The town of Scottsville, home of Albemarle’s first county seat, is located at the intersection of Routes 20 and 6 straddling the three counties of Albemarle, Fluvanna, and Buckingham. Though set in the midst of a rich agricultural area, it is part of the Charlottesville SMSA and offers an easy commute to jobs there. It has a rich past reflected in its downtown where 153 commercial, residential and religious buildings are nationally recognized as having historic significance.
In the 1700s, when the most efficient way to move goods west to east was by boat, Scottsville was an important commercial center thanks to its location on the James River. The James River and Kanawha Canal, connecting Richmond to Lynchburg, ran alongside the river adding to Scottsville’s prominence during this time. The town also served as a drop off point for agricultural goods moving on a toll road from Staunton to Richmond. As a result, Scottsville was the largest grain market in the state and home to many wealthy people.
In 1761 Scottville lost its status as county seat, which moved to Charlottesville. The old courthouse, no longer needed as a municipal building, was converted to an ammunition storehouse during the Revolutionary War. By the late 1800s when river traffic gave way to rail, Scottsville also lost its importance as a commercial center.
In more recent times, the downtown area suffered from frequent flooding due to its proximity to the James River, causing many business owners to give up and leave their boarded up buildings behind.
Fortunately in the 1980s, the town acquired federal money for a levee. The resulting flood protection made it possible for businesses to be viable in downtown and contributed to a renaissance in the area. Now, not only is there a growing list of new businesses, but the downtown area enjoyed a facelift thanks to a streetscape project completed in 2013 that spruced it up making it much more inviting.
Today Scottsville is valued for its growing list of amenities, its proximity to Charlottesville, and its quiet country lifestyle that nevertheless offers much in the way of outdoor activities, restaurants, historic preservation and community based activities like the recent July 4th fireworks. In addition, the real estate market continues to improve, offering a range of options for first time buyers as well as for those looking for a historic home, a farm or estate overlooking the river or just a piece of land.
A Small Town with a Big Heart
A. Scott Ward, Jr. is a REALTOR® and appraiser with A. Scott Ward Realty, Inc, the oldest locally owned real estate company in Scottsville. He described Scottsville as a “great little town, friendly and welcoming,” where it is easy to get to know people and very different from what he called “the hustle and bustle of Charlottesville.”
Larry Barnett is another prominent local agent who recently decided to shut down his Scottsville company, Barnett Real Estate, and join the Old Ivy office of Long and Foster. Years ago he and his wife moved to Scottsville after visiting there frequently and deciding they wanted to stay. He described the town as a place with a “wonderful mix of people from all walks of life.” Although he initially had reservations about moving to a small town (his wife was originally from New York City) neither of them has had any regrets.
Today, at age 78, Barnett is still an active agent and property owner. He was especially excited about a new business that recently opened in the space that was his former real estate office. Called James River Embroidery it offers sewing, screen printing, custom embroidery and graphic design. “When you visit Scottsville, you must go in there,” he said.
John Ince, with Nest Realty, described Scottsville as a “very real slice of Americana right in our own back yard.” For those who choose to live there, it is “a unique opportunity to forge an intimate relationship with one of Virginia’s classic small towns. Scottsville is not gentrified or fancy. It’s grounded with agriculture and the rich history of a thriving 18th century river port.” In many ways it is the best of two worlds offering, “home town character with cosmopolitan Charlottesville just 25 miles north.”
In addition to being friendly, Scottsville residents recently showed they could be very generous. In October of 2014 the James River club, a chapter of the Boys and Girls club of Central Virginia, opened its doors. It offers after school and summer activities for local children, many of who are low income with few other alternatives for structured activities when school is out. The project required significant local fundraising to obtain the $1.5 million required to open the doors as well as an agreement from Albemarle County to lease an old school house for $1 a year.
Barnett, who volunteers there as a tutor, recently rented one of his apartments to a family with two children who expressed appreciation for the Boys and Girls club. He explained that not only is it a safe place for their children to go after school and during the summer, but the $30 per child annual fee makes it very affordable.
Although Charlottesville, with its many cultural activities, is nearby, Scottsville is in many respects self contained. Residents will find most of what they need there including a major grocery store, medical care, restaurants, and recreational activities.
Scottsville’s Real Estate Market Coming Back to Life
When it comes to real estate, people have many options in Scottsville. Buyers will find a wide range of prices, everything from starter homes under $150,000 to million dollar plus properties depending on the size and location of the home and the number of acres that accompany it. This means Scottsville is a place where first time buyers as well as those looking for farm and estate properties can find just what they need.
Scottsville is the “southern anchor of Albemarle County,” Ince said. Those “looking for a farm or estate will find some of the finest period homes and richest land in Virginia’s Piedmont there. It’s also a great place to find an affordable home in town or on a couple of acres.” He went on describe the allure of local river properties. “Fine homes overlooking the river sell well,” he said. He recently sold a $1.8 million such property and said that the river was “the major part of its ambiance.” He also just sold some pieces of land as well as a farm on 50 acres that went for $895,000.
Barnett described Scottsville’s market as “mixed.” Starter homes and others under $150,000 are selling quickly he said, adding that the market has “not come back like Charlottesville’s.” He currently has two homes listed in town, both built in the early 1900s, one at just under $310,000 the other at $249,900. He added that the rental market is very strong in Scottsville.
Ward described the market as a little slow, but homes are selling. “First timers will find a better home at a better price in Scottsville,” he said noting that closer to Charlottesville they would pay $199,000 for a double wide currently on the market north of Carters Bridge.
Another big advantage of Scottsville is that buyers can choose from three different counties each with its own school system and a lifestyle that is a little different from the others. Albemarle is closer to Charlottesville and has more jobs, but Buckingham offers better prices on homes along with lower taxes. Prices are higher in Fluvanna, which may mean smaller lot sizes that nevertheless appeal to people who like living close to their neighbors.
Buyers can also find good values in town including historic properties. For example, in town properties for sale now include some “fabulous period homes for under $500,000,” Ince said. There are also deals in more rural settings where, “there are some really wonderful opportunities for under $200,000,” he continued.
Who’s Moving to Scottsville?
Scottsville is attractive to young families who want space and a back yard big enough for a garden or to those who appreciate historic properties and love good prices.
Peter Lee, with Roy Wheeler Realty, said the area attracts young professionals who like the feel of the town and the older buildings. “It is especially appealing to people who don’t have to commute such as people who have a home based business or who are retired,” he added.
One of Barnett’s recent buyers is a couple from Norfolk who just retired and wished to downsize from a huge house on the bay and to be closer to their daughter in Richmond. They chose Scottsville for its small town flavor.
Ward described buyers who relocated to Scottsville from the northeast. Also retirees, they wanted to live in a rural community where they could have some acreage and enjoy life away from the big city.
Scottville’s Food and Drink
Visitors come from all over to enjoy some of Scottville’s brewery, wineries and restaurants that are a source of pride to locals. The popular James River Brewing Company is located in a 19th century brick warehouse right in town. It recently reopened under new management and patrons can enjoy its brews along with live music and food delivered from local restaurants. The recently renovated James River Tavern is also doing extremely well. Barnett said that on a recent Sunday he looked around at a full house and saw only two tables with people he knew, the rest were visitors.
Baines Books and Coffee, an Appomattox-based business, opened a second location in Scottsville just a couple of years ago. Ward described it as “a great place to catch up with the local gossip.”
This time of year Scottsville offers many recreational activities for anyone who loves to canoe, tube, swim or fish, and water enthusiasts will find three companies that offer excursions via canoes and kayaks as well as river floats on rafts and tubes.
The river is also the focus of an annual event called the Batteau Festival celebrated every year in June. Back when water was the most common mode of transport, people and goods were shipped on flat-bottomed boats called batteaux that regularly stopped in Scottsville. For the annual festival, volunteers build their own boats and recreate part of this journey dressed in period costumes.
Residents and visitors can also enjoy the nature trails at the Van Clief natural area, a 63-acre park right in town. Its highlight is Scottsville Lake, stocked with trout by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and open to the public.
Whether you are a first time buyer or someone looking for a period house in town a historic plantation home, farm or estate, you will find what you are looking for in Scottsville. Call your agent today for more information.
By Celeste M. Smucker, PhD
Celeste Smucker is a writer, and blogger who lives near Charlottesville.