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Today in Rip Payne

31 May

by Emma Earnst


On this day in 1960, Rip Payne accompanied a class on a field trip to a local press (Daily Progress?).  The group explored the workings of the press’s Linotype machine, the blocking for the press, and finally, the end result—a newspaper.

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The Season for Seasons

26 Apr
by Emma Earnst

Looking back on the past often involves rose-colored glasses, but today my spectacles are completely clear.  As I am currently in the heat of “conference season,” when I came across this medal from the American Legion, I was quite impressed.  For those of you who aren’t aware, as the warm air entices folks outside, folks tend to name repetitive activities by attaching season to the end of an appropriate generic term.  For us twenty-somethings, there is the wedding season; for my snobby D.C. friends, there is the social season (apparently people don’t leave home during the winter?); and for adorkable academics, there is conference season.

Yes, I just used adorkable.  By the way, though, I’m totally over that phrase.  Zooey Deshanel is goddess, but don’t overuse phrases, publicists.  Okay? Thank you.

And…back to the object at hand. Usually when I attend a conference, I get a nice Microsoft-Publisher-style name badge with my name and one of the four organizations I might be representing that day.* Then I get a bunch of junk mail in a hideous bag and get shuffled away.  But back in 1938, the American Legion really knew how to treat their conference attendees right.  We’re talking full-on ribbon and brass medals, complete with images of Monticello, Jefferson (?), and American Legion seals.

 *P.S. I’m not bragging about this…it’s a confusing life I lead.

The Case of the Missing “Norman” (or, Some Dead Horses)

24 Apr
by Emma Earnst


A local resident recently donated a collection of Daily Progress newspaper clippings to the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society.  As we sifted through them, we came across a slew of rather interesting articles, most notably one on the horses of the Belle-mont Mansion.  Digging deeper, as so often is the case, I’ve uncovered a wealth of fantastic resources and stories that would force me to write a book, if only I had the time.

Well, it would be a short book, but it would still be a book.

The article, which you will find below, grabbed our (macabre) attention with the opening line,

Virginia’s first Percheron-Norman horses sleep in the Belmont section of Charlottesville.

These horses, now referred to as simply “Percheron” (the latter name, Norman, being dropped in the 1870s), are a French breed, first exported to the United States in the 19th century as work horses.  They were often used to pull buses until horse-drawn transportation waned in the 20th century, when the horses became revered as a major draft breed for both work and show.

In 1852, Slaughter Ficklin, owner of the Belle-mont Mansion in southern Charlottesville, brought the first group of Percheron-Normans to Virginia just after the Civil War ended.  The horses, as the article states, were truly quite apt at working, taking up heavy pulling that was previously reserved for oxen.  The Ficklin farm was a stock farm, and many of the Percherons eventually made their way to other farms around the country.

In the 1870s, after a decade and a half of breeding and national distribution, the first two of Ficklin’s horses kicked it, and Ficklin gave his beloved stud horses a proper Christian burial, marking the spot with a stone.

A decade later, Ficklin died at the age of 70, and after his wife’s death, the property was subdivided into smaller lots that today make up the Belmont section of Charlottesville.  That’s another story for another time, though.

But, if you are curious, check this out to start.

The Case of the “Not-So-Common” Comyn Hall

16 Mar

by Emma Earnst

Today’s collection object is a little obscure, but it raises an important question in the ever-evolving discussion of preservation.  This spring, the Chroma Projects Art Laboratory is hosting an open exhibition of work by local architects, musicians, and other artists with the topic of “The Future of Charlottesville” (btw, there is still time to apply if you are interested in submitting).  Preservation Piedmont, a local group of which I am a part, will be partnering to host the event, in addition to submitting an entry of our own.  As you might guess from our name, PresPied is dedicated to the preservation of local landscape and structures in the greater Charlottesville area.  For this event, we really had to reach out of our “comfort zone” and consider not only the value of preservation for the future, but the realities of it.  Of course we don’t assume that the world should have stopped in 1762, or 1865, or 1901, or even right now.  Our world will ever be changing, and we will ever be creating a new history for ourselves as Charlottesvillians.  Our purpose is to make sure that the elements of our past are not lost in that new life.

My personal view on topic is a complicated one, and perhaps more liberal than some.  I see preservation the simplest way of staying green.  And that may mean gutting a historic home for use as an office building, or preserving the integrity of building while adding an addition to make it suitable for modern living.  Buildings and landscapes are personal places, and I just think they should be cared for and preserved, not simply discarded.

My fiancé would likely start arguing with me quite adamantly at this point, so I will get to the heart of our post today.  A big discussion point is what to do with places with negative connotations.  For example, growing up in Germany, I recall the exoduses of tourists to the existing concentration camps, of which there remained quite a few. These places are overwhelmingly negative and painful by nature, but I think most would agree: they absolutely should not be removed, because that pain serves as a reminder of what must NEVER happen again.

This is obviously an extreme example, though.  What about a more local example- Comyn Hall, the house in downtown Charlottesville where Mayor J. Samuel McCue murdered his wife Fannie?  On September 4, 1904, Mrs. McCue was bludgeoned, strangled, shot, and left in a filled bathtub on the second floor of 601 Park Street.  Mayor McCue was convicted of the crime  and hanged in the courtyard of the Charlottesville jail on January 20, 1905.

Sound like the kind of place you would want to live?

Well, in April 1929, just over a quarter century after the sensational McCue murder, trial, and conviction, the Charlottesville Home for the Aged converted and moved into the house.  They changed the name of the house and their organization to “The Walker-Dickenson Home” at this time.  In 1967, they changed it again to “Comyn Hall,” as it is still referred to today.*  The retirement home also raised funds and built the addition to the side of the house in 1970.

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Comyn Hall closed its doors in the late 2000s, and in May 2009, an estate sale was held of the remaining contents of the home.  One of these contents was the bathtub from 1904- the very bathtub Fannie McCue had been found dead in.  According to a Daily Progress correspondent, the tub was going to be donated to us here at the Historical Society.  It never was, and quite frankly, I’m okay with that…

Comyn Hall has since been renovated as an apartment building, and is still accepting applications for rent.

What is your take on the preservation of places like these?

*The group apparently usurped the name Comyn Hall from a colonial mansion with that name, erected in 1846 John Cochran, who also owned the ground on which the newer Comyn Hall stands.

The Charlottesville, Va. Girl

17 Feb

This week’s collection object- a leather postcard- seems quite unique, though according to the donor and previous owner, during the early 20th century, these were “quite popular.”  Some quick research reveals that she was not, in fact, full of hot air.  Apparently experiencing a brief surge of popularity in the early 1900s, America’s fascination with leather postcards, and the pillows you could make from them (no joke), were all the rage.  Apparently not all of our donors were aware of the popularity, however, because this is the only leather postcard in our collection.

Possibly just as interesting as the phenomenon of the leather postcard, however, is this interpretation of what makes a “Charlottesville, Va. Girl.”  Not uniquely Charlottesvillian in any way, the girl was instead expressed as an American patriot.  Her red, white and blue ensemble is classy and acceptable per the standards of the time.  Her flag stands out most, as it is embossed with a metallic paint.  In other words, the Charlottesville girl was just a good American lady.  But, hey, at least she was stylin’!

Front, Leather Postcard, 1910

Back, Leather postcard, 1910

The Case of the Cash Register that Won’t Open

27 Jan

I’ve admitted before, and I’ll say it again, that I enjoy a good mystery wayyy too much.  If I didn’t love history so much, my other career choice would have been detective work.  Or, employment by sitting on my couch all day watching Law & Order and Murder She Wrote and reading Sherlock Holmes.  In fact, one of things that attracted me to history is the idea that in every case, a story has 3,000 or more different viewpoints, so how do you track down what REALLY happened?  While there are many facts in history, there are a far greater number of opinions and evaluations.  I have a saying, “History is a mystery,” that my professors never appreciated as an exam answer, but nonetheless is often the case.  As much as this makes history appealing, I really, really wish it weren’t the case in this case- “the case of the register that won’t open.”

Metal Cash Register from Buddy’s Restaurant, 17″x13″x15″

Metal Cash Register from Buddy’s Restaurant. Accession notes: the $2 lever is stuck, and drawer will not open.

You see, the register to which I refer, pictured above, comes from Buddy’s Restaurant, which was first a long-standing, well-beloved Charlottesville business.  Its legacy, however, derives from its setting as one of the most violent yet effective sit-ins during the Civil Rights movement in Charlottesville.

Metal Cash Register from Buddy’s Restaurant, with sign stating “Buddy’s: Just a nice place to eat”

Buddy Glover, a young local man whose prior experience included working as a soda fountain clerk at Timberlake’s Drug Store, established his own place, aptly named “Buddy’s” in the late 1930s as a hamburger stand, located near104 Emmet Street.  The self-declared, “Biggest Little Place in Town,” Buddy’s restaurant managed to maintain that small-town atmosphere even after moving into a much larger location.  After serving in the Korean War in the late 1940s, Buddy and his long-time employee Sylvester “Woody” Wood returned to Charlottesville with a bigger vision for the restaurant.  Buddy worked with architect Thomas Craven to design the building at 104 Emmet Street (last known to us as the house of UVA’s Institute for Environmental Negotiation), which was recently torn down by the University of Virginia to make way for a park.  At the time, however, the building became a hub for University traffic and local businessmen alike.

Buddy’s Restaurant may or may not have served African American customers during this time.  According to Paul M. Gaston, a UVA professor of history and local Civil Rights activist, Buddy had occasionally allowed African American visitors to eat in the restaurant.  Another local civil rights leader, Eugene Williams, has no such memories, saying, “I have no knowledge of a single black being served in that restaurant,” in an interview featured in a recent Charlottesville Tomorrow article.  Regardless of what Buddy may have done in the past, during the sit-ins of May 1963, Buddy did not serve his African American guests.

On May 29, 1963, three men—African American community leaders Floyd and William Johnson, and white UVA professor Paul Gaston—entered Buddy’s but were ignored at their table until being ushered out at closing time.  The group was denied entry the next morning, when violence erupted between the threesome and some restaurant patrons.  As Gaston entered a phone both to call the police, he was punched four times in the face.  Police eventually arrived and arrested the protestors.  Following a storm of negative press after the events at Buddy’s, a number of Charlottesville’s restaurants, theatres, and hotels dropped their segregation policies.  Violence had quickly changed what months of negotiations had not.  Gaston told The Hook,

“Change was not only going to come from direct action, and not from rational discussion.”

Gaston further asserts that as consequence of sit-ins like that in Charlottesville occurring all throughout the South, President John F. Kennedy submitted what became the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Buddy closed his restaurant the evening that act was passed, July 2, 1964.  On the door of the former local hotspot, he posted a notice that stated,

“Passage of the Civil Rights Bill forced us to take this unfortunate action.”

According to Buddy’s supporters, including Gaston, Buddy closed the restaurant because he was a firm believer in the rights of private property, a common contemporary Southern sentiment.  At the same time, many others viewed the closing as an inability to deal with the changes of the times, namely, segregation.  Buddy never spoke about the incident to the media.  The sale of the building in 1969 to the American Automobile Association was announced with a brief article in the Charlottesville Daily Progress, sans quotes from Buddy regarding the incidents of the past decade.  In a farewell article to Buddy in a Martha Jefferson publication, c. 1983 (Buddy worked as Dietary Department Director for MJH after his restaurant career), the author interviews Buddy extensively about the restaurant but conspicuously avoids the topic of the 1963 sit-ins.  Instead, the article simply states, “Buddy decided, for a number of reasons, to close the restaurant and enter the catering business.”

We may never know exactly what prompted Buddy’s choice, but we must look to the positive, as all those involved in the protest do.  The incidents at Buddy’s restaurant changed conditions in Charlottesville for African Americans in a way that other tactics had not.  As The Hook states,

“the incident served as a catalyst for desegregation in Charlottesville, a town whose businesses initially resisted the door-opening efforts of local NAACP head Floyd Johnson.”

Further Reading:

Brian Wheeler, “UVa plans pocket park at site of old restaurant, gas station; Buddy’s played role in civil rights movement,” Charlottesville Tomorrow News, August 6, 2011.  Article can be accessed online here.

“Buddy Glover Retires from MJH, Retraces 45 Years of Good Times,” Martha Jefferson Hospital publication, ca. 1983.

“Buddy’s Sold to Auto Club,” Charlottesville Daily Progress, March 4, 1969.

Hawes Spencer, “Busted Buddy’s: UVA has demolished civil rights landmark,” The Hook, November 29, 2011.  Article can be accessed online here.

Lisa Provence, “A Long and Winding Road: City Residents Recall Integration Battles,” The Hook, April 8, 2004.

Lisa Provence, “Brown’s Birthday: The Road to Equality in Charlottesville,” The Hook, May 6, 2004.

The Case of an Unknown Soldier

20 Jan

Have you ever heard the expression, “One of these things is not like the others”?  Well, if you ever watched Sesame Street, I hope you know what I’m talking about.

In the early 1970s, a longtime local resident donated a large collection of the papers of her grandparents’ families to the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society.  Along with these papers, of the Wilson and Minor families, was a unique object that is believed to have descended from the estate of Mary Venable Minor (b.1861).

View showing the front side of the hands. The stick measures just under 10" in length.

The small wooden carving is quite the interesting piece.  It was created sometime between 1861 and 1865, reputedly by a Confederate prisoner.  Measuring just under 10” long with a diameter of under an inch, one can only imagine it must have taken time and patience.  The two hands are not just clasped, they are grasped in the pose of shaking hands.  Considering that this was supposedly carved by a Confederate prisoner, what do you suppose he was trying to represent?  A dream of compromise between the Union and Confederacy?  A memory of a friend or loved one?  Unfortunately, so much has been lost that could have told a valuable story here.

A closeup showing the detail of the front-side carving. The stick measures 6/8" in diameter.

Mary Venable Minor, reputedly the first known owner, was clearly not the manufacturer.  Minor was the daughter of Colonel Charles S. Venable, a Professor of Mathematics at the University of Virginia.  According to Anna Barringer in the Magazine of Albemarle County History (Volume 27/28),

He had heavy grey hair, a resplendent beard, and a big head set on heavy shoulders which gave him a massive, impressive look.  A brilliant mathematician, he taught before the war, had served on General Lee’s staff, and after Appomattox taught at the University of South Carolina before coming to the University of Virginia…

The Southall-Venable House, owned by Colonel Charles S. Venable and his family, sat in the lot where Lee Park is now situated. The house was torn down in the early 1900s to make way for McIntire's park. Southall-Venable House, Holsinger Studio Collection, 1889 - 1939, Special Collections, University of Virginia Library, Charlottesville, Va.

Though much is known regarding Venable’s life and robust physical appearance, less is known about his daughter.  We do know that she married Dr. Charles Minor of Asheville, North Carolina, a man four years her younger, in December 1890.  The couple resided in Charles’ home state, and had one child, Mary Venable Minor Ball, who also stayed in the Carolinas.  The fact that the object would end up back in Charlottesville after Mary, Sr.’s death may have indicated its connection to a family member still residing in Charlottesville.  But who?  Mary’s father, the Confederate Colonel, was never imprisoned, dismissing the obvious connection.  The vast majority of the other members of the Minor and Venable families served in the war at some point, making conjecture as to a single individual seemingly impossible.

Nonetheless, this small “odd man out” piece does offer us a glimpse into the past, both of a longstanding Charlottesville family and an unknown soldier with a story to tell.

A closeup of the back-side carving detail.