Fry’s Spring Beach Club is a welcoming community committed to providing year-round recreational and social pursuits for its members and guests in a natural, historic setting.
Black Lives Matter
FSBC acknowledges our club’s racist, shameful past and the pernicious policies that denied membership to people of color from the club’s inception in 1921 into the 1970s, if not much later. As an organization in the 21st century, we have begun to come to terms with the difficult aspects of our history and we take responsibility for the harm FSBC perpetuated over many decades.
FSBC is actively endeavoring to make our pools and green spaces more accessible to the community, and to welcome families who have been historically underrepresented in our membership in order to more accurately reflect our community at large. To this end, we have prioritized outreach initiatives, increasing full membership scholarships and camp scholarships. Our goal is to offer membership scholarships to 10% of our families and free camp and lunch to 25% of our camp participants. We further offer first-time training, mentorship, and employment to local teens through our Teen Employment and Outreach program. Since September, FSBC has partnered with the Jack Jouett Boys and Girls Club so that they could use our ballroom and Garden Terrace rooms to physically distance kids for indoor learning and use our grounds for recreation. These efforts mark the beginning of ongoing efforts toward a more just and equitable present and future.
Fry’s Spring Beach Club sits on lands that are the ancestral home of the people of the Monacan nation. Original Land Purchase In 1822, Mary Jane Barksdale married James Francis Fry, the grandson of Joshua Fry, who with Peter Jefferson patented Albemarle County. Barksdale was the granddaughter of Jesse P. Lewis and the daughter of Nelson Barksdale. In 1839 Nelson Barksdale gave his son-in-law about 300 acres along Moore’s Creek, where Fry built his estate, Azalea Hall. On this land is what is today known as Fry’s Spring.
By mid-century, people discovered the therapeutic qualities of Fry’s spring water, and the site of the spring was developed. A few artifacts of that development remain: the ruins of a stone foundation around the spring and a carved stone font, marked “J F FRY 1858,” which is now on display in the clubhouse. Several old, undated photos show a gazebo shading the spring. In 1875 Captain James Harris bought some of the Fry estate and started a trend when he held the first steeplechase in Albemarle County. Other recreational uses followed, and by 1905 The Albemarle Horse Show Association had established its showgrounds on the site, with many shows and exhibits over the following years. In 1892, developer S. Price Maury built the Jefferson Park Hotel on land adjacent to the spring. The hotel served as a resort and spa, and the waters of the spring were promoted as the third most powerful of their kind in the world, attracting those hoping to recover from various ailments. Later, Maury sold the hotel to a streetcar company that continued its operations, and an amusement park called Wonderland opened across the street.
In 1910 The Jefferson Park Hotel burned down. Salvaged building materials were then used in the construction of several nearby homes. The local trolley company bought the land and expanded “Wonderland” offerings to include the first moving picture shows in Charlottesville, among other attractions. In 1920, J. Russell Dettor purchased the land from the trolley company. Mr. Dettor had been active in the building and management of the Jefferson Theater on East Main Street and was ready for a business of his own. He chose a site in a grassy hollow under shade trees to build a concrete swimming pool almost 100 meters in length. He also built a dam on Moore’s Creek about a quarter of a mile away. Two pump houses, one on the bank next to the dam and the other near the top of the line, were also built at this time. Pool water was pumped from the creek though rubber and canvas fire-hoses. Today the ruins of that dam and pump house can be seen from the Rivanna Trail Foundation’s trail at the foot of McElroy Drive in the City.
The Fry’s Spring Beach Club opened for business in the summer of 1921. The late local writer, Booten Herndon, recalled going through the gate on opening day. He was six years old at the time. His mother signed him up for swimming lessons. The pool water was unfiltered and untreated. People loved it. Going to the Beach became the thing to do. In the club’s earliest years, the regulars would put up portable wooden cabanas at the beginning of the season, taking them back down and home for storage at season’s end. Mr. Dettor expanded his offerings to include changing rooms. Outdoor bathing, evening dance parties, moonlit strolls along shadowy lanes were all offered among the club’s trees. A common joke from this time was “Charlottesville is divided into two parts: Charlottesville proper, and Fry’s Spring improper.” The club prospered through the next decades.
Following World War II, Mr. Dettor changed the corporate charter to a private club. The club’s first bylaws were drafted on August 30, 1952. Article VIII,“Eligibility For Membership or Guests,” mandated that “[n]o person other than a Member of the White Race shall be eligible for Membership in the Club, nor may they use the Club as a guest of any person, or as a member or guest of any group or organization that may be permitted to use the Club.” While this rule had previously been implied, it became official policy written into the bylaws. The new organizational structure allowed Dettor to serve liquor at club functions. For over a decade, the Fry’s Spring Beach Club was the only venue in town allowed to serve liquor to its patrons. Also, at this time Mr. Dettor renovated both the clubhouse and pool, adding, among other things, a terrace and bar room to the clubhouse, and city water, filtration, and chlorine treatment for the pool. Mr. Dettor thought that he could increase business for the club by having a youth swimming team. He hired the wellrespected coach and teacher Ralph Law to start a team. Dettor and Law were instrumental in building The Jefferson Swim League as part of this promotion. Today The Jefferson Swim League is one of the largest youth sports organizations in Central Virginia.
In the wake of the landmark Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954), many public accommodations throughout the country began to desegregate, but others, particularly in the South and specifically in Virginia, mounted massive resistance. Private facilities had no legal obligation to integrate, and like many other facilities, FSBC resisted desegregation and continued to exclude Black people. While the club’s bylaws were revisited and amended in 1960, the section entitled “Eligibility for Membership or Guests” remained unchanged. Moreover, when FSBC member and UVA professor Paul Gaston participated in a sit-in at a local restaurant in 1963, the board placed itself on record “as being opposed to participation in such demonstrations” and gave notice that “by doing so, a member is subject to possible suspension of membership on the grounds of conduct unbecoming a member.”
The June 28, 1963 board minutes concluded with “[t]he board also wishes to point out that it will not tolerate a member bringing any person to the Club as a guest who is prohibited expressly by the Club’s By-Laws from using the Club. Any attempt to do so will be grounds for suspension of membership.”
In 1964, Charlottesville formally desegregated its public recreational facilities. However, membership in segregated clubs and pools like Fry’s Spring grew exponentially. Exclusion extended beyond people of color. A 1965 letter from a local pediatrician documents FSBC denying membership to his neighbors because they were Jewish.
By 1968 Mr. Dettor was ready to retire. He considered selling the land to a real estate developer who wanted to build an apartment complex on the site. Eight member families formed Fry’s Spring, Inc. and purchased the club and its property in 1970. The new owners immediately leased the premises to Fry’s Spring Beach Club, Inc. for $50,000 per year. The new board amended Section 3 of the bylaws to allow integrated organizations to use “restricted areas” but proved unwilling to execute this change.
The May 12, 1970 Board meeting minutes moved that the VA Swim Club be allowed to rent the pool though it was to be “tacitly understood that no colored be admitted and that a paper be signed to this effect by Coach Good.” Fry’s Spring Beach Club, Inc further expounded on Article VIII to state, “No person other than a member of the Caucasian Race shall be eligible for membership in the Club.” A motion to eliminate racial restrictions in September 1970 was defeated, and, a year later, the board discussed making the Club available to “white tenants” of a nearby apartment complex.
The Club purportedly considered hosting the 1972 State AAU Swim Meet despite the AAU including “teams encompassing all races” and, as noted in the 1972 Annual Meeting minutes, “the probability of black participants.” At the following October 1972 board meeting, the board decided against having the AAU swim meet at the Club.
According to newspaper reporting, at some point during this period, racial restrictions were lifted. However, no bylaws or official club records dating from 1970 – 1992 can be found. Unofficially, Fry’s Spring remained a private club for white members only as noted by The Daily Progress on February 3, 1985: “Unlike the 1960s when the beach club set itself up as an outpost of segregation, black people may now join, although none have done so, [Owner Jack] Anderson says.”
By 1990, the owners were looking to retire. In 1992 Fry’s Spring Beach Club, Inc. purchased the club and its properties. At this point, FSBC, Inc., a 501(c)(7) corporation, became owned by the club’s voting membership and new bylaws were written. Under this new structure, the club became open to all with the primary mission to preserve its facilities to serve the social and recreational needs of its members. To this end, an ambitious program of preservation, restoration, and renovation was undertaken, including the complete renovation of the pool and the regular maintenance of the grounds and trees that contribute so significantly to the Fry’s Spring experience. Increased social offerings, such as Music by the Pool during the summer and year round activities on the grounds and in the clubhouse offer members the chance to gather in every season. The club continues to support a strong swim team that competes in the top tier of the Jefferson Swim League, while also volunteering pool time and coaches to the Ben Hair Just Swim for Life program, whose goal is to make sure all children in our community can be safe around water.
In 2021, FSBC celebrated its 100th year. Today, the club continues to focus on providing a welcoming community with year-round recreational and social pursuits for its members and guests. We are also committed to maintaining our natural, historic setting. While we continue to work towards capital projects, such as the renovation of the clubhouse and a master plan to guide improvements and promote accessibility, we are also undertaking new ventures. The nonprofit, Fry’s Spring Next Century, established in 2020, works to raise funds so that community members from a variety of backgrounds are able to join our membership. While looking to the future, the club’s leadership also acknowledges our racist history and actively seeks to address it in a number of ways. Our summer camp and Teen Employment and Outreach Program invite the children of members and nonmembers to enjoy the club’s resources. Teenagers from all backgrounds, especially those that have historically been denied access, are offered tools to develop social-emotional and leadership skills while gaining valuable work experience. The club also conducts outreach, inviting children from community neighborhoods to enjoy the pool at various times throughout the summer. We strive to engage membership in issues related to equity and to envision and create a more inclusive and accessible community over the next century.
Fry’s Spring Beach Club: 2512 Jefferson Park Avenue, Charlottesville, VA 22903 | Contact Us
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