Lynchburg, is it just another Southern university town?
Lynchburg Virginia is actually just another small town in the South that is searching for an identity and a path for it’s future growth.
It’s even a little funny, when you think about it, but many of the local residents have kept their head in the sand over just what Lynchburg is today.
You see Lynchburg is the home of one of the major universities in the country; Liberty University.
I really don’t need to get into this fact too far other than to say that this popular university has tens of thousands of students, that attend the school on site, along with probably just as many that study through the school’s excellent online study and degree programs.
So, if you stand back and take an unbiased view of Lynchburg today, it’s a “College Town”, pure and simple. It’s quite noticeable that the town’s population, is split essentially into two factions; the locals, and the young university students residing most of the year around the town.
This phenomenal growth of Liberty University over the past several decades has sparked a lot of growth in construction; of roads, of apartments, of homes, of restaurants, and all of the other support industries that a young and active population demands.
This growth has sparked changes that, although good for the immediate economy, can be destructive to some of those things that make a small town an enchanting place to live.
And, lest I forget, Lynchburg is home to a number of higher eduction facilities including, a thriving Community College (CVCC), Lynchburg College, Randolph Macon College along with several small specialty colleges, So, if you live in Lynchburg the options to further your education are abundant.
Lynchburg Academy of Arts
Absence does make the Heart grow Fonder
Lynchburg is also my hometown.
I haven’t actually lived here, in Lynchburg Virginia, for over twenty years now, but I do have family there and a few remaining friends who are still kicking around.
So naturally, I end up traveling back to town a couple of times each year to; see my family, recharge my batteries as a Southern boy, and honestly, to just go see the remaining memories of my childhood.
The interesting thing is that over the past twenty-plus years, and after moving further and further away from these roots of mine, I have found that my personal perspective on the town, it’s history and it’s people has evolved.
This evolution has been more obvious to me, I guess, because I am rarely here and the changes are so visible to me, when I do make a return trip.
Old Bank Building on 9th and Main, Circa 1865
Planned Change versus Change for the sake of Change
Because I only visit once or twice a year, I am see some things which I always felt were unique and even beautiful jewels unique to my old hometown that are disappearing with almost every visit I make.
Sure, in the eyes of the casual observer, some of these, what I would call jewels, are just seen as old buildings, or expensive facades, or cobblestone streets that require too much money to maintain.
I understand that the once vibrant parks, statues and other such attractions need to be cleaned up but they are often just eliminated to allow for the future commercial growth of the area.
Also, sad as it is to say, some of the now missing sights, in this hometown of mine, are, or were, in their own way, very unique and you would have thought they were also important enough to the area’s history to be worth preserving for posterity.
Oh, I’m sure there are some dedicated preservation committees and other groups who work very hard to preserve what is left of Lynchburg’s architectural uniqueness. And we should not only applaud them but give them our support, in their endeavors.
Of course, the problem with too many of the local residents who are going about their daily lives, is they are heedless of the changes and just don’t seem to pay a lot of attention to the subtle losses of their historic inheritance.
That is, unless the changes are harmful to them, personally.
Period buildings along Main Street
Things I love about my small Hometown
One old habit of mine is, whenever I come back to town, I will often take a day or two to explore sections of the old downtown area and some of the surrounding neighborhoods, just looking to see what is new, what has disappeared and what is being repaired.
I may not be a resident, but I spent the first thirty or so years of my life growing up here and I do have a fondness for so many of the small things I feel should be around for others to enjoy, years from now.
I love the things that were built to last.
I love special architecture that someone took the time to design and build just for it’s uniqueness.
I love hand laid stones and walls of handmade bricks, built to do a job and also stand the test of time against the elements.
i love buildings, the beautiful and the ugly, that have stood against the vagaries of time, weather and politics and still stand on their firm foundations and say; “look at me”.
As a kid I loved riding the city bus to downtown theaters for the Saturday Matinees, where old Westerns and Tarzan movies were my favorites. There were three theaters that I remember going to and they were; the Warner, The Paramount, and the Icies just on Main Street. Today, they are all gone.
I loved it when Dad would take all of us on a Sunday drive through the rich sections of town and my Dad telling us, “If you work hard, you can own a home like these, yourself!”.
I love knowing that the streets I drive on today still have the tracks of a once vibrant city’s trolly cars.
I love knowing that there was once a corduroy highway built between Lynchburg and Bedford, that was called corduroy because it was a highway of tree trunks laid down for a road bed.
I love that during the Civil War, Lynchburg had a hospital that treated the wounded of both the Confederate and Union armies. And there is a beautiful Confederate Cemetery within the Old City Cemetery off of 5th Street, that contains the graves of hundreds of soldiers.
i love that my city was once famous for it’s parks, like Miller Park; with exotic flower beds, with picnic areas and fancy gazebos , with manicured paths put there simply for the joy of the walk through the park and even with the occasional rare animals displayed for the families of the town to walk past and show their children.
I just love such things that are still in Lynchburg as well as those that are long gone, not for any reason other than because they are or were unique and special to others, now long gone.
And I not only have my personal memories but I have the stories of my family, parents, aunts and uncles, who remembered the great things that were already gone when I was a child, but they were so proud of showing me, while they existed.
If you slow down and look you will see many great facades on the buildings along Main Street
A short walk on Main Street
So, I’ll end my ramble right here and because I am in town, and it being a really nice day, my wife and I took a walk on Main Street.
Oh, we didn’t walk the full length of what is officially labeled as Main Street.
No, we walked along a short length of Main Street, between 5th and 12th streets, which was once considered the heart of old Lynchburg and really the whole Central Virginia area.
You see, when I was a child, back in the late fifties; the city blocks from Twelfth Street all the way to Fifth Street were the commercial center where everyone went to shop.
I know this doesn’t sound like much of a walk, eight short city blocks, but I did spend a couple of hours on this little excursion of mine.
And, you might ask what was my purpose? Why did I take this walk, anyway?
You see, when I was a child, Lynchburg had no giant indoor malls, no short strip-malls along the streets filled with cheap shops, no restaurant row, no giant supermarkets or especially enormous gas stations with a dozen or more gas pumps.
Back then, Lynchburg had Main Street, and Main Street had; the department stores, the furniture stores, the jewelry stores, the movie theaters, the pawn shops, the pool halls, the banks and the Doctor’s offices, that if you needed such things, you went downtown to use.
Well, I had my handy Nikon and I wanted to take some pictures of what was left of my memories.
So you ask again? What was left? Well, as a town changes, a lot of the architectural uniqueness changes with it.
The whole purpose of my walk was to just get some shots of anything visibly interesting left of the buildings, the doorways, the windows, the stained glass, the wrought iron, just anything unique that has survived so far.
I’m no historian, of course, and especially not any kind of architectural historian, but I can tell when something seems to be grand and has the look of craftsmanship that is hard to find in very many places today.
So, again, my wife and I took a walk, and along the way, I saw a few things I believe someone might think are worth a walk to see for themselves, while these things are still around to enjoy.
Along the way, I took some pictures and here they are for you to enjoy, or not.
Original Cobblestone street between Church and Court Streets
The Piano’s on Main Street
One of the more entertaining things you will find when you do go downtown in Lynchburg is the number of decorated Pianos along your walk.
Yes, I said Pianos!
I don’t have the details, but a number of the local schools took some old upright piano’s, painted them with some relatively unique artwork and placed them in front of some of the business’.
They are kept functional, and if you go downtown on a busy day you can often find someone who has just stopped and started playing one of these beauties.
Now, that’s what I call an attempt at rejuvenation of a town; artistic displays of local school student art that is also a tool for musicians to exercise their skills, all for the entertainment of anyone who is walking by.
SO, below you will find pictures of a few of the pianos I found, just standing there waiting for someone to enjoy.
Who am I to do this?
Hopefully, this little sampling of the pictures I took on my walk that day are entertaining and of some interest to you.
So, I’m just another person who took a walk on Main Street and attempted to capture a few of my own old memories through a small piece of the pictorial history of Lynchburg.
by Don Bobbitt, 2016
Copyright, Don Bobbitt, 2016, All Rights Reserved
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