A Neighborhood Improvement Journal - Summer 2017

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Recollections of Thomas Ferguson Inge, Sr. -

From Porch Swings To Patios: An Oral History Project of Charlottesville Neighborhoods, 1914-1980

Wilma T. Mangione, The City of Charlottesville, 1990.


Thomas Ferguson Inge, Sr. was the second Inge proprietor of the grocery store at 333 West Main Street. He received the store from his father George P. Inge, a Charlottesville public school teacher as well as a grocer, who founded it in 1891. At one time, Inge's Store provided all the fresh fish sold in town

"I have lived at 815 Anderson Street for fifty-two years. When we moved in here it was an all white neighborhood, and people were inclined to be very prejudiced. We weren't particularly welcomed to the neighborhood. People closed their blinds and porch shades to keep from looking at me, I guess. But we stuck it out and finally the neighbors became friendly.

"This neighborhood has no particular nickname. Its boundaries are from the end of West Street up to Preston Avenue; up to 10th Street and down to Page Street. All but two lots were built on when we moved here.

"West Street got its name from a fairly wealthy black man named John West, who lived on what is now the 300 block of West Street. He owned a big lot that now has a street through it. Monticello Dairy is on part of that lot. He made a lot of money through real estate but he was a barber by trade.

"In those days colored people ran different shops for white people and for blacks. It was just a custom then. Mr. West ran a barber shop for whites and my grandfather worked in his shop and worked in real estate on the side. The Inges were good friends with Mr. West, especially my parents.

"Most people in this neighborhood use cars to get around. Today the children play in the streets a lot. It's kind of annoying but I don't really mind too much. Sometimes they go to the park. When my children were young, they played in the backyard. It was fenced in. They played games like a-tisket-a- tasket and ring-around-the-rosie. The boys used to play marbles and ball. There were no recreation centers or swimming facilities when I was young. We went to the movies. Most of them were downtown at the Lafayette, the Paramount (the last one built), and the Jefferson, which was the oldest I think. There used to be musical comedies at the Jefferson. Also, the Episcopal Church used to hold a street carnival in this neighborhood every year. They sold food and refreshments and had games.

"The city has a leash ordinance here now, but dogs just run up and down the street. I see the dog catcher go by one or two times a day, but I never see him picking up any dogs. I don't know, this has always been a rather quiet residential neighborhood, but it's getting a little rowdy now. It's just different from when I first came. The people are different. Everything that ought to be out in the park is out in the street. I think that is very unfortunate.

"When my father, George P. Inge, opened his store on July 1, 1891 on West Main Street, the street was nothing but a dirt road. Sometimes country people would come in on these covered wagons and stall in front of the store. It would take two more horses to pull them out of the mud. We had a premonition that West Main Street would grow in value, which it did. They finally bricked in the sidewalks. When I was a boy they would sell chickens out on the street and let them peck in the dirt. I remember carts drawn by oxen pulling up in front of the store, but people mostly used a horse and buggy. I remember the well-to-do riding in their carriages with their coachman. I always enjoyed watching the horse-drawn sleighs with bells going through the snow in winter. Lots of people had them.

"Later on electric trolley cars ran up the middle of the street as far as the C & O bridge on Rugby Road. There, the motorman turned the trolley car around can a turntable. Then the tracks were taken up and the streets were paved with asphalt. Cars have certainly brought change. I have been driving for over fifty years.
"My father taught school for a time over on Seventh Street. When they built the new school building on Fourth Street they wanted him to teach for another year. At that time he would have gotten one of the highest salaries there, about $28 a month. He turned it down. Growing up, he wanted more than an elementary education so he had to go away to boarding school. When Jefferson High School, the area's first high school for blacks, was built in 1928, it was just a two year program. Later, it was expanded to four years. When the schools were integrated, Dr. Ferguson's granddaughter was the first black to attend the newly integrated high school and they made her do her work in the school office rather than in the classroom.

"The prejudice has diminished quite a bit, but you're always going to find prejudiced people. I guess it's in-born in some people. Taken as a whole, the feeling is good. When I first married and until about 1954, it looked like it was a crime for a white man to call a black man "mister." Forty years ago the salesmen would come in the store and they didn't want to call my wife Mrs. Inge. She resented it and wouldn't respect them. The first man who did call her "Mrs." almost choked on the words. But after that it was all right, because they knew she demanded respect and they gave it to her.

"I remember Court Days. That was a big thing in my day. The country people would bring things in to sell down by the statue of Lee (Robert E.). Father told a story about the unveiling of that statue. When they unveiled it, it was bronze and looked black. Some woman said 'I came all the way from Louisiana to see them unveil a black man!'

"It's funny. The city passed an ordinance to cut all the trees down lining Main Street. Now, fifty years later, they are planting them again.

 

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