John Lynch, who was only 17 at that time, established a ferry at a difficult ford in the James River in 1757. Over the years dwellings sprung up on the navigable river near his ferry house. Lynch expanded his enterprises himself in the 1780s when he constructed a tobacco warehouse on his land north of the river. In 1784 the ambitious Lynch petitioned the Virginia General Assembly to authorize a town charter for his little fiefdom. In 1786 his request was granted to establish “a town on the lands of Lynch in the County Campbell.”
The new town was raised on tobacco, a variation known as dark leaf tobacco suited for chewing and rolling cigars. Hiogsheads of tobacco from the surrounding farms arrived at the James River and were poled down to Richmond in flat bateaux boats. By the time John Lynch died in 1820 at the age of 80 the town that developed on the hills surrounding his old ferry was well on its way to being the industrial star of southwestern Virginia. Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Lynchburg is perhaps the most rising place in the U.S.... It ranks now next to Richmond in importance...” In the years before the Civil War Lynchburg was among the richest towns per capita in the country.
Tobacco also kickstarted the Lynchburg economic engine following the Civil War. In 1882 Lynchburg native revolutionized the tobacco industry by inventing a cigarette rolling machine. Within five years more than 30,000,000 pounds of tobacco were marketed from Lynchburg. The foundation laid by tobacco led to a thriving trade in iron and steel. Its shoe factories were among the busiest in America. For a time the world’s largest tannin extract plant operated here.
The 1880s to 1930s brought Lynchburg’s greatest prosperity and the downtown area retains a wealth of commercial buildings from this era that we will see on our walking tour but first we will begin where the town began, at the site of John Lynch’s ferry...
James River at 9th Street
At this spot on the James River in 1757 John Lynch established his ferry. In 2004, with money raised from local citizens, this jet-powered water spout designed by Georgia Fountain Company was put into action. Secured to a stone pier from the remains of a 19th century bridge, the fountain throws James River water 190 feet in the air, laying claim to being the highest river fountain east of the Mississippi River.
WITH YOUR BACK TO THE JAMES RIVER, WALK UP 9TH STREET TO JEFFERSON STREET.
27 9th Street at Jefferson Street
An innovative children’s museum today, the J. W. Wood Building stands as one of the largest and best-preserved pre-Civil War structures in Lynchburg. Featuring a cast iron facade on the ground level, the building was constructed as a warehouse in 1853. During the Civil War it did duty as a hospital and commissary and during the 1900s a wholesale grocery firm operated here.
WALK UP ONE BLOCK TO COMMERCE STREET AND TURN LEFT.
Lynchburg’s first tobacco warehouse was constructed in 1792. Over the next century scores more would be built along the James River and the largest were sited along Commerce Street between 10th and 13th streets. Some of these brick behemoths have survived in whole or part and been re-adapted - each could hold a couple million pounds of tobacco leaf.
TURN RIGHT ON 11TH STREET AND TURN RIGHT ON MAIN STREET.
Mutual Savings Bank & Trust
1030 Main Street
The Mutual Savings Bank & Trust Company organized in 1913 and moved into this compact Neoclassical vault. The one-bay stone building is dominated by a large central-arched opening. The bank did not survive but the original building approaches its centennial having most recently operated as a restaurant.
Union Trust and Deposit Company
1024 Main Street
The razing of the east side of Main Street on this block stops at this slender four-story brick structure from the late 19th century. Its eclectic design, originally for the Union Trust and Deposit Company, features Richardsonian Romanesque-style rough stone arched windows in sets of three (notice how the arches flatten as they go up), bands of terra cotta and a wildly decorative Victorian cornice with a flared gable at its center. The building has served many masters through the years, including one who added the street level storefront: a bookseller, asporting goods firm, a shoe peddler and antiques dealer among them.
Lynchburg Furniture Company
1021-23 Main Street
In the 1850s cast iron began to be used in New York City for large commercial facades. Cast iron could be forged into a wide array of shapes and designs, allowing elaborate facades that were far cheaper than traditional stone carved ones. These facades could also be painted a wide array of colors. Cast iron came to Lynchburg in the 1880s and a number of commercial buildings boasted ornate facades but this building from 1887 is the only remaining example. At its creation it was even more decorative with a fancy iron balcony overhanging the sidewalk at the first floor. Today you have to look above the street level to appreciate this survivor of the cast iron age.
1019 Main Street
This building has been occupied by purveyors of men’s clothing for 100 years, beginning with the Webb-Whitaker Company. It presents a classic downtown recessed entry framed by glass windows and a splendid art glass transom.
Shearer Brothers Furniture Store
920-924 Main Street
This beefy four-story brick Romanesque-styled building liberally covered in red terra cotta was constructed in 1891 for the Guggenheimer family’s dry goods enterprise. But it is best known as the home of Shearer Brothers Furniture that occupied the space for much of the 20th century. In the 1950s the upper floors were clad in a corrugated aluminum and a new brick storefront. The aluminum has been stripped away but the intruding storefront remains.
1880s/1890s Retail Trio
902-904-906 Main Street
Look up past the altered storefronts to see this decorative triad of retail survivors from the 19th century. The standout is the center building constructed for F.M. Kirby and Company. Its center is dominated by a two-level oriel that is surrounded by richly decorated terra cotta swags and garlands. Its tenants through the years have included several drug stores, Woolworths and Kresge. The building is flanked by red brick commercial properties crowned with ornate copper cornices.
Lynchburg National Bank
901 Main Street
The Lynchburg National Bank took its first deposits in 1865 and moved into this imposing Neoclassical home in 1916. The architect was an Englishman, Alfred Bossom, who was a great champion of large sky-tickling buildings in the first decades of the 20th century. He designed several impressive banks in Virginia and it was a comforting thought to work in a Bossom-buit bank since he invented a device for protecting people from suffocating if they accidentally got locked in a bank vault. Here he executed the Lynchburg National Bank in granite with engaged Tuscan columns and two distinct entrances. The building is capped with a balustrade and copper dome. In 1926 Alfred Bossom returned to England and embarked on a long career as a member of Parliament in the House of Commons.
827-829 Main Street
In 1905, rising above Lynchburg’s traditional center of commerce for over 200 years, rose the city’s first skyscraper - a seven-story masonry structure created for the Krise Banking Company. As with many early high-rises the Krise Building was formed to resemble a classical column with a distinct base (the rusticated lower floors perforated with arched openings), a shaft (the relatively unadorned center stories) and a capital (the decorated top floor and bracketed cornice. In addition to being the city’s tallest building (an honor it held until 1913) it was the most modern as well with fire-proofing features, mail chutes and electrical hydraulic elevators.
People’s National Bank
801 Main Street
The next prince of the Lynchburg skyline arrived in 1914 courtesy of the People’s National Bank. The ten-story Neoclassical tower rises from a granite base and is faced in stone and terra cotta. People’s National was only the first of a parade of financial institutions who have put their name on the building.
Academy of Music Theatre
600 Main Street
This was one of six Academy of Music Theatres constructed around the Commonwealth around the turn of the 20th century and the only original one remaining. Busy Virginia architects E.G. Frye and Aubrey Chesterman delivered a Beaux Arts creation for the Lynchburg streetscape in 1905, liberally displaying classical elements on the exterior (rusticated base, Ionic pilasters, pediments) and especially inside. The Academy boasted perfect sightlines, extraordinary acoustics, and was Lynchburg’s first fully electrified building.
TURN LEFT ON 6TH STREET. TURN LEFT ON CHURCH STREET.
Young Women’s Christian Association
626 Church Street
The first Association in the U.S., Ladies Christian Association was formed in New York City and the term “YWCA” was first used in 1866. This impressive Colonial Revival brick home for the Lynchburg chapter, founded in 1912, was constructed in 1919.
Anthony & Company
701 Church Street
This building began life as a church, designed by William Ellison in 1850 for St. Paul’s Episcopalians. In 1894 the funeral for Confederate General Jubal Early was held here, just before the congregation departed for a new meetinghouse on Clay Street. In the 1920s the three-story, dark brick structure received the Georgian Revival makeover seen today. Walk around the corner on 7th street to see some of the original windows from its days as a church more than 150 years ago.
712 Church Street
Lynchburg received a “European-class” hotel when the five-story Virginian Hotel was built in 1913 at a reported cost of $250,000 and stuffed with all the modern amenities a traveler could want. Look up to see the variation in the brick color from an addition in the late 1920s to bring the number of rooms to 164. By 1969 there was not such a need for a downtown Lynchburg hotel and the Virginian was sold at auction for for $163,000. Today it has been redeveloped for residential use.
Allied Arts Building
725 Church Street
The 17-story Allied Arts Building stands as a monument to the optimism that gripped Lynchburg during the pre-Depression 1920s. With the city booming and office space at a premium a group of business and community leaders came together to form the Allied Arts Corporation in 1928 to draw up plans for a new major office building. The consortium hired Stanhope Johnson, a Lynchburg native and the city’s leading architect, to shepherd the project to completion. Although Johnson and his top designer Addison Staples were known for conservative structures here they tackled the newly popular Art Deco style for the first time. The resulting building that is cut into a steep hillside stands more than 80 years later as one of Virginia’s best Deco skyscrapers. The first three stories are faced in panels of dark greenstone, an unusual stone quarried from a vein in western Lynchburg. Local builders had used greenstone since the 1870s but only as an accent material - never in such profusion and as the quarry has been closed the highly polished base here remains the best expression of this local resource. The upper floors are created with contrasting yellow brick. Johnson moved his firm into the penthouse suite on the 17th floor of his masterwork when it opened in 1931. The Allied Arts Building reigned as the city’s tallest structure until 1974; Stanhope Johnson died the following year.
801 Church Street
This three-story brick building was constructed in 1900 for the Hygeia Hospital. It is typical of downtown commercial buildings in its Italianate style seen in the cornice brackets supporting a flat roof, arched window hoods and slender one-over-one windows.
820 Church Street
This otherwise routine three-bay brick building is enlivened by fanciful fenestration and an imaginative cornice. The street level is faced with Lynchburg greenstone rubble.
News & Daily Advance Building
863 Church Avenue
The first edition of The News appeared in 1866; a competitor, The Daily Advance, hit the streets in 1880. That year Carter Glass, who had grown up down the street, was hired as a reporter at The News. He rose to become the newspaper’s editor by 1887 and purchased the business the following year. Soon, Glass was able to acquire the afternoon Daily Advance, to buy out the competing Daily Republican, and to become the only newspaper publisher in Lynchburg. Carter Press entered politics as a state senator in 1899. He was appointed Secretary of the Treasury by Woodrow Wilson and went on to serve 26 years in the United States Senate, a post he held until his death at the age of 88 in 1946.
The Glass family continued to publish both papers until 1979 when the papers were purchased by Worrell Newspapers and eventually morphed into The News & Advance. This Art Deco confection, designed by Roanoke architect Robert M. Allen, was constructed in 1931 to house the paper’s operations. It remained here until 1974.
9th Street between Church and Court streets
The first monument here honored five firemen killed in the line of duty on May 30, 1883. Designed by August Forsberg, the monument was set in a plaza and featured a couple of steps in the hillside. In the 1920s Aubrey Chesterman created a memorial to the memory of 47 local soldiers killed in World War I by extending the terrace up the 70-foot hill to Court Street. The Listening Post, crafted by Charles Keck, stands at the base of the terrace. The granite and limestone stairway pauses at memorial-studded landings en route to the top where a statue of a Confederate infantryman sculpted by James O. Scott stands.
900 Church Street
Today’s city government is housed in Lynchburg’s third federal building, a Depression-era project completed in 1933. It originally did duty as a post office and courthouse. The facade is punctuated by two-story recessed windows nestled between Ionic pilasters.
Monument Terrace Building
901 Church Street
This three-story Neoclassical building was constructed as the United States Post Office in 1912 under the auspices of James Knox Taylor, supervising architect of the United States Treasury. Arched windows and the main entrance pierce a rusticated stone base on the ground floor.
TAKE A FEW STEPS BACK TO MONUMENT TERRACE AND WALK TO THE TOP.
901 Court Street
This Greek Revival building was constructed as the Lynchburg Court House in 1855, sited on the summit of one of the town’s many hills. The former hall of justice is dominated by a quartet of imposing fluted Doric columns. In the pediment fronting Court Street is a clock that was crafted in Boston back in 1833 and used in the first building of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. The clock was hauled out of mothballs and installed in the courthouse with its weights cleverly dropping into the portico’s two inside columns to keep time. The Old Court House trundled on until 1970; it was restored in the 1970s and opened as a museum in 1979.
TURN RIGHT ON COURT STREET.
First Presbyterian Church
815 Court Street
The Presbyterians first began assembling in 1815; this is their third sanctuary. This Romanesque tour-de-force with broad arched entryways and soaring corner tower was created in 1899-1900 by architect Edward G. Frye and is often tabbed as his masterwork. The church, slathered with multi-colored brick and stone corbels carved as humans, was abandoned by the church in 1952 and became a property of the city.
John Marshall Warwick House
720 Court Street
This brick house was erected in 1826, one of the earliest to be situated at the crest of Court House Hill, by John Marshall Warwick a prominent tobacconist and future mayor of Lynchburg. Hailing from the late Federal period, the house features stone lintels over the windows and decorative panels between the windows. In 1842, Warwick’s grandson John W. Daniel was born in this house. Daniel, despite being crippled in the Battle of the Wilderness during the Civil War, became a politician who represented Virginia in the United States House of Representative and then spent 23 years in the United States Senate.
Court Street United Methodist Church
621 Court Street
If this church building looks vaguely familiar it is because architect Edward Frye followed his Romanesque work at First Presbyterian Church with a similar design for city Methodists. Completed in 1902, the structure is executed in buff-colored rough-face Kentucky stone.
TURN LEFT ON 6TH STREET AND WALK UP TO CLAY STREET AND TURN LEFT.
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
605 Clay Street
Lynchburg’s oldest Episcopal church organized in 1822. The cornerstone for this massive Richardsonian Romanesque of gray Virginia granite was laid in 1891. Frank Miles Day, a Philadelphia victorian architect, drew up the design that draws on the influences of America’s most famous architect of the post-Civil War period - Henry Hobson Richardson including broad powerful arches, multi-colored rough stone, a corner tower, arched windows created in groups of threes and a mixing of materials.
TURN LEFT ON 7TH STREET AND WALK DOWN TO JEFFERSON STREET. TURN RIGHT TO RETURN TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT BELOW 9TH STREET.