Our <em><strong>Story</strong></em>



Photographer Ed Roseberry took this photograph of the University of Virginia “Easters” Party on Sunday afternoon, April 11, 1976, when an estimated 15,000 people piled into “Mad Bowl” near the fraternities. UVA’s “Easters” has been called the biggest college party in America in the 20th century. The springtime tradition had its origins as a formal evening of dancing in the late 1880s. Over the course of the ensuing decades, “Easters” evolved into a multi-day series of parties, dances and music concerts that drew an increasing number of young people from up and down the east coast. Owning to safety concerns and the changing times, the University canceled “Easters” altogether in 1982.


FOUNDED IN THE SPRING OF 1940 to coordinate the work of local history enthusiasts here in Central Virginia, the founders of our organization were motivated to discover and preserve important historic documents, as well as to conduct original research and to share their findings. The information below, with highlights of our story, has been excerpted and adapted in part from an article that first appeared in the 2015 edition of the Magazine of Albemarle County History, on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of our founding.

IN RETROSEPCT, IT IS MOST SURPRISING that a local historical society was not formed in the area until 1940, though the idea had been circulating as early as February 7, 1829, when the editor of the local newspaper the Virginia Advocate, printed a letter signed only “P.Q” of Albemarle, urging that an historical society be formed in the county. Though there were lyceum groups, library associations, and music clubs in Charlottesville and Albemarle County, not to mention the many literary, oratorical and scholarly societies at the University of Virginia, there was no organization devoted exclusively to the history of Central Virginia.

It was not until many years later that P.Q,’s suggestion finally began to take shape. During an informal meeting in the office of the University of Virginia Archives at Alderman Library (which had only opened two years before), Lester J. Cappon, Glenn Curtis Smith and Mary Hamilton explored the proposal of establishing an historical society. Cappon was then the Archivist of the University and later served as Director of the Institute of Early American History. Smith was working at Alderman with the archives of historic newspapers and was later a professor at Madison College (now James Madison University) in Harrisonburg. Hamilton was then serving as secretary to the Director of Rare Books and Manuscripts Division in Alderman Library.

ON FEBRUARY 23, 1940, Cappon hosted a second organizational meeting in his office, this time joined by a larger group of like-minded supporters which included University Librarian Harry Clemons, who had led the effort to build Alderman Library and modernize the University’s holdings. It was at that second meeting that the idea of a regularly published Society magazine was discussed— underscoring the priority these founding members placed on scholarly research. The group also agreed that their work should include the gathering together of historic manuscripts, to be preserved as a unique collection at the University of Virginia Library. Hamilton, who took the minutes of that meeting, also noted that “Everyone agreed that the more publicity the Society could get the better.”

The Founding

JUST A FEW WEEKS LATER, on Thursday evening April 4, 1940, the much-anticipated founders meeting convened at the Albemarle County Courthouse. Close to two hundred people turned out that night in support. Virginia State Senator John S. Battle (later Governor from 1950-54) delivered a welcoming address. University Archivist Lester Cappon formally presented the proposal of a research-based group that would dedicate itself to learning more about the history of Albemarle County and Charlottesville, and to sharing what they’d learned with an interested public. Those present heartily supported the idea, and the Albemarle County Historical Society was created. Only a year later, the group released its first publication, The Papers of the Albemarle County Historical Society, one of the finest and well-respected historical society magazines in the nation. It continues to be published annually to this day. Click here to learn more and to read the full archive, available online for free.

220 Court Square

IT WAS NOT UNTIL October 1, 1967, that the Historical Society acquired its first footprint, an historic building at 220 Court Square in downtown Charlottesville. Built in the first part of the 19th century,  the site had once been home to John Yergain, a local saddle maker and eccentric, who passed away in 1837. The modest brick building would be the Society’s headquarters until 1994. Referred to as “the Museum,” it housed the historic exhibit of a re-created lawyer’s office. During this period, to facilitate the ownership and management of the property, the organization became a non-profit corporation for the first time. After much work by volunteers, the Society unveiled for the first time a local history research library in the basement of the building on October 29, 1974— the very beginning of what would become one of the best historical research libraries in Virginia.

The New Home

IN 1984 Architectural Historical Melinda Frierson was hired as the Historical Society’s first Executive Director. Her tenure, which lasted over a decade, represents the beginning of an exciting new era for the organization. In collaboration with the Board and a dedicated network of volunteers, Melinda led the effort in 1994 to move the Society’s headquarters to the historic McIntire Library building on Second Street, a few blocks away. The new home offered a number of new opportunities for the growing organization: a bigger library, a large new Exhibit Hall, office space, and room for an historic archival collection. Throughout the 1980s and 90s the Society was in the vanguard of exciting, progressive exhibits, public events, new tours and published research that explored the Civil Rights Movement in Charlottesville, the controversial destruction of the African-American neighborhood on Vinegar Hill, the history of the Jewish community and the story of Greek and Irish immigration to Charlottesville. The Society led by example, demonstrating a firm commitment to an inclusive, comprehensive approach to the history of the region. In 2002 the name of the Society, after years of debate, officially became the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society— setting the stage for exciting new growth and enormous potential in the 21st century.

A New Era

SINCE OUR FOUNDING NEARLY EIGHT DECADES AGO, we have grown and changed in a variety of ways. Our work now encompasses an amazing suite of new programs and exciting projects. We are a first-rate research library. We are a museum of history and culture. We are walking tours and personal enrichment classes. We are a one-of-a-kind archive of historic papers, photographs, artwork, and memorabilia. We are a magazine, a radio program, original documentary videos, and free lectures series. The Charlottesville Center for History and Culture: The Home of the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society has become a vibrant community center dedicated to research, learning, and sharing. We are here for all who want to learn more, to discover, and to explore.

Our <strong><em>Vision</em></strong>

History is not the past, it is the story we tell about the past. And whoever gets to tell that story, who gets to put up statues and who doesn’t, this will shape the history that we leave for those who come after us. We believe everyone has a unique and powerful story to share, and that we should all have an opportunity to help make history.

Our <strong><em>Mission</em></strong>

We are committed to using history as a tool to create experiences that can inform, enlighten, inspire, and bring people together, offering opportunities for new relationships and new understandings. Our goal is to re-imagine and re-invent the role of an historical society in the 21st century: to be a strong civic organization that works to enrich the lives of our neighbors and visitors here in Central Virginia.

Our <strong><em>Values</em></strong>

Our work is grounded on a belief in the worth and dignity of every human being. We respect people, communities and cultures. We value discovery, creativity, integrity, and diversity. We believe in the potential for history to enrich our lives, to create stronger relationships and more vibrant communities.

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Let us hear from you!

Call <strong><em>us</em></strong>

(434) 296-1492

(434) 296-7294

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Visit <strong><em>us</em></strong>

200 Second Street NE

Charlottesville, VA 22902

When we <strong><em>work</em></strong>

9:00a -5:00p Mon-Fri

10:00a -1:00p Sat

Want to <em><strong>work with us?</strong></em>

Are you a company, organization or individual interested in being a title sponsor for one of our programs?