The land on which Booker T. Washington Park lies today was once part of John H. Craven’s Rose Hill Plantation, one of several large farms surrounding Charlottesville before the Civil War.
Following the Civil War, former slaveholders like the Cravens could no longer afford to cultivate such large tracts of land. Real estate development companies began to divide the farmland for industrial usage, and by 1890 companies like the Charlottesville Industrial and Land Improvement Company owned all but 50-60 acres of the former Rose Hill Plantation. Even so, the Cravens continued to live in the plantation house and to farm its surrounding 35 acres. They also owned a strip of land along what is today Preston Avenue that they subdivided into 23 lots, the upper portion of which became African-American neighborhoods.
In the southern portion, a segment known as the Grove Lot remained in the Craven family until 1904, at which point James Hayden purchased the land and sold it to the city. Paul Goodloe McIntire bought the land from the city of Charlottesville in 1926.
A Charlottesville native and wealthy businessman, McIntire donated copious acres to the city during the early twentieth century, leading to the development of several public parks. In 1921 McIntire deeded land to Charlottesville for Belmont Park, a segregated, whites-only public facility. According to Charlottesville Parks and Grounds Division, the deed stated “that said property shall be forever maintained as a park and playground for white people.”
In 1925 McIntire donated ninety-two acres to forward the City Council’s project of establishing another whites-only park. This park in northern Charlottesville eventually became McIntire Park in honor of its donor.
McIntire felt compelled to create a similar space for black citizens at this time; when he gave land for McIntire Park, he concurrently donated the 9.25 acres that had composed the Cravens’ Grove Lot for an all-black Washington Park. Newspaper headlines referring to both parks read “One for White and One for Colored,” highlighting the embedded “separate but equal” standards of the time established by Plessy vs. Ferguson (1892).
Washington Park became the first recreational space reserved for the African-American members of the Charlottesville public.
After Washington Park opened in 1926, Charlottesville’s black citizens worked hard to improve its conditions. The Colored Recreation Board formed as the African-American branch of the City Recreation Department in 1934 and began work on the area of the park known as “The Bottom.” When the park opened this portion consisted of a flood plain dissected by small streams, yet over the years the Board developed the land into an integral part of Washington Park. The Board also made plans for new tennis courts and created a recreation hall known later as “The Barn,” completed December 1934, to be used for indoor fundraisers.
Improvements continued, and a 1954 report of Washington Park’s facilities noted “an athletic field, a wooden gymnasium-type structure, a wading pool, two clay tennis courts, playground equipment, limited picnic facilities, and other miscellaneous facilities.” The report also suggested a swimming pool, bath house, and new community center be built at the park.
In 1961, the Barn was demolished after the new recreation building was completed, and in 1968 the park’s pool opened. Between 1997 and 1998, a redesign of Washington Park began, and a new pool was created in conjunction with several other park renovations. At the 2001 African-American Cultural Arts Festival, Washington Park was rededicated as Booker T. Washington Park. The African-American Cultural Arts Festival, celebrating the rich heritage of African people and their contributions to the community, has been held at Washington Park on the last Saturday in July of every year since 1989.
Today Booker T. Washington Park contains 3 basketball courts, a lighted outdoor pool with a wading area and bath house, a recreation building with restrooms, and a playground area. Sloping land drops to the present-day “Bottom,” a level plain below where a regulation softball field, basketball courts, multi-use field, shelter and play area are located. A new playground and picnic shelter were erected thanks to a donation from the Dave Matthews Band.
Geographical and Contact Information
1001 Preston Avenue