Blair Hawkins | Charlottesville, Virginia |
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Legendary Madam Of Charlottesville. Wednesday May 24, 2017. (post)

Marguiretta de Crescioli and her opulent brothel may have been lost to history except for all that money found in the rubble of an urban renewal demolition decades after her death.

There were many legends and variations of her name. Everyone had a memory and story to tell. Some have artifacts like a coin found in the days after word got out about the big money. The upscale brothel became an institution, making loans and buying houses to help people out of financial difficulties.

The money was first found November 22, 1972. A "workman was bulldozing the rubble after the house had been torn down...struck something solid which turned out to be a metal box containing approximately $700 in cash...At about 9 p.m. [Nov. 24] Darlene Harris, 16, found a small wooden box three feet below the ground at the base of a large oak tree.

"Imprinted upon the box were the initials "D.C" taken to stand for Marguerite's last name De Crescioli. The box contained about $7,000 in $100 bills, five dollar silver certificates, and coins. The money was tightly rolled in various denominations, each roll totalling $100.

"By noon Monday, hundreds of people, some armed with metal detectors, were scouring the site, which resembled a battlefield [...]" ( "Marguerite's", The Declaration, Apr. 7, 1977.)

Sweet Marguerite's on Fifth Street was not the only house of prostitution. It's the only one anybody remembers.

"The keeping, frequenting, and renting of “houses of ill fame” for the “purpose of prostitution or lewdness” was illegal; engaging in prostitution was punishable by fines or jail sentences. On October 29, 1912, in a single raid, police arrested 25 women on charges of prostitution in 8 different brothels (Figure 2).

"No men were arrested. Some of the women had operated as prostitutes and madams in the district for decades, building their business with patronage from university students. Martha “Mattie” Thompson worked here for over 40 years as a prostitute and madam, from the early 1880s until her death in 1925.

"Also arrested that night was Ada Miller, who built a large brothel in the mid-1890s, which she operated for over two decades. Annie Williams, who was also arrested, worked here from 1900 through the early 1920s.

"In 1922 Williams sold her brothel and left Charlottesville; Marguiretta L. Baccigalluppocrescioli, who had worked in the district as a prostitute since 1916, succeeded Williams as the brothel’s proprietor and continued in business until her death in 1951."

("Charlottesville’s Landscape of Prostitution, 1880–1950" From: Buildings & Landscapes: Journal of the Vernacular Architecture Forum Volume 22, Number 2, Fall 2015 pp. 36-61. Source)

Marguiretta de Crescioli is the legal name on many documents. The madam died testate Jan. 7, 1951, her will dated Oct 16, 1946, probated Mar. 1, 1951 and spread in Will Book 6 Page 474.

Upon her death she owned the home of John West at 313 West Main location of latest hotel. The freed slave became a land developer and built Vinegar Hill during the Golden Age of Race Relations. ("Hayes sold the property to Marguiretta ... for $10,000 (Deed Book 155 Page 233, Feb. 27, 1947." Source with deed timeline).

The brothel itself off Garrett Street near the downtown train station was built 1861 and torn down 1972. It changed ownership 15 times. Built as a "sporting house," each of the 7 bedrooms had its own bath. It had already been a brothel up to a couple decades when Marguiretta bought the house in 1922.

Back then almost every large house had been a brothel at some point. None of the houses was built for the purpose of prostitution. And the houses spoke of an ealier age of explosive growth in the late 1800s.

Upon Marguiretta's death 1951, Blind Jennie Donaldson and her husband bought the house as a home for the elderly. My memories are selling candy to the old black ladies to benefit some church activity. I waited on the porch as they got the money. For a time the blighted properties were all gone. But the nice places were still there. If they could have stopped and built around the landmarks, urban renewal would have a positive meaning today.

Blind Jennie moved across the railroad and bought what became the South Street Inn built 1856. It too served as a bordello at some point. Blind Jennie passed away 1984.

That was the end of an era where women and minorities seemed more empowered than they are today. And Madam Marguiretta was the successful business leader whom we remember fondly.

Roaming Townhall Latest Patch For At-Large. Sunday May 21, 2017. (post)

The first townhall was Thursday Aug. 12, 2010 at Tonsler Park, a year after its sponsor Councilor Kristin Szakos called for removal of confederate monuments as a way to end division and bring the minorities back to the ever-shrinking majority.

So the townhall is at least the 9th effort since 2002 to address the unresponsiveness of local government.

Normally citizens complain to their councilor, representing their section of town, who brings the issue to the meetings. The current Council constantly calls for the public to attend every meeting. The City has 5 reps but there are no reps for citizens and neighborhoods within the City.

Remember after the '05 school board referendum, 100 people attended the first hearing and 5 attended the next meeting. Councilor Kendra Hamilton asked why only 5 people care about this issue. That's because the 5 mayors represent the City, not the citizens.


  • 1888 Town becomes City with mixed ward/at-large sytem modeled after the federal system (bicameral). Common Council, Board of Aldermen, and real elected Mayor.
  • 1912 Nov. 6. Referendum approves "permission" for Commission government. This and President Woodrow Wilson pass more than 3 to 1 in all 4 wards. The other two referendums, to allow Treasurer and Commissioner of the Revenue to be re-elected, serve consecutive terms, barely passed in 3 wards and lost in Ward 4. (Source– VOTE IN CITY)
  • 1920 Dec. 7. Referendum mandates the switch to majority-only elections modeled after corporate governing boards (unicameral). (Source– BIG VICTORY IS REGISTERED)
  • 1924 Segregationist At-Large Installed. 5 Mayors Called Councilors representing whole City.
  • — May 21. "Lee Statue Is Unveiled." (Source)
  • 1963. 4 Wards Become 8 Precincts in largest, most controversial annexation in City-County history. Annexation of white suburbs creates the white majority and shuts out all minorities unless chosen to represent the majority.
  • 1981 Nov. 3. (For 2,642 Against 2,418 out of 10,330) NAACP tries to restore actual Councilors to represent precincts & neighborhoods.
  • 1982 May 4. (For 2,453 Against 3,382) Reform fails during City Council election. (Source: Rob Schilling 2004.)
  • 2002 Elected School Board Petition led by Kevin Cox. (Source) The opening quote– Lived here since 1974... Never heard of Wards. The article reports the current mixed ward/at-large system was adopted 1981. Didn't know about 1982 repeat referendum that preserved the At-Large. Invokes principle of one man-one vote, which At-Large violates. One man-five votes.
  • 2004 Mar. 23. "Public talks about ward system but not sure it's the fix" at 1946 Tonsler Park. (Timeline from '08.)
  • — Apr. 5 after midnight in 3-1-1 vote. Commission on Council Representation headed by Sean O'Brien. (Includes Jan. 3, 2005 final report.)
  • 2005 Nov. Elected School Board led by Rob Schilling.
  • 2006 Aug. 2nd Commission on Representation recommends At-Large, same 51% selects all 7 school board members, no minority representation. One option was for each school district to have a representative.
  • 2007 Dec. $100,000 Customer Care position is scrapped. (Source)
  • 2009 Councilor (one of the 5 mayors) Kristin Szakos wonders if we should tear down our monuments based on the 1924 racists who also installed the At-Large Commission government for the same reasons.
  • 2010 May. Neighborhood Advocate position is put on hold. (Source)
  • — Aug. 12. First Townhall Meeting. "We do not trust you." – Jell-O. (Source)
  • 2011. 8 Precincts become 9 due to 2010 Census. All the commissions and requests to update the precincts were ignored. (Source)
  • 2016 How are the townhalls working? In Feb. Council adopts new rules to limit feedback from the public. In Dec. Joanne Robertson presents a 1,000-signature petition for Council to relax the speech restrictions. (Source)
  • 2017 June 5. Council set to rename Lee and Jackson Parks. Online contest shows Lee and Jackson are the top two names submitted by the public. 17th anniversary of the fiasco to name a street after Sally Hemings.
How do we replace the at-large 5 mayors with actual city councilors? A simple referendum like the one in 1920 that imposed the majority-only system so many people have been trying to fix. A ballot-initiative just like the one that forced the change to elected school board.

The 1981–82 referendums showed that November is better than May. Now all elections are in November. Still most people skip the local elections. You need distance from local office with an abstract issue such as the elected school board.

You hear on WCHV radio that you only need 6,000 voters to out-vote the entrenched Democrats. A few years ago it was the 5,200 Club. In '04 and '05 it was 4,500. Hardcore partisans were 1,500. And 3,000 moderates split off to support the elected school board. So if you have an issue instead of a city council office, you can get 2/3 to split off.

Every election you hear that Democrats received 2/3 of the vote. But that's only about 20% of all the voters. It's the other 80% who have the top votes "Lee" and "Jackson" in the naming contest. It explains many examples where Council is out of step with the community. Local elections become volatile because you only need a 20% fringe group to seize power from the fringe group in power.

The highest turnout ever was 70% in '08 with President Obama. For typical City Council elections 20% (of total registered voters) go Democrat and 10% for Republican. This year you have several Democrats running as Democrats and as Independents and no Republicans. So you really need only attract 6% of the 20% to give you 16% to their 14%.

Then you're left with the same problem– Tyranny of a minority that receives a majority of votes on election day, because the true majority didn't care enough to vote.

"Hemings Street" Leads To Confederate Monuments Removal. May 13, 2017. Monday June 5 Council is expected to rename 1917 Lee and 1919 Jackson Parks on 17th anniversary of fiasco to name a street after Sally Hemings.

6-Month Reprieve For Lee Statue Removal. May 3, 2017.

Newspaper Articles.

"Hemings Street" Leads To Confederate Monuments Removal. Saturday May 13, 2017. (post)

After generations of ongoing City programs to erase African-American history and demolish landmarks in the name of urban renewal and affordable housing, the desire to include more minority history in the public sphere was growing.

The inability to agree on what "black" history to honor has led to the current efforts to erase "white" history and the Civil War monuments. During this debate people warned that activists would not be satisfied with eliminating Lee-Jackson Day and Confederate History Month.

At the center of a street-naming controversy 17 years ago were 2 women. Sally Hemings and Agnes Cross-White.

Hemings was a slave and alleged concubine of Thomas Jefferson. DNA tests in 1998 concluded that Jefferson, or a close relative, fathered Hemings' children. They lived near 10th Street and West Main, where the 9th-10th connector is located.

Agnes Cross-White inherited The Tribune, the local African-American conservative weekly since 1954. While some have called for recognizing the contributions of slaves, Cross-White didn't think being a sex slave was an achievement. She proposed the street be named "Freedom's Way," the opposite of slavery.

There were many proposals. They included a 100-signature petition for the football player from the Starr Hill neighborhood, Roosevelt Brown, whose name would eventually honor the street. Other nominations were Martin Luther King Jr., Rebecca McGuinness, Hugh Carr, Mary Carr Greer, Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver.

By so few local nominations, I could already see the loss of local history. The Golden Age of Race Relations 1865 to 1917. Nobody suggested Queen Charlotte, the City's namesake, said to be the black Queen of England, wife of King George III of the American Revolution.

Or John West, born into slavery, son of the Gibbons slaves of a professor, becomes wealthy land developer, develops Vinegar Hill, sells parcels to other blacks, Land = Civil Rights, age of prosperity and rise of black society and culture. 1875 Daughters Of Zion Cemetery for affluent blacks.

John West sold one of the parcels to become Stonewall Jackson Park at Court Square. He knew it was for a confederate monument. The 1909 Civil War Soldier didn't cause a problem. No one saw the end of the golden age approaching as the 1915 "Birth of a Nation" KKK film created a racial fervor that would sweep the nation, and change the meaning of the Jackson and Lee statues.

With national attention focused on Charlottesville, City Council delayed the vote until the next regular meeting. Then they delayed the vote again. The vote didn't happen later until the movement for Rosie Brown rose up again.

First Day Of Anti-Urban Renewal Campaign. Monday June 5, 2000.

Blair Hawkins, who had just run for City Council and shook things up, launched the campaign with 2 speeches. Hawkins hoped to get national or outside attention, a traditional technique of the public housing opposition.

The first speech was well-received in Matters by the Public. The "Letter to the Mayor to Investigate Urban Renewal" talked about the abstract principles of due process and eminent domain. Described at the time: "Upon completion of the speech, applause reverberated in a Council Chamber packed with black people. The mayor [Virginia Dougherty] has not spoken on the matter. Newspapers did not record the history."

The second speech in the Hemings public hearing talked about a specific example of local urban renewal. The street renaming should honor 2 people, "Sally Hemings and Laura Dowell, a black woman in a white country and a white woman in a black neighborhood, a slave who was property and a free woman who slaved to own property" (to have it stolen by City Council). Call it Property Street to reassert private ownership and control of real estate.

Only a half dozen in the audience applauded this speech. But the applause was "unequivocal," long enough to know it was intentional.

So the invisible Eminent Domain Campaign in Charlottesville was off and running. A major theme was loss of history. Within days of the Sally Hemings debate, news media illustrated how the history of referendums and ballot initiatives had been lost. As in the Dark Ages, the recorded history is preserved somewhere, but unavailable for the public to use in pondering the modern issues. Renaissance is when the lost knowledge is rediscovered.

Lost History Of Referendums.

"Direct Democracy Could Be In Virginia's Near Future." June 9, 2000. Story about the possibility of bringing ballot initiatives to Virginia. Sounds okay.

What about this headline? "Elections could be in Virginia's future." What? We have elections right now. The same is true with ballot initiatives. Every other election seems to have ballot referendums, from amending the state Constitution to approving bonds and borrowing.

You might say, yes, but they didn't originate from the voters. These referenda came from the legislature and submitted to the voters for approval.

What about the 2002 effort to put the Elected School Board on the ballot, and the successful effort in 2005? Was there any law changed after these articles to allow voter-initiated referendums? No. They've been allowed at least since a December 7, 1920 referendum approved the switch to At-Large City Council, also called direct democracy.

Wonder how the letter writers felt when they learned we actually already have direct democracy and referendums? Perhaps the reporters were fresh out of college and didn't know. Well, Bob Gibson has been reporting since the 1970s. He must have known about the 1981 County referendum to approve revenue sharing.

Quoted in the articles is the late Mitch Van Yahres, who was first elected to City Council in 1968. Surely he must have known about the Mother of all urban renewal referendums in 1967, the Triple Referendum which would grow 5-fold and become the Strategic Investment Area today, proving that urban renewal causes more urban renewal. Repeatedly stealing for public housing was put to a vote. Repeatedly stealing won (eminent domain to seize and sell real estate). Some said the money made us do it because grants were offered from HUD.

Today it's hard to know if it was fake news, intentionally concealing the history of public housing referendums, eventually stopped by the McCue Amendment. Or was it lazy reporting? Either way this was the tip of the iceberg.

On Aug. 20, 2002 I had that letter in The Daily Progress explaining how urban renewal is why the Housing Authority is controversial. "Charlottesville has suffered a major break with its recent and distant past."

Three days later were mandatory water restrictions "for the first time in possibly a half century." After several dry years, no media outlet had researched that the City's first water restrictions and worst drought on record had occurred 25 years earlier in 1977.

Turns out the Chairman and Executive Director of the water authority had both been City officials during that drought. Rich Collins was chairman of the urban renewal commission. Cole Hendrix was City Manager. But they didn't tell anybody about the drought. They didn't want anyone to know their history as urban renewal officials. They denied their involvement in Garrett/ Ware Street urban renewal because Vinegar Hill urban renewal had occurred previous to these projects.

Urban Renewal, the public stealing of real estate mainly from the African-American community in exchange for public housing and redevelopment, is a hard truth to handle. It has caused the loss of history of things completely unrelated to land use... like the weather.

Blair's Magazine of Lost History

Previous Posts Specials
  • Add Marker To Lee Park. Jan. 2, 2017. From Blue Ribbon Commission's Report. Includes Jackson Monument, freed slave John West develops Vinegar Hill, rise of black society, Lee connection to Charlottesville, first ROTC at UVA, first KKK.
  • Blair on Schilling Show WINA AM–1070. Dec. 29.
  • Statues & At-Large Remain From Segregation. Dec. 27, 2016. Includes Lee Monument connection to Vinegar Hill Park, Jefferson School, Carter G. Woodson Institute suppressing history, Slave Auction Block, Charlottesville's namesake was black, 2002 crime spree essay of newspaper articles.
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