Book review: Lynchburg: A City Set on Seven Hills

In their book, Lynchburg: A City Set On Seven Hills, Clifton and Dorothy Potter, Professors of History at Lynchburg College, write about the history of Lynchburg from pre-1757 through 2007.  The book begins by teaching the reader that the first inhabitants of the area were the Monacan Indians.  The Monacans would give way to the Quakers in terms of influential groups who contributed to the early rise of what would become Lynchburg.  John Lynch, a Quaker and the man Lynchburg is named after, was an early pioneer in creating industry in the area.  His ferry service across the James River helped increase the amount of business opportunities for him and others while at the same time increasing the revenue and population in the area.  So, in 1786 after John Lynch made 45 acres available, the town of Lynchburg was formed.  Innovations in transportation and technology made their way to Lynchburg in the early half of the 1800s. 

In 1847, Lynchburg decided to build its own railway line followed by a second railway line in 1850.  Lynchburg had gas lights in some homes and major streets, a telegraph company, and its first daily newspaper, The Daily Express, by the end of 1852.  In 1850, Lynchburg had a population of over 8,000 people and a couple years later on August 27, 1852 Lynchburg was officially a city.  In the decade or so before the Civil War Lynchburg envisioned a future of being the major metropolitan city in southwest Virginia.  Unfortunately, the outbreak of the war put any future plans on hold. 

 View of Lynchburg 1855 by Edward Beyer

View of Lynchburg 1855 by Edward Beyer

During the Civil War Lynchburg, unlike most major Virginia Cities, was left with little physical damage.  During the war Lynchburg’s many tobacco warehouses were used as hospitals for treating injured soldiers, making Lynchburg a hospital center.  On June 16, 1864 General Hunter advanced on Lynchburg and made his headquarters at Sandusky House.  During the night General Early ordered an empty train to be run up and down the tracks on the Tin Bridge.  Hunter was convinced the Confederates intended to defend the city and hesitated.  Hunter’s hesitation allowed Confederate reinforcements to arrive outnumbering the Federals.  On June 19, Hunter evacuated and Lynchburg survived.  With the end of the war and Lincoln’s assassination happening within days of each other the future for Lynchburg and the nation was uncertain.

In the years after the war Lynchburg was passed by Roanoke in terms of economic power when railroads decided to build terminals and junctions points there instead.  Roanoke would become the metropolis and political center Lynchburg had dreamed of becoming.  In April 1917, the United States would be drawn into World War I and Lynchburg would play its part.  Lynchburg would play its part again when the U.S. entered World War II in December 1941.  While some citizens were off fighting in both wars the people remaining in the city contributed to the war effort and made sure all soldiers, not just the ones from Lynchburg, were looked after.  To honor the men Lynchburg lost in both World Wars the city placed their names on tablets on both sides of “The Listening Post” statue at the foot of Monument Terrace war memorial.

 Dedication of Charles Keck's The Listening Post, November 11, 1926 (The Lynchburg News)

Dedication of Charles Keck's The Listening Post, November 11, 1926 (The Lynchburg News)

In the years after World War II more people were coming to Lynchburg, whether it was for school, work, or retirement.  With the increase in people came a greater interest in preserving and remembering the past.  Point of Honor, Sandusky House, and many historic neighborhoods and buildings were restored to showcase their past glory.  These restored local treasures bring more people to the area to live or visit.  To some degree the future of Lynchburg will depend on how well the current citizens remember and promote the past of Lynchburg and the people who made it what it is today.