Everyday Life: Progressive Tradition


Reading the Charlottesville / Albemarle city guide from 1934, one would never know that the nation was in the midst of an economic depression. The guide's introduction makes Charlottesville sound like nothing short of an American small town utopia. Charlottesville is described as a town "unexcelled for healthful living conditions," whose "industrial future is assured by vast resources," with "exceptional transportation facilities," and where "race and labor disturbances are unknown" (1). Main Street 1929, click here for larger version
During a time when banks were closing elsewhere, Charlottesville could boast three banks, one of which was founded in 1931. Obviously the original investors of the Citizens Bank and Trust Co. felt confident enough in Charlottesville's economic climate to start up a new bank even at the very height of the nation-wide Depression. The University was expanding as well, albeit a little slower than normal. But while other Universities were closing their doors, the University of Virginia was constructing several of its most ambitious landmarks like Scott Stadium and Alderman library, providing hundreds of jobs. All this is not to say that Charlottesville did not experience difficulty and hard times during the depression, especially in the poor white and African-American communities. But the African-American community too was ahead of the national curve. The Vinegar Hill business district on Main Street, with many black owned businesses patronized by blacks and whites alike, was a rarity in the small town South.

For as much as Charlottesville prided itself on its distinctiveness from the rest of the nation, however, as the 30s progressed and the nation headed towards war, Charlottesville was swept along in the wave of national culture that new technology was making possible. Citizens of Charlottesville showed a significant interest in national and even world events, and they found themselves listening to the same radio programs, watching the same movies, and buying the same national name brands as people across the nation. And by 1939, "whether Charlottesville had factories, a big hotel, and an ever increasing population--seemed trivial indeed" in comparison to the looming threat of another war in Europe. (2)

Economy | Old Money | African Americans | Further Reading


1. Hill's Charlottesville city directory (Richmond, Va.: Hill Directory Co., 1934) 13
2. John Hammond Moore, Albemarle, Jefferson's County (Charlottesville, Va.: The University Press of Virginia, 1976) 390.