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Lynchburg (Independent City)

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The City of Lynchburg lies at the northeastern corner of Bedford County and is bordered by Amherst and Campbell counties. Quaker entrepreneur John Lynch founded Lynchburg in 1786. The original forty-five-acre tract, now the heart of downtown, lay on a steep hillside near the southwestern bank of the James River, adjoining Lynch's Ferry that was established in 1757. Lynchburg developed early as a tobacco market and a trading center for the surrounding Piedmont. By 1816 the town limits had been expanded three times, and in a letter of October 17, 1817, to William Jones (Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress), Thomas Jefferson declared Lynchburg to be “growing more than any I have ever known in any country.” Jefferson also applauded Lynchburg's builders for executing “the most beautiful brick work I have ever seen.” A handful of houses remaining from the prosperous second decade of the nineteenth century display attenuated Federal proportions and superb brickwork.

Throughout the nineteenth century, Lynchburg continued to thrive and expand. Tobacco remained the economic mainstay, but with the arrival of the James River and Kanawha Canal in 1840 and the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad in 1850, Lynchburg developed as a major transportation center. The Virginia General Assembly declared it a city in 1852 and the 1860 census declared Lynchburg to be the second-wealthiest city in the nation on a percapita basis. Foursquare, hipped-roofed brick houses with conservative Greek Revival details typified the upscale domestic architecture of this period, but a few Gothic Revival cottages and Italian Villas broke the mold. Only the imposing City Court House (BD44) with details inspired by the Parthenon gave conspicuous evidence of civic pride and wealth.

With excellent canal and rail facilities, Lynchburg served as a major Confederate supply, transportation, and hospital center during the Civil War. By May 1861, more than 3,000 troops were quartered at the former Fair Grounds. Almost exactly a year later, as the conflict escalated, the local newspaper reported that “there are now in the hospitals of Lynchburg, nearly 3,000 sick soldiers.” The hospitals, something of a misnomer, were mostly tobacco warehouses and factories that had been commandeered into emergency use. The 1864 Battle of Lynchburg was of short duration and ended when Confederates routed Union troops southwest of the city. After the war, Lynchburg became a major jobbing and manufacturing center, utilizing its excellent transportation network to distribute goods stored, or produced, in large factories and warehouses near the riverfront.

By 1890, Lynchburg, along with all of central Virginia, was riding the crest of the “New South” wave. Elaborate Queen Anne mansions were built alongside earlier houses that were often remodeled to keep pace with their new neighbors. Rivermont, a streetcar suburb platted on a seven-thousand-acre tract northwest of the city, typified the boom era. Rivermont Avenue, its principal street, is a broad, tree-lined boulevard with sweeping curves, far more attuned to Lynchburg's hilly landscape than the rigid grid pattern of streets in the older parts of town. In the 1950s, Lynchburg experienced a second, milder, boom as several nationally known companies established manufacturing plants here. Another surge of residential construction accompanied the plants. Split-levels and ranch houses were built on newly platted streets and on the few lots remaining in older neighborhoods. Lynchburg's first suburban shopping mall (Pittman Plaza) opened in 1960, heralding downtown's demise as the center of commercial trade.

With a few notable exceptions, Lynchburg has relied on its own talented architects through the years. Robert C. Burkholder, born in Botecourt County, came to Lynchburg in 1851 as a carpenter and started to advertise as an architect. He and Ludwig August Forsberg, a Swedish native who worked with Baltimore architects Niernsee and Neilson before the Civil War, and who became Lynchburg's city engineer in 1872, were the leading post-Civil War architects. Edward G. Frye and John Minor Botts Lewis, who arrived in town in 1896, took their places at the turn of the twentieth century. In addition to numerous Queen Anne houses, Frye designed a remarkable group of imposing Romanesque Revival churches. After Richmond-born Aubrey Chesterman became Frye's partner in 1902, the firm began to show Beaux-Arts and Colonial Revival tendencies in their work. Frye and Chesterman moved to Roanoke in 1913, but Chesterman returned to Lynchburg in 1917 to continue in independent practice.

Stanhope S. Johnson began his career in Frye's office as a teenager at the turn of the twentieth century. Largely self-trained, he enjoyed an extremely long career, during which he formed several partnerships. After experimenting with several styles, Johnson became particularly adept at a scholarly approach to Georgian Revival design. S. Preston Craighill, schooled at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, and his partner Bennett B. Cardwell, trained at the Carnegie Institute of Technology and the American Academy in Rome, designed an accomplished group of period revival houses in the years between the two world wars. Pendleton S. Clark, graduate of the University of Pennsylvania's architectural school, also worked in the period-revival mode, and often used early Virginia examples as his models. His firm, Clark, Nexsen and Owen, later specialized in collegiate projects throughout the state. J. Everette Fauber Jr., a 1929 graduate of the School of Architecture at the University of Virginia, worked for several years with Perry, Shaw and Hepburn in the initial phases of the Williamsburg restoration. Fauber returned to Lynchburg early in the 1930s and designed a number of houses based on Williamsburg originals. During his later practice, he became a leading restoration architect throughout Virginia and beyond.

Lynchburg's architects often specified Virginia greenstone, a locally quarried soapstone, in their work, until the quarry closed in 1969. The Allied Arts Building (BD31) is sheathed in a combination of yellow brick and greenstone, and Holy Trinity Lutheran Church (BD64) and Grace Memorial Episcopal Church (BD75) use it exclusively. In recent decades Lynchburg began to participate in the trend toward restoration and revitalization of innercity neighborhoods. Efforts are focusing on adapting the old jobbing buildings and warehouses along the riverfront to new uses as houses and studios. Downtown's latest landmark, or watermark, is the Langley Fountain. Dedicated in 2004, the jet-d'eau sends a column of James River water 190 feet in the air. Lynchburg, more than two hundred years old, is returning to its birthplace near the site of the eighteenth-century ferry.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Anne Carter Lee

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