Charlottesville Gas Works

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1916 view looking south from Preston Avenue towards downtown Charlottesville with outline of Gas Works in background, King Lumber Company Warehouse in foreground)
Location of Gas Works Plant in 1896
Site Layout of Gas Works Plant in 1896
Gas Generating Plant of the Utica Gas & Elec. Company, c. 1920, note large round gas holding tank

The Charlottesville Gas Works was a complex of buildings and large above ground holding tanks located in the Starr Hill area of the city. Decommissioned and dismantled, the plant was located at the intersection of Coy Avenue and North 4th Street West, adjacent to a short branch line of the railroad which was used to deliver coal to the plant. Now the site of the Charlottesville City Warehouse and the Charlottesville Public Works Administration Building, it is also within the area outlined in the Small Area Vision Plan for the Starr Hill community in Charlottesville as commissioned by New Hill Development Corporation.)

The Charlottesville Gas Works plant was owned and operated by the City of Charlottesville. In the late 1800's, coal was converted (gasified) to make coal gas which was piped to area customers to burn for illumination, heating, and cooking. It was supplied to customers through the city owned piped distribution system. While many Virginia municipalities, such as the City of Charlottesville, owned their gas plants - most were privately owned. The Charlottesville and Albemarle Railway Company (C&A) electric streetcars were operated off of an overhead line system that was powered by the railroad's own gas-fired electric power plant.

The area's main source of gas fuel, Charlottesville Gas Works was succeeded by Charlottesville Gas, a natural gas utility owned and operated by the City of Charlottesville "which provides residents of Charlottesville and urban areas of Albemarle County for over 150 years." Charlottesville Gas currently has close to 21,000 customers in the area.[1][2]


The manufactured gas industry produced a variety of by-products, including tars, oils, sludges, emulsions, ammonia, spent limes and iron oxides, and cyanide, as well as ash, clinker, and coke. These by-products usually resulted from normal operations and occurred at different stages of the production process; In the absence of a market, by-products like coke and tar might be used as fuel at the plants, while other wastes, such as clinkers, lime, woodchips, or iron oxide from the purifying boxes, sometimes mixed with tar, were frequently buried in landfills or in pits on-site.[3]

  • May 13, 1922 - The Daily Progress: “At Thursday night’s meeting of the Common Council, a communication was received from the County Attorney relative to refuse from the gas plant being dumped into Schencks Branch. After some discussion the City Manger was instructed to arrange for the economical purchase of storage tanks to take care of this.” [4] Judge R. T. W. Dukes, Jr., Commonwealth Attorney for Albemarle presented a report made by the Game Warden as to the gas plant emptying an unusually large quantity of tar into the Rivanna River, resulting in the killing of fish. [5]

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  3. Carnegie Mellon University Research Showcase @ CMUDepartment of History Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences1-2014Toxic Legacy: The Environmental Impact of the Manufactured Gas Industry in the United States Joel A. Tarr Carnegie Mellon University,
  5. Web. Charlottesville City Council meeting minutes, .pdf, Council Chambers, City of Charlottesville, May 13, 1922.

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