Archive | August, 2011

The Mystery of the Embossed Album

26 Aug

I’m going all Nancy Drew on you this week.

Imagine for a moment that you’ve just moved into an old house… What is the coolest thing that could possibly find when moving in?  Here’s my list (in order):

  1.  A pile of money
  2. All my things unpacked already
  3. A ghost
Well, admittedly today’s object does not fall into any of these categories, per se.  But when Bonita Baer moved into her apartment at 1121 Wertland Street in the 1980s, she did have a rather interesting experience.  One that, in my opinion, could have involved any and all of these.   Needless to say, I would have totally traded places with her that day.  …um, had I been born yet…

1121 Wertland Street

Ms. Baer was a really nice lady, and gave ACHS what she found in her new apartment that day- so now we can share it with you all!


Okay then, here goes:

Do you know what Ms. Baer found yet?

If today’s title hasn’t given it away yet, maybe this will help…

An old photograph album!  Ms. Baer found this in the attic of her apartment at 1121 Wertland Street.  Inside the first page, an inscription can be found:

To Dean Lid
From Mag.
Xmas 1909

Truly, its quite a lovely gift.  The book is covered with embossed leather, decorated with leaves and scrolls.  Inside, the pages are embellished with colorful printed flowers and small landscapes.  The pages are thick, with recesses to place photographs.   An intricate-looking, yet inherently simple pin design locking system keeps the album closed.

The Mystery of the Album

So the album is really pretty, and we know where it came from, but who is “Dean Lit”?  And why did “Mag.” give him this album?

Well, I’d sure love to know, if you can find out…

1121 Wertland Street was built by Mr. Baker, the Registrar of the University at the turn of the (last) century.  It was occupied by his daughter and her husband -the Truymans- until 1924, when the Hill family moved in.  The Hills then rented out part of the house as apartments.  We assume that the album must have belonged to one of these tenants, of whom we have no record.  None of the known residents were Deans or Mags.

In any case, I’m sure it must have been quite an exciting find for Ms. Baer!  I know that it certainly was for me, and this isn’t even my house…  So the next time you find yourself moving into a new place, don’t dismay.  You probably won’t have a ghost help you move your stuff in and then present you with a big pile of cash.  But if you’re lucky, you might find something really cool in your attic.


Base Hospital 41

19 Aug

This week’s featured items have two unique features:

  1. They came to us from the other side of the world.
  2. They are the first items which were entered into our collection, and which we still have.

I’m going to level with you for a minute.  These items are being featured this week simply because they were at the top of the pile (see item #2 above).  Which isn’t to say that they aren’t interesting… in fact, quite the opposite.  I’m finding as I dive into the deep dark corners of collections storage that everything I touch has a story, and every story deserves to be told.  Whether it’s a rusty bolt, a child’s doll, or any of the million other varied items we have been charged with.  So in a state of overwhelming excitedness to share everything with you, I broke down and just grabbed the first thing I could find.  And it has an awesome story.

This first “thing” I could find was actually an entire collection, donated by Harry M. Wilson in the 1970s.  Wilson was from Charlottesville, enlisted with Base Hospital 41 during World War I, and after the war, donated a series of objects from his time in Europe to the Society.  These objects are quite varied, including French currency notes, a mess kit:



Shell shot casing:


And Shrapnel:



When I think of Charlottesville history, World War I is not the first thing that pops into my mind.   Nonetheless, two units from right here in little ole Cville played a part in the grand theatre of WWI.

The Monticello Guard, Charlottesville's other unit during WWI.

You see, after the United States entered World War I, Dr. William H. Goodwin proposed an organized unit of hospital workers from the University of Virginia to the Red Cross.  The proper authority was granted, and assigned the title of Base Hospital #41.  Dr. Goodwin soon learned he would be responsible for recruiting the doctors and nurses, as well as all supporting staff and necessary funds for this group.  The Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks stepped up, donating all the needed funds for this endeavor.

Troops of Base Hospital 41

Dr. William H. Goodwin selected 149 enlisted men and a handful of officers to serve in his troop, including our donor, Harry Wilson.  Of these numbers, 49 were UVA alumni or students.  In July 1918, after months of training, the group was sent to St. Denis, France (located near Paris) where they set up their work out of a school building.  Dormitories were converted into hospital wards, and by August they were fully functioning.  As time went on, the school-turned-hospital reached capacity and tent wards had to be established in the park outside the building.  In addition to dealing with the war-wounded, Base Hospital 41 had to contend with the influenza epidemic of 1918, during which both personnel and patients were attacked.  Finally, on November 11, 1918, the Armistice was signed, ending World War I.  At this time, nearly 3000 patients were in the hospital.  Within two and a half months, all the patients had been removed and the hospital was no more.  The unit was officially demobilized on May 1, 1919.

Further Reading

The Papers of Base Hospital 41, Accession #MS-17, Historical Collections, Claude Moore Health Sciences Library, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va.

Elliot’s Ice Company

12 Aug

Here’s a bit of cool trivia for a hot day—in 1906, the opening price lists for ice in Charlottesville show that one could attain a ton of ice (no, literally, a TON) at retail price for between $6 and $10.  Wholesale, the same amount went for $3.50 – $5.50.  That’s a whole lotta ice, for much less than I could imagine today!

Charlottesville Ice Company. Photograph by R.W. Holsinger, 1915.

So why are we talking about ice?  Well, aside from it being a nice relief when its hotter than blazes outside, ice is our theme for this week’s featured objects from Elliot’s Ice Company, formerly the  Charlottesville Ice Company.

Our two objects were donated separately, over a decade apart.  The ice tongs came first.  These tongs, ca. 1895, are made of iron with a wooden handle.  They were used for handling the ice chunks.  On deliveries, chunks of as heavy as 50 pounds would be delivered to homes.  The container, donated in 2009, features the name Elliot Ice Company, dating it between 1922 and 1964.*

Charlottesville Ice Company tongs, ACHS Collection MU 75.

Elliot's Ice Company container. ACHS Collection 2009.8.268.

An Icy History

Compared to the price I pay when my cooler is running low and I’m forced to stop at a gas station for a bag, the price of ice in 1906 is deceivingly low.  Yet throughout history, ice has been quite a privileged commodity- especially in the southern United States.  In the 19th to early 20th centuries, ice boxes necessitated a constant supply of ice, only available from the harvests of frozen lakes and streams.  For southern states, a year’s ice supply was dependent on the harvests of the winter.  Horse-drawn plows equipped with knives would cut ice into blocks, which would then be stored in ice houses, covered with hay.  Elizabeth Gamble of Charlottesville recalled the effects of these in an interview with David Maurer of the Daily Progress in 1990, saying, “Of course, quite often you would get a bit of straw in your iced tea, but that certainly wasn’t anything to be concerned about.”  As ice became more widely available via ice factories and refrigerated rail cars, the phenomenon made its way to Charlottesville.

Charlottesville Ice Company. Photograph by R.W. Holsinger, 1916.

In 1901, the Charlottesville Ice Company was built at the intersection of Fourth and South Streets, and set about manufacturing and delivering ice.

The latter was done by horse-drawn wagon, of which Gamble also reminisced in 1990: “When the icemen began delivering ice to our home it was never a mystery if they’d come or not because if they had, there was always drippings on the road and the porch.”  Bonnie Ballard expounded on the importance of these deliveries: “In the summer, the kids would come running when they would hear the bell on his truck as though he [her father, an iceman] was the ice cream man.”  I can only imagine the delight of seeing that ice wagon pull up to your house on a hot summer day!  Frances Ball, another Charlottesville resident, told Maurer: “It [ice wagon] would have a bell on it which alerted the neighborhood that the iceman was coming.”

In 1922, J.F. Elliot, who had worked for the company, took over as president, and in a burst of pride, changed the name to Elliot’s Ice Company.  In 1928, those famous horse-drawn wagons were replaced with Ford ice trucks, but much to everyone’s delight, kept the announcement bells.

Elliot's Ice Company. Photograph by R.W. Holsinger.

At this time, however, refrigerators began replacing the wooden iceboxes which necessitated ice deliveries.  It wasn’t until the late 1950s, however, that the company stopped delivering ice to homes.  In 1964, Elliot’s was purchased by Monticello Dairy and moved to Grady Avenue.   Then, in 1972, the dairy caught fire, which I’m certain made for one ironic and very wet situation.  A year later, the city, which had owned the property since 1971, razed the landmark of “the time before refrigerators” as part of the redevelopment of Garrett Street.

Site of former Charlottesville Ice Company. Photograph by Steve Trumbull, 2011.

*At the time of publication, the editor has been unable to determine the exact use of the container.  Please comment to inform!


1901- The Charlottesville Ice Company is built at South & Fourth streets, and begins manufacturing and delivering ice to Charlottesville residents.

1906- A ton of ice can be purchased for $3.50-$10.  Charlottesville prices appear low compared to state averages, and mid-range compared to national averages at this time.

1922- J.F. Elliot, a long-time employee of the Charlottesville Ice Co., takes over as president and changes the name to Elliot’s Ice Company.

1928- 12 Ford trucks replace the horse-drawn carriages as Elliot’s Ice Company’s means of delivering ice to homes.

Late 1950s- Elliot’s Ice Company stops delivering ice to homes.

1964- Monticello Dairy purchases Elliot’s Ice Company, moving the company to Grady Avenue.

1971- The City of Charlottesville assumes ownership of the former Charlottesville Ice Company building on South & Fourth Streets.

1972- The former Charlottesville Ice Company building catches fire.

1973- The City of Charlottesville razes the former Charlottesville Ice Company building as part of the Garrett Street redevelopment project.

Further Reading

Ice Trade Journal Company.  “Opening Price Lists of Ice.” Refrigerating World.  Vol. 31 (April 1906): 49.

Maurer, David.  “The iceman goeth with dawn of ‘electric boxes’.”  Daily Progress  (May 20, 1990).

Trumball, Steve.  “Charlottesville Ice Company.” Charlottesville Then and Now (March 12, 2011).

Advance Mills Bridge Parts

4 Aug

Just this year, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) donated a set of parts from the old Advance Mills Bridge to the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society.  As you may recall, VDOT recently replaced the steel truss bridge over the North Fork Rivanna River.   The parts VDOT gave us included a set of loop welded eye bars, and a pin, which joined the eye bars.

Loop welded eye bar

These were some big guys, too!  The eye bars and pin, are each well over a foot in length.  The pin, the densest object, weighs over thirty pounds!

So, you may be wondering (unless you are REALLY into bridges, like some of us), “What the heck is an eye bar?!”  Well, to answer that question I rely on the words of Ann Miller (VDOT):

“Eye bars, bars with eyes at each end, were the principal tension members on old connected trusses… These loop welded eye bars are fabricated from bar stock [who knew?!] by heating the end of the bar, bending it around a pin, and forging the tip into a notch on the straight shank of the bar.  Commonly used in the 19th century, such bars were generally abandoned after the turn of the 20th century because of a tendency for a crack to form at the forging [as seen above].”

Here’s a brief history of bridge (special thanks to Ann Miller again):

  • The date of the first bridge across the Rivanna at Advance Mills has not been documented, but Civil War-era maps show a crossing slightly upstream of the present highway crossing.
  • By the early 20th century, a wooden bridge had been constructed near the present highway crossing.
  • A one-lane metal truss bridge was erected at the site of the present high way crossing sometime between 1910 and the 1920s.
  • During widespread flooding in Virginia in October 1942, the main truss span of this bridge was washed out.  The span was replaced in 1943.
  • By the end of the 20th century, the housing development of northern Albemarle County put increasing strain on the old bridge.  It began showing signs of serious deterioration, despite great expenditures in repairs.
  • By the 21st century, the deterioration became so bad it was no longer feasible to repair.  The bridge was closed in 2007, a replacement bridge was planned, and demolition began.  The new bridge opened in April 2010.

Courtesy of the Virginia Department of Transportation

According to Miller, “in its demise, the old Advance Mills bridge added considerably to our knowledge of the composition and behavior of loop-welded eye bars on older bridges.”  Perhaps this knowledge can inform and prolong the future of similar bridges…