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History of Charlottesville and Albemarle County

Home to three founding fathers who would become U.S. presidents, Charlottesville and Albemarle County are steeped in history - not just in museums but woven into the very fabric of the community.

Many of the area's familiar names today are references to its colonial-era past. Residents and visitors know "Barracks" as a road and shopping center, for example, whether or not they know it as the camp that housed British and German prisoners during the Revolutionary War.

Of course, the first American settlements around Charlottesville date back further still. For years, pioneers and travelers had worn a Monacan Indian hunting path into what became the Three Notch'd Road from Richmond to the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Meriwether Lewis' great-great-grandfather, Nicholas Meriwether II, patented c. 15,000 acres of land along the Southwest Mountains, including 1,190 acres of "The Farm" that comprise a good deal of modern Charlottesville.

Albemarle County itself was named for a colonial figure, the second Earl of Albemarle, who was then governor of the Virginia Colony. Charlottesville was named in honor of Princess Charlotte, who became queen of England when she married King George III in 1761. The town officially became a city in 1888, and what was Three Notch'd Road through Charlottesville then is today the Downtown Mall and East Main. 

 

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In 1819, the most famous figure in local history, Thomas Jefferson, founded the University of Virginia, deliberately placed a short distance outside town. But businesses stretched towards the "Academical Village," shifting the town center and ultimately connecting the two.

Today every UVA "first-year" student knows the bustling social scene off campus as The Corner, but most don't know it earned the nickname almost 200 years ago as the business hotspot where the main road to Charlottesville met the entrance to the University of Virginia.

In 1850, Charlottesville welcomed its first railroad service, a technology that would later dramatically expand shipping through the area and bring more growth. Then, like any community in the South, the area lost many of its sons and brothers to the Civil War.

Unlike many communities, however, the town itself was largely unscathed, despite its roles manufacturing Confederate uniforms and tending countless wounded Confederate soldiers at the overrun University hospital.

By 1887, the city had received its first horse drawn streetcars and kept an extra horse on hand to help cars climbing Vinegar Hill, a stretch of rough, rocky grade on Main Street. In 1888, Charlottesville incorporated and annexed surrounding land to create a city of nearly 800 acres.

The twentieth century brought more rail and trolley lines as well as paved roads, and although the area's culture and commerce remains rooted in agriculture, the G.I. Bill drove rapid expansion at the University after World War II, making it the area's largest employer.

Today, the spirit of Thomas Jefferson draws millions of visitors from around the world. Agriculture still thrives in the region, creating a rich farm-to-table culinary culture complemented by one of the country's finest winemaking regions.

Scores of celebrities have made Charlottesville and Albemarle County home, helping to create rich community around music, books and the performing arts, and year after year, UVA is ranked first or second among the nation's best public universities.