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Views of the Charlottesville and Albemarle County Courthouse Historic District
Photographs courtesy of Shannon Bell

Charlottesville has served as an important regional political center since its selection as the site of the Albemarle County Courthouse 1762. In addition to its strong associations with Thomas Jefferson and the University of Virginia, the town is significant for its diversity of 19th-century governmental, commercial, residential, and industrial architecture. Typical of many 19th-century American towns is its courthouse square, containing the courthouse and several 19th-century brick offices set about a small public green. This compact quarter in the heart of downtown Charlottesville preserves the atmosphere of a mid-19th-century Piedmont county seat. The Albemarle County Courthouse of 1803 also served originally as a community church, and here, in what he called the "Common temple," Thomas Jefferson sometimes attended Sunday services. The square has been a focus of county activity from the time it was laid out in 1762, and it was not unusual in the early 19th century to see Jefferson conversing here with James Madison and James Monroe. The town hall was built across from the northeast corner of the square in 1851. In 1887 this tall Classical Revival building was purchased by Jefferson M. Levy, then the owner of Monticello,

Albemarle County Courthouse located on Charlottesville's courthouse square
Photograph courtesy of Shannon Bell
and converted into the Levy Opera House. Around the rest of the square sprang up numerous taverns, law offices, and residences. Among the early tavern buildings remaining are the former Swan Tavern and the former Eagle Tavern, both dating from the second quarter of the 19th century. The most notable law office is No. 0 ("No. Nothing") Court Square, a plain but handsome Federal building of c.1823. The courthouse was enlarged in the 1870s with the addition of the south wing with its Ionic portico. Except for the multistoried Monticello Hotel building, the district maintains a consistent scale and architectural harmony, being composed primarily of brick two- and three-story buildings in a Federal or Federal Revival idiom. Also in the district is a centrally located late 19th-century main street, with numerous 20th-century modifications including a 1970s pedestrian mall. A turn-of-the-century railroad passenger station with adjacent industrial buildings and several adjoining residential neighborhoods complete the district. While not devoid of intrusions, the district gives Charlottesville's downtown a strong sense of historical continuity and architectural cohesiveness.

The Charlottesville & Albemarle County Courthouse Historic District is roughly bounded by Park, Water, Saxton, and Main Sts., in Charlottesville. The Visitors Center, located on Rte. 20 in front of Piedmont Community College, offers a map suitable for walking tours. The Albemarle County Historical Society, located at 200 Second St., NE, Charlottesville (phone 804-296-1492) offers a walking tour every Saturday morning at 10:00am through the district, and can be contacted for special tours. Call 804-977-1783 for further information or viist the city's website.


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