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The History of Lynchburg, Part 2

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Sandusky Plantation

Sandusky Plantation

This month we are continuing with the history of Lynchburg, starting in 1864.

During the Civil War, Lynchburg served primarily as a supply and hospital center, and was spared most of the destruction that befell other Virginia cities and towns.  The Battle of Lynchburg was fought on June 18, 1864 Confederate forces successfully fought off a Union attack.  After inconclusive fighting the Union troops withdrew under the false impression they were fighting a very large Confederate force.  Part of the deception arose from the continuous series of train movements on several rail lines, giving the impression that reinforcements were arriving at a steady pace.

In September 1870, Lynchburg experienced its worst flood in history when the James River rose 26 feet above its banks.  The flood destroyed all bridges across the river, all railroad property in the river basin and on the island, the main gas pipe across Blackwater Creek and the water works pump house, leaving the city without water for months.  A similar flood occurred in 1877, again destroying all bridges over the James River.

Following Reconstruction, Lynchburg entered a period of prosperity.  Iron works, blast furnaces and steel mills fueled the growth.  Railroads eliminated the need for the canal system.  By 1800 the population reached 15,000.  Also in 1880 work began on a street railway system, whose initial purpose was to facilitate transportation from downtown to Miller Park.

By the beginning of the 20th century Lynchburg was well-underway in its evolution from a tobacco-based economy into a manufacturing one.  A large number of factories opened, some of which are still in business today.  In 1882, Lynchburg Foundry-today known as Griffin Pipe.  In 1888 Lynchburg Cotton Mill.  Also in 1888 Craddock-Terry Shoe Company, which became Lynchburg’s largest industry and the largest shoe manufacturer in the south-it was in business until the 1960’s.

Lynchburg’s wealth helped to transform itself into a modern city.  Houses were built in the Diamond Hill and Rivermont areas of the city.  In 1894 the Lynchburg Hill Climbers brought baseball to the city.  In 1907 a 21-mile wooded pipe system was laid to Pedlar Lake, which to this day, serves as the city’s primary water source.

Randolph College, formerly Randolph Macon Women's College

Randolph College, formerly Randolph Macon Women’s College

The arts and education also flourished during this time.  Randolph-Macon Woman’s College (1891), Sweet Briar (1901) and Lynchburg College (1903) were founded.  The Academy of Music opened in 1905, replacing the Lynchburg Opera House as the city’s premiere theater.  The Jones Memorial Library opened as a public library in 1907.

Rendering of the restored 1905 Academy of Fine Arts scheduled to reopen in 2018

Rendering of the restored 1905 Academy of Fine Arts scheduled to reopen in 2018

The First World War saw many of Lynchburg’s men in the military.  The city’s industries supplied the war effort.  A Red Cross-operated canteen served troop trains at the Southern Railroad station, giving the city the nickname Lunchburg.  In 1930 the first radio station started broadcasting, WLVA.  The first airport was constructed in 1931.  Side-by-side football and baseball stadiums were built on a former fair ground.

Since the 1950’s, Lynchburg has evolved from a small, tightly-knit manufacturing city to one with a diverse economy, with most residents living in the surrounding suburbs.  This transformation began in 1955 when Babcock and Wilcox (nuclear technology) and General Electric opened plants in the city, bringing in an influx of new residents.  In the 1960’s the city’s first shopping center, Pittman Plaza, opened.  The new shopping center signaled the end of the original downtown area as a retail center.

Since the early 2000’s downtown Lynchburg has transformed itself again.  Numerous restaurants, shops, commercial businesses and almost 800 residents call downtown home!  If you haven’t dined at a downtown restaurant you are missing out on delicious food.  Shopping with small, local businesses brings unique and oftentimes handmade products.  The Community Market continues to service the city with fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and flowers, along with artisan cheeses and an assortment of yummy baked goods.

In the coming months we will concentrate on local businesses and commercial endeavors found in downtown Lynchburg as well as just outside of the official city limits.