The Story of Piedmont Auto in Lynchburg

The only automobile company ever chartered in Virginia was located in Lynchburg.

“It is believed that the establishment here of a factory for the manufacture of motor vehicles at this time presents an attractive proposition, both to the city of Lynchburg as a whole and to the investors in the enterprise”…The News, November 28, 1915. Within the year, Piedmont Motor was formed and granted permission by the State Corporation Commission to issue up to one million dollars in stock. In 1916 the company began taking orders and delivered their first vehicles in the spring of the following year.

From 1917-1923 Piedmont Motor operated in Lynchburg, Virginia. The company was located on Hollins Mill Road where Flowers Bakery stands today. Parts purchased from top manufacturers arrived by rail and were assembled into a finished product at the facility. Multiple companies then purchased the cars and sold them under their own label.  In Texas the car was known as the Lone Star, in Chicago it was the Bush, and in Europe it was the Alsace. This European partnership proved to be the most profitable.

 

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While the company produced both cars and trucks, the best-selling Piedmont was the touring car. Available as a 6-cylinder or 4-cylinder, it carried five passengers and was modeled after the Hudson. At its peak, plant capacity was six cars per day. All were painted forest green and reached speeds of 55 mph.

In an attempt to demonstrate its superiority, the car was driven on a 424 mile journey from Lynchburg to Richmond then back through Charlottesville, on to Staunton, Lexington, and Roanoke, before returning to Lynchburg. The goal was to establish the Piedmont as faster and more reliable than the Essex, its primary competition. Total trip time was 20 hours and 47 minutes beating the Essex by three hours and four minutes! The actual run time was 17 hours and 17 minutes. Three hours and twenty minutes were lost due to a blowout and repair work. Today that same trip is estimated to take six hours and forty-seven minutes.

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Priced higher than its competition, the Piedmont sold for $1,200-$2,000. The higher price, along with European demand for the car, is credited with its downfall. Sales were so brisk in Europe that Piedmont ignored local dealerships. When the European market slowed, the company faced difficulty recapturing the local market.  In an attempt to gain back their local audience the following advertisement was placed in the December 20, 1920 issue of The News, " We have set aside 20 of our latest model automobiles — to be sold between tomorrow and January 15, 1921, only to residents of Lynchburg, Campbell, Bedford, Amherst and Appomattox at the  prices being $500 below usual.”  The company even convinced the local police to use their car in hopes of boosting their popularity. In the end, that was not enough to salvage the company.  In 1922 the company was forced into bankruptcy and later sold at auction.  After five short years and approximately 3000 cars, Piedmont Motors disappeared.  It is estimated that only three of these cars exist today.  Two vehicles are owned by private collectors and other is in the Virginia Museum of Transportation’s collection.

 

Written by Wanda Carpenter, staff of the Lynchburg Musuem

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Ammon G. Hancock and Tobacco

            Tobacco played a large role in the development of Lynchburg. Smoking and chewing tobacco were manufactured in numerous factories around the city. Ammon Goode Hancock established a tobacco factory in 1853 on what is now Cabell Street. In the mid-nineteenth century, there were eighteen tobacco factories in Lynchburg. They would help support the city for fifty years but most would not survive past 1906. Out of the factories that started the tobacco industry in Lynchburg, only Ammon G. Hancock’s factory would still operate into the 1900’s.

            Hancock did not isolate his tobacco business to one factory, but purchased other properties along Sixth Street and Cabell Street. His company could be found under the following names: “Hill City Steam Tobacco Works,” “Hancock and Sons,” and “Hancock Brothers and Company.” The latter name was created in 1883 when Ammon’s sons and nephew were the proprietors of the business. Ammon G. Hancock stayed involved in the tobacco industry until his death in 1888. It was bequeathed to his wife, until her death when it was equally divided among their children.

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He had four children: James, Ernest J. Edwin Ammon, and Lilly. While Ammon’s properties were equally divided, his holdings expanded beyond tobacco factories. James received a drug store. Ernest J. received the tobacco factory at 31 Cabell Street while Edwin A. received the tobacco factory at 41-49 Cabell Street. Lily became the owner of her parent’s residence. Ernest J. and James used their properties as collateral on loans that they were not able to meet. 

            Due to their financial defaults, the tobacco factory and drug store were auctioned off in 1901 and 1903 respectively. Lilly and Edwin A. purchased the properties. Edwin A. became the owner of the drug store on Sixth Street while Lilly acquired the tobacco factory. The business would remain in the family and grew more inclusive in 1910. At that time, the tobacco enterprise was incorporated with Ammon G. Hancock’s great nephew and grandson as officers. The company would operate until Imperial Tobacco Lofts bought it in 1918. Although the manufactory enterprise had been sold, “Hancock Brothers and Company” can be found in the Lynchburg Business Directory in 1919-1920 operating a tobacco business at Main Street. It remains in the Lynchburg Business Directory in the tobacco business until 1922. The Hancock family operated a successful tobacco business in Lynchburg that operated for more that half a century.

            Ammon G. Hancock created a tobacco factory in the middle of the eighteenth century when there was a lot of competition. Despite many other factories, he was able to create a family business that would outlast various other Lynchburg tobacco factories. He created a successful business that incorporated his family. It grew after his death and lasted until the proprietors decided to sell.

 

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Written by Emily Bordelon of the Lynchburg Museum

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