Jan. 26, 2001
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Study revealing land-use history of Grounds
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By-gone tradition Skating on the University's ice pond was a popular winter pastime for students during much of the 19th century.

Study revealing land-use history of Grounds

Mary Hughes
Rebecca Arrington
Mary Hughes, landscape architect

By Rebecca Arrington

Cutting figure eights on the University's ice pond was a winter pastime for many students and other Grounds-dwellers during the 1800s. The pond was created in the 1790s, when people living in this community dammed Meadow Creek, at what is today the intersection of Emmet Street and University Avenue, said U.Va. Landscape Architect Mary Hughes. The purpose was two-fold, to provide a water source for Monroe farm, and to create a more direct route to Three Notched Road, the most traveled thoroughfare of that time, she said, explaining that the existing road then ran along the ridge, in front of what is now Monroe Hill House near McCormick Road.

Such findings about land use are being revealed in a study the Office of the University Architect is conducting to document the evolution of U.Va.'s landscape. "By focusing on the landscape, we get a broader picture of the changes taking place in society and of the interests and values of community, in addition to the physical changes of the built environment," Hughes said. She and University Architect Samuel A. "Pete" Anderson III designed the five-year study, after receiving two grants totaling some $50,000.

"Each summer we work with graduate student interns to produce a chronology of major events and create a narrative that puts these findings into context. Then a map is drawn to show what boundaries, topography, land use and buildings existed at that time," Hughes said. "This is the most novel aspect of our research, as it's challenging to take written documents and apply information in context to locations on a map," she said. The findings also help Hughes and Anderson in developing the University's Master Plan.

"We use primary documents, such as board and proctors' minutes, photographs and old maps, rather than anecdotal accounts," as the basis for our study, Hughes said. "To draw items on our maps, we use two sources," she said. "These new maps cumulatively offer a snapshot of how the University has grown and changed over time."

Seven maps have been produced thus far. They show that in the 1800s, land use was largely for agricultural purposes to the northeast and northwest sides of the Rotunda and at the then-open, south end of the Academical Village, she said. In the 1900s, land in these areas shifted from agricultural to recreational sports fields, and for new buildings after the turn of the century.

This summer, Hughes plans to have two or three interns research the University's post-World War II period. When the study is completed next year, she hopes to publish a book on the research findings and to make the maps and narratives available on the Web.

And what became of the ice pond?

Around the close of the 19th century, skating on the pond ended due to public health concerns. Research shows that privies were situated on the ridge above the springs that fed into the ice pond, Hughes said. There had been a typhoid epidemic at the University in the late 1820s, which led to the creation of the University Cemetery, she noted. Following more outbreaks of typhoid fever and the loss of more lives in the 1850s and 1870s, people eventually realized that the pond water was contaminated and a source of the disease, she said. It was an early lesson on the "major impact land-use decisions can have on the community."

In the 1920s, the pond was fashioned into an elliptical reflecting pool in front of Memorial Gymnasium. And in the 1950s, it was filled in to allow for further development of the Grounds.


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