Archive for December, 2012

Charlottesville 1762 to 2012–a 250 Year Celebration

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

meeks_121114What does the Pony Express, Miss America, the Philadelphia Quakers Major League baseball team, Chicago’s Iroquois Theater and Tsing Kiang Pu, China, have in common with Charlottesville?  Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society President Steven Meeks recaps some of Charlottesville’s fascinating history from its first 250 years.  This November 14, 2012 program was moderated by SSV board member Charles Smith.

Steven G. Meeks was born and raised in Albemarle County and Charlottesville. For most of his adult life he has either worked or volunteered as a public servant, striving always to make his community a better place to live and work. He has written extensively about local history including Crozet, A Pictorial History and is currently working on a book chronicling Charlottesville’s first 250 years.  He is also working on publishing Sheridan’s James River Campaign of 1865 through Central Virginia. Mr. Meeks offers lectures on the history of central Virginia and oversees the operation of the Hatton Ferry, the nation’s last hand-poled river ferry.

More recently, Mr Meeks has demonstrated his interest, competence, and knowledge of historic preservation through the work he has done and continues to do on historic buildings in the Scottsville Historic District.  Since 1990 he has held an elected position as Director of the Thomas Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District. His current affiliations include being President and Chief Executive of the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society, a member of the Albemarle County Historic Preservation Committee, Charlottesville Historic Resources Committee, Co-Chair of Charlottesville’s Celebrate 250th Committee, Co-Chair of the Albemarle Charlottesville Sesquicentennial Committee and the Scottsville Architectural Review. He just recently obtained a Certificate in Museum Management. He has also served on the boards of the Albemarle County Fair, the Virginia Association of Fairs, the Scottsville Museum, Albemarle County’s Road Naming Committee, the Scottsville Planning Commission, and the Biscuit Run State Park Advisory Committee.

Program Summary

Steven G. Meeks, president and chief executive of the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society, drilled down through Charlottesville’s 250 year history when he presented this program on “Charlottesville 1762 to 2012–a 250 Year Celebration.” After presenting a mother-lode of facts and figures regarding the history and development of the city of Charlottesville, Mr. Meeks treated the audience to a virtual tour of the permanent residents of the Maplewood Cemetery, established in 1827, the first of two public cemeteries in the city. None of the churches at the time had cemeteries, and so persons were buried in backyards of residences and this was becoming a real health issue.

Maplewood Cemetery is the permanent resting place for a large number of native sons who have had an impact far beyond the confines of Charlottesville. Here’s just one: this gentleman was born in 1827. He attended the Virginia Military Institute and should have graduated in 1849 but he had problems with frequent misbehavior (this was one of the reasons his father had sent him to VMI). He was suspended and joined the U.S. Army. He fought in the Mexican-American war and was injured and so he returned to Virginia where he was readmitted to VMI and graduated. He entered teaching but became dissatisfied. Joined an express company in Alabama and then a surveying company.

In 1859 he traveled west and became interested in the expansion of the postal services. He was one of the founders of the Pony Express and is credited with making the first complete ride along the Pony Express route. But after six months he became argumentative with the other partners and quit. He joined the Pacific Telegraph Company and was instrumental in stringing the first lines, and at this point was responsible for putting the Pony Express out of business.

The Civil War was starting and he returned to Virginia where he joined the Confederate war effort. He served as a purchasing agent for the Confederacy in Europe and as an intelligence officer. He apparently did so well that he was able to purchase Monticello in 1864 (the property was soon confiscated by the Union). He was sent on a secret mission to Washington DC and he was there when Lincoln was assassinated. He was identified as a spy and arrested. He was then released after swearing a loyalty oath to the Union. He headed back west to Texas and started another stage route express line and also founded a town bearing his name. The town became the county seat, but unfortunately it had been constructed in a low lying area and was wiped out by a flood—even including the county court house. Only the cemetery there remains.

In March 1871, while dining in a Georgetown restaurant, he choked on a fish bone and two days later a doctor tried to remove the bone, but in the process severed an artery and he bled to death. His family brought him back to Charlottesville and he was buried in the family plot with a modest marker in the Maplewood Cemetery. So, dear reader, who was this man? Click on the podcast link above to find out.