The Not So-Lone-Rangers: Meet Poe’s Neighbors

Words by Meagan O’Rourke. Photos by Meagan O’Rourke and Margaret Wadsworth.

Fifty-two graduate students live in the historic Range housing. Photo by Margaret Wadsworth.

If you’re only interested in a place to live, then the Range may not be a good fit for you.” 

The Range’s website warns University graduate students interested in living in one of the 52 historic Range rooms on the outside of the Lawn that the Range is not traditional prime real estate. For $7,270 per academic year, graduate students may be able to find housing with kitchens, attached bathrooms and absolute privacy, all of which the Range lacks. However, something beyond amenities attracts graduate students, to live here. For some, it is the academic space. For many, it is simply means having good neighbors. And they all have stories to share from their one-room homes. 

The Educators of East Range

Nestled between the Pavilion Gardens and the Corner, two future teachers set up their homes in August in 10 and 12 East Range. 

There has been ongoing construction around East Range, disrupting the usual quiet. Photo by Margaret Wadsworth.

Coming from Seattle, 28-year-old graduate Education student Jacob Elmore did not think that Charlottesville housing could cost as much as his home city. However, after looking at the prices of off-Grounds housing on Zillow, Elmore decided to look for a less expensive option on Grounds, and applied to live on the Range from the West Coast. He was randomly assigned to 12 East Range, but his choice to make a community there was deliberate.

“I guess what drew me was the aspect of community, and I just wanted to meet other people outside of my field, make new friends, make new relationships, and here I am,” Elmore said. 

Jacob Elmore of 12 East Range. Photo by Meagan O’Rourke.

For graduate Education student Molly Heck who lives two doors down in room number 10, living on the Range was a homecoming. She graduated from Notre Dame this past spring with a major in English and spent most of her upbringing in Jacksonville, Fla. However, she lived in Charlottesville when she was in kindergarten and first-grade while her father, Andy Heck, was a graduate assistant and tight ends football coach at the University from 2000 to 2003. 

Although she did not know about the Range growing up, she decided to move near the Lawn where she went trick-or-treating as a child, and she can now see it through a new lens. After studying at Notre Dame, which she said had a very strong on-campus living culture all four years, separated by gender, she is able to compare the universities’ housing traditions. 

“That was something I loved about Notre Dame, and was hoping I could find … kind of U.Va’s version of that community living,” Heck said. “And it really has been similar but different in the aspect that I live by guys because before it was only females, so that’s fun too.”

At the University, Heck also experienced living in the Copeley Hill Apartments over the summer when her Master in Teaching English program started, and can tell a difference living on the Range. 

“On the Range now, I feel so much more a part of the school itself,” Heck said.  

Molly Heck of 10 East Range. Photo by Meagan O’Rourke.

Also, as an educator, she draws the connections between the academics of the University and its physical space. 

“[The Range] is very reflective of the history of Virginia,” Heck said. “Also, just wanting to become a teacher, I really have an appreciation for public education, and that was Thomas Jefferson’s dream. He was the leader for public education, so living on the Range which is a product of Jefferson’s dream is really cool.” 

Elmore is not a fan of Jefferson personally, but also supports his advocacy for public education which has been so integral in his life.

Elmore struggled through his early years of education and came from a family who did not go to college. However, some transformative teachers in high school encouraged him to continue with school and he went on to receive bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education. Now, he is completing his doctorate degree and is researching how teachers can better understand the diverse communities their students come from in order to empower students in the classroom. 

“My ultimate goal is to have a teacher in every classroom where children feel like they are being cared [for], respected, valued and that they see themselves as being capable of doing whatever they want to do,” Elmore said. 

Each Range room contains a list of the residents who lived there before. Fittingly for someone who wants to be a teacher, Heck’s list boasts the name of a prominent University professor of History who lived in the room from 1895-1896, Richard H. Dabney, who was close friends with former President Woodrow Wilson. 

Elmore’s room also was occupied by a University professor, William Echols from 1895-1896. Echols taught mathematics and lived at the University from the time he started teaching to his death. Aside from having a dorm and a scholars program named in his honor, Echols is also known for attempting to stop the Rotunda Fire of 1895 using dynamite. Though Elmore did not recognize the names on his list that those who went to the University as undergraduates may recognize. Instead, he has other high hopes for his room’s infamy.

“For my room, I don’t know how special it is,” Elmore said. “But maybe one day my goal will be like you know? Jacob Elmore lived in 12 East Range, I want to live in that room, so maybe I’ll make my stamp in that regard.”

Finding Home on the West Range

An antique grandfather clock is not usually a dorm essential, but for Julia Payne, a Batten student in the  Master’s of Public Policy program, in room Number 33, an ornate grandfather clock fills up the majority of her back wall.

“It is a fantastic clock — it’s a great piece of furniture,” Payne said. 

Julia Payne of 33 West Range, the Grandfather Clock Room. Photo by Meagan O’Rourke.

She did not bring it from home. The previous room Number 33 resident bestowed the clock upon Payne and her Payne take care of it. This even meant transporting the towering clock back to Payne’s home in Northern Virginia the summer before she moved in so facilities could move new furniture into her room.

Payne does not know where the clock came from initially, unsure of whether it is a century or a decade old. However, Kyle Gardiner, a School of Architecture alumnus and former Range Council president, who lived in room Number 33 from 2013 to 2016 knew exactly where the clock came from. He inherited it from Curry student Nicholas DelDotto, who Gardiner says picked it up from “god knows where” and who moved out of Number 33 in 2013. Since then, residents of 33 have passed it down and dutifully transported it during summer. 

“I think it’s an amazing testament to the tradition I think; it is a pain and people keep doing it,” Gardiner said. 

As president of the Range Council for two years, Gardiner took on an informal resident advisory role in the community and tried to foster less cumbersome traditions in the Range community like gathering in the winter, when people have a tendency to keep their doors closed. Creating communal spaces is one of his passions as an urban planning and environmental sciences graduate student. 

“I love urban planning because I think that having people mingling together is how humans thrive and it’s how ideas are created,” Gardiner said. “It’s how happiness is built. And so if that is talking at the level of a city or the level of a living community it is the same concept and that is why I always sought them out in my life.”

Payne emphasizes the ability the Range gives for people to mingle, and wishes more people knew about the openness of The Range. 

“I wish that people knew that they could interact with us, come hang out,” Payne said. “Certainly, even some of my friends have been like ‘You have to invite me to your room,’ and I’m like ‘No, you can just stop by.’” 

As an undergraduate, Payne somewhat knew about The Range from being a member of the Jefferson Literary and Debating Society which meets on the West Range in Hotel C. Like some of her “Double Hoo” neighbors, she had an inkling she wanted to live on the Range as an undergraduate. Now, she thinks about what kind of legacy she wants to leave behind after her completing her master’s degree. 

“To me, it is remembering the history of U.Va. and how many people have come before us, and how much the University has changed, and what kind of change you want to leave when you graduate,” Payne said. 

So far, she has gotten the opportunity to give visitors and students an inside look at the historic space, even when it feels a bit odd to show strangers her room.

“It’s always fun,” Payne said. “I love having people around but it can be a bit weird. But people are really friendly about it.”

One room that does attract a lot of attention is 13 West Range, where writer Edgar Allan Poe supposedly lived during his short time at the University. Batten student Trent Chinnaswamy lives in 15 West Range, next to Edgar Allan Poe’s former room.

Trent Chinnaswamy of 15 West Range. Photo by Meagan O’Rourke.

As a former member of the University Guides Service, Chinnaswamy enjoys directing tourists around and answering their questions about the historic space. People frequently ask him if he is haunted by Poe’s ghost, and he responds that he is not worried about the writer visiting his room. 

“Confederate soldiers died in all these rooms during the civil war so that’s the thing I’m more worried about … racist ghosts,” Chinnaswamy said. 

Gardiner and Payne have not seen any ghosts during their stays on the Range either. However, Chinnaswamy has seen some horror on McCormick Road. 

“I’ve seen a lot of Lime [scooter] crashes this year because everyone doubles-up on Limes now, and it never goes well,” Chinnaswamy said. 

However, most days for Chinnaswamy are calm on the Range.

“I sit outside my door a lot and do my readings,” Chinnaswamy said. “It is nice to have people casually stop by.”

The casual bumping into friends is what makes the Range so special for Payne, who sees the Range as a better version of a first-year residence hall, only everyone is more self-assured.

“Living here has been the best part of my semester,” Payne said. “School got hard and it’s great to have a community of people who are here to help you.”

Ten doors down from Payne, Ranger Roberto Mendez is trying to meet his new community. He completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Rochester, joined the military and now is at the University pursuing his doctorate degree in chemistry. In order to expand his social circle beyond the lab, he created a mission for himself. 

He is determined to meet the approximately 100 students who live on both the Lawn and the Range. He has a blueprint of the Academical Village which he uses to write down their names and forces them to look into the future.

“I ask what will you be doing in three weeks in February of the day that they signed it,” Mendez said. “Just to sort of predict what they are going to be doing next semester on that particular day if it comes to fruition, so that when I visit them one more time when I visit them next semester I can see if what they predicted is right.”

Mendez’s map keeps track of meeting his neighbors. Photo by Meagan O’Rourke.

With five names down so far, he knows he has a long way to go before completing his project. However, he is still casually making himself known to his neighbors.  

Roberto Mendez chats with his neighbor, Alex Hendel. Photo by Meagan O’Rourke.

Rachel Wilkinson, the president of the Range Council, the group which oversees social activities and facilities issues, also loves the organic exchanges that pop-up on the Range. Although she is busy doing clinicals for her second year of her Clinical Nurse Leader graduate degree, she takes time for spontaneous conversations. 

Rachel Wilkinson is the president of the Range Council. Photo by Meagan O’Rourke.

“The amazing stuff that happens on a daily basis is like being able to knock on my neighbor’s door and saying, ‘Hey do you want a glass of wine,’ you know, and then just hang out for an hour and chat about stuff and get a load off of us. Sometimes some of us have had a really tough day or something, and we are able to connect somehow in two seconds because she is right there.”

Even though the Rangers do not have indoor bathrooms, laundry or the Lawn’s view of the Rotunda, Wilkinson remembers what a former Ranger said to her. 

“The stuff that everyone says is really inconvenient is really not that bad, and the stuff that really makes it worth it nobody talks about it that much,” Wilkinson said. “And I didn’t really understand that until living here.” 


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