Washington park occupies land that was once part of a 400 acre tract known as the Rose Hill Plantation. Rose Hill was one of several large farms that surrounded Charlottesville in the years prior to the Civil War. John H. Craven, a prosperous farmer who came to Albemarle County in 1800 to manage Thomas Jefferson's 540 acre Tufton farm, bought the Rose Hill estate in 1820. The property included a farmhouse that had been built and occupied 25 years earlier by William Wirt, the U.S. Attorney General under President James Madison and John Quincy Adams.
After the Civil War land use patterns around Charlottesville began to change. Without access to slave labor, once-wealthy landowners like the Cravens could no longer afford to cultivate large tracts of land. At the same time, Charlottesville was outgrowing its boundaries and began promoting the growth of local industry. Newly established real-estate development companies divided up farmland for industrial usage. By 1890, most of the estates that ringed Charlottesville no longer belonged to individual farmers but to companies such as the Charlottesville Industrial and Land Improvement Company. In fact, this company owned all but 50-60 acres of the Rose Hill land.
John Craven's descendants continued to live in the Rose Hill house and to farm on the surrounding 35 acres. There was only one part of the former estate that the Improvement Company did not control. This was a strip of land along Barracks Road (today Preston Avenue) that the Craven Family had subdivided into 23 lots. African American families settled upon the upper portion of this strip after the Civil War, establishing mini-neighborhoods that are now known as Kellytown and Tinsleytown. Further south, lots 16 and 17, together identified as the Grove Lot, remained in the hands of the Craven's and their in-laws, the Wills family, until 1904. James Hayden bought the land at this time and sold it to the City of Charlottesville a few months later.
By the 1900's, Preston Avenue had become a corridor of African-American settlements in Charlottesville. Although the area was still rural in character, there were fewer and fewer large tracts of open land. Encompassing 9.5 acres, the Grove lot (or "Pest House property," as it was known in the early twentieth century) caught the eye of a wealthy philanthropist named Paul Goodloe McIntire. In 1926 he bought the Grove Lot from the city only to donate it back as "a public park and playground for the colored people of the City of Charlottesville."
Next: The Barn
(Source: The City as a Park: A Citizen's Guide to Charlottesville Parks. Prepared by Gregg Bleam Landscape Architects. Historian Aaron Wunsch.)