Ed Brooks knows the story of just about every house on Hartmans Mill Road in the Ridge Street neighborhood.

His grandmother, Pearl Armstead Brooks, bought the house at number 228 nearly 100 years ago, and it's been in his family ever since. He remembers eating the tomatoes and potatoes that his uncle grew in the garden out back. When his grandmother died, his aunts Constance Brooks and Mary Brooks Alexander inherited the house.

He remembers when his aunts had to switch from wood stove to gas heat, because the wood stove was drying out the home's wooden structure.

When his aunt Mary was nearing the end of her life in 2018, Megan Donovan, the neighbor two doors up, checked in on her regularly.

“Megan was just a gem to my aunt,” Brooks said.

He remembers when his friends Linda and Howard “Glenn” Carey bought the house at number 208 in 1994. Carpenter James Nimmo built the “carpenter gothic” style house in the 1870s, adding many exquisite details to its interior and exterior. But by the 1990s, the Nimmo House was in terrible shape. Unsure if they could save it, the Careys nearly razed it to build something new. But Preservation Piedmont stepped in and helped them get funding to restore it, and the Careys loved the renovation so much, they left their 1970s home next door and moved in. Glenn has since passed away, but Linda still owns it.

Hartmans Mill Road is located in the very heart of the Ridge Street neighborhood, located on the southern end of the city, and it's a microcosm of many of the changes the neighborhood has seen in recent years. It's a mix of homes, of varying styles and sizes, built in just about every era from the late 1800s to today. It's also a mix of families of varying ages, most of them Black or white.

As Brooks walked down the street one evening in early April, the sound of saws sliced through the air as he talked about the homes on Hartmans Mill Road — and the people who've lived in them.

Sawdust mingled with pollen in the breeze as he pointed out the two new, large homes that had sold just as quickly as they'd finished.

“The first house that was built that was out of character was this white one right here,” Brooks said, nodding toward one of the newly finished homes. His tone was matter-of-fact. “It's not like it's unprecedented.”

He then pointed to a nearby brick ranch-style house, once owned by Gloria Payne Womack who died in 2022. Womack's father had lived on the street for many years, and the family built their home in the late 1960s.

“An African American family building a brick ranch house, that was out of scale with the neighborhood, too, back then,” said Brooks.

The neighborhood has always been changing.

A man stands smiling in front of a chain link fence. His right arm rests on the fence and his left arm cradles a framed photograph of dozens of people. Behind him, an older two-story house with a porch swing.
Ed Brooks stands in front of the Hartmans Mill Road home that has been in his family for about a century. He holds a photo of an Armstead family reunion — his grandmother, Pearl Armstead Brooks, owned the home for years before passing it on to her daughters, who passed it on to Brooks and one of his cousins. Erin O'Hare/Dexter Auction

Brooks, who is 63, grew up mostly in Esmont, where his mother's family is from. But he spent a lot of time on Hartmans Mill Road, where his father's family lived.

Many of the families who lived on Hartmans Mill Road a generation or two ago actually came from Esmont, he said. But as those folks grew old and died, their homes were left to younger generations who had already left town for bigger cities. That's what happened with Brooks' cousin Maude Adams' home, located at number 227 Hartmans Mill Road, just across the street from Brooks' family's home.

Adams' obituary said that she worked for years as the cafeteria manager at McGuffey Elementary School (now McGuffey Art Center) and later at The Cedars nursing home.

“She had a nice, smaller house, but she did something very industrious. She built four apartments onto her house,” Brooks said. She rented those units to individuals and families for years.

When Adams died in 2013, her daughter, who lives over an hour away in Chester, sold the property, said Brooks.

A very large, newly-built gray house is there now. Brooks said his new neighbors — who moved to Charlottesville from northern Virginia — are friendly, and they seem to appreciate the neighborhood.

“But inadvertently, it affects the neighborhood. Whenever people move in, or the real estate taxes go up, my aunts' house [value] is elevated,” Brooks said. In the past five years, the house has increased in assessed value by nearly $100,000, according to city records. “That's a pretty big deal in just a few years,” he said.

An image shows a child playing with a lacrosse stick and ball in front of a row of modern three-story townhomes.
Graham Alexander, 3, plays outside one of the newer constructed homes located between Elliot Avenue and Lankford Avenue in the Ridge Street neighborhood. As generations sell property in the Ridge Street Neighborhood of Charlottesville, new homes have been built with new families calling the area home. Credit: Andrew Shurtleff/Dexter Auction

He knows that's a trend all throughout the area, and the country, and he understands why younger generations decide to sell their family's homes when they've already established one of their own. He knows how hard it is to maintain two; Brooks doesn't live on Hartmans Mill Road, though he works hard to keep the yard and the house in good shape. He and his wife raised their family out in Albemarle County, where Brooks works at Yancey Community Center in Esmont. His children have moved out of state. There's no one to live in the family house on Hartmans Mill Road, but Brooks isn't ready to let it go. It means too much to him.

The Ridge Street neighborhood is a long and narrow neighborhood stretching from downtown to the Albemarle County line on Charlottesville's southern edge. It takes its name from Ridge Street, which is one of its major borders and one of Charlottesville's main roads. It's located between Ridge Street, which turns into 5th Street SW, Monticello Avenue and 6th Street SE.

Alexander Garrett, an enslaver and associate of Thomas Jefferson who is buried in the Jefferson family cemetery at Monticello, owned much of this land before it was subdivided starting in the 1830s. It was part of Albemarle County then, but became part of the city between 1888 and 1916 as the city annexed more land from the county.

Over time, the parcels on the northern end of that area were occupied by wealthy white families, according to the Race & Place Oral History Project conducted by the Virginia Center for Digital History and the Carter G. Woodson Institute at the University of Virginia. It was particularly attractive to merchants who wanted to be near a major thoroughfare in and out of town.

Eventually, parcels on the southern (and unpaved) end of Ridge Street were sold to free Black families, even before the Civil War. Records show that as early as 1842, at least one Black man owned property in the Ridge Street neighborhood, according to the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

And over time, the southern end of Ridge Street became “one of the city's most fashionable African American neighborhoods,” according to the VDHR.

As automobile travel became more widespread in the 1930s and 40s, white families began moving out of city neighborhoods like Ridge Street, and into the suburbs (which then included Rugby Road), according to accounts in the From Porch Swings to Patios oral history of Charlottesville's neighborhoods.

This allowed more Black families — who were legally restricted from owning property and homes in other areas of the city — to buy property in the Ridge Street neighborhood.

By the mid-1950s, Ridge Street had become a predominantly Black neighborhood. Edward Brooks noticed that many Black folks from Esmont moved into the neighborhood in the 1980s and '90s, and while the Ridge Street neighborhood that he remembers was majority Black, it was still a mixed-race neighborhood. But it's leaning more and more white these days, he said. The data seems to back that up.

The Ridge Street neighborhood has a particularly wide variety of architecture. Some of its oldest homes are considered “architecturally significant” and are on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Historic Registry. A number of these homes have long been divided into apartments.

In addition to those Victorian-era homes that have stood for generations, mid-20th century brick ranches like the Womack family's, and more modern townhomes like the ones in the Burnet on Elliot development built in the 2000s, dot the neighborhood. There are a few apartment buildings, too, including three of the city's seven public housing communities (Crescent Halls, First Street and Sixth Street).

The neighborhood is also home to the IX Project, a mixed-use warehouse complex of restaurants, a few shops and businesses, a weekend farmer's market and the Ix Art Park. The complex opened in the 2000s, after the Frank Ix & Sons textile mill, which opened in 1928, closed.

Ridge Street is also the final resting place of many former Charlottesville residents: There are three fairly large cemeteries located in the neighborhood. There's Oakwood Cemetery, the Hebrew Cemetery and the Daughters of Zion Cemetery, where in recent years community members have been working hard to preserve the graves of some of the city's most prominent Black families.

Aerial maps from Google Earth show how the Ridge Street neighborhood has changed from 1984 (left) to 2023 (right).

Before exploring the data for this neighborhood, it's important to point out that the data for Ridge Street is not as reliable as for other neighborhoods in this series. Bear with us as we explain.

The U.S. Census Bureau uses what it calls “Census tracts” to help organize its surveys. A Census tract is a small geographic region within a city or county. Census tracts are made up of block groups, even smaller geographic regions defined by things like roads, rivers and streams. Block groups are basically the building blocks of a Census tract.

The Ridge Street neighborhood is its own Census tract, made up of two block groups.

The margin of error is quite high for Ridge Street: +/- 600 for a population of 2,000 in one of its block groups, and +/- 303 for a population of 1,895 in the other. That's likely because not enough Ridge Street residents were surveyed in the most recent annual American Communities Survey (ACS).

The ACS is an annual survey by the U.S. Census Bureau that asks a smaller, randomly selected sample of residents within a neighborhood many more questions than appears on the standard decennial Census. The Census surveys everyone instead of relying on a random sample.

The ACS data is what this Changing Charlottesville project has used because it provides more detailed information, like annual estimates of income, education, employment, housing costs and conditions. These estimates complement the population data — population size, race and ethnicity, and whether a dwelling is occupied or vacant — collected by the decennial Census.

We feel that the margin of error is too high for us to analyze most of the ACS data for this neighborhood in an accurate way, and therefore we cannot responsibly draw conclusions from it.

We've decided to analyze only the population and race and ethnicity data for the Ridge Street neighborhood. This is the most reliable data from the ACS for this neighborhood, with the lowest margin of error. We also have exact counts for these two measures from the 2020 Census. In the graphs, the data for the year 2020 is Census data; all others are ACS data.

An animation shows "Population by Race and Ethnicity for Ridge Street (% of total)" by year from 2013 to 2022.

Brooks has observed what the data show: the neighborhood's racial and ethnic makeup is shifting. Ridge Street was a majority Black neighborhood in 2013, but that has since changed — it is now majority white. White residents are making up a larger share of the neighborhood's overall population, as are Hispanic/Latino and Asian residents. Black residents are making up a smaller share of the neighborhood's population.

A line chart shows "Population by Year for Ridge Street" from 2013 through 2022.

And Ridge Street's population isn't just shifting — it's growing. In the last decade, the neighborhood has grown from about 3,300 residents to 3,900.

Navigate the whole project

Changing Charlottesville

Dexter Auction and 2022 graduate students in UVA’s School of Data Science teamed up to tell a story of our neighborhoods in numbers. As the city undergoes a major rezoning effort, we'll examine how 19 neighborhoods have changed over about decade and what zoning could mean for their futures.

Introduction: A decade of data tells a story of how Charlottesville's neighborhoods are changing

Coming soon: Interact with all the data we used in this series

The data we use in this project go back about a decade. They do not tell the longer stories of the Monacan Indian Nation, whose people have lived here long before the creation of the city of Charlottesville or the collection of this kind of data.

The Neighborhoods

Click on a purple neighborhood button to find out more. As we publish more stories, you'll see more purple.

I'm Dexter Auction's neighborhoods reporter. I’ve never met a stranger and love to listen, so, get in touch with me here. If you’re not already subscribed to our free newsletter, you can do that here, and we’ll let you know when there’s a fresh story for you to read. I’m looking forward to getting to know more of you.

My name is Evan and I am a 2022 UVA graduate with a passion for data science. The goal of my work is to contribute to a future for Charlottesville that helps it be an equitable and ideal place to live. Please feel free to get in touch with me by email!