Ridge Street Historic District
The Ridge Street Historic District (200-700 Ridge Street) was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. † Adaptation copyright © 2007, The Gombach Group.
The Ridge Street District is a four block residential area just to the south of downtown Charlottesville. Located on one of the City's principal thoroughfares, the Ridge Street area contains a large number of architecturally significant residential structures dating back to the mid-1800's. Situated on a ridge, as the street's name implies, Ridge Street attracted many of Charlottesville's wealthy merchant families in the late 1800's. While the social makeup of the neighborhood has changed since then, most of the stately Victorian-style homes these families built remain.
The borders of the Ridge Street District are well defined. To the north, the C & O Railroad creates a distinct boundary. The area behind Ridge Street to the east has been cleared as part of the Garrett Street renewal project. South of the district is a more recent residential area, while to the west lies Fifeville, a neighborhood of more recent and less architecturally significant development. The development pattern along Ridge Street is relatively uniform, with lot size roughly the same for each house. Setback from the street is also standardized at approximately 50 feet. While there are examples of a number of architectural styles, the principal one found in the Ridge Street District is Victorian Vernacular.
The Ridge Street District, with the exception of some minor intrusions, is one of the few areas in Charlottesville that has remained relatively unchanged since the turn of this century. While unchanged physically, it has undergone a major social evolution, from the original principal residential street of the City's wealthy merchants to today's modest income and predominantly black neighborhood.
The Ridge Street area was originally part of Alexander Garrett's Oak Hill estate. Garrett was an associate of Thomas Jefferson and had a considerable part in the founding of the University of Virginia. Sold and subdivided into lots around 1830, Ridge Street grew very slowly even though it was one of the principal roads leading out of tow to the south. One of the first homes built along it was 632 Ridge Street, bought by Colonel John B. Strange and operated as a military school until the Civil War caused it to close in 1861. Along with the Albemarle Military Institute, there were fewer than a dozen houses along Ridge Street during this period.
Development of Ridge Street accelerated after the War with the construction of numerous houses between 1870 and 1880. James Alexander, a local historian, noted in 1874 that "the street is becoming quite a prominent drive for belles and beaux, as well as for pedestrian promenade." It was during this time that Ridge Street gained predominance as the principal residential area of Charlottesville's merchants and businessmen. This growth period had its zenith in the 1890's with the construction of many large Victorian style homes, such as the Gleason House at 522 Ridge Street. However, with the advent of the automobile at the turn of this century, other further out areas such as Rugby Road began to take predominance. The older families of Ridge Street began to leave in the 1920's and 1930's and the area began to decline. Many of the larger hones were converted into apartments, and the area to this day remains predominantly rental.
It is interesting to note that Ridge Street was a racially integrated neighborhood, even back before the Civil War. Robert Battles, most likely a descendant of black Revolutionary War soldier Shadrack Battles, owned property on the east side of Ridge Street as early as 1842. When Ridge Street was extended after the Civil War, its southern end became one of the City's most fashionable black neighborhoods. Mount Zion Church, at 105 West Main Street, was founded in 1867. It was not until the mid 1950's that the area became predominantly black. Ridge Street remains an important residential area in the black community.
† Charlottesville Department of Community Development, Charlottesville Virginia MRA, nomination document, 1981, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.