Fifeville wasn't Fife's

As a 16-year homeowner on Oak Street– one block below Dice– I was pleased to see my part of town on your cover [September 25 cover story: "Nicing Dice: But at what price?"] However, two aspects of Courtney Stuart's article bear comment based on deeds, census records, city directories, and so on.

First, a matter of information: Stuart wrote that Charlottesville's Fifeville section "was once a... farm owned by the Fife family." In fact, today's Fifeville includes acres never owned by the Fifes.

My immediate neighborhood– an area the article featured prominently– began growing on such acres shortly after UVA's 1825 opening. That's when Albemarle County Court Clerk and land speculator Alexander Garrett, anticipating interest in property west of town, had county surveyor Achilles Broadhead plat his holdings there.

In 1829, Garrett sold a parcel bounded on the east by Ridge Street's center line, on the north by "University street" (now West Main), on the west by "a new street leading from University Street to William W. Hening's old stillhouse" (Fifth Street SW), and on the south by a line from "Bagby's Corner" back to Ridge (Cherry Avenue). The buyer was Allen Hawkins, both speculator and builder. (The mousetooth cornice on 418 Fifth attests to his skill.)

Hawkins held most of his land until 1850. Then, after rail service drew attention toward Main Street's station, he unbundled. (The house Lee Scouten and I own dates to that phase. So does the handsome, though much abused, Barksdale-Totty House at 402 Dice.) And many more houses (including Ridge Street's most elaborate) were built in later booms– one around 1888, when Charlottesville incorporated, another following World War I, when city prosperity surged.

Second, a matter of impression: Several interviewees reinforced the politically convenient notion that my neighborhood has always been overwhelmingly black and poor and should remain so. In fact, it has always been the sort of neighborhood so many claim to want but so few move into, i.e. one that's mixed racially, ethnically, economically, etc.

In my years here, neighbors have been black, white, Asian, Arab, and Hispanic. Many have owned; others have rented. Most have worked. Jobs have included doctor, janitor, teacher, maid, horticulturalist, and mechanic. Throughout the previous 150 years, similar diversity prevailed. Neighbors were white (both native born and immigrant) and black (both slave and free). Some owned; some rented. Those without choice lived in "servants' cottages." (Two survive.) Most worked. Jobs included stonemason, merchant, farrier, minister, streetcar conductor, and doctor (notably, the eponymous Reuben Dice).

As an old-house-hugging preservationist, I'm not happy to see antique architecture disappearing behind Hardiplank. As a homeowning Charlottesville native, however, I'm very happy to see fresh energy appearing next door. It's good for my neighborhood. It's good for my hometown.

Antoinette W. Roades
Charlottesville
awroades@cs.com

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