In the 1720s wealthy landowners began receiving land patents in this area but few came to settle on their estates. One who did was Peter Jefferson who acquired the estates of Shadwell and Monticello. And so it was that Charlottesville, named for the new young Queen of King George III, became the town of Thomas Jefferson and his University of Virginia.
The town was formed by charter in 1762 “for the reception of traders” and as a seat for Albemarle County that had been cut from a wide area on both sides of the James River in 1744. A county courthouse was constructed around which 50 acres were laid out in streets and building lots. This legacy of service as a commercial center never left the town that has seldom seen importance in industry. For most of its history Charlottesville has been a university and residential city.
Unlike many of its sister towns in Virginia, Charlottesville felt only a light brush with the American Revolution and Civil War. During the struggle for independence prisoners - mostly German mercenaries - from the Battle of Saratoga were detained here briefly and endured a raid by British Colonel Banastre Tarleton in 1781. There were no major Civil War battles in Charlottesville, which was used primarily as a hospital. Perhaps the biggest impact the military had on the town came via the Charlottesville Woolen Mills that organized in 1868 and for many years churned out the “cadet gray” material used for uniforms by the United States Military Academy at West Point.
Our explorations of Charlottesville will begin along the Downtown Mall, one of America’s iconic pedestrian malls and our first stop will be at the eastern end at the City Hall where three hometown Presidents look on...
605 East Main Street
Charlottesville’s City Hall features unique municipal monuments on its exterior. On the wall are bas-relief figures of three American Presidents who frequented the town - Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe. Out front on The Mall is the Freedom of Speech Wall, two-side slabs of Buckingham slate that stretch over 50 feet where anyone can write - or erase - anything in chalk at any time. The chalkboards are wiped clean on a regular basis but permanently inscribed is the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
WITH YOUR BACK TO THE CITY HALL, TURN LEFT AND WALK A FEW STEPS OVER TO THE END OF THE DOWNTOWN MALL.
610 East Main Street at east end of The Mall
The outdoor entertainment venue opened in 2005, presenting a mix of national and local and regional acts.
TURN AROUND AND BEGIN WALKING UP THE DOWNTOWN MALL.
Settlers moved from the Virginia Tidewater towards the mountains along established trails carved by Indians and migrating game. Beginning in the 1730s the most popular trails were widened and graded into roads. The road that led to the Great Valley from Richmond became known as the Three Notch’d Road or Three Choptd Road, named from a system of marks chopped into wayside trees in the early 1740s. In 1762 Charlottesville was laid out in a simple grid of 56 building lots, each one acre in size, on both sides of the Three Notch’d Road. In the 20th century the historic road became US Route 250, tracing essentially the same route as it had for hundreds of years. In 1976 seven blocks were closed to vehicular traffic to create one of America’s pioneering pedestrian malls.
Charlottesville Hardware Company/Urban Outfitters
316 East Main Street
The Charlottesville Hardware Company was founded in 1889 and moved into this space in 1895. After fire swept this block of Main Street in 1909 all that was left was the shell of its three-story facade. The conflagration, that started in the hardware store, caused an estimated $220,000 in damages and news of the blaze was reported in the New York Times. Firefighters were hampered in their efforts by the constant explosion of cartridges from inside the store. Known by its loyal customers as “Old Reliable,” the store quickly rebuilt. After the demise of the hardware business the longest tenant of the space was the Hardware Restaurant that was a fixture on The Mall for thirty years beginning in 1976.
People’s National Bank
300 East Main Street
People’s Bank took its first deposits in 1875 at 401 East Market Street. The bank had moved into the 300 block by 1909 when it escaped complete destruction in the Charlottesville Hardware Company fire that destroyed many of its neighbors. In 1916 People’s moved into this two-story Neoclassical vault designed by Eugene Bradbury with its imposing Corinthian columns and pilasters.
215 East Main Street
The Paramount was a latecomer to the golden age of American movie palaces, opening its doors on Thanksgiving Eve 1931. Theater architects C.W and George Rapp of Chicago specialized in creating ornate decors that transported patrons to exotic locales of the mind but for the Paramount they designed an octagonal auditorium in a Neoclassical style in the fashion of Thomas Jefferson that melded into the surrounding community. The grand theater with seating for 1,300 was a success from the beginning and enjoyed a run of more than 40 years before closing in 1974. After lying dark for the next 30 years the meticulously restored venue once again began greeting theater-goers on December 15, 2004.
123 East Main Street
The eight-story office building that looms over The Mall was built in 1920 for the National Bank and Trust. Architect William Johnston Marsh followed the traditional practice of erecting high-rises in the style of a classical Greek column with an elaborate base (the two-story stone facade), a relatively unadorned shaft (the brick upper floors) and an ornate capital (the decorative roof).
110 East Main Street
If this theater looks like a bank it is because that is what the building was created for, back in 1901. In 1912 it was sold to a theater company. Fire scorched the interior in 1915 and theater architect C.K. Howell brought the performing space back to life in a classical style he used for downtown theaters in Richmond. The Jefferson specialized in bringing silent films and vaudeville acts to Charlottesville. Harry Houdini performed here. Its historical arc, however, followed hundreds of similar downtown theaters: conversion to a movie house, loss of patronage in the 1960s and stints as an adult theater and a dollar house. But the Jefferson survived and approaches its second century as a performing arts venue.
CONTINUE WALKING UP THE DOWNTOWN MALL AND TURN RIGHT ON 2ND STREET NW (THE SECOND 2ND STREET YOU ENCOUNTER). CROSS MARKET STREET.
McGuffey Art Center
201 2nd Street, NW
This two-story, brick building in the Colonial Revival style was Charlottesville’s first primary school building constructed for that purpose. Completed in 1916 and lauded for its physical harmony, both on its facade and with its interior layout, the building became a model for subsequent school construction in Charlottesville. It carried the name of William H. McGuffey, author of the first standard U.S. reader series and staunch advocate of public education, who also taught ethics at the University of Virginia. The McGuffey Art Center was established in 1975 as school rooms were transformed into galleries and studios. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009.
CROSS JEFFERSON STREET.
Christ Episcopal Church
120 West High Street at 2nd Street
This Gothic Revival stone church, shepherded into existence by architect George Wallace Spooner in 1895, replaced the first church building in Charlottesville from 1820. Serving on the building committee for that pioneering structure was Thomas Jefferson.
WALK BACK A FEW STEPS TO JEFFERSON STREET AND TURN LEFT.
100 West Jefferson Street
Edward M. Magruder, an instructor in physical diagnosis at the University of Virginia, built this brick building in 1899 for his patients, qualifying it as the first building in Charlottesville designed to be a hospital. The University of Virginia Hospital opened shortly afterwards and Dr. Magruder adapted the building for his own practice and living quarters for his family.
bounded by Jefferson Street, 1st Street NE, Market Street and 2nd Street NE
Paul Goodloe McIntire, who made a fortune on Wall Street, donated the property for a park in 1924. The focal point of the park on its highest point is a majestic equestrian rendering of Robert E. Lee. The design is by Henry Merwin Shrady who was known for his bronze wildlife and Indian sculptures and whose masterwork was the Appomattox Memorial Monument to Lee’s counterpart, General Ulysses S. Grant in Washington, D.C. Shrady died before the bronze could be cast and the work was completed by Leo Lentelli.
First Methodist Church
101 East Jefferson Street
This is the third sanctuary for Charlottesville’s Methodists. The first Methodist house of worship was erected in 1834 on Water Street and served the congregation for 25 years. The current church was raised in 1924 on plans drawn by architect Joseph Hudnut. Hudnut gave the brick building a bold portico under Doric columns and a beefy entablature.
109 East Jefferson Street
This was one of Charlottesville’s finest Federal homes of the early 19th century, highlighted by a fine fanlight over the entrance. It was constructed by John R. Jones in 1814. Jones was a prosperous merchant, banker and land agent who lived here for more than forty years. The front veranda is a later addition.
TURN RIGHT ON 2ND STREET, NE.
200 2nd Street, NE
Paul Goodloe McIntire provided Charlottesville with its first public library in this building in 1921. Architect Walter Dabney Blair provided a Beaux Arts design with a prominent semi-circular portico enhanced with marble steps and columns. The Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society, founded in 1940, moved into the space in 1994.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO JEFFERSON STREET AND TURN RIGHT.
Temple Beth Israel
301 East Jefferson Street
The congregation was organized in 1882 and settled into worship at the corner of Market and 2nd streets. Their location was coveted for a new post office in 1904 and the temple building was moved brick by brick to this spot. The synagogue survived a 1948 fire and was rebuilt.
TURN RIGHT ON 4TH STREET, NE.
Massie Wills House
215 Fourth Street, NE
This Federal-style brick residence was constructed in 1830 by Harden Massie and picked up a face-lift in the 1870s when F.M. Wills owned the property. Despite decades as a rental property, this is one of the few remaining houses that stands in Charlottesville close to its original condition.
RETURN TO JEFFERSON STREET AND TURN RIGHT.
410 East Jefferson Street
This house, now a small-scale inn, is the only building remaining in downtown Charlottesville from the 1700s. Edward Butler began the house in 1785. During the days of the American Revolution Butler was a signer of the Albemarle Declaration of Independence. The house features Flemish bond brickwork and the only molded brick cornice in the city. Opie Norris, a Town Trustee and Magistrate, was the third owner, acquiring the property in 1816.
WALK ACROSS THE STREET INTO THE PARK.
4th Street, between High Street and Jefferson Street
This area on the west side of the courthouse was a bustling commercial district beginning in the early 1800s - the town’s first newspaper, the Central gazette, began publishing here in 1820. This is another gift to the City from Paul Goodloe McIntire, who donated the property for a park in 1919. McIntire also provided funds for the regal equestrian monument of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson that dominates the greenspace. Executed in bronze by Charles Keck, the strident Jackson rests above a base of granite.
WALK OVER TO THE COURTHOUSE NEXT DOOR.
Albemarle County Courthouse
501 East Jefferson Street (Court Square)
Thomas Walker was born in 1715 into a family of plantation owners going back three generations in Tidewater, Virginia. After an education at the College of William and Mary Walker practiced medicine and honed his skills as an explorer and surveyor. He became the physician to Peter Jefferson and the guardian to his son Thomas upon his death. Walker built a home he called Castle Hill on his wife’s 15,000-acre estate and in 1762 donated the land for the original courthouse for Albemarle County. That wooden frame building served the county’s legal needs and was also used for religious services - Thomas Jefferson called it “The Common Temple.” In 1803 the building was razed and replaced by a brick courthouse that can still be seen today in the rear wing. In 1859 a front addition in the Gothic Revival style came along. The portico seen today dates to 1867.
WALK AROUND COURTHOUSE SQAURE TO THE LEFT AND WALK UP TO THE NEXT CORNER AT HIGH STREET.
Town Hall/Levy Opera House
350 Park Street at southeast corner of High Street
Private money erected this three-story Greek Revival red brick building in 1852 to house the town government and host traveling entertainment troupes. The building was sited on the location of the town’s former battery. It picked up a connection to Thomas Jefferson in 1887 when it was purchased by Jefferson Monroe Levy who owned Monticello at the time. Levy reconfigured the interior into a state-of-the-art Opera House and bringing nationally known acts and lecturers to is stage. In more recent times the building has done duty as apartments and office space.
TURN AND WALK BACK DOWN PARK STREET.
Red Land Club
300 Park Street at northeast corner of Jefferson Street
The edges of Court Square have always been popular for proprietors of taverns and guest houses. The first of these establishments was the Swan Tavern opened by John Jouett in 1773. The tavern achieved a spot of notoriety in 1781 when Jouett’s son Jack made a harrowing 45-mile nighttime ride across county back roads to warn Governor Thomas Jefferson’s government, which had relocated to Charlottesville in the waning days of the American Revolution, of an impending raid by British forces under the command of Colonel Banastre Tarleton. The tavern was torn down and replaced with the current brick building in 1832. It has been occupied by the Redland Club for the “the swell and aristocratic of Charlottesville” since 1905.
0 Court Square
southeast corner of Park Street and Jefferson Street
The classical design of Thomas Jefferson’s University of Virginia buildings seeped into the town with the construction of this building in 1828. By the time this storehouse appeared the building around Court Square had already been sequentially numbered so it was given the unusual address of #0.
CONTINUE TO THE CORNER OF JEFFERSON STREET. ACROSS THE STREET TO THE RIGHT IS...
500 Court Square
The national trend for impressive high-rise hotels in small towns came to Charlottesville in 1924 with the groundbreaking for the Monticello Hotel. Lynchburg architect Stanhope Johnson did the design honors and delivered a nine-story Georgian Revival hotel that greeted its first guests in 1926. On the roof was a searchlight said to be visible for 300 miles. The hotel closed in the 1970s and found renewed life as condominiums.
DIRECTLY IN FRONT OF YOU IS...
Farish House Hotel
100/300 Court Square
This was the site of the Eagle Tavern, a popular lodging for visitors on courthouse business beginning in 1791. It was replaced in 1854 by a “modern” brick hotel, designed in the popular Greek Revival style with a recessed central entrance and bracing quartet of molded brick pilasters. Named the Farish House, it operated as a hotel for more than a century.
TURN LEFT AND FOLLOW 6TH STREET NE OUT TO MARKET STREET. TURN LEFT AND WALK ONE BLOCK TO 7TH STREET NE AND TURN RIGHT. WALK ONE BLOCK TO RETURN TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT ON THE DOWNTOWN MALL.