Washington Park, the Early Years

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

Miss Washington ParkDue largely to Paul Goodloe McIntire's generosity, the City of Charlottesville possessed over 113 acres of park land by 1930, creating a ratio of one park acre for every 134 citizens. City government had almost no hand in obtaining this property and had developed no systematic strategy for managing or adding to it. This changed in 1931 when "a city plan for Charlottesville included recommendations for the development of a park system." This plan, combined with the establishment of a Park Board, was an indication that the City was taking parks and park administration more seriously.

The city government's increased attention to park development was related to growing local and national interest in recreation. Whatever outlet one chose, recreation in Charlottesville was an almost entirely private concern until 1933. In that year, at the instigation of the local Mothers Club, the City established a Department of Recreation. Nincie O. Currier, the agency's Director until 1935, made many formative decisions in conjunction with an unpaid Recreation Board, which was comprised of local judges, university professors, ministers, and wives of local businessmen.

The Recreation Board worked closely with other local civic groups. Groups such as the Lions, Kiwanis, Rotary and Mothers clubs donated money, equipment and volunteers toward the recreation cause. The Board was also in regular contact with the National Recreation Association (NRA), one of the only organizations calling recreationists' attention to the needs of black Americans after the First World War. In all likelihood, it was the National Recreation Association's Bureau of Colored Work that sent the "colored recreation leader" and music director George Johnson to Charlottesville in 1933. Johnson's assignment was to aid in "the development of a community recreation program through music activities." He appeared before the Board on December 5, 1933, expressed his confidence in the city's "colored singers" and carried the Music Festival off without a hitch several weeks later.

In April 1934, members of a newly formed Colored Recreation Board started attending many of the [white] Recreation Board's meetings. The Chairman of the Colored Board was Jerome Brooks, who was also Superintendent of the Southern Aid Society of Virginia. Assisting Brooks were Vice-chairman Thomas Inge, a grocer, and Secretary William R. Strassner, Pastor of Mt. Zion Baptist Church. Several women sat on the Colored Board, along with wealthy dentist John A. Jackson. Unsurprisingly, the Colored Recreation Board concentrated its energies on improving Washington Park. McIntire's gift to "the colored people of Charlottesville" was an informal space intended to relieve some of the hardships of working-class life. Located at the corner of Preston Avenue and Tenth Street, Washington Park fell near the northwestern end of "an irregular north-south band of black settlement [that] cut through the heart of the corporate area." A 1929 study described the neighborhood as one of "the old residence districts of the respectable colored" and noted of the park: "It is as yet undeveloped, but the people hope that they can soon develop it."

By the summer of 1934, this goal was close at hand. The park's baseball diamond was being upgraded and work on new tennis courts had begun. However, such amenities as a drinking fountain were still lacking. Faced with a small budget, the Colored Board wished to hold an indoor fundraiser. Although the white board used the city armory for such purposes, the city denied the black board this privilege. The resulting "antagonism" accelerated plans for building a "recreation hall" in Washington Park. With money "raised by the colored people," and design advice from the City Engineer, the structure (later known as "the Barn") was completed by December 1934, at a time when no more than 5 percent of these facilities were designated for black use nation-wide.

Next: Early Park Activities

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