Dear Ace: Why is Water Street next to the Downtown Mall called Water Street? I’ve been up and down the street plenty of times, but I’ve never seen any water.—H. Choo Oh
H.: This is an easy one. Any Charlottesvillian worth his or her salt knows that Water Street is named for Thomas Jefferson’s buddy Todd Water. Todd Water was born in Goochland County in 1748, the son of—O.K., Ace is lying. The truth is, Ace had no idea why Water Street is so named, considering the only water to be found there is on tap at C&O. Certainly, Market and Main are easy enough to figure out. But why Water Street? Where’s the water? Ace put in a call to the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society to find out.
There used to be water on Water Street next to the Downtown Mall, probably around the same time there were affordable “watering holes” Downtown.
So where’s that eponymous water? Look down. Way down. A Historical Society volunteer explains: “There used to be water. There were wells all along where Water Street now runs. It was where people used to get water for their horses.” There’s a big aquifer a few dozen yards beneath Water Street, and so it became the place to get water back when fresh, clean H2O was not so easily obtained. And evidently, just recently, remnants of 19th century wells—basically octagonal wooden pipes running from 30′ underground up to the surface—were uncovered when the foundation was being laid for the new transit center. The transit folks sent ‘em over to a grateful Historical Society.
So while Water Street remains shrouded in mystery to some degree—why is the Water Street Parking Garage so unattractive? Where can you find a drink on Market Street for less than nine bucks?—consider this case solved. In this age of uncertainty, it’s nice to have something so cut and, er, dry: It’s called Water Street because people used to get their water there. But if you want to get your water on Water Street, H., you’ll have to start digging.