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.
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.
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.”