Mountain View Baptist Church in Batesville

Monday, October 15th, 2007

One of the wonderful things about living in central Virginia is the beautiful fall weather, perfect for exploring back country roads. Mountain View Baptist Church (2007) Along a recent trip, I came across a 100-year-old African-American Church: Mountain View Baptist, located in downtown Batesville. Located on a steep hillside, the original stone foundation and steeple lie in the center. While there is no contiguous cemetery, an historic black cemetery lies about half-a-mile to the north of the church, adjacent to the Wild Rose Cemetery. Mountain View Baptist Church (1909) Edward K. Lay discusses the architectural features of this church in his book, The Architecture of Jefferson country: Charlottesville and Albemarle County, Virginia. To view historic photographs of the century-old church, visit Professor Lay’s on-line digital collection of “The Architecture of Jefferson Country.” Note, “Jefferson Country” is a moniker for Charlottesville and Albemarle County.

A Man, A Principal, A Park, A Gravestone

Tuesday, September 4th, 2007

Before desegregation, the only Charlottesville high school open to African Americans was the Jefferson School. Built in 1926, the building is located on Fourth Street at the edge of the old Vinegar Hill neighborhood. The school opened several decades earlier, in 1894, as the nine-room, K-8 “Jefferson Colored Graded/Elementary School” (that building was demolished in 1959). An informal precursor to the school dates to the 1860s.

The first principal of the “Graded School” was Benjamin E. Tonsler (1854-1917). tonsler_gs.jpg He received his degree at Hampton University and went on to serve as the principal of the Jefferson School for thirty years. In this post we highlight material culture that remains today to commemorate this man’s life and works. First, his gravestone was “Erected by the Alumni of the Jefferson Graded School and Friends” in his memory. tonsler_flowers.jpg His inscription reads “Gone But Not Forgotten.” This stone can be found within the Tonsler Family Plot in the Daughters of Zion Cemetery, located adjacent to the Oakwood Cemetery. Second, his house still stands on Sixth Street (behind the First Baptist Church on Main Street).

If we check the University of Virginia historic Holsinger Collection we locate a third memorial, a photograph of the funeral flowers brought to his house. And fourth, we remember his life in the name of the park located at the corner of Ridge and Cherry: Tonsler Park (the name was choosen in 1958). tonsler_park.jpg One man’s biography writ large around us, if we only take the time to notice.

To read more about the history of the Jefferson School, please visit a website that contains a link to a 46-page downloadable history that was compiled as part of efforts to nominate the school as a historic landmark. Preservation Piedmont conducted dozens of oral interviews with former teachers and students. Information on that project is available on their website.

Enslaved Community at UVA

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2007

After recently apologizing for slavery, the University of Virginia created a committee charged with researching the enslaved and Free Black community at the university. Although these individuals are not (yet) featured prominently in histories of “Mr Jefferson’s University,” they provided much of the labor that constructed the original buildings, ca. 1819-1828. And, up until Emancipation, many professors and students lived with enslaved individuals on grounds. In addition, throughout the 19th Century, the university was surrounded by several African-American neighborhoods (e.g., Canada, located south of Cabell Hall and the site of the Foster House and Cemetery).

Memorials to the African-American community are scattered throughout grounds. Crackerbox on the UVA CampusOne example is the “crackerbox” (allegedly named after 19th Century students from Georgia who were called “crackers”). This small building, located behind Hotel F, has a rich oral history including references to a bordello, a 19th-kitchen, a woodshed, “the smallest dormitory in the United States,” and, quite possibly, slave quarters. Hotel F and the “smallest dormitory in the United States”For a fascinating discussion of other campus buildings that may have been used by slaves or post-bellum servants, visit Jim Cocola’s on-line essay titled The Ideological Spaces of the Academical Village: A Reading of the Central Grounds at the University of Virginia.

The newly formed university committee that is researching this forgotten history is hoping to compile any and all documents, oral histories, photographs, or family geneologies that relate to the enslaved and Free Black community at the university. A website dedicated to this project will be posted this summer. If you have information on this topic, please consider contributing it so that it can be compiled into formal accounts of the history of the university.

Vinegar Hill

Monday, May 7th, 2007

Today, the Vinegar Hill Theatre and Vinegar Hill Shopping Center are some of the only landmarks that preserve the name of an historic 20-acre neighborhood, previously located in a triangular area roughly bounded by West Main, Preston, and 4th Street. Up until the 1960s, Vinegar Hill was a thriving African-American community. The eastern edge of the community lies under today’s Omni Hotel (#3 in the photo). Vinegar Hill: before and after The two photos illustrate the neighborhood before demolition (in 1957) and after (in 1966). The Jefferson School is #5 and #1 indicates the neighborhood itself. For comparison, I have added a red circle (the site of the Lewis & Clark Statue on Main St) and a feature highlighted in light blue in each photo. There are several useful on-line sources that document the history of this neighborhood: an IATH project, Blair Hawkins’ blog on a recent presentation about Vinegar Hill history given by Dr Scot French and Dr Reginald Butler, a UVA site with historic photographs, and a Cavalier Daily article on Vinegar Hill reporting on a play written by Theresa Dowell-Vest. For a slideshow of photos from the neighborhood, visit the Albemarle County Historical Society website.

This post is in honor of new book on the neighborhood, In the Streets of Vinegar Hill, written by Mr. James A. Williams, Sr.

P.S. There is no consensus for the origin of the name: Vinegar Hill. Options include: (1) a tannery (that might have used vinegar to tan animals hides); (2) a tribute to the site of a fierce battle during the Irish rebellion of 1798; (3) a reference to bootlegged liquor. Have you heard other explanations ?

Hugh Carr and Hiking Trails

Saturday, March 3rd, 2007

Today the Ivy Creek Natural Area contains hiking trails, copious amounts of birds, and a learning center. In 1880, on this same site, Hugh Carr’s 80-acre farm, River View, contained crops, a milk cow, 4 swine, 10 poultry, and many other agricultural features. Although born into slavery around 1840, Hugh Carr worked hard after emancipation to save his earnings and invest in land in the Hydraulic Mills neighborhood (along the Rivanna). The Ivy Creek Foundation has conducted extensive research into the Life & Legacy of the Carr family. Many 19th and 20th Century features are visible today: the original farmhouse, a clapboard barn, historic road beds, and springhouses. Make sure you visit the ICNF site before you go so that you can enjoy the rich history of this farm. Carr Family Cemetery
During your visit, take a few moments to visit the Carr Family Cemetery. It contains an interesting array of granite and carved fieldstone gravemarkers.

Hugh Carr’s son-in-law, Conly Greer, contracted with several area businesses to haul away their trash. Many of these items, referred to by archaeologists as “artifacts” (it’s true, archaeologists study trash), are visible above-ground in trash middens. Below is a sherd with the profile of a famous Charlottesvillian which was the logo for the Old Monticello Hotel (located across from the courthouse).