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In less than a decade, more than 100 Black residents moved out of Starr Hill

restaurant window shows a patron inside, a reflection of two people holding hands on the outside and logos for “Maya.”

Rebecca McGinness lived all of her 107 years in Charlottesville, first in the Fifeville neighborhood and then in Starr Hill. She had a keen eye to the changes that occurred throughout the city and in her neighborhood.

When she sat down for an interview for the Oral History Project of Charlottesville Neighborhoods in October 1986 (prepared by the Department of Community Development of Charlottesville and published by the city in 1990), the former Jefferson School teacher was nearly 94 years old. She said, “The biggest change in this neighborhood has been from family-owned to rented homes. Few of the older families remain in the neighborhood, and it is not as close-knit as it was.” 

She said that landlords tended to let the buildings fall into disrepair. Additionally, her neighbors changed often because renters didn’t stay as long as homeowners. 

“Increased renting changes both the physical and demographic nature of a neighborhood,” she explained.

Recent Census data about the neighborhood show that McGinness’ observations continue to ring true. Though Starr Hill is the city’s smallest neighborhood by area, it has experienced big shifts in its demographics.

Located between downtown Charlottesville and the University of Virginia, Starr Hill got its name from the many educated and wealthy Black families (“the Stars”) that called the neighborhood home. But take a look at the data presented below about race and ethnicity to see that Starr Hill’s Black population has dwindled — drastically — in the past decade. 

In that time, the landscape of West Main Street has transformed, redeveloped to include boutique hotels, upscale apartment buildings, specialty shops and restaurants. Just a few long-standing spots remain, like Mel’s Cafe and Blue Moon Diner. But even Blue Moon has changed: A developer bought the property and surrounded the diner with a luxury apartment building. The diner itself has more seating now, but it no longer has a parking lot, where it used to host Charlottesville Lady Arm Wrestling and Charlottesville Derby Dames roller derby events.

A man in a blue t-shirt and gray beard looks up and off camera, with a cafe and tables with umbrellas behind him.
Mel Walker has been serving soul food at his restaurant Mel’s Cafe since the 1980s on West Main Street in the Starr Hill neighborhood of Charlottesville, Virginia. Andrew Shurtleff Photography, LLC/Charlottesville Tomorrow
Images from Google Earth show the Starr Hill neighborhood in Charlottesville, Virginia in 1994 and 2022.

McGinness probably wouldn’t be surprised to find out that by 2020, an even larger portion — 87% — of Starr Hill’s residents are renters, up from 77% in 2013.

Over that time, luxury housing and hospitality industries took over more and more of the neighborhood: The Residence Inn Marriott on the corner of West Main and McIntire/Ridge, The Quirk Hotel, and the apartments at 600 West Main Street are just a few examples. Various restaurants have come and gone on that strip of West Main as well.

Charlottesville’s busy Amtrak train station and, at least for now, Greyhound bus stop, are located in Starr Hill.

The neighborhood is home to many local historic landmarks. There’s Delevan Baptist Church, also known as First Baptist Church and First Colored Baptist Church, which was built in 1883 and remains active today. Not long after the church opened, it shared space with a Freedman’s School for Black students, the Jefferson School. 

In 1894, the school moved down the street to its current location on 4th Street NW, to an area that became the center of African American social and commercial life in Charlottesville. Over the next few decades, the school would serve Black students only, until Charlottesville desegregated its public schools — and closed the Jefferson School — in 1965.

During that same period, the city razed the nearby Vinegar Hill neighborhood in the name of urban renewal. Vinegar Hill was a thriving, majority Black neighborhood and business district, located roughly where the Starr Hill, North Downtown, and Ridge Street neighborhoods intersect — surrounding what is now a Staples office supply store and parking lot — directly across the street from the Jefferson School. After tearing down their homes, the city relocated many Vinegar Hill families to Westhaven, Charlottesville’s first public housing development in the 10th and Page neighborhood. 

For more on the history of Vinegar Hill, watch the Raised/Razed documentary. To get to know the living culture of the neighborhood and its enduring legacy, become a member of Vinegar Hill Magazine.

Today, the school building is the site of the bustling Jefferson School City Center. It houses, among other things, a preschool, a city recreation center, the local African American Heritage Center, a Caribbean restaurant and an organization that helps people who were once incarcerated return to their communities.

In 2013, Starr Hill’s population was about 83% white and 15% Black. By 2020, however, it was nearly 96% white. White people have been moving in and Black people are moving out; in 2015, there were about 181 Black residents, but by 2020, there were about 19. Watch the animated graph to see how the racial demographics of Starr Hill have changed.

An animation of a bar chart that shows race and ethnicity change from 2013 to 2020.

Starr Hill residents’ occupations are changing too. In 2013, nearly half of this neighborhood’s residents worked in the education and healthcare fields. However, by 2020, the field deemed “professional” by the Census employed more Starr Hill residents (%) than any other occupation. Finance and insurance also took a big leap, from % to % of Starr Hill’s population.

An animation of a bar chart showing change in residents by industry from 2013 to 2020.

As the neighborhood’s demographics by race and ethnicity and profession have changed, so have household incomes. By 2020, the residents of Starr Hill were making more money — a lot more money — than they were in 2013. The graph below shows that median household income in the neighborhood now hovers around $100,000 per year, up from about $65,000 in 2013. 

While there could be many reasons for the shift, part of what changed is that the Six Hundred West Main luxury apartments opened in 2019 with 57 apartments on six floors. And, according to the leasing page, they’re expensive: $1,500 or more per month for a studio, $4,500 or more for a three-bedroom apartment.

A line chart shows median household income at under $70,000 in 2013 down to about $50,000 in 2017, then up to $100,000 in 2020.

The people who rent in Starr Hill account for much of these changes. There have been few property sales in the neighborhood over the past decade, particularly compared to the city average.

A line chart shows residential sales from 1960 to 2020, climbing through 2010 and then falling sharply.

Explore data about Starr Hill for yourself