Ridge Street Oral History Project

The Project

In 1981, the Ridge Street Historic District was placed on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places because of its role as one of Charlottesville's architecturally significant late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century residential areas. The first residences in the Ridge Street Neighborhood were built around 1840, and construction continued into the twentieth century, eventually subsiding toward the end of World War I. White families occupied the street's northern blocks while African-American families owned homes toward the road's southern and unpaved end. Proliferation of the automobile in the 1930s and 1940s led a number of white families to purchase more modern residences in the suburbs and sell or rent their city houses. This migration continued for several decades and enabled African-Americans to purchase or rent some of the larger and more architecturally significant houses on Ridge Street. According to several long-time neighborhood residents, however, the decreased number of whites also led the city to ignore its responsibility to the area and services began to decline. After years of neglect by the City, municipal interest in the Ridge Street neighborhood was resurrected in the 1970s and 1980s as a result of the foundation of the Charlottesville House Improvement Program (CHIP). By 1980 interest had grown from simply improving substandard living conditions to renovating and preserving the historic fabric and character of Ridge Street homes. The city was encouraged to complete a survey begun in 1973 and use it for the 1981 nomination of the Ridge Street District to the National Register of Historic Places.

In conjunction with this listing, in 1995 Preservation Piedmont, a local group designed to encourage participation in the preservation, restoration, and ownership of historic and archaeological sites, agreed to conduct a study of neighborhood families in order to gain greater insight into the area's recent demographic and physical transformation from a single-family, owner-occupied community to a predominantly multi-family, rental-unit neighborhood. Preservation Piedmont designed an oral-history project in which volunteers interviewed and recorded long-time Ridge Street residents about neighborhood dynamics since the beginning of the twentieth century. The complete "Ridge Street Oral History Project" included interviews taken from white and black residents in Charlottesville. The recordings and transcripts of interviews presented here, however, are only those of African Americans. (The bulk of this material was taken from pages 1-3 of "Ridge Street Oral History Project: A Supplement to the Survey of the Ridge Street Historic District and Proposal for Local Designation"; published by Preservation Piedmont for the City of Charlottesville, Department of Community Planning, December 1995)

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