Monticello Road is a community arts project in Charlottesville, Virginia. Through photography and a series of public events and conversations, we explore how an art can be an essential, integral and everyday part of a healthy community.

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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Locating Monticello Road

1937 aerial photo of Charlottesville's southeast corner, transposed on the contemporary landscape, with the intact portion of Monticello Road highlighted in blue and its lost portion red. (Photo: City of Charlottesville).

Chris Gensic sent me a set of aerial photos that give us the best idea yet of Monticello Road's historic route, and specifically the course of  the section that is buried under Interstate 64. This 1937 photo predates the construction of Monticello Avenue (the route of which appears on earlier plats)--and it definitely predates I-64. It's interesting that at the time, Monticello and Scottsville Roads were united within the City limits and only diverged after crossing Moore's Creek--that's why it makes a hard left turn.

We were wondering the road's exact relationship to the creek: where it crossed, which bank it followed and precisely where it turned cross-contour. We want to understand that so we can make the most historically authentic connector trail. I georeferenced Chris's photo, then made a shapefile of the old road's course and added it to my database.

The former course of Monticello Road (red) and some nearby trails, including the connective corridor the Practicum Team studied (purple).

A future trail will not necessarily follow the precise route. Practicalities about crossing the creek and interstate, finding gentle slopes and keeping pedestrians separate from cars will all influence the trail's siting. However, of the four corridors the Practicum Team considered, this one is the truest spatial expression of the City's connection to the Heritage Site. Accurately locating the original road course (at least its early 20th Century incarnation) will help trail planners weave a more multi-faceted trail experience.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Beyond Monticello: Morven

After presenting the Monticello Connectivity report, people asked what I was planning to do next. My answer was often, “Hopefully something like this.” That wish received a nice down-payment when the UVa Foundation’s Morven hired me to work with their staff and two Architecture School interns to study the feasibility of trails at (or to) Morven. Morven borders James Monroe’s Highland and is about two miles from Monticello. There is growing interest in a trail connecting the historic sites, which would vastly extend the connected network we are already developing.

Students from the Morven Summer Institute hike on one of Morven's many undocumented--but beautiful--trails.

Morven is a 2,913-acre farm bequeathed to the University of Virginia in 2001. Besides hosting a full calendar of events throughout the year, Morven is the site of a Summer sustainability Institute, a Leadership Forum for future African leaders, a forthcoming women’s initiative and the University’s Kitchen Garden. Along with Monticello, Highland, Montpelier, the University of Virginia, the College of William and Mary, Morven is part of the Presidential Precinct. That alliance is mostly programmatic but I’ve long wondered if its alliance could be spatial too, which would open a vast (approx. 6,000 local acre) domain of connected discovery right on Charlottesville’s border.

Morven is less well known than some of its neighbors, but it is equally beautiful and historically fascinating. As part of his effort to gather his friends as neighbors, Thomas Jefferson facilitated the sale of a property known as “Indian Camp” to his friend William Short in 1796. They planned to divide the property into 100-acre tenant farms as an experiment in free yeoman agriculture that Jefferson so often extolled but did not himself practice.

Obviously, that model did not sweep the American South, but it’s a fascinating story with profound implications and many other histories are layered above and below it. Combine them with an incredible landscape and UVa’s forward-looking sustainability program and Morven becomes a multi-layered cultural landscape well worth exploring.