Wednesday September 17 was the United Way’s Day of Caring where thousands of volunteers from area organizations and companies go out into the community for various service projects. The City of Charlottesville was sent to the Monticello Area Community Action Agency for landscaping/yard maintenance. I was looking forward to a morning outdoors away from the office and getting some exercise so I could later rationalize my decision not to go to the gym. The day ended up being more than that, it turned out to be a ‘secret garden, this is why I love preservation’ type of day. It turns out where the school now stands was once a large manor estate. All that remains of this parcel of land’s former identity are a series of terraced gardens separated by field stone walls dating to about the 1910s.
When we arrived that day all we saw was vast overgrowth and the promise that we may find some cool things. By the end of the day, Charlottesville workers and State Farm Insurance workers had cleared out level upon level of gardens. Unfortunately, I don’t have pictures of what the gardens look like (I may have to ‘visit’ the grounds to get some). Roughly, they start at the top of a large hill and then descend down the hill towards what is now Schenks Branch Creek. A rock wall wraps around the entire property with a foot trail running along the wall. The manor house is now completely gone along with this large pond that was once on the property. (I can understand tearing down a house, but how does a pond just disappear?!)
The coolest part of the whole day was getting to see all the other volunteers begin to critically examine the history of a place and realize that things may not always be what they seem, but that with a little sweat (literally in this case), the past is just waiting for its secrets to be uncovered.