A brick-paved Main Street without motor vehicles wasn’t just the 1960-70s vision of today’s Downtown Pedestrian Mall, it was a reality well more than 100 years ago. This image taken circa 1900 shows Main Street in Charlottesville was first paved with bricks changing the old unpaved, dirt road into a more user-friendly surface, especially in wet weather. Horses, mule-drawn carts, carriages, pedestrians, and pets all made for a bustling downtown business district.
Trolleys ran along the tracks down the center of Main Street, first powered by mules, and later by electricity. (An elderly guest at one of our recent slideshows told us his father could remember extra mules being added to the team to pull the trolleys up Vinegar Hill, the steepest part of Main Street).
Several of the buildings in this photograph, particularly on the left (north) side of Main Street still stand today, although the businesses have all changed. Note the dome (actually there were two) on the Leterman Building on the left at First and Main Streets. Those ornamental domes are long gone but most of that building still stands at First and Main. A bank replaced the east end of the Leterman Building in 1914 and is now the location of Hamilton’s.
We know for certain that this image pre-dates 1909 when a fire destroyed several of the buildings seen here in the distance on the south side of Main.
This part of town would remain the principle business and shopping district in Charlottesville until 1959 when Barracks Road Shopping Center would be built, luring businesses and their patrons with easy access and acres of parking.
The old photo appears to have been taken from the roof that sat at the base of Vinegar Hill. That building stood where the Omni Hotel is today. This second photograph shows today’s view in the same direction from the roof of the hotel (several stories higher, of course):
The photographer of the early twentieth century image is not known for certain. The photo posted here was from a scan of an old print donated to C’ville Images. Current day photo by Steve Trumbull, © C’ville Images.