Long designated as the North Branch of the James, the North Branch takes its name from "River Anne", to honor Queen Anne (1665-1714), then monarch of England, and so of the Virginia Colony as well. 
A ten-mile stretch of the river from the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir to the Woolen Mills area was designated by the General Assembly as part of Virginia's Scenic Rivers System.
The Rivanna River was originally known as the River Anna. Thomas Jefferson ordered a study of the Rivanna River in 1763. Jefferson ordered that the river be cleared of rocks and debris. This made the river navigable for canoes and bateaux as far up as Milton. This caused the Rivanna River to become an important transportation route during the Revolutionary War. In the 1820s, the City of Charlottesville renamed the ports along the river "Pireus" after the port city of Athens.
The river is an impediment to east-west travel, crossed in limited places. From north to south, these are:
- U.S. Route 250 and Virginia State Route 20 at the Free Bridge, the former crossing of the Three Notch'd Road.
- Interstate 64
- County 729
The river as economic engine
In August 2012 Albemarle and Charlottesville officials called for a joint planning session that would focus on economic development in the Woolen Mills neighborhood and river area. Officials have suggested that pedestrian access and use of the area would be among the session's primary focuses, as would expanding the commercial uses. The joint planning commission meeting is scheduled for Sept. 18, 2012.
- Web. pdf. Rivanna River History, Lindsay Nolting and J. Stephen Pence, Rivanna Conservation Society, retrieved 12 Jun 2009.
- Web. Rivanna Scenic River; expands to include length of waterway from South Fork Rivanna River reservoir. (SB957), Richmond Sunlight, retrieved 08 Sept. 2009..
- Web. Rivanna Greenbelt Trail, City of Charlottesville, retrieved 30 July 2012.
- Web. Can Charlottesville become a city by the river?, Chiara Canzi, C-VILLE Weekly, Portico Publications, January 10, 2012, retrieved January 12, 2011. Print. January 10, 2012 , 24.02, .
- Web. Albemarle officials call for joint planning along Rivanna River border with Charlottesville, Sean Tubbs, August 2, 2012, retrieved August 6, 2011.