Tag Archives: architecture

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 Case of Wine: Barboursville Vineyards

28 Sep

That’s right, I’m back to the bottle.

Our featured object today is a wine bottle from Barboursville Vineyards, 1979.

Barboursville Cabernet Sauvingnon Wine Bottle, 1979

Label Detail, Barboursville Wine Bottle, 1979

Barboursville is one of the most richly filled historical properties in the Monticello region.  Though the vineyard and winery are far more recent additions- they were established in 1976- the property has a history that dates back to the early nineteenth century.

Barboursville Ruins

The property was originally owned by James Barbour, a lawyer, politician, and the first Governor of Virginia to reside in the Governor’s mansion.  But the mansion he is better known for here in Charlottesville is the Barboursville residence- now Barboursville ruins- built by Thomas Jefferson in 1814-1822.

Barboursville Ruins today

As the story goes, an aging Mr. Jefferson constructed the property over the course of eight years.  It was one of only three residential properties he designed, and reflects the characteristic Jeffersonian style we see around UVA Grounds and Monticello today.  His design incorporated an octagon room, a dome (never constructed), and even serpentine walls in the garden.

Sadly, we can no longer fully enjoy the architecture, as the house caught fire on Christmas Eve 1884, allegedly starting from live candles on an overly dry Christmas tree.  All that remains of the house are the ruins seen above, but if you make the trip to Barboursville, you can still walk around and explore the property and nearby Barbour family cemetery.

And of course, be sure to stop in to the winery to enjoy a tour by their fabulous guides, and sip or twelve of their delicious wines!

The Case of Wine: Monticello Wine Company

23 Sep

Its currently 8:30 am, and I say its time for some wine!

No, I’m not a lush, it’s just today’s topic.

Although as I learned yesterday, its “OK” to drink before noon- as long as its not tequila- just ask Patti.

Unfortunately, I’m fairly certain that none of us would want to drink the wine I’m presenting to you today, so lets just enjoy their stories and their artful label decorations instead.

Monticello Wine Company

If you’ve ever driven an extremely backwards way into downtown, you’ve seen the historical marker for the Monticello Wine Company (across McIntire Road from the baseball field & recycling center).  The marker, and a collection of bottles  are all that currently remain of the Monticello Wine Company.  The building burned in a fire in 1937, but if you take a walk through the neighborhood, you will notice street names like “Wine Street” and “Wine Cellar Court” which clearly hearken back to the former winery.

Extra V. Claret, Monticello Wine Company.

Label, Extra V. Claret, Monticello Wine Company.

Extra Virginia Claret was Monticello’s most popular wine, even winning an international award in 1873 at the Vienna Exposition .  It was produced with Norton grapes, as are several well known Monticello region wines today.

Fine Old Port Type, Monticello Wine Company.

Label, Fine Old Port Type, Monticello Wine Company.

Spoiler Alert!

Join me on Monday for a continuation of this series, featuring some recent history, a clever woman, and of course, more wine!