By Lowell & Kaye Christie, F47246
Since 1985 the Virginia Main Street program has helped many of the state’s communities revitalize their downtown districts. It has a two-pronged goal “” stimulate the long-term economic growth, and increase local pride in the past. So far, Virginia has designated 17 Main Street communities, some for their historic architecture, and others for one-of-a-kind businesses, historic and natural attractions, or other notable features. Thirteen are included here. All are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
1. Lynchburg has retained much of its architectural past, so much so that it has four residential historic districts. Daniel’s Hill Historic District is a residential neighborhood whose homes were built in the 19th century. In the Diamond Hill Historic District, you’ll see the former residences of Lynchburg’s most prestigious and moneyed folks, whereas merchants and civic leaders lived in the Federal Hill Historic District. Finally, the Garland Hill Historic District lies in the hills outside the business district. Besides its history, Garland Hill has the best-preserved homes. Visitors can pick up a walking/driving tour brochure at Lynchburg’s Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau.
2. Danville, located in Virginia’s southern Piedmont, owes its growth to tobacco. Without farming and processing this product, people wouldn’t have had the money to build such architecturally exquisite homes. In the last days of the Civil War, Danville briefly served as capital of the Confederacy after the government abandoned Richmond. Luckily, the city was unscathed. So far in the revitalization effort, more than 30 buildings have been rehabilitated in four areas: Danville; Tobacco Warehouse and Residential; Public Library; and Downtown Danville. It might take a couple days of exploration to do this place justice.
3. Culpeper, originally known as Fairfax, was founded in 1759. Downtown buildings are constructed of brick, reflecting various styles. The residential district features two homes of particular interest, one built by Revolutionary War Gen. Edward Stevens, the other by Confederate Lt. Gen. Ambrose Hill. The Culpeper Historic District was listed in the National Register in 1987 and designated a Virginia Main Street community a year later. The locals certainly have been busy, with more than 320 buildings rehabilitated so far.
4. Warrenton, which began as a Colonial village, attracted those who appreciated its beautiful setting. An exceptional collection of houses, churches, and commercial buildings in a wide range of architectural styles remain. The historic district preserves several buildings associated with both sides in the Civil War. Since 1989, nearly 400 buildings have been rehabilitated.
5. Bedford was first settled in the mid-18th century. A number of churches and houses survived the Civil War era, including the home of politician William H. Burwell. In 1864 troops commanded by Union Gen. David Hunter and Confederate Gen. Jubal Early fought it out in the area, and the Confederates emerged victorious. After the war Bedford became the fifth-largest manufacturing center in Virginia, at least until a fire swept through town in 1884. All-new commercial buildings were built of brick, some with cast-iron fronts. One of the notable post-fire buildings is the Masonic Hall, now the home of the Bedford City/County Museum. Since 1985, nearly 400 buildings have been rehabilitated.
6. Berryville, located in the northern Shenandoah Valley, was established in the late 18th century. During the Civil War, the Southern army raided Union Gen. Philip Sheridan’s seven-mile-long supply train at Berryville. Gen. Robert E. Lee also camped in town. Prosperity returned when the railroad came through, bringing a construction boom that lasted from the 1880s to the 1930s. The community, which is located close to the suburbs of Washington, D.C., and has a population of only 3,000, has rehabilitated nearly 200 buildings since 1992.
7. Radford was first inhabited in the 1830s when a few pioneers settled on the banks of southwestern Virginia’s New River. But it took the arrival of the railroad 20 years later before a “real” village came to life. The boundaries established when it was incorporated in 1885 now correspond to those of the East Radford Historic District. Since 1989, when Radford became a Virginia Main Street community, nearly 140 buildings have been rehabilitated.
8. Franklin, located in Virginia’s lower Tidewater area, began as a transportation center. Passengers arriving by train would depart by stagecoach to destinations north or west, or on a steamship headed to North Carolina. Franklin didn’t see any fighting during the Civil War, but commerce was certainly disrupted. After the war, the Franklin depot began shipping the “ground pea” (better known as the peanut). In 1881 a fire destroyed the commercial district. The replacements seen today, almost all made of brick, stand tall. Thankfully, nearly 380 of them have been rehabilitated.
9. Orange has a diverse collection of historic buildings in a number of architectural styles in its downtown area. The county courthouse dates to 1859. After the Civil war, Orange thrived. Before long the town had new banks, wholesale stores, merchant mills, and an ice factory. Streets were paved, electric lights were installed, and a library was created. Alas, in 1908, a fire destroyed half of the town “” but it didn’t stop growth. Today the downtown’s success has become a model for other towns and small cities in Virginia.
10. Staunton was merely a village back in the 1830s. It took the arrival of the railroad to bring major growth. The 150 or so edifices of the Beverley Historic District date to that era. Staunton is now one of the most prosperous communities in the Shenandoah Valley, and almost 300 historic buildings have been rehabilitated. The First Presbyterian Church remains, too, preserving memories of President Woodrow Wilson, who was born in the church’s manse in 1856.
11. Lexington, also in the Shenandoah Valley, was incorporated in 1841. Then, and now, its main industry has been education. Both Washington & Lee University and the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) lie within the historic district. Brick structures in the commercial district that date to the 19th and early 20th centuries remain in use, as do several churches.
12. Winchester was established in 1752, during a time when the area still belonged to England. Its location at the northern end of the Shenandoah Valley made it an ideal site for trade, but it also brought involvement in the French and Indian, Revolutionary, and Civil wars. By 1810 Winchester boasted a number of respectable buildings, including the courthouse, jail, and several churches. By 1886 it had four glove factories, three furniture factories, five tanneries, two foundries, plus other mills and factories. Things changed in 1925, when commercial apple orchards became the primary business. Residents of Winchester began working to preserve the city’s historic structures back in 1964, and 170 buildings have been rehabilitated and preserved.
13. Marion. Large numbers of settlers began arriving in southwest Virginia late in the 18th century, resulting in the creation of the Wilderness Road to carry them across the Cumberland Mountains into Kentucky. By 1832 Marion was the county seat. Along with the construction of a courthouse came considerable growth in commerce and industry. Most of the historical buildings seen in the town today date to the early 20th century. The downtown started to decline in the 1960s, but since the Marion Downtown Revitalization Association set to work, 115 buildings have been rehabilitated.