Formed from Lunenburg County in 1753, the county was named for John Russell, fourth Duke of Bedford, who earlier had been in charge of colonial affairs. With the Blue Ridge Mountains as its northwestern border, including the distinctive Peaks of Otter known as Sharp Top and Flat Top, and Smith Mountain Lake as its southwestern border, the rolling countryside of Bedford County is blessed with scenic attractions. From its earliest days, agriculture has been key to the economy of this prosperous county. Forestry and agriculture, with dairying and livestock production taking the place of tobacco, remain major sources of income. Today, development from the nearby cities of Lynchburg and Roanoke is crowding into parts of its countryside, overshadowing the small communities that grew up around mills, crossroads, and railroad stops.
While several Federal-style buildings represent the county's plantation past, its most notable architectural moment came in the early nineteenth century with the construction of Thomas Jefferson's Poplar Forest (BD26). Admired but rarely emulated, Poplar Forest had minimal influence on the county's architecture, Otterburn (BD20) being a notable exception. However, in the early twentieth century, as part of the fashion for Colonial Revival, a few older houses were given Jeffersonian features. The agricultural wealth of the mid-nineteenth century is evident in several large Greek Revival houses. Details borrowed from builders' guides, most often those of Asher Benjamin, were put together in individualistic ways that generally suited country living. The most elaborate of these houses were built for merchant families, who showed more verve than the prosperous but conservative farmers. Two of these, Otterburn (BD20) and Three Otters (BD19), demonstrate a local idiosyncrasy, the naming of geographic features and farms after otters.
If SAH Archipedia has been useful to you, please consider supporting it.
SAH Archipedia tells the story of the United States through its buildings, landscapes, and cities. This freely available resource empowers the public with authoritative knowledge that deepens their understanding and appreciation of the built environment. But the Society of Architectural Historians, which created SAH Archipedia with University of Virginia Press, needs your support to maintain the high-caliber research, writing, photography, cartography, editing, design, and programming that make SAH Archipedia a trusted online resource available to all who value the history of place, heritage tourism, and learning.