Other Features
Washington Park:
History of "The Bottom"
Charlottesville Va Parks and Grounds
Brought to you by the
Carter G. Woodson Institute

     An important, and as of yet undecided aspect of the redevelopment of Washington Park, is the design of the "bottom" level of the park. Currently, two softball fields and a parking lot cover this entire area. However, "The Bottom" is an important component of the landscape and social histories of Washington Park.

     When Washington Park opened in 1926, "The Bottom" was merely a flood plain bisected by small streams. Local residents, who utilized the park during that time, remember that the field was used for various sporting activities and that a swimming hole was also in this area. Others recall that dependent on the weather the "swimming hole" would more fittingly be described as a mud hole.
     By 1939, Charlottesville's black Elks petitioned for the use of the lower portion of Washington Park for organized recreation after being "rooted" out of the old Winecellar Field. Recreation Board minutes from this period suggest that the Elks wanted to improve and enlarge the field in "The Bottom" with or without funding from the City of Charlottesville. One board member further speculated that some day Washington Park might have a "wonderful natural amphitheater." According to a Washington Park Newsletter published in 1941 by the Colored Branch of the City Recreation Department, band concerts were regularly held every Sunday on the lawn of Washington Park.

     Continued efforts by the black community to improve the conditions of the park's ball field combined with the formation of the Jackie Robinson Little League for Negroes are believed to have been the impetus that allowed team sports such as baseball, softball, and football to occur regularly in "The Bottom." Local residents remember the sloping hill adjacent to the fields being covered with spectators watching local heroes, such as Roosevelt Brown, playing in the park.

     In 1954 the City presented a Master Plan for Charlottesville's Parks, also referred to as the Graves Report. By this time Washington Park's facilities included "an athletic field, a wooden gymnasium-type structure [known as "the Barn"], a wading pool, two clay tennis courts, playground equipment, limited picnic facilities and other miscellaneous facilities." The report recommended vast improvements to the playing fields at Washington Park including one baseball diamond, two tennis courts, and one Junior League Baseball diamond. By the end of the decade the park board decided that a building should be erected on the lower level to act as a picnic shelter for elderly folks and a play area for local children. During the 60's, a community request for a picnic shelter similar to that at McIntire Park was rejected by the Recreation Advisory Board, instead the decaying "Barn" was demolished and a new recreation building erected. History shows that "The Bottom" has been and can once again be an integral part of the park's activities. Conceptual designs by the firm of Gregg Bleam Landscape Architect show how "The Bottom" can provide better recreational opportunities for the citizens of the Washington Park neighborhoods.

(Sources: oral histories, Charlottesville Advisory Board, Department of Recreation, Minutes, 1930-1960, 1954 Master Plan by Charles M. Graves, "Recommendations for Improvement [of] Parks and Open Spaces, Charlottesville, Virginia," Land Planning and Design Associates, 1971. Historian Gina Haney.)

 1998 Washington Park Renovations and Community Involvement

2001 Washington Park Home Page

last updated 2/20/01 by Stowe Keller
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