesville, “traveling by student housing, working class neighborhoods, past the historic buildings and homes of the North Downtown neighborhood, to businesses on Main Street and the hospital.”
The stretch along Grady and Preston avenues is the one significant reprieve from all those uphills, but it’s not the only thing runners look forward to.
On race day, residents of the North Downtown neighborhood host brunch lawn parties and unofficial water stops with donut holes. Students on McCormick Road cheer and offer runners drinks. Businesses downtown and on the Corner celebrate as runners go by. In a few neighborhoods, says Brimer, some residents even put out stereos and play music for the runners.
“The Charlottesville Ten Miler is well-supported by the neighborhoods and businesses in the area,” Brimer says, “and that support is felt throughout the entire course.”
You’re going down!
While Washington Park, Burley Middle School and The Dell at UVA often take top billing on lists of local sledding spots, it’s Winston Road in the Venable neighborhood that gets the hidden gem prize. One resident calls it “the best and most face-meltingly fast sledding hill.” We’ll take her word for it.
He said, she said
The former University Circle home of Jack Manahan, a UVA professor and noted Charlottesville eccentric, will forever be tinged with a bit of mystery. He was a longtime studier of genealogy and particularly the story of Anastasia Romanov, the youngest daughter of Czar Nicholas and Czarina Alexandra who, along with their children, were murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1918.
It was at this Venable property that Manahan and Anna Anderson—the woman who, until her death, claimed to be the only member of the family who survived the assassinations (a claim that was later proven false)—lived an offbeat life until her death in 1984, piling the house high with books and cats.
Annexed to the city between 1916 and 1963, this northern area of the city is a combination of the Barracks, Rugby, Greenleaf and Kellytown neighborhoods and is, consequently, a mixed bag, socioeconomically and architecturally speaking. The Barracks portion, located along Barracks Road, boasts larger, upper income homes constructed in the 1930s, whereas the Greenleaf area, constructed after World War II, contains mostly bungalow-style homes on smaller lots. The Rugby Avenue area blends the two, with its medium-sized homes, and serves as a transition from downtown to the university.
Average home price: $719,500 Size: 500 acres Population: 2,500 Distance from downtown: 1.8 miles Notable attractions: Greenleaf Park, Crow Recreation Center
“The friendliest dog imaginable,” is how her owner describes June, the three-legged border collie who can be seen hanging out at the bus stop in Rugby Hills each weekday morning. “She’s the best,” says her owner. “Lets babies pull her ears, puppies nibble her nose and helps little kids who are afraid of dogs learn to love them—or at least her.”
No fences necessary
Sitting in Joe and Shirley Sadler’s dining room, with its vintage décor, it’s easy to feel nostalgic: black and white family photographs line the walls, mustard-yellow cushions sit atop solid pine furniture, impeccable bone china displays proudly in the curio cabinet. The Sadlers have lived in the Barracks/Rugby neighborhood since 1968, when they bought their house for $17,180. In the intervening years, they’ve become central figures on their cul de sac. “I guess we’re the oldest ones here now,” says Shirley. A few neighbors have lived on the short street for most of their lives, but many have relocated from other countries—Tibet, China, Iraq, Kazakhstan—and all over the U.S. Joe and Shirley know everyone and, from his favorite seat in the dining room, he keeps tabs on things through the picture window.
A former cop (he served on the Charlottesville police force for more than 30 years), Joe’s seen a lot of changes in the city.
“I never pulled my gun the whole time,” he says. “Back years ago it was different; it was more man-to-man than it was with a gun or a knife. [Problems were settled] man-to-man.” He’d take after-hours gigs, too, while Shirley worked first shift at Comdial on Route 29, and keep trouble at bay for local restaurant owners downtown.
“The country boys from Greene County would come to town on the weekends and fight,” Joe says. “Lawd, the boys could do some fightin’.”
Still, while greater Charlottesville has developed into a world-class city, with artisanal soap, spices, beer, beef and vodka, the Sadlers say their neighborhood feels the same as it did back in ’68.
“There’s not big changes,” says Shirley. “It’s just families and we get out and talk to each other. It’s basically like it was.”
Now retired from both a farming career (he kept hogs for years) and his policing, Joe’s had several surgeries, including a recent knee replacement, and local residents have all stepped up to help with meals, lawn-mowing and check-ins.
At the latest annual neighborhood potluck, Shirley drove the few hundred feet to the end of the street so she could bring a proper seat and make sure Joe was comfortable, but not before handing off her signature squash casserole with a warning—“Be careful, it’s hot”—to a group outside of her front door, waiting to help.
The kindness of strangers
It echoes down the daffodil-lined alleyways between newly developed pastel homes, along the aging fence lines of post-war brick ranchers, up the broad streets of Kellytown and through the steep fox-filled gulches separating tree-lined hills: “Stellaaaaa!”
It’s time for the middle-aged, 20-pound corgi to head home. Instead, she works the streets like a politician, welcoming new neighbors and stopping in for a bite to eat. She may even crash on a resident’s couch for a few nights if her humans go out of town.
Sometimes it’s from the gut, Marlon Brando-style, sometimes it’s the gleeful greeting of a child blurted from the backseat of a passing car, but when the iconic holler is followed by a sharp whistle, you know it’s time she heads home.
You know the big names (Belmont, downtown, Barracks/Rugby), but since neighborhoods in this town are a bit like Russian nesting dolls, only true locals know these six hidden pockets.
This 150-unit public housing complex near downtown is technically in the North Downtown neighborhood, but feels worlds away from the tony homes on the other side of the mall. Recognizing the disparity, the Piedmont Housing Alliance launched an improvement plan—for which construction begins in 2019—to redevelop the 12-acre site.
With Moore’s Creek bordering it to the south and east, this Belmont area is (supposedly) so named for the nearby livestock market. It’s said that, when the creek rises, it creates a muddy pit where the pigs can wallow. This area in the southeast pocket of Belmont isn’t officially recognized by the city, given its classicist name and tense history.
After the Civil War, the lack of access to slave labor prevented prosperous farmer John Craven from affordably cultivating his 400-acre Rose Hill Plantation. By 1890, the Charlottesville Industrial and Land Improvement Company owned much of his estate, save a small strip along what today is Preston Avenue, which his family eventually had subdivided into 23 lots. African-Americans settled in this area and, from there, Kellytown (and its neighboring Tinsleytown) arose.
Though it’s technically in the Martha Jefferson neighborhood, the Little High area—comprising East Jefferson to Meriwether between 11th Street and Meade Avenue—has a personality all its own, with rows of smaller, one-story houses and neighbor-focused touches like a community bulletin board.
The high-end ’hood to the north of Barracks Road hidden behind Bodo’s had a racetrack before it became the site of Charlottesville’s first country club in 1916, although at that time it was still in Albemarle County. The club had horse stables and a swimming pool, but the golf course planned there never materialized. Instead it was subdivided and the narrow streets that include Blue Ridge and Hilltop roads hold some of the city’s priciest real estate. In 1948, Chi Psi fraternity occupied the clubhouse, which it sold in 2011, but the 7,000-square-foot house still sits at the end of Rugby Road.
Named for John West, a freed slave who became a barber and a prolific property owner in Charlottesville and Albemarle, Westhaven is a public housing site in the 10th & Page neighborhood (where West once owned land).
This small section of downtown isn’t officially recognized by the city, either, but anyone who’s shopped or eaten in the industrial buildings near the train tracks knows it as Charlottesville’s answer to SoHo. The area includes the Downtown Design Center (originally the Matacia Fruit Company), the Glass Building (housing Paradox Pastry, Bluegrass Grill & Bakery and various offices), the Gleason Building on Garrett Street and even stretches to Fourth Street SE, where the former Norcross Transfer & Storage warehouse was transformed into apartment complex Norcross Station.
Mostly small-to-medium single-family houses make up the Rose Hill neighborhood, but it’s also home to the likes of Washington Park, Greenbrier Elementary School, Burley Middle School and a quaint sprinkling of local shops and restaurants that have some locals questioning whether Rose Hill could be the next Belmont.
Though the neighborhood was annexed to the city in 1916, many of the homes date back to the World War II era and newer houses aren’t uncommon. In 2012, City Council denied a rezoning request by developer Rosanna Danna LLC, which hoped to build a six-unit apartment complex in the area, in order to maintain the neighborhood’s preference for single-family homes. Because of the area’s central location and proximity to downtown and UVA, the constant pressure of development looms.
Average home price: $122,400 Size: 107 acres Population: 695 Distance from downtown: .9 miles Notable attractions: MarieBette Café & Bakery, Ace Biscuit & Barbecue, Martin Hardware, Washington Park
Save the park
A gathering place reinvigorated
African-American community members gathered on the grounds of what is now Washington Park long before Paul Goodloe McIntire donated the land to the city in 1926 “for use as a playground for the colored citizens of Charlottesville,” according to the deed.
Named for Booker T. Washington, the park had a baseball diamond, pool, tennis courts and other spaces for recreational activity in the ’30s, and by 1936, it had become “an indispensable institution to the Charlottesville community,” according to the city’s website. “But not without growing pains.”
With the park’s heavy use, neighbors complained about the loudness, and its conditions were an ongoing concern—a junk car rusting away, poison ivy and snake-infested woods were among its worst attractions. While black and white Recreation Board members motioned to have a chain gang clear the entire site, civic and athletic clubs came to the rescue.
Years passed, and by the ’90s, the city hired local architect Gregg Bleam and his firm to reinvigorate the space. He describes the park at that time as “an environment you didn’t want to hang out in,” with a ’60s kind of feel—cracked asphalt, basketball courts in bad condition, hardly any shade and the unfortunate smell of old rubber tires.
His firm revitalized Washington Park in two phases, with the construction of a community building and a multipurpose field for pickup games of football, soccer and baseball or sledding. They also added parking and a staircase to connect the upper and lower levels, which were originally seen as two separate areas.
“We did a good job with what we had,” he says, adding that the budget was small, so they used simple materials to create a park with a safe playground and a space for events, such as the African American Cultural Festival each year. Picnics are often held at the small pavilion on the park’s lower level, made possible by a donation from Bama Works, the Dave Matthews Band’s charity.
Says Bleam, “And if you’ve seen it for sledding in the winter, it’s wildly successful.”
“I knew nothing about Charlottesville neighborhoods coming from New Jersey, and Patrick didn’t either because he had been gone for so long from the area. The space was perfect for our concept and the neighborhood felt like, well, a neighborhood. It felt like a place we wanted to be. We actually live two blocks away from our business now, making work and life more local.”—Jason Becton, co-owner of MarieBette Café & Bakery
What was once the Meadows Farm became a subdivision off Angus Road in the mid-1950s. Brick ranchers typical of the era dot the neighborhood, along with duplexes and apartment houses.
Back before the housing bubble burst, the neighborhood was attractive for first-time buyers, but that didn’t work out well for two families. The Vanderfords’ house on North Berkshire ultimately was condemned after it flooded from a rusted storm drain in 2003. “The whole subdivision is a natural drainage ditch,” said a city planner at the time. And the family that bought a mold-infested house on Wayne Avenue in 2005 also ended up losing everything.
Fortunately, those dire cases seem to be the exceptions in the Meadows, which is pretty stable, with few for-sale signs. The neighborhood contains a lot of renters—as well as longtime residents, and it is diverse, both ethnically and economically.
Barry Sisson is one of the landlords, and he touts the Meadows’ location, location, location. “It’s right across the street from the shopping center at Stonefield with its restaurants and movies,” he says. “You can walk to Whole Foods—or KFC.”
“It’s central to live here,” agrees Susanna York, who’s lived on Cedar Hill Road for six years. She likes the stream of joggers and dog walkers, and the worst she can say about the neighborhood is that once every five years or so someone breaks into unlocked cars.
“Mostly it’s a younger neighborhood,” says York. “A lot of grad students who want it quieter and young families rent here.”
And did we mention friendly? “My neighbor, in the winter, scrapes my driveway,” says York, “so it’s really friendly.”
Average home price: $196,500 Size: 375 acres Population: 2,204 Distance from downtown: 3.1 miles Notable attractions: Whole Foods, Seminole Square Shopping Center, Best Buy, Barracks Road North Wing
Barracks Road Shopping Center opened in the fall of 1959. At the time, it was considered part of Albemarle County—as in, red dirt alert!—until the city annexed it in 1963, recognizing its merits as a growing destination for retail. Later, the property was acquired by management company Federal Realty Investment Trust, which expanded its footprint across Barracks Road and increased the square footage to 487,000—larger than even Fashion Square Mall up the street. Though it’s recognized as a city neighborhood, Barracks’ only “residents”—save for a few UVA student dormitories in the southwest corner—are commercial, populating the shopping center itself, as well as retail and office space along Arlington Boulevard.
Surrounded on three sides by UVA, the Lewis Mountain neighborhood is, not surprisingly, filled with professors, administrators and other university professionals on its close-quarter, meandering streets. And it’s been that way since its inception in the late 1930s, when the city annexed land from a county parcel (just over a mile away) on which Lewis Mountain—a much-mythologized historic home and the neighborhood’s namesake—was built in 1909. In 1998, the university purchased the Cavalier Inn and the surrounding land, with plans to build a multimillion-dollar performing arts center.
Average home price: $459,600 Size: 156 acres Population: 683 Distance from downtown: 2.3 miles Notable attractions: Foods of All Nations, The Dell at UVA, St. Anne’s-Belfield School
St. Thomas Aquinas’ neighborly contribution
Situated near UVA Grounds, the Lewis Mountain neighborhood is primarily home to university faculty, staff and students. But in 2013, a brand new facility opened for longstanding residents of the Alderman Road area—a small population of Dominican friars.
The Dominican community arrived in Charlottesville in 1959 in order to oversee St. Thomas Aquinas Parish, the Catholic center first established for the university. They purchased a plot of land on the corner of Alderman Road and Midmont Lane, and by the mid-1960s, relocated St. Thomas Aquinas from its original post on Jefferson Park Avenue. The church has undergone various expansions and renovations since that time, but the construction of a permanent residence for the friars—called a priory—marked a notable shift and contribution to the community.
A priory is essentially a monastery that houses at least six friars and comprises bedrooms (or cells), a chapel, a library, a common room, a dining room (or refectory) and a courtyard. When building the priory, the Dominicans took great care to consider their fellow neighbors.
“The building was designed to be constructed into the side of a hill so that it would not tower over the houses nearby,” reads the priory campaign outline. “We have sought at all times to respect the integrity and serenity of our neighborhood, and to be a friendly addition to the lovely homes besides ours.”
In the same vein, they ensured that the land facing their neighbors was pleasant to the eye, including the construction of the St. Michael garden, complete with an archangel statue.
A friar’s role can best be described as a cross between a monk and a diocesan priest. While they live a communal lifestyle with dedicated meditative times under the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, they also serve the community through teaching and pastoral care. The friars can often be seen in their white robes walking around the neighborhood, on Grounds, at the hospital or even on the Downtown Mall singing and speaking with others. By constructing the priory, they’ve added to the neighborhood’s unique fabric.
Prior to 1964, when the city annexed its nearly 650 acres, the Greenbrier neighborhood was considered part of Albemarle County, a suburb of the city. Today, it’s the northernmost section of the city—bounded by the 250 Bypass, Brandywine Drive, Rio Road and the county—but its connection to rural Albemarle is still felt. With the newly constructed John Warner Parkway running along its eastern border, a portion of the Rivanna Trail cutting through its middle and bordering the opposite side, nature is the name of the game for Greenbrier residents—not to mention this neighborhood also contains McIntire and Greenbrier parks within its limits.
Average home price: $308,300 Size: 773 acres Population: 2,453 Distance from downtown: 2.6 miles Notable attractions: Martin Luther King Jr. Performing Arts Center, Rivanna Trail
Jackie Webber has lived in Greenbrier for 25 years. But it’s her cat who’s made the biggest impression on the neighborhood. Jose, an 11-year-old SPCA rescue (“the only kitten there when I went in the middle of winter,” Webber says), routinely goes for walks on his own, popping into various neighbors’ homes.
“One neighbor claims that he plays the piano when he visits her,” Webber, who has three other cats, says. “Another neighbor makes a fire in the fireplace just for Jose because he loves to lie in front of it in the winter.”
Webber says he started exploring on his own at first, getting lost a few times until he became acclimated to his territory. Then, when Webber would take walks along the Rivanna Trail, which runs through the neighborhood, he’d come along. He loves meeting anyone new—even dogs. Jose will go right up to them, sniff them and continue on his way.
“Neighbors are amazed,” Webber says. “When I take walks in the neighborhood, people who I don’t know see Jose walking with me and say, ‘You must be Jose’s mother.’”
It’s safe to say that Thomas Givens’ whale tail sculpture—which lived for six years at the intersection of the 250 Bypass and Meadowbrook Heights Road—was one of the most recognizable contributions from the city’s ArtInPlace program. It ended its run in late 2014, but many residents of the Greenbrier neighborhood still use it as a landmark. “If you drive by [Givens’] house, sometimes you can spot other interesting pieces he’s working on,” says resident Michelle Prysby.
This attention pleases Givens, who also lives nearby.
“I’m happy and honored to be remembered in my neighborhood and town as creator of a cool artwork,” he says. Currently, the sculptor is in Hong Kong installing another whale tail commissioned for a luxury hotel.