Frys Spring Historic District
The Fry's Spring Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2014. [†]
The Fry's Spring Historic District has a rich and eclectic collection of well preserved residential architecture. Fry's Spring is distinguished by dwellings that accommodated a range of families from those of more modest means to those who sought fine mansions on substantial lots. The district also contains four churches that served the growing community. The Fry's Spring Historic District is a surprisingly vibrant example of eclectic suburban residential development that followed public transportation lines. see Streetcar Suburbs, 1888 to 1928] This movement was paralleled by the rising demand for affordable and convenient residential housing that continued to draw Charlottesville residents through the early 1960s.
The history of the District reaches from 1890, when S. Price Maury purchased 170 acres of land surrounding Fry's Spring and created the Jefferson Park Hotel and Land Improvement Company centered on the open space of Jefferson Park, to 1963 when the bulk of the residential lots had been built out and when two highly visible churches on Jefferson Park Avenue (the Colonial Revival-style Seventh Day Adventist Sanctuary at 2437 Jefferson Park Avenue and the Contemporary-style Jefferson Park Baptist Church at 2505 Jefferson Park Avenue were constructed. A primary significant date during the historical evolution of the district is 1913 when the Fry's Spring Hotel was pulled down and the neighborhood began its role primarily as a residential area rather than solely as a recreational and vacation destination. Another date is 1920 when Russell G. Dettor acquired the Jefferson Park property and began development of the Fry's Spring Clubhouse that, along with its enormous swimming pool and supporting recreational structures in the park-like setting envisioned by Mr. Maury, became the focus of the neighborhood during the succeeding 43 years. The Fry's Spring Historic District, comprised primarily of dwellings and associated outbuildings, has integrity of location, setting, feeling, association, design, materials, and workmanship and contains 387 contributing resources and 110 non-contributing resources.
Fry's Spring is arguably Charlottesville's first suburban development. Although the earliest dwellings date from the last decade of the 19th century, its identification as a significant landmark area for both Charlottesville and neighboring Albemarle County reaches back far earlier. In 1817 Nelson Barksdale conveyed 305 acres in the vicinity of Charlottesville to James Francis (Frank) Fry, his son-in-law and grandson of Joshua Fry. This parcel incorporated the spring that gives the area its name. Joshua Fry (d. 1754) partnered with Peter Jefferson to produce one of the most valuable maps of Virginia that shows early Albemarle County in the 18th century. The Barksdale name appears throughout Albemarle's 19th- and early-20th-century records, with John Barksdale listed as a resident on "Fry's Spring Road" in the 1920 census and the name "Barksdale" penciled in on the 1920 Sanborn Insurance Map. "Fry's Spring Road" is the earliest address designation in the census records to identify residents in the area. Dolly Barksdale, who appears in the land tax records as the owner in 1920, was his widow. Her house is the present-day 2209 Jefferson Park Avenue, which evidence suggests was constructed ca. 1900.
Jesse L. Fry, son of James F. Fry, inherited much of the property associated with his father's estate, and he appears in the census returns for this part of Albemarle County from 1860 through 1880. He lived at the plantation known as Piedmont located north of the Fry's Spring neighborhood. Jesse Fry appears as the county assessor in 1900, a measure of his prominence in the county.
The primary property holder in the area of Fry's Spring during the second half of the 19th century, however, was Jesse Lewis Maury. The 1860 census shows him living in St. Anne's Parish with real estate valued at $21,220 with five enslaved persons. St. Anne's encompassed the area just to the west of Charlottesville, including much of present-day Ivy Road. His father, Reuben Maury, who is listed in the same household, is recorded as holding $31,000 worth of real property, primarily represented by sixty-two slaves. Although for some reason Jesse L. Maury does not appear in the 1870 census, in 1880 he is recorded with a very large household, including five persons described as "mulattos" and one "black" servant. His son, Stephen Price Maury, was not listed in his household in 1880.
Local historians report that S. Price Maury married a "rich woman from San Antonio" and moved to Texas He appears to have returned to Albemarle County by 1890 when his father deeded him a tract of 104 acres. It is this parcel that became the heart of the Fry's Spring neighborhood. With the acquisition of some additional acreage, S. Price Maury created the Jefferson Park Hotel and Land Improvement Company. This method of developing residential property, that is, by acquiring large parcels and subdividing them into more salable-size lots, was common for so-called development companies throughout the country at this time, coinciding with the tremendous boom in land development from coast to coast in the early 1890s. Areas with potential for streetcar lines were particularly attractive to potential buyers as that amenity offered the critical and convenient access to distant areas from town or city centers where most people worked. Maury advertised "lots for sale in the new development" and listed such amenities as a "resort hotel, summer cottages, a lake, wide residential boulevards, and a circuitous rail car line." It appears that Maury planned to take advantage of Fry's Spring and Moore's Creek to provide water for the lake he planned to build although there is no indication the lake was ever created. The only surviving remnants of the use of those valuable water sources are the three structures along Moore's Creek, probably dating from the 1920s when Russell Dettor was developing his enormous swimming pool. Maury's plans also underscored his goal of developing the Fry's Spring area as a destination for vacationers from Charlottesville, a trend that was already underway in other areas such as Westhampton and Forest Hills in Richmond. In both those cases, water features anchored the developments and paralleled Fry's Spring's evolution. Both of those Richmond communities went on to become residential neighborhoods and/or recreational centers with a water feature or parkland at their cores. In the case of the Three Chopt Road Historic District in Richmond, the destination of an entertainment area facilitated by the construction of a streetcar line associated with a lake took place in 1902, in the same period that Fry's Spring was evolving. Jefferson Park Avenue, then called Fry's Spring Road in census records, land tax records, and directories, was an ideal corridor for a streetcar line. It could be widened enough for the construction of a median with traffic ways on either side, the ideal conditions for a landscaped boulevard. These conditions were similar to Richmond where the street car ran along Grove Avenue on a median with traffic lanes flanking the tracks. It was during this period from 1890-1910 that tracks were laid along the Jefferson Park median to accommodate the various horse- and steam-powered passenger carriages that transported passengers from downtown Charlottesville to the Fry's Spring area. It would not be until the 1930s that streetcar service ceased and the tracks were removed from the median.
In 1890 Maury, knowing full well that there must be transportation methods in place to bring visitors to his development, "applied to the (Charlottesville) City Council for a franchise to operate his railway in the city streets." He explained that the "motive power" would be "either Horse power, steam or electricity or some other noiseless motor." Despite Maury's inability to secure local support, he proceeded with his plans. At the same time, Maury was building his grand establishment to be called the Hotel Albemarle. Designed by the Texas architectural firm of Gordon and Laub, the hotel opened to visitors in June 1892. The design, with "over 400 feet of porch space," recalls some of the grand hotels constructed at resort springs in Virginia during the 19th century. The hotel burned ca. 1912. From early maps, it appears to have stood on the parcel now occupied by Jefferson Park Baptist Church at 2505 Jefferson Park Avenue, with convenient access to Jefferson Park.
Houses associated with the period from 1890 to 1920 in the part of Fry's Spring closest to the railroad survive today. In fact, several houses along Stribling Avenue were constructed before Maury's venture into land development along Jefferson Park Avenue. The first house that Stephen Price Maury built was Huntley Hall or White Cross, at 214 Stribling Avenue was completed ca. 1891. The Shingle style employed for the house was not uncommon to resort and vacation houses of that era. Stribling was Maury's wife's maiden name, but early maps and the land tax books merely label the houses along the street as "VMRR" or "Virginia Marine Railroad," suggesting its location parallel to the railroad tracks, rather than giving it a name. On the 1920 Sanborn maps, the street name assigned was "Wampus," perhaps a reference to the fearsome wampus cat of American folklore. In 1898 Maury moved his family to nearby Carrsgrove, located further west on Stribling Avenue, and sold White Cross to John Lovell, who renamed it Huntley Hall. Lovell is listed in Alexandria directories in 1940 as a "Methodist minister."
Beyond the expansion of residential land use in the Fry's Spring area before 1920, the primary activities associated with the neighborhood were recreational. In 1892 S.P. Maury's advertisements captured his vision of the area. Historic photographs illustrate the flavor of the neighborhood, beginning with a picture of groups visiting the spring to enjoy its special waters. Writing in Albemarle Magazine in 1991, Fry's Spring resident Jeanne Nicholson Siler cites a brochure which described the hotel accommodations with "high-ceilinged rooms and electricity newly strung," for visitors who paid $3 a day or $16 a week. She surmised that visitors "were sure to wander down the 250-yard wooden walkway from the hotel to the gazebo-covered spring for sips of the famous healing waters." It is quite likely that one of these distinctive wooden walkways appears in a 1913 photograph of school children enjoying an outing in the park. One guest, L. S. Macon Jr., declared "after his second visit that it is a most excellent water to build up an overworked and tired man." The healing properties of spring waters in Virginia had long been hailed throughout the Commonwealth. A particularly striking example was at Paeonian Springs in Loudoun County, which ultimately began bottling its water and shipping it to Washington D.C.
The Fry's Spring neighborhood with its reputation as an area that encouraged and promoted recreation and entertainment falls in the context of the national organization known as The Playground Association of America, established in 1906 and by 1930 known as the National Recreation Association. According to The Play and Playground Encyclopedia, the Association was formed in 1906 "to further the playground movement in America. Over the years the mission of the organization shifted from playgrounds to emphasize a broad spectrum of recreation for all ages and abilities." A remarkable photograph of the Albemarle County School picnic taken in June 1913 illustrates the types of playground equipment at Fry's Spring. It also shows the "board walk," the lake in the background, a giant slide, a see-saw, and a merry-go-round rope contraption where children could hang on a ladder rope and swing out from a central post, later called "giant strides." The lake that was fed by the waters from the spring was later the site of the enormous swimming pool built in connection with the Fry's Spring Beach Club in the 1920s.
From 1910 to 1925 another major player entered the scene, the Redland Land Corporation, which would continue to shape the development of Fry's Spring as a primary landholder well into the 1930s. Redland bought approximately 300 acres from the Jefferson Park Land Company in 1913. Nearly a third of the acreage in this purchase lay in the present-day Fry's Spring area, including blocks 4, 5, 6, 11, and 12 and parts of blocks 1 and 7 of the 1897 plat. The corporation in turn sold these lots to buyers who included Nathaniel Burnley, lot 5 on which he built a dwelling valued at $1,500; C. H. Birch, part of lot 5; Dr. J. O. Quainstance, a local dentist, lot 6; and Ellen Rixey, who constructed a residence valued at $2,000 on lot 6, which soon served as a temporary location for the Jefferson School for Boys. Robert C. Wood's new house valued at $1,000 stood on lot 4, and Lena Wood Snead was taxed with a house valued at $1,000. These lots later became part of Fry's Spring Terrace; the plats for Fry's Spring Terrace, dated 1913, were drawn by W. Washabaugh for the Redland Land Corporation. This area is located across from Fry's Spring Park and is depicted on the Sanborn Insurance map of 1920 with houses on all of the lots. In 1920 the road name "Park Lane" appears to refer to present-day Jefferson Park Avenue immediately beside the park. Among these houses that stood in a prime location overlooking the park and that date from the first two decades of the century are: 2600, 2530, 2526, 2522 and 2518 Jefferson Park Avenue. These would have been, and remain at the heart of the Fry's Spring neighborhood.
†Adapted from: Maral S. Kalbian and Margaret T. Peters, Maral S. Kalbian, LLC, Frys Spring Historic District, Charlottesville, VA, nomination document, 2014, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.