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The History of Lynchburg-Part 1

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Point of Honor

Point of Honor, the home of Dr. George Cabell

This month we are going to start a series of blog posts entitled “the History of Lynchburg”.  Each month we will post about the general history of our city, the history of businesses and places found in our city, the different historic districts and some of their houses or the historic churches found in downtown Lynchbburg.  This month we will begin with an overview of Lynchburg, Virginia, from the mid-1750’s until the beginning of the Civil War.

During the mid-1750’s the village of New London, just west of today’s Lynchburg, was an important trading center, however, it was difficult to reach from northern towns due to the necessity of fording the Fluvanna (now James) River, which was 12 miles north of the village.

John Lynch, son of land-owner Charles Lynch and his wife, Quaker, Sarah Clark Lynch, decided to remedy this problem.  In 1757 he established a ferry service on the river.  The ferry service was profitable for many years and by the end of the American Revolution the village at Lynch’s Ferry had become an important center of trade.  Lynch saw the possibilities of establishing a town on the hill overlooking the ferry site, and in late 1784 petitioned the General Assembly of Virginia for a town charter.  The charter was granted in October, 1786, thus founding Lynchburg.

The town of Lynchburg grew slowly between 1786 and 1800, with the addition of tobacco warehouses, a few stores, homes, taverns, a Masonic Lodge and one small church.  The first newspaper was published in 1798.  In 1799 the first efforts to supply the town with water from area springs and wells began.

On January 10, 1805 the town was incorporated.  By 1810 the town now included additional tobacco warehouses, groceries, tanneries, blacksmiths and druggists.  The first church was built in 1806 by the Methodists.

poplar forest

Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest

Also in 1806 Thomas Jefferson began the construction of his home, “Poplar Forest,’ just west of Lynchburg.  The construction continued for several years, during which time Jefferson used the home as a retreat from visitors to Monticello.

In 1815, Dr. George Cabell, who owned a point of land (in then Campbell County) adjoining the city of Lynchburg built his home “Point of Honor” (see blog post 7)/14/14.  This historic district is today known as Daniel’s Hill (see blog post 4/8/14) and is the historic district where The Carriage House Inn Bed and Breakfast is located.

By the early 1800’s tobacco was the city’s major economy, with numerous warehouses processing and then shipping the tobacco to Richmond via river bateaux (see blog post 6/20/10).  The beginning of the Salem Turnpike (today’s Route 460 between Lynchburg and Roanoke) was begun in 1817.  A toll bridge across the James River was also built in 1817 into Amherst County, at the original ferry site at 9th Street.

Post card of the Clay Street Reservoir

Post card of the Clay Street Reservoir

During the 1820’s the town accomplished a major engineering feat with the construction of a water works system which drew water from the river.  A reservoir was constructed at the corner of 7th and Clay Streets (you can still see it today) along with wooded pipes and a pump house at the rivers edge near the bottom of 7th Street.

Post card of old canal and shoe factory-Downtown Lynchburg

Post card of old canal and shoe factory-Downtown Lynchburg

By 1840 the James River and Kanawha Canal was completed, which allowed packet boats to operate between Lynchburg and Richmond.  People, tobacco and other goods were shipped up and down the river.  On March 24, 1848 the city of Lynchburg incorporated the Lynchburg and Tennessee Railroad.  Property at the old ferry site was purchased to build a depot.  Construction began in 1850 and on February 18, 1852 the railroad’s first locomotive, the “Virginia,” was tested.

The 1850’s saw many exciting and new developments in the city.  Telegraph service to Richmond began.  Gas works for lighting and a sewer system enhanced the residents and business owners homes and offices.  A third railroad started running into Lynchburg.  More and more people were moving into Lynchburg, as it was becoming a thriving southern city.

Next month we will continue this series with more history about Lynchburg from the 1860’s until the 1960’s.