History of Charlottesville and Albemarle County
A Monacan village, Monasukapanough, was the first human settlement on these lands. What started as a Monacan hunting path grew into Three Notch'd Road, a trade route used by European settlers to shuttle goods between Richmond and the Appalachian Mountains. Today we call this Monacan hunting path U.S. Route 250. Without it, Charlottesville would not have become what it is today.
One of the first men to build upon this early infrastructure was Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson is undeniably the most famous figure in local history. He founded the University of Virginia down the mountain from Monticello, his mountaintop plantation. He inherited this mountaintop land, some 5,000 acres, from his father at the age of 26. He then used the labor of enslaved Africans to cultivate tobacco and construct the plantation house. Today Monticello remains a National Historic Landmark and UNESCO World Heritage Site. The University of Virginia's academical village, comprised of the Rotunda and Lawn, is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Rotunda, inspired by the Pantheon in Rome, was also designed by Thomas Jefferson.
Albemarle County was home to James Monroe too. Monroe, like Jefferson, also went on to become a U.S. president. James Madison lived just 26 miles northeast of Charlottesville, so we like to claim him too. Jefferson and Monroe, however, were practically next-door neighbors. So be sure to visit James Monroe's Highland while you're here too.
Many of the area's familiar names today are references to its colonial-era past. For example, residents and visitors know "Barracks" as a road and shopping center. It started, however, as a camp that housed British and German prisoners during the Revolutionary War.
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 left largely unscathed--despite its central role in the manufacturing of Confederate uniforms.
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 rough stretch of Main Street. In 1888, Charlottesville incorporated and annexed surrounding land to create a city of nearly 800 acres.