Sophie Charlotte was a good girl, a youngest daughter, an average student with an interest in botany, in gardens, in music and the arts. Once, Sophie voiced an aria to Mozart’s keys. Sophie married well, and young, only 17, and she brought forth 15 children, princes, princesses, dukes and 3 kings. Mostly, Sophie is remembered for her patronage of orphanages and of hospitals, and of the many places named in her honor, forts, islands, counties and cities, including this little city, as well you know, Charlottesville, Virginia. Can you imagine having so many places named in your honor: humbling, I suppose. Then too, certain you recall that Virginia is named for Elizabeth I, Virgin Queen of England and Ireland.
We might wonder what Sophie thought when the people of this place, Charlottesville, Virginia, revolted against her and her husband, George III. She knew the independent-minded men to be remarkable, Madison, Monroe, Thomas Jefferson, et alia. Suppose she pitied all the world, politics and war being what they are, mostly incomprehensible, subject to error and event beyond control. Her sympathy extended to her husband, George III, in his final madness. Expect Sophie Charlotte, Her Majesty, The Queen, would pity this lovely city its current madness in hope that its promise in innocence will be fulfilled in beauty and in wisdom … all-we-all learn by mistake, by correction of errors willful and sincere.
Worth the sharing: observed of the marriage of Sophie and George, “They did not fall in love and marry, they married and fell in love.”
Charlottesville was in 1762 a town established by an Act of the Assembly of Albemarle County, located along Three Notched Road (now, U.S. Route 250) which linked Richmond to the Great Valley. Before this, wandering peoples made their homes around the area’s hills and valleys, the Monacan being the last and only name that comes to us. You will remember Three Notched Road for the heroic ride of Jack Jouett who warned [then] Governor Jefferson and legislators meeting in Charlottesville (1781, Patrick Henry, et alia) of the impending attack of the murderous Sir Banastre Tarleton:
To warn the people of attack,
Preserve the free of Charlottesville,
The brave and noble Captain Jack
Rode to foil cruel Tarleton’s will.
The War of Independence, won, Charlottesville, under the local and national leadership of President Jefferson (“we must now place the manufacturers by the side of the agriculturist”) pursued a policy which enriched the nation by growing together the community of agriculture and arts, a peace of industrial commerce: reference the Hippodamian street plan of Charlottesville, 1818; establishment of The University of Virginia, 1819; growth of the Woolen Mills, 1820; later, building the Virginia Central Railroad, 1850, which increased prosperity, extended the potentiality for improvement.
Again to conflict, that uncivil war, The War to End Slavery, 1861; a slow recovery, and by 1920, the city had one, full mile of concrete paved road, and two miles of brick road, road sufficient to begin mechanized society, post WWII (1945). The GI Bill increased enrollment at the university, spurred a building boom that can be seen in what is now the Downtown Mall (always worthy of mention: my pal, Louis Redstone, is credited with creating the first such mall, Kalamazoo, Michigan). President Eisenhower’s civil-defense conscious, economically expansive Interstate System, id est, Interstate 64, the Daniel Boone Highway, grew the parameters of Charlottesville, a compass into which the city now fills itself with shopping centers, housing, and amusements.
Today, Charlottesville boasts a population of 46,553 citizens, 229,304 in the metropolitan area, 27,330 of whom are students, and no one is quite certain how may are illegal, resident aliens. Response to the previous sentence will illustrate the conflict among C-Villians that now effects the destruction of statues, the erasure of history, angry confrontations, and other vicissitudes necessary to growth, to achieving an equilibrium. Even Sophie Charlotte has not escaped erasure, the recoloring by eager race-mongers who paint her in black-face, because 300 years before her birth she might have shared a Moorish ancestor. Who cares. Yes, truly, this is an age of woke menticide and wikiwashing.
Located at the edge of the Blue Ridge, Piedmont Provence, Charlottesville enjoys the easy, rolling landscape of picturesque foothills and rich, abundant valleys suitable to garden and orchard, to pasture for horses, to the vine-trails for wine, and to the pleasant challenge of undulating golf courses, as in the Trump Estate at Albemarle whose countryside views are especially breathtaking.
Virginia’s Piedmont rests upon a plateau whose fall-line drops to the Tidewater’s coastal plain. The forests here are wide and spacious, suitable for the hikes of man, the hides of animals; here you might find deer, beaver, skunk, racoon, the dozen small creatures, and the occasional bear on walk-about.
The Rivanna, a mild river, was with locks and dams and sluices (those little gates that hold back flowing water) made partly navigable by the enterprising Jefferson family; and later, canals with towpath were added to serve the necessity of water mills (the Union and the Charlottesville) for ease of trade and transport. The hard work done, today, citizens at their ease preserve Rivanna’s beauty, and jealously guard its resources.
Likely, when speaking to a native of Charlottesville, you will notice the accent, the Piedmont accent, the missing “r” in car, a “ca”, and that DRR-awl as in MIR-er and PAY-et. The accent is by poll consider among the sexiest of American English, and I would agree, especially if the gal has bright, fixed eyes, and well, the men … I mean to say, soft, firm, the voice of a gentleman, persuasive.
Paul Goodloe McIntire, (1860 – 1952), a man of of traditional Charlottesville, investor, philanthropist, segregationist, champion of the arts, donor to the University of Virginia (several UVA schools bear his name), donor of statues that adorn the city, an embarrassment to the queasy; McIntire endowed theatres, churches, hospitals, and concert halls, those activities necessary to a healthy, thriving culture.
Alexander Archer Vandegrift, USMC (1887 – 1973), hero, general, commander of the 1st Marine Division, victor at the Battle of Guadalcanal, the first four-star general in active duty, awarded the Medal of Honor, and other honors from the nations of the world that might not be free but for his love of liberty, martial spirit, skill in war, excellence of character.
Meriwether Lewis (1774 – 1809), soldier, politician, leader of the Lewis and Clark Expedition that showed us the expanse of America’s potentialities, lent each of us confidence that we might continue the tradition of Columbus, even to the moon, even to the stars. Governor of the Louisiana Territory (a geographic area equally sized to the existing states, 1806); likely assassinated, his statue is now being progressively expunged by colluding, eager, Charlottesville politicians; flowers, trees, fish, counties, cities, streets remember his name, even though Charlottesville will in ignorance, forget. (Please see the portfolio, below.)
James Monroe (1758 – 1831), diplomat, Founding Father, governor of Virginia, fifth president of these United States. His Monroe Doctrine discouraged colonization in the Americas, his membership in the American Colonization Society encouraged the colonization of Africa by freed slaves, and led to the establishment of Liberia; he reluctantly signed the Missouri Compromise which extended slavery into the territories; a delegate to the Constitutional Congress, to the Virginia Ratifying Commission, he championed a Bill of Rights that would culminate in universal suffrage; his presidency struggled with challenges inherited from British rule, slavery, Indian relations, and the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars (our “War of 1812” being a minor episode). James Monroe was the third president to die on the 4th of July.
Thomas Jefferson (1743 – 1826), polymath, genius, world-historic personage, significant architect, governor of Virginia, president of these United States, Founding Father, founder of The University of Virginia, author of The Declaration of Independence whose summoning line, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” has emancipated most all the world’s people, and promises to emancipate all those of the Creator who are yet unequal, politically. He loved his wife, his family, his friends; his voluminous letters tell more of him and his life than exists for most any historic figure … the ownership of Jefferson’s image is a valuable political asset, and this the cause of fuss, of huge books, of fashionable imaginings from scant facts so tiny that they can be fully detailed on a 3×5 card.
Of celebrity, you might on Charlottesville’s streets spot the actors Rob Lowe, Sissy Spacek, The Rock (Dwyane Johnson); musician Dave Matthews, the favored Rita Dove, author John Grisham, and Larry Sabato, commentator.
The Downtown Mall, eight blocks of pedestrian avenue with 120 shops, boutiques, galleries, restaurants, curiosities, performances, fountains, a Saturday market, and several bookstores, all fine (my favorite, Blue Whale Books). Cars can be left in parking-lots, nearby. My favorite places: the many fine antiquarian bookstores, where treasures have been found; and, the best restaurants, in the off, quiet-hours. (Please see the portfolio, below.)
The University of Virginia, especially the humane, homey yet impressive Academical Village, designed by Thomas Jefferson, its “Rotunda” library, and resident “Lawn”. This, the only US university, UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Madison Bowl, lovely mansions (much in the Jeffersonian style) surrounding a green, the center of “Greek Life”, those fraternities and sororities immersed in the culture of learning, alike the students of Plato, Aristotle, Zeno at the Academy, the Lyceum, the Stoa.
Michie Tavern, an 18th Century inn and historic landmark where you might enjoy delicious, old-Virginia meals, drinks and a room, if in need. There are beautiful gifts, delightful sites, and persons in period drag to set-the-scene, create atmosphere. Most diners favor the fried chicken. (Please see the portfolio, below.)
Monticello, the home and estate of Thomas Jefferson, filled with great man’s inventions, beloved objects, and collections both aesthetic, scientific, and curious, including the ethnographic weapons and prehistoric bones discovered by Lewis and Clark. Each room is an education in architecture, a guide to taste, a lesson for life. If you would tour the house, you must bear the political propaganda, typical and tiresome. You might ask questions, though not political … beyond the script the guides are stymied, though many do possess knowledge telling of objects, details illuminating of persons and personalities. Notice the order of the garden, the inscriptions of the cemetery, and the honeymoon cottage of Martha and Thomas, charming. Then too, you might from the gift shop adopt some plant or cutting, flora of historic Monticello.
The wineries surrounding Charlottesville are lovely, and the wines are delicious; each a unique experience, within the realm of wine-tasting. This brief list includes a few of the many I was pleased to visit: the appealing Pippin Hill, the historic Jefferson Vineyards, the magnificent Albemarle Estate-Trump Winery, the quirky Gabriele Rausse, the expansive Barboursville Vineyards, the Dave Matthews Band’s Blenheim Vineyards, Keswick Vineyards, Horton, Veritas, Stinson … and many other vineyards that are likely fine, but which I do not yet know.
Well, Clifton, the inn, once home to Thos. Jefferson’s daughter, Martha, and her husband, Thomas Mann Randolph, is reason enough for a stay, though too, because this author contributed some little design to the architecture of the place, its manor, cottages, stables, and farmhouse, architectural designs that might yet survive … survive or no, there is something about the place of easy elegance, privacy in company, as the one-time owner, Mitch Wiley, saw and accomplished. I have been told by those who know: that the rooms are comfy as ever, the clay court is a slow bounce, as it should be, that the meals of the restaurant continue delicious, better, perhaps … the bar, the veranda, the library … well, the wine cellar is the perfect spot for a meeting of the board; croquet, an excellent activity for a weekend’s wedding. Could be, there are touches to the landscape by Thos. Jefferson that yet survive … never did complete that investigation.
Keswisk Hall, right: Luxury. Fifteen minutes beyond Charlottesville’s border, in the Virginia countryside, along a rolling, picturesque road you will find Keswick, once the home of Mr. & Mrs. Robert B. Crawford (1912), a former country club (1956), now a world-class accommodation, replete with all a full-wallet might expect (Sir Bernard Ashley purchased the property, 1990, funded $60MM in improvements; recently, Molly and Robert Hardie acquired the property, improved and modernized its offerings). The hotel has a feel of Tuscany, as does the expansive vista of the terrace that scans the horizon of a Pete Dye golf course. The gardens are by plan, aromatic, the pools, expansive, the towels, fluffy, the lounge-chairs are padded, the cocktails are hand-delivered. And, well, the meals … my favorite, upon the veranda, a light meal, a heavy drink, and bright company. Since first draft, the opening of a new, happening restaurant, the Marigold Restaurant by Chef Jean-Georges, where you will enjoy a delicious meal, tasty libation, and perhaps, as did I, make excellent acquaintance.
Airbnb, VRBO, and others are my preferred stays … there is great variety in accommodations, quaint, rustic, elegant, urbane … have enjoyed each, with pets, two poodles, not trimmed alike shrubberies. And then, all the hotel-motel establishments have accommodations in Charlottesville, each after the manner of its market, its brand. As for myself, usually out-and-about, one bed much alike another, though, as in all things, money buys convenience, comfort, privacy, and that richness of experience both memorable and generous. Sometimes, will pup in tent … nature too is memorable and generous, though I’ve yet to rest upon God’s grass beneath God’s stars within God’s piedmont while spinning around the sun; have, in other places; hope, someday, to experience Charlottesville as do the happy, woodland creatures.
A Portfolio of Images
Featured image: The Downtown Mall, Charlottesville, Virginia, 2012 LOOK3 Festival. credit, David Doubilet
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A sculptor, painter, historian, architectural designer, and poet, Michael Curtis has taught and lectured at universities, colleges, and museums, including The Institute of Classical Architecture, The Center for Creative Studies, and The National Gallery of Art;
his pictures and statues are housed in over 400 private and public collections, including The Library of Congress, The National Portrait Gallery, and The Supreme Court;
he has made statues of presidents, generals, Supreme Court Justices, captains of industry and national heroes, including Davey Crockett, General Eisenhower, and Justice Thurgood Marshall;
his relief and medals are especially fine, they include, among others, presidents Truman and Reagan, Justice John Marshall, George Washington, and, his History of Texas, containing over one-hundred figures, is the largest American relief sculpture of the 20th Century;
his monuments and memorials, buildings and houses, including The New American Home, 2011, are found coast-to-coast;
his plays, essays, verse and translations have been published in over 30 journals (Trinacria, Society of Classical Poets, Expansive Poetry, et cetera), and his most recent nonfiction books are, Occasional Poetry: How to Write Poems for Any Occasion (available through The Studio Press), and The Classical Architecture and Monuments of Washington, D.C. (available through The History Press);
Mr. Curtis is the National Civic Art Society’s 2021-2022 Research Scholar.