Creation Begins: Great Depression History of Charlottesville/Albemarle




While Americans and Virginians alike had been conscious of their history for more than a century, in many communities it was not until The Great Depression that a true sense of local history developed. While Charlottesville/Albemarle possessed the foundations of history, including famous former residents, famous residences, and many sites that had stood since before the Revolution, a recognition of these foundations as historic entities did not begin until the 1930's and 1940's. This recognition of historicity was much more subtle and nascent than the present day awareness, yet, the creation of a Historic Charlottesville/Albemarle had begun. This section will examine three publications of this period, demonstrating their effort to promote a history. As an examination of the site develops, these efforts will be seen to be the mere beginnings of the creation of a Historic Charlottesville/Albemarle.




The untitled 1932 guide to Charlottesville and Albemarle County attempts to promote the region by offering a variety of local attractions. Presenting the area in an equal amount of text and photographs, the objective of the work may be seen to be the attraction of outsiders to move to the area. It describes Albemarle County:

Albemarle County is in many ways most desirable as a place of residence. Real estate taxes are exceedingly low, in fact, a revelation to many northern property owners. The county finances are in excellent shape and its bonds sell today above par.

Socially, one could hardly wish for a better environment. Albemarle County boasts of the fact that the financial rating of its residents in no way establishes their social status. It has been said that one can live more gracefully here on less income than probably any other place in the country.

Clearly, the guide appeals to those hit by the Depression, expressing the financial success and security of the region in the effort to draw in outsiders. Yet, it offers more than just economic incentives:

The County of Albemarle is located on the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains and extends through the foot-hills, enjoying a climate that is ideal in many respects. Having an average temperature of 56.3 degrees, with an average rainfall of 46.3 inches, this locality is rated by the weather bureau as semi-arid, making Albemarle a most suitable place for those who must guard their health.

In addition to its praise of the County, the guide similarly promotes the city of Charlottesville:

Charlottesville, the county seat of Albemarle, is a charming little city and in many ways serves the requirements of its residents and those of the county without any of those unpleasant features that usually accrue to a growing city. The atmosphere is one of refinement.

Charlottesville is not an industrial city. What few industries there are, are small and diversified, with labor troubles unknown.

Charlottesville is primarily an educational and residential city, and prides itself as such. Here is located the University of Virginia, founded by Thomas Jefferson and recognized as one of the leading seats of learning of America. The public school system ranks with the best, and there are also private schools for boys and girls, including several kindergartens.

Many families have located here for the purpose of educating their children, and afterwards have remained as permanent residents.

The State Hospital, which is rated among the highest, is located at the University of Virginia under the department of medicine. There is also a private hospital, and a state sanitorium located here.

As evidenced, this guide is clearly making the effort to attract residents to the area, and most likely, people from the North that have been hit hard by the Depression. In this effort, the guide offers descriptions and photographs of the greatest assets of the area. From Farmington Country Club and its golf course to the stately residences of the area, the guide presents a picture of economic security and strength. Obviously, in such a time of economic weakness, this picture provides a warm invitation to outsiders considering a move.

Strikingly, the guide offers another peculiar element to its picture of the area in its effort to attract. This element, a strong sense of history, connects the region to the past and the beginning of the nation. It first describes Virginia:

Virginia, the Old Dominion State, rich in history and romance, holds out a beckoning hand to welcome those who are looking forward to the selection of a residence in the South.

This Mother of States which has produced so many presidents and leading figures of history from the earliest settlement to the present day, seems now to be the focal point in the minds of those who have been watching the new awakening that has been taking place throughout the Southland.

Then it proceeds to the history of Albemarle County and Charlottesville:

While Virginia may be known as the Mother of States, Albemarle County may be considered the Birthplace of an Empire. Twenty-three western states and Florida owe their entry into the union to the historic deeds of the sons and residents of Albemarle.

Here are located Monticello, the home of Jefferson, and Ash Lawn, the home of James Monroe (both shrines open to the public). Here also are the birthplaces of those great explorers of the West George Rogers Clark and Lewis and Clark. Nearby is the birthplace of President John Tyler and the home of James Madison, close friend of Jefferson. It has been said that within a twenty mile area of the County Seat, one can find more history to square foot than in any similar area of these United States.

It may be seen that history is used to promote the area. In some sense, this history is telling outsiders that the area is both special and worthy, due to its connection to the past. With its photographs and brief descriptions of the Rotunda, Monticello, and Ash Lawn, the guide further provides tangible entities to this idea.

In its effort to promote and attract, the guide has made the history of Charlottesville/Albemarle a commodity. In its recognition of the Depression, the guide acknowledges the need of Americans for economic security and growth. More importantly to this project, the guide recognizes the need of Americans to connect to the past in the search for an identity in these troubled times. The guide uses such a past to support its objective. The creation of Historic Charlottesville/Albemarle had begun.




Jefferson's Albemarle: A Guide to Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville, Virginia was compiled by the Writer's Program of the Work Projects Administration in the State of Virginia in 1941. The Guide first attempts to provide an overall background of the area, addressing in separate sections history, agriculture, industry, education, and recreation. In following sections, the Guide provides guided tours of the area, providing specific routes, historic and recreational sites to visit, and detailed descriptions of these sites.

The Guide may be seen to have served four purposes. The first was the employment of writers and intellectuals, many of whom had been displaced from their jobs in the wake of the Great Depression. The second purpose was to provide an economic boost through tourism. By providing an attractive guide to the area, the publication served to bring tourists and thus money to Charlottesville/Albemarle. The third purpose was simply providing something for people to do, both within Virginia and without. The Great Depression had created a large amount of free time for many people, due to the great amount of unemployment that it had initiated. Lastly, the Guide attempted to record a detailed history. This purpose in itself served two other purposes. First, to create a sense of identity for the region, a theme prevalent in the crisis and confusion of the Depression. Second, history could serve as enforcement to the idea of tourism, clearly the main objective of the guide.

Through the recording of a history of the area and the use of historic sites as attractions within the tours, the Guide may be seen to be using and creating history as a commodity. In this sense, the Guide may be viewed as an initial and successful attempt to create a historic Charlottesville/Albemarle.

The Guide first provides a general history to the Charlottesville/Albemarle area. Beginning with the first settlers, the Guide discusses the movement of people from the Tidewater area to the region now known as Albemarle County: In the 1720's the first land grants were obtained and by the 1730's, many settlers, including Peter Jefferson (the father of Thomas Jefferson) and John Henry (the father of Patrick Henry) had applied for land patents. By 1744 the increasing population had led to the division of Albemarle County from Goochland County. Named after William Anne Keppel, second Earl of Albemarle, the County possessed between 4,000 and 5,000 inhabitants at the time. In 1761, sections of Albemarle County were again broken off into new counties, and at this same time the county seat of Albemarle had been moved to Charlottesville.

From this initial beginning, the Guide continues on to discuss how "Albemarle Leads in the Revolution" (6): Both Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson, local residents of Albemarle, played major roles in the ideology and action of the Revolution. Jack Jouett, another local resident, made an unrecognized heroic ride, warning both the leaders of the movement in Charlottesville and Thomas Jefferson at Monticello of the impending raid of the British Colonel Tarleton. Thomas Jefferson would go on to write the Bill of Rights, and to launch the fledgling states into a nation.

The Guide goes on to specifically state that "Almost all thinkers who acted during the first trying years of the republic visited Albemarle"(7). It further credits the "conquest of the Ohio Country, the purchase and exploration of the Lousiana Territory, and the acquisition of the Floridas" to "men of Albemarle"(7).

Next, the Guide addresses the role of the region in the Civil War: Though divided by the issue of slavery, "Albemarle cast its lot with the South and, after war was declared, loyally organized troops to defend what people were defining then as 'states rights'"(12). Following the war, the trying days of reconstruction, and the major flood of the Rivanna in 1870, "The people of Albemarle, however, were made of hardy stuff capable of withstanding war, vengeful aftermath, and unforeseen 'acts of God'"(13).

Lastly, the Guide discusses the history of Albemarle since 1870 and characterizes the time as "continuing progress"(13). It specifically mentions population growth, economic growth, and the evolution of politics and culture. Concluding its recorded history of the area, the Guide states that "Albemarle is as truly 'Jefferson's Country' today as it was when the Sage of Monticello lived atop his little mountain"(13).

Clearly, the Guide has created a history of Charlottesville/Albemarle. A creation of history includes the elements of manipulation, selection, and in some cases glorification. As heretofore displayed, the history presented in the Guide draws upon a useable past, manipulates it, and presents it as heroic. Thus by presenting this history, the Guide may be seen to be creating a Historic Charlottesville/Albemarle.

The next section of the Guide offers tours of the region, designating and describing a variety of historic sites along the way. Between tours of Charlottesville and Albemarle, the Guide defines more than 130 historic sites. To view a list of these sites, click on the link below this paragraph. The majority of these sites were private residences and have since disappeared in one manner or the other. Yet, some still linger and others have grown as historic sites. Again, by first recording these sites and promoting them as historic, the Guide may be seen to be constructing a Historic Charlottesville/Albemarle.

Historic Sites of Charlottesville/Albemarle in 1941








Similar to Jefferson's Albemarle: A Guide to Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville, Virginia: A Guide to the Old Dominion was compiled by Workers of the Writer's Program of the Works Project Administration in Virginia. Published in 1940 and preceeding the more local guide by one year, this Guide focuses primarily on the history of the state, offering guided tours of historic sites in many areas. Among these areas, are Charlottesville and Albemarle County. Though not as specific and in such detail as the local Guide, this Guide presents the local history and historic sites of the Charlottesville/Albemarle region. Like the local Guide, the state Guide serves the purposes of employment, recording history, providing means for activity, and encouraging tourism. In these respects, this Guide helps in the creation of a Historic Charlottesville/Albemarle, though its discussion of the area is much more limited than the local guide.

This guide has been compiled in electronic form, and its specific treatment of Charlottesville/Albemarle may be seen in its text by using the links listed below.