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 2022 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.


The Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society Library is among the very best of local history libraries in the country. Created by a committee of Historical Society volunteers, the library opened to the public on October 29, 1974, in the renovated basement of our then headquarters at 220 Court Square. Since that time, the holdings have grown to include over 6,000 individual volumes, 15,000 pamphlets, 300 historic maps, and over 1,000 archived manuscript items. Operated in collaboration with the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library system, the library was officially renamed in 2020 the Margaret Martin O’Bryant Library & Research Collection in honor of her over 35 years of service to the Society.


In addition to our Library holdings of books, manuscripts and historic maps, our Collections contains thousands of artifacts donated to the Society. These items help to tell the story of Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville: from papers to portraiture to photographs, clothing, furniture, memorabilia and ephemera, all donated by individuals, families, businesses and organizations throughout Central Virginia over the past 80 years. A sample of artifacts can be found on our Collections webpage. If you would like to donate an historic item to be preserved in our collections or do research in our collections, please contact us.

Copyrights & Reproductions

As curators, librarians and historians, our staff members are responsible for safeguarding the condition of materials in our Collection and for respecting the wishes and interests of authors and donors. We also wish to contribute to scholarship and teaching and want to make the public more aware of the books, manuscripts, and historic items we have. To accomplish these goals, the reproduction of items is often required. If you have a need to reproduce items in our collection or learn what we have, click this link for our policies.

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McIntire Library
Market Street Park

Downtown Charlottesville
200 Second Street, NE
Charlottesville, Virginia 22902


Research Library Open
By Appointment
Mon-Fri, 8am-4pm
Saturday, 10am-2pm