Then as now, Charlottesville had a very balanced economy. Unlike some communities that had become completely dependent upon a single industry for survival, Charlottesville's economy had a wide base, with interests in agriculture, textile manufacturing, retail, real estate, and especially higher education. The two industries that suffered the most in Virginia after the post World War I slowdown were coal and timber, in which Charlottesville did not have a large stake. Charlottesville did, however, boast one of the largest woolen mills in the South, along with 2 silk mills having a total of over 400 looms, a chemical extract plant, underwear manufacturing company, and a drapery weaving plant. The city also had the Monticello Hotel, a first class high rise establishment, which was certainly a necessity for any city as singular and ambitious as Charlottesville. The hotel was topped with a super bright search light, one of the most powerful of its kind in the nation, and a wonder to see at night (pictured below). Charlottesville was served by two major railroads, the Southern and the Chesapeake & Ohio.
Having all this, Charlottesville was still a town that prided itself on not being overly industrialized, and was generally considered by its inhabitants to be a garden-like haven from the industrial modern world. Albemarle was the self-proclaimed, "Garden Spot of Virginia," calling itself, "the land of peaceful, wholesome and progressive Americans…land of purest American stock." (1) However, while Charlottesville was indeed progressive for the period, the phrase "purest American stock" did not include poor whites and especially not blacks, although these peoples did represent a large portion of Charlottesville's population.
Another progressive aspect of the city was its manger form of government, which is now the standard municipal system across the nation. Upon its implementation, the new system put issues like public welfare and schools under the direct control of the board of supervisors instead of of the circuit courts or the governor. The costs of running the new government were about one third of what they were before, and even in the Depression delinquent taxes were cut in half. (1)
Even with all the activity in the city of Charlottesville, the vast majority of Albemarle's population still lived out in the county, mainly employed in agriculture. The map at left (click on it for a larger version) shows the unique total population values by magesterial districts from the 1930 census. As the map indicates, the Charlottesville district held fewer than 17 percent of the county's people.
Agriculture in Albemarle County, although it suffered a few tough seasons in the early years of the depression, was not permanently injured. In fact, a book on the history of Crozet--the center of the Albemarle apple and peach industries--contains a chapter entitled "Prosperity, 1923-1950." (2) During the period between 1925 and 1935, usually considered a devastating decade for agriculture nationwide, farmers in Crozet set out over half a million new fruit trees. Crozet became known as the "Peach Capital of Virginia." During peak peach time, a single distributor would ship out as much as sixty-two railroad carloads of peaches in a single day. Crozet also led the state in the production of Albemarle Pippins and Winesaps, apples for which Albemarle County is famous. A popular county legend claims that Queen Victoria would have no other apple on her table. In 1929, which was a bad year for the orchards weather wise, Crozet constructed a new cold storage plant that greatly expanded their production capability. Small farmers from around the county who had fallen on hard times with their own farms would go to Crozet to pick peaches and apples to earn extra money. The orchards in Crozet, much like the rest of the county, suffered a few tough years, but overall they were able to grow through the Depression while other areas continued to struggle.
Despite the success of Albemarle's apple and peach orchards, in 1935 wheat and corn were still the county's leading crops. According to the WPA's guide to Albemarle County, by 1940 Albemarle was producing nearly 90,000 bushels of wheat annually, and over 550,000 bushels of corn. The cattle and dairy industry also gained strength in Albemarle during the depression, with numbers growing to an estimated total of 18,900 beef cattle and almost 9,000 milk cows in 1940. Albemarle's biggest agricultural problem historically has been erosion because of the hilly terrain. However, in the depression the county received the aid of a Civilian Conservation Corps camp, whose young men worked around the county to "successfully control" the problem. (3) Overall, agriculture continued to be a vital and growing sector of the economy in Albermarle County despite several seasons of bad weather and slow national economic conditions.
Shown at the right is a map (click on it for larger version) showing the percent total values of farms in Albemarle County by magesterial districts according to the 1930 census. As the map illustrates, the most valuable farmland was in the Samuel Miller district, home to the bulk of the apple and peach industries. The Charlottesville and Ivy districts held the smallest percentage of Albemarle's agricultural value, having the the city of Charlottesville and many of the wealthy estates no longer used for farming.
Old Money | African Americans | National Culture | Further Reading
1. John Hammond Moore, Albemarle, Jefferson's County (Charlottesville, Va.: The University Press of Virginia, 1976) 372
2. Stephen G. Meeks and Ray Page McCauley, Crozet: a pictorial history. (Crozet, Va.: Meeks Enterprises, 1983) 43 3. Writers of the Works Progress Administration, Jefferson's Albemarle (Charlottesville, Va. Jarman's Inc., 1941) 20