R. F. Harris

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Randolph Frank Harris, Mayor of the Town of Charlottesville (1875-1881)
Charlottesville Agricultural and Iron Works, 400 Block West Main Street (1906)
Business Advertisement - Daily Progress, January 3, 1922
Source: Sears, Roebuck and Co., Oliver Chilled Plow (1903)
See also: Charlottesville City Council (History)

R. F. Harris (born Randolph Frank Harris; July 8, 1827-November 27, 1893) was a prominent merchant and long serving mayor in the late 1800's when Charlottesville was a town with a population of just over 5,500. His business endeavors included "R. F. Harris & Company" and the "Charlottesville Agricultural Works" once located on both sides of the 400 block of West Main Street. Harris was elected mayor of Charlottesville by the populace at-large in 1875 and served until 1881 when B. R. Pace was elected.

Harris built a showroom, foundry, warehouse, machine shop, and a wood shop on West Main Street. Charlottesville Agricultural Works was the exclusive agency for the Oliver Chilled Plow Works for Albemarle County and carried a full line of plows and points. In addition to making horse drawn farm equipment, replacement parts and numerous other castings on order, the large plant kept busy by making custom built buggies.

The 19th century witnessed a revolution in farming technology. Just as machines were coming into factories in the city, new machinery was changing the way farmers planted and harvested their crops. Previously farm tools were made by local blacksmiths.[1]

Board of Alderman

On August 10, 1875, at the regular meeting of Charlottesville's Town Council, R. F. Harris was elected President of the council.


On September 28, 1875, The council held a special meeting to elect a replacement for Mayor William L. Cochran who died in office the previous Wednesday. Harris, President of the City Council, was unanimously elected mayor to complete Cochran's term.

Fireworks controversy

In the 1800s, fireworks were considered an essential part of the Christmas celebration in Charlottesville. It was such an honored tradition, that the city ordinance, prohibiting fireworks within the city limits, was suspended on December 25th. In 1886, Mayor Harris decided that the privilege was being abused. So on December 22, 1886, Harris ordered a halt to the detonation of fireworks. Possibly in retaliation, someone exploded a large amount of dynamite at at his foundry business, resulting the creating of a large crater and shattered windows.[2]


Harris was elected mayor of Charlottesville in 1875 and served until 1881 when B. R. Pace was elected. Harris was re-elected in 1883 and served until 1888. Charlottesville incorporated as a city on September 1st 1888. Harris resigned on October 30, 1888 due to ill health, the Board of Alderman elected council president Samuel B. Woods as his replacement.

Prior to 1922, Charlottesville's mayors were elected by the populace at-large across the entire voting district.

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Randolph Frank Harris was born in Charles City, Virginia, on July 8, 1827. Harris and his wife, Elizabeth “Eliza” Hannah (Wayland), moved from Richmond to Charlottesville and later open Charlottesville's first foundry in 1858. The Charlottesville Agriculture & Iron Works, once located on both sides of the 400 block of West Main Street, was later operated as R. F. Harris and Son. Charles Preston Harris, and four of his sisters operated the company under the name of R. F. Harris & Co. after the death of their mother in 1902.

In the last week of July 1888, Mayor Harris was stricken with sudden blindness. It was though the burst of a blood vessel was the cause of it. [3]

R. F. Harris died Monday, November 27, 1893 at the age of 66, he was laid to rest in the family section of Charlottesville's Maplewood Cemetery. On November 28, 1893, at a Special Meeting of the Council held this Tuesday evening, a Resolution was passed that the City Hall be draped in Morning for 30 days in respect for the memory of the late Mayor R. F. Harris.


  1. https://www.iowapbs.org/iowapathways/mypath/2683/plowing-past-look-early-farm-machinery
  2. Web. Yesteryears: For Charlottesville's first mayor, Christmas season 1886 ended with a bang, David Maurer, Daily Progress, Lee Enterprises, retrieved December 8, 2013.
  3. The Valley Virginian. (Staunton, Va.), 02 Aug. 1888. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84024707/1888-08-02/ed-1/seq-2/>

Burials at Maplewood Cemetery