History of Washington Park

Print
Press Enter to show all options, press Tab go to next option

Other Features

Given Charlottesville's long history, its public parks are a relatively recent development.  Charlottesville was founded in 1762, but it did not receive its first public park until the close of World War I.  By this time, however, private institutions had been providing some segments of the populace with recreation for decades, but formal civic spaces were conspicuously absent.  While fragments of open land still existed in the downtown area, the local government was ill prepared to fund such projects.

Seizing the opportunity, wealthy businessman and Charlottesville native Paul Goodloe McIntire donated Lee Park to the city in the summer of 1918, followed by Jackson Park later that same year. McIntire acquired Belmont Park and transferred it from the private to the public sector in 1921. When the city accepted McIntire's gift of Belmont Park, the deed stated "that said property shall be forever maintained as a park and playground for white people." In an era of segregation, race not only determined school attendance, but also park visitation.

In October, 1925, City Council moved to establish a large park and playground in northern Charlottesville and resolved that only whites would receive admission. Paul Goodloe McIntire also underwrote this project, donating 92 acres for the park that would eventually bear his name. At the same time McIntire presented the city with the land for the white only park, he also donated the land for Washington Park, the first such space reserved for black citizens. The headlines of the day read "One for White and One for Colored," suggesting that McIntire was attempting to strike some sort of balance.

The city had owned the Preston Avenue site on which Washington Park is located since 1905 but had expressed no intention of converting it into a park and playground. The purchase of the land by McIntire for $1,000 merely changed the use of the land, not the owner. In previous years, the property apparently served as the site of a dump and was proposed as a possible shelter for people with contagious diseases. Recognizing the deficiencies of this tract of land, McIntire offered to have a "landscape gardener" adapt the land for park use on the condition that the city furnish the necessary topographical surveys.

Next: History of the Bottom

(Source: The City as a Park: A Citizen's Guide to Charlottesville Parks. Prepared by Gregg Bleam Landscape Architects. Historian Aaron Wunsch.)