Lynchburg, located on the James River in the southern Piedmont area, was first settled by Quakers from Pennsylvania and the Tidewater area of Virginia in the 1750s. John Lynch, the merchant for whom the city is named, helped to establish the settlement along the James River with the construction of Lynch’s Ferry in 1757. By the 1780s, bateaux were transporting tobacco down the James River to Richmond, and Lynch’s Ferry had expanded to include a tobacco warehouse, a tavern and a mill. In 1786, the town of Lynchburg was established, and in 1813, the first Lynchburg Courthouse was constructed on Court House Hill. That building was torn down and another courthouse constructed in 1851, which remains standing today.
Tobacco continued to be Lynchburg’s primary industry during the first half of the 19th century. During the 1840s and 1850s, several railroad lines were constructed through Lynchburg. In 1859, a Richmond newspaper reported that Lynchburg was “the hub of the Virginia system of railroads.” Lynchburg experienced fighting during the Civil War. On June 18, 1864, General Jubal Early and local troops successfully defended the city against Union General David Hunter in the Battle of Lynchburg. In 1865, however, Lynchburg surrendered to Union forces and remained under military rule until 1870. During the 1880s, the city shifted away from the tobacco industry and took advantage of its location midway between the manufacturers of the Northern and Southern markets to become a major wholesale distribution and jobbing center for the South. A number of warehouses and jobbing houses, as well as mills and foundries, were constructed along the railroad and the James River during this period.
The commercial area along Commerce and Main streets prospered with the development of the new industries. Not only did a number of stores line these streets to sell manufactured goods, but large financial institutions were established as well, to handle the banking needs generated by such prosperity. During the 1920s, Lynchburg’s economy continued to prosper and the city’s first true skyscraper, the Allied Arts Building, was constructed in 1929. Located at 725 Church Street, the building was designed by Lynchburg architects Stanhope Johnson and Ray Brannan. It stands at 17 stories and was the first Art Deco style building constructed in Lynchburg.
Although Lynchburg remains a major city in this region, by the mid-20th century, many of the factors that established it as a transportation, shipping and manufacturing center declined. As residents moved out to the suburbs, many of the retail stores along Main Street moved to the suburban shopping centers as well. Lynchburg became a designated Virginia Main Street community in 2000, and a year later, the Court House Hill/Downtown District was listed in the National Register. Lynch’s Landing has led the city’s downtown revitalization efforts. Many historic buildings have been rehabilitated. Significant amounts of private and public funding have been invested in downtown.