Visual History Tour: Vinegar Hill destruction 2.0

onarch-mooneyoldsBehind the Lewis & Clark statue, the Mooney Oldsmobile building, which is now an antique shop on the corner of Ridge-McIntire and West Main, survived; but the UR Next Hat Shop, The Midway Druggist, and the Quality Retail Store Grocery weren't so lucky.

Just as the City mulls a master plan to redevelop its public housing stock, which could cost an estimated $115.5 million over ten years and increase available units from 373 to 558, digital history students at UVA have created a dynamic visual archive of another redevelopment project– the demolition of the Vinegar Hill neighborhood, which eliminated 29 businesses, 154 dwellings, one church, and ran a four-lane road through the middle of the predominantly African-American neighborhood.

Once the center of African-American business and social life in Charlottesville, the neighborhood was razed under the federally funded Urban Renewal program of the 1950s and '60s by a largely white, poll-tax-paying voting class that narrowly approved destroying the “blighted” neighborhood and relocating its residents, many to the public housing developments, such as Westhaven (which the city now wants to redevelop.)

Using deeds, maps, photos, oral histories, and other archives, students have painted a unique digital portrait of this controversial history called “VisualEyes Vinegar Hill,” which is part of the Vinegar Hill Project, an initiative of the Virginia Center for Digital History.

An interactive map shows the migration of those displaced.

For example, an interactive map created by student Kate Wellons, using a Web-based tool developed by a UVA humanities initiative called SHANTI, shows the migration and forced relocation of property owners and tenants along 4th Street from 1961 to 1964. There’s also a side-by-side visual timeline of the lives of two prominent Vinegar Hill land owners: one white and one African-American. One can also see an aerial visual timeline of the 20-acre swath of destruction complete with local news story summaries along the way.

The Top Hat Barber Shop/pool room and Leach's Cafe–- razed on Main.

The project includes an interactive map that could turn an appraiser or a realtor green with envy, as it’s built on an original 1960 Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority map that, along with photos, provides property assessments, identifies owner-occupied structures, African-American-owned properties, and even substandard properties, with a query option that allows one to view specific combinations–- such as all houses on Preston Avenue that are owner-occupied and assessed under $5,000.

Other neat features of the interactive map include pop-ups of aerial shots from specific directions, links for ground level photos, a guided tour, and a video interview with Wyatt Johnson, the last tenant of Vinegar Hill. Now that's a map!

There’s also a link to flickr photo stream with nearly 200 archival photos, including annotated aerials to help identify landmarks.


Are you suggesting that someone is actively suppressing fact about Charlottesville’s urban renewal efforts? If so, why do you think that? Why do you think they, whoever they are, would do that? Who are ââ?¬Å?they?”

Yes. I named a person in the comment. My blog names names and has multiple timelines. City Council in regular public meeting in front of the whole city. It's not a new story. I've been after these archives since March 2004 when I made my first request. It's been an odyssey of exposing and documenting individuals apparently suppressing the history by not allowing me access and saying they did. Allowing me to photograph 287 photos and saying I had access to the almost 1,200 pictures and 6,000+ documents. What would you call it? You don't think we should hold people accountable? If newspapers don't do it, then that's the end of it?

Why are they doing it? They haven't told us yet. Perhaps to minimize the true scale and scope of urban renewal. Perhaps to prop up the Housing Authority or prevent strong historical arguments against it. Perhaps because urban renewal properties are still for sale such as the Levy Ave. parking lot next to the Better Living building. It's not a new story. New is the idea that Vinegar Hill is the only project to occur locally. Subsequent projects were and are so controversial nobody mentions them. So a lot of people now think Vinegar Hill is all there is. I'm trying to correct revisionist history.

When I began this, I didn't know they were suppressing local history. I just thought no one had gone down and requested the information. Now the evidence for suppression is so massive and well-documented and chronicled and public, it's hard to believe the press are still echoing statements of local officials without any critical thinking. But reality is often hard to believe.

How were these people "forced" into public housing? Is someone preventing them from waking up before noon?

Too bad the "hard working" taxpayers can't force them to get a job and pay their own way. Too bad the "hard working" taxpayer can't convince them to use birth control.Too bad the "hard working" taxpayer can't seem to convince them that public housing should be for people who are having temporary set backs in life despite being honest and hard working and that it isn't a permanent home for three generations of people.

Too bad the interactive map doesn't show a pop up of the people who have been in public housing for a generation. Or the ones who own late model cars. Or the ones who Smoke cigrattes at 4.00 a pack. Or the ones who have 3 kids by 3 fathers, accept food stamps health care, free housing and STILL get cash on the side from 3 different men.

Ask yourself what Vinegar Hill would look like today with a realistic eye and you would realize that it would be a crime ridden embarrassment that would be less safe after dark than it was 40 years ago.

Is that it? The Vinegar Hill story instead of the urban renewal story?

"destroying the ââ?¬Å?blighted” neighborhood and relocating its residents, many to the public housing developments, such as Westhaven"

Development or developments? There was no public housing in 1960 and in 1964 there was only Westhaven. The other public housing came later with more neighborhood clearing. The map shows where Vinegar Hill residents relocated and include the Garrett St. area. Of course that would be relocation to houses and streets that were bulldozed a decade after Vinegar Hill.

The interactive map is not so interactive. You can't click on a property and see the deed, assessments, or photo. It falls short of promises made on Feb. 24, 2007 at the site of the first Jefferson School on West Main in 1865. It's a shame the expert historians are more interested in minimizing urban renewal than telling the whole story. Shame on Dr. Scot French. The problem with the archives is Vinegar Hill comprises a minority of the information. By focusing on Vinegar Hill exclusively, you give a misleading impression. Was that intentional?

"When ready, anyone should be able to search online the names and addresses, deeds and assessments, photos and maps. Williams said the collection comprised

1,189 visual media files
6,845 physical documents
189 maps and blueprints
6,199 files related to GIS mapping

for a total of 14,422."

Blair you seem awfully passionate about the urban renewal thing, but you write in such a cryptic way that despite reading your comments on the subject numerous times I can't for the life of me figure out what your point is.

I am interested, but just can't tell what you are getting at or why you can't just get to it if it's so important to you. Are you suggesting that someone is actively suppressing fact about Charlottesville's urban renewal efforts? If so, why do you think that? Why do you think they, whoever they are, would do that? Who are "they?"

Why don't you lay out a simple readable history and link to it for times like this if you want to correct the record?

They would have eminent domained the area for the road regardless unless it was the Rotunda or some such. Not every demolition of blight is a racial act. Jim Crow ain't what he used to be.

115 MILLION to provide 558 homes???? that 200k per house...

or 115 million to ADD 180 homes that 638k per house?

Why not BUY 558 homes and rent them for maintanance plus whatever else the folks can afford, mow down the exisiting properties, sell the premium land, use the money to buy more homes to rent for maintanace plus whatever elae they can afford?

This is a CRAZY waste of money?

WHY do they need that much????

often on these message boards you find a person that laments the "laziness" of those residing in public housing and that is ignorant of the fact that these people were often literally forced into said housing by the "hard-working" taxpayers.

The stated reason may be different, but the thoughtless destruction of this city's heritage still continues at an alarming rate.
See it before it goes, or better yet, let's stop it from disappearing.

apparently gomer is ignorant of history. sadly it is not my job to teach him.

Gomer, I'm going to say you're wrong. Those women might be getting cash on the side from one of those three fathers....maybe

Wow. I took a look through the flickr feed, and I can see why a lot of what happened did. It's not my place to say if what happened is right or wrong, and I have my own internal debate about what happened, but it's hard to deny that there were some truly decrepit structures in Vinegar Hill. It's also difficult to imagine downtown being what it is without the Ridge-McIntyre connecter. There's an artery that needed to be built, period.

It's still strange to destroy a neighborhood, no matter if it's better for the city or not.