Creation Continues: Historic Charlottesville/Albemarle Takes Form, 1935-1999




In the decades following the Great Depression, the Historic Charlottesville/Albemarle that exists today began to take form. This greater process of creation may be credited to three agents. The first was a national movement by the federal government to establish, protect, and maintain historical sites. The second was a similar movement on the state level by the state government. The last agent, inherently connected to the first two, was a movement by independent organizations to protect and promote the past on national, state, and local levels. By exploring these three agents in the context of Charlottesville and Albemarle County, the continued construction of a Historic Charlottesville/Albemarle may be explored. Furthermore, this construction may be seen to be motivated by two forces. First, the continued American search for a past and a connection to this past. Second, the realization and utilization of history as a commodity.





Beginning in 1935 and increasing in the following decades, the Federal Government began to take interest in the recognition, preservation, and maintenance of historic sites. Inherent to any historical site of national significance is its location within a state and within a local community. Hence, among the historical sites recognized by the Federal Government, a relatively significant amount (3) were located within Charlottesville/Albemarle. For such sites, Charlottesville/Albemarle could take credit and receive the benefits of such national recognition. In this manner, the attention given by the Federal Government to its national history became a major role player in the creation of Historic Charlottesville/Albemarle. Two federal programs are responsible for such a role: The National Historic Landmarks Program and the National Register of Historic Places.

The National Historic Landmarks Program was established in 1935, when "the U.S. Congress charged the Department of the Interior with the responsibility for designating nationally historic sites, buildings, and objects and promoting their preservation for the inspiration of the people of the United States." Such sites today comprise merely 3% of those sites designated in the National Register of Historic Places and are to be places "possessing exceptional value in illustrating the nation's heritage." As the National Park Service declares:

National Historic Landmarks make tangible the American experience. They are places where significant historical events occurred, where prominent Americans worked or lived, that represent those ideas that shaped the nation, that provide important information about our past, or that are outstanding examples of design or construction.

National Historic Landmarks guide us in comprehending important trends in American history. They form the common bonds that tie together the many groups that settled the country and provide anchors of stability in a fast-changing world, ensuring that the nation's heritage will be accessible to generations yet unborn.

Clearly, today the National Historic Landmarks Program attempts to connect Americans to the past in a search for a national culture. Indeed, there is little doubt that this was the intention in creating such a program. For in 1935 in the middle of the Depression, Americans had come to possess a sense of lost identity. In response, the Federal Government attempted to forge a national identity through programs such as the Writer's Project and the National Landmarks Program. By creating a national history, such a national identity could be formed.

As a consequence of this national history movement, Charlottesville/Albemarle came to be recognized as an area with great historic significance. As the list of the National Historic Landmarks located in the area may attest, the National Historic Landmarks Program was certainly instrumental in the creation of Historic Charlottesville/Albemarle:

1. Monticello
2. Rotunda, University of Virginia
3. University of Virginia Historic District
4. Shack Mountain

The National Register of Historic Places was established by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. Maintained by the National Park Service under the Secretary of the Interior, "the National Register of Historic Places is the Nation's official list of cultural resources worthy of preservation." Nominations for the Register may be made by governments, organizations, and individuals. These nominations are usually first given to a State Historic Preservation Officer, who may advance the nomination to the National Park Service and the Secretary of the Interior for consideration. The National Register Criteria for Evaluation are to be as follows:

"The quality of significance in American history, architecture, archeology, engineering and culture is present in districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects that possess integrity of location, design, setting, materials workmanship, feeling, and association, and:
A. that are associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history; or
B. that are associated with the lives of persons significant in our past; or
C. that embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, or that represent the work of a master, or that possess high artistic values, or that represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction; or
D. that have yielded, or may likely yield, information important in prehistory or history"
It may be seen that the criteria for selection to the National Register are more broad than those for the National Landmarks. Furthermore, the ability for individuals to nominate properties, including their own, provides further flexibility to the creation of history.

The National Register for Historic Places contributes and has contributed to the creation of Historic Charlottesville/Albemarle in many ways. First, it has recognized historic sites within the region. More importantly, it has allowed the area to create its own history. The local governments of Charlottesville and Albemarle County, along with individual property owners, have been able to nominate certain places for the Register. If these places are accepted, they become officially historic. Thus it may be seen that with the use of the National Register as a tool to create history, the residents and governments of Charlottesville and Albemarle County have been active agents in creating a Historic Charlottesville/Albemarle. Again, two reasons for such action may be suggested. First, the continuing need to recognize and connect to the past. Second, history as a commodity makes taking such action a profitable alternative. The places within the National Register of Historic Places found in this area may be seen listed in the links below:










In the middle of the 1960's the State of Virginia began to follow the Federal Government's lead in recognizing its history. While Virginia was clearly interested in history of national significance, it was able to expand this already recognized history to include that which was of historical significance to the state. This expansion created a history much more broad and encompassing, which brought many sites which had been left out of the national history into historical significance. Included among these sites were many in the Albemarle County and Charlottesville region. By recognizing these sites and assuming the role of promoting and preserving them, the State of Virginia entered into the creation of Historic Charlottesville/Albemarle.

In 1965, the Virginia Legislature, perhaps following the national example, began to discuss the importance of maintaining and preserving the history of the state. This discussion led to the formation of the Virginia Advisory Legislative Council Study Commission "to determine what role state government should play in safeguarding this legacy." Following the work of this Commission, in 1966 the General Assembly established the Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission, currently known as the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (previously known as the Virginia Historic Landmarks Board), charged with the "task of perpetuating 'those structures and areas which have a close and immediate relationship to the values upon which the State and the Nation were founded.'"

Today the Virginia Department of Historic Resources is charged by the General Assembly "with the responsibility for preparing a register of the Commonwealth's significant landmarks and for publishing that register 'from time to time . . . setting forth appropriate information concerning the registered buildings and sites.'" Hence it may be seen that today the primary task of the Department is to survey, catalogue, and designate Virginia Historic Landmarks in the Virginia Landmarks Register. Similar to the National Register process, nominations for these Landmarks may be made by the public or the Department itself. The main criteria of the Register is that the site or building be of "significance to the state and nation." Upon acceptance to the Register, the site, besides being catalogued, receives a Virginia Historic Landmark plaque designating it.

Again, such a system allows local residents to work actively in the historic creation process. By nominating their property, residents can attempt to receive an official historic label, and in the process make their residence a prime target for tourism. By making more sites historically official in the region, the State of Virginia and the Department of Historic Resources may be seen as major contributors in the creation of Historic Charlottesville/Albemarle. A list of historic sites within this Register (until 1990) may be accessed through the links below. The wide variety of dates in which the sites were catalogued demostrates that the creation of history has been an ongoing process.









Throughout the nation's history, a number of historical societies have been created with the purpose of promoting and preserving history. Some such as the Virginia Historical Society, date back to as early as 1831. Others, such as the Preservation Alliance of Virginia, are more recent. All of such societies, through their attempt to preserve and promote, in some sense create history. One of these societies, the Albemarle County Historical Society, may serve as an example of how historical societies create history. More importantly, an investigation of its activities will demonstrate the role it has played in creating Historic Charlottesville/Albemarle.

In 1940, four intellectuals of the Albemarle and University community met to discuss plans for organizing an Albemarle County Historical Society. On April 4, 1940, an organizational meeting for the society was held at the county courthouse with two hundred people in attendance. With Judge Lemuel F. Smith presiding, the society was formed and a constitution was written. In its early days, the Albemarle County Historical Society focused on its lectures at its meetings held four times a year. More substantially, the Society also produced its own journal by 1941, "The Papers of the Albemarle County Historical Society." By 1945, the Society had published a history of Charlottesville and Albemarle County during World War II. In 1952, the Society presented a portrait of Thomas Jefferson to the county courthouse. In 1958, the Society proved unsubstantiated claims by Mrs. Vestal Milton that Michie Tavern was built by Patrick Henry's father in 1735 and that it had been a boyhood home of Patrick. In 1965, the Society became interested in Old Charlottesville and the Court Square area. With this focus, the Society helped to obtain the Architectural Design Control Ordinance and the Board of Architectural Review, controlling buildings in the Court Square area. In 1972, the Society sponsored John Hammond Moore's award winning work "Albemarle: Jefferson's County."

In recent years, the Society helped to preserve the Hatton ferry across the James River. It has also published a calendar, dedicated a historic marker to Convention troops, and established a third grade level history unit. Today the Society concentrates on its historical exhibits, 4 quarterly meetings, its production of the Magazine of Albemarle County History, its quarterly newsletter, and the maintenance of its research library housed in the former McIntire Library. The Society also serves as a welcome center for historically focused visitors, and it provides walking tours of the downtown area every Saturday.

Clearly, the Albemarle County Historical Society has played a major role in the creation of Historic Charlottesville/Albemarle. It has protected the history of the area, promoted the history of the area in its publications, and provided an access to this history to visitors and historians alike. It may be seen that in all these actions, selection and manipulation are utilized. In choosing what to protect, the Society in a sense either creates or deletes history. In promoting history through its publications, the Society again creates a written history. In providing access to history, the Society has made history a commodity which the area has greeted warmly. Of all the elements that have added up to make Charlottesville/Albemarle historic, certainly the Albemarle County Historic Society has played a leading role.





The Marketing of History: Historic Charlottesville/Albemarle Today



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