Spirit Walk

Photographer Rufus Holsinger (1866-1930) captured this now iconic image of the burning of the University of Virginia Rotunda, October 27, 1895. On that Sunday morning, thousands of people came running from their homes and church services to watch the fire. No one was killed in the blaze (the result of faulty electrical wiring, which had only recently been installed). The Rotunda and its 1853 North Annex were completed destroyed. Faculty, students and townspeople risked their lives, rushing in and out of the burning building, trying to save furniture, school supplies, and the thousands of books in the University Library. Eye-witness reports say the dome crashed in about noon. Famed architect Stanford White led an effort to rebuild Jefferson’s Rotunda, which included some of his own design ideas for much of the interior. White designed three new classroom buildings as well, which were erected opposite the Rotunda at the foot of the Lawn— despite the fact that Jefferson had wished that view to remain open. “The open view to the south,” he’d once written,”will be symbolic of the limitless freedom of the human mind,” (photo courtesy Special Collections at the University of Virginia)
The Past Comes Alive


On October 21, 1995, then Executive Director Lynne C. Ely, with the help of countless volunteers and Historical Society members, launched the first Spirit Walk event. Historic character reenactors — men, women and even children— led guests on sometimes spooky tours of Court Square and a nearby cemetery to explore little-known stories from the history of the region. The Spirit Walk was an annual event for many years here in downtown Charlottesville. We are planning to bring it back in 2021 and update what we offer. We are looking for volunteers to help us. To sign up to volunteer or if you want more information contact [email protected] or call (434) 296-1492.

The Spirit Walk in downtown Charlottesville was first launched in 1995.
Ida Swenson as Edith Roosevelt.
Raylon Johnson as Fairfax Taylor.
Tim Fredrikson as Lord Russell.
William Graham III as James Perley.

Sign up for Free

Receive all the latest news and updates direct to your inbox.

At the Historic Public Library
On Market Street Park in Downtown Charlottesville
200 Second Street, NE
Charlottesville, Virginia 22902
Monday-Friday (8am-Noon) By Appointment
Phone: 434-296-1492
Email: [email protected]