Recollections of Thomas Ferguson Inge, Sr.

From Porch Swings To Patios: An Oral History Project of Charlottesville Neighborhoods, 1914-1980, Wilma T. Mangione, editor, 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. It supplied the Clermont and Gleason Hotels, the University Hospital, Dolly Madison Inn and boarding houses in the University area. In the absence of public boarding accommodations in Charlottesville, the older Inges often shared their home above the store with many distinguished black visitors. Among them was Booker T. Washington. Thomas Inge, Sr. was born in his father's store, worked there as a boy, and with his wife ran it from 1946 to 1978. He remembers that his father was active in civic affairs. His recollections span the social changes of Charlottesville as well as the physical. He gives us the perspective of a black businessman in Charlottesville as the city was going through desegregation. He considers the greatest change to be the much improved relationship between blacks and whites.

"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. In fact, when we went to the bank to get a loan to buy the house, we were told they could not loan a black man money to buy in a white neighborhood. So we had to secure the money privately through a lawyer. 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 and those two were probably built on about thirty years ago. One was built by a lady from Norfolk, and the other by a Charlottesville woman. Most who came into the neighborhood were Charlottesville natives. There was not a big changeover. A Mr. Brownfield (he's dead now) was a contractor who did a lot of building here.

"Not everyone in the neighborhood knows each other and they work all over town. this neighborhood is mostly residential. The only jobs within the neighborhood would be at the funeral home down the street. We used to have a nursery school down on West Street. There was also a little park on Page Street where the city was going to let blacks go, but the blacks wouldn't use it because it would be segregated. We were trying to get away from segregation.

"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; about the same as now. 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 horsedrawn 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. Doctor Ferguson was one of the first blacks to have a car.

"Ministers, doctors, lawyers, and undertakers influenced change in Charlottesville. My father was influential and active in the city. Other grocers, like Mr. Edmonds and Mr. Buckner, were also influential. Mr. Paul McIntire never made a contribution around here that he didn't come to my father about his intentions. They were great friends. Mr. McIntire gave all those parks. It was segregated then and, of course, McIntire Park was for the whites, but he bought the old city dump which was to be improved for the black people to use. He and my father decided it would be called Booker T. Washington Park, but the city ended up naming it after George Washington. Maybe that was because of George Washington Carver, I don't know. That's unwritten history. My sister was a teacher, and Mrs. Paul McIntire was the county school supervisor. They rode out together to the Hickory Hill School sometimes.

"Booker T. Washington and my father were friends. They attended Hampton Institute together. He would come to visit in Charlottesville and stay with us. There was no place for blacks to stay except in other black peoples' homes.

"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 Louisa to see them unveil a black man!'

"Blacks lived on both sides of Main Street, especially the first two blocks. From our store to Preston Avenue down to 5th and up as far as Jefferson Park Avenue. Also, Gospel Hill (behind Jordan Hall) was all black land. Vinegar Hill was a big Negro business area. It is all closed down now, and this has affected the standard of living of black people. They didn't have indoor plumbing there. Many of the residents were moved out to Westhaven (housing project) which is much nicer. When the Queen of England came here in 1976, they figured West Main Street wasn't fit for her to see and routed her around it. But I imagine they have slums in England, too.

"Federated social clubs have quite an influence on people's home life. They fix their homes up so they can entertain these clubs. My mother belonged to the first social club organized here. There was the Taylor Art and Literary Club and the Thalian Club, as well as the secret orders: Elks, Lady Elks, Masons, and Odd Fellows.

"As for occupations, many worked for the fraternities. They made pretty good money running the houses for the boys. A lot of those fraternity houses used to be private homes. Inge's Grocery provided fish for the fraternities and the private homes. I remember that Dr. Newcomb, Dr. Kent, Dr. Huff, Dr. Whitehead, and Dr. Watson were all customers at Inge's Grocery for the fish.

"There were big colored contractors, Charles Coles and Sons, who were important employers. They operated from a home on South Street at First, but now are on West Main in Dr. Ferguson's old house.

"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.

Ella Baylor Recollections George Ferguson Recollections Rebecca McGinness Recollections Brief History of the Rivanna River

Charlottesville Archive

Return to beginning

Bibliography Make a suggestion

Last Modified: Thursday, 28-Jul-2005 17:00:33 EDT