Ah, to sit and ponder the wonders of the Rock Hill Gardens, where there's nothing to get hung about.
The chosen 250 Interchange design and its relationship to the Rock Hill Gardens.
Forget about the impending Meadowcreek Parkway and the 250 Interchange project for a minute, as well as the fabulous history of the nearby eight-acre Rock Hill estate, once the site of a circa-1820 two-story Federal style house (which, thanks to a mischievous youngster, burned down in 1963). Forget that famed architect Eugene Bradbury once called it home, and that the Rev. Henry Alford Porter, minister of Charlottesville’s First Baptist Church (Park Street), who bought the place in the 1930s, created the extensive rock gardens that one UVA architectural historian has called the "most complex residential garden landscapes in all of Charlottesville."
Forget its history as a controversial segregation-era school in the 1960s. Forget that it's now the overgrown back yard of the Monticello Area Community Action Agency (MACAA), which has expressed interest in selling the property to the City.
Forget the City's and the Federal Highway Administration's promise (broken?) to restore the garden and add it to the park system as part of the new interchange project. Forget the limbo the property finds itself in while an army of volunteers has been busy unearthing its treasures and trying to restore the gardens to their former glory.
Forget about all the politics and the history, which you can read about in two Hook stories, Burned and bypassed: Rock Hill has a ghost of a garden, and Unhidden treasure: Rock Hill estate gardens revealed.
Just go take a look at it. (Or enjoy a musical online slideshow tour)
You've driven by it hundreds of times. Go take a walk through the gardens. That's what we did with volunteer Rock Hill gardens restorer Carol Garges on Wednesday, June 29. Garges and over 200 other volunteers have put in about 2,000 hours of work since they began clearing away brush, repairing walls, and adding plantings and features to the gardens last year.
"It's an incredibly unique place," says Garges, "and we just hope it can be preserved."
The front of the gardens has been revealed to passing traffic on 250, showing the elaborate stonework found on site (a result, as UVA architectural historian Daniel Bluestone put it, of the Rev. Porter's "private public works project" that provided work for the unemployed during the 1930s). Invisible from the road, however, the back half of the gardens may be even more impressive, weaving along the babbling Schenk's Branch creek bed and featuring stretches of the rock wall that rise 10 to 15 feet high. Gloriously high tulip poplars abound, and stone steps ascend into the treetops.
Ideally, Garges says, she hopes the City purchases the property from MACAA, restores the gardens, and builds a new facility for the Parks & Rec department, which then can showcase one of the City's architectural jewels.
But is that likely to happen?
"I'm aware of some exploratory conversations that have occurred along those lines," says Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris, "and all I can say right now is that I'm intrigued by the possibilities."
Indeed, with $27 million in Federal funds earmarked for the U.S. 250 interchange project, which could get under way by the end of the year (depending on the outcome of a lawsuit filed by those opposed to it), you'd think the City could could set aside something for the preservation of the gardens.
What's more, that May 2010 memorandum-of-agreement between the City and the Federal Highway Administration calls for a rehabilitation plan for the gardens, reconstruction of the front wall that will need to be removed for the interchange, and for the City to pursue ownership of the property and open it to the public.
Of course, these days that's more easily said than done.
"Obviously it's largely dependent on funding being
available to purchase the [Rock Hill] property," says Norris. "Right now, there are no funds allocated in our budget for it."