A TOUR OF LYNCHBURG’S ORIGINAL NEIGHBORHOODS
Photos courtesy of the lynchburg Museum
The nickname “Hill City” dates back to the mid-1800s, Lynchburg Museum Director Ted Delaney said, but the idea of our seven hills is more unknown.
He believes it probably originated around Lynchburg’s sesquicentennial in 1936.
“My guess is that at that point it was probably pretty well accepted that we’re the city of seven hills and we’ve got seven distinct hills,” he said. (Technically, there are eight—but we will get to that in a moment.)
You could say that it’s unique for Lynchburg neighborhoods to be named in this way, but as Delaney explains, it’s actually pretty common for cities to advertise that they have seven hills.
“That was the custom or tradition of Rome and people were trying to kind of piggyback on that,” Delaney said. “And a lot of places claim that but I think what might set Lynchburg apart is that a lot of our neighborhoods still carry the hill name and the hill is still part of the name in the neighborhood.”
This is why Delaney believes each hill should be uniquely preserved.
“It’s unique to Lynchburg because there is no other city that has a Garland Hill, Daniel’s Hill, a College Hill, etc,” he said. “So just from the perspective of being unique and trying to be authentic to your place, I think it has a lot of value.”
On the following pages, Delaney helps us share the early history of each hill.
The largest of the hills, College Hill was originally known as “White House Hill” before military school Lynchburg College was built (no relation to what is now the University of Lynchburg). The general boundaries of College Hill are the Expressway, Kemper Street Railroad Station, and Old City Cemetery. It adjoins Federal and Diamond hills.
College Hill is home to Anne Spencer House and Garden Museum, the John Warwick Daniel statue on Park Avenue, the home of Confederate General Robert Rodes and the brickyard of Christopher Lynch, son of town founder John Lynch.
Even though this is the largest of the city’s hills, you don’t often hear this area referred to by its official name. Delaney said it’s expected that would happen over time.
“Because it’s so well documented of what it used to be and what I would hope is that there’s some way that it is preserved, whether that’s in a historic marker or maybe there’s a place that keeps the name,” he said.
Court House Hill
After Lynchburg’s courthouse was completed in 1813, it was discovered that the building was not within the town’s limits. In 1814 the town boundaries were extended, and the name “Court House Hill” came into use. This is considered the “extra” eighth hill in Lynchburg.
“Most historians don’t include it in the standard seven. Because it includes John Lynch’s original 1786 town, and because it has had so few residences compared to the others, many people don’t consider it a true neighborhood,” Delaney said.
According to the Lynchburg Museum, when John Lynch chartered the town of Lynchburg in 1786, its 45 acres included Commerce, Main, and Church streets, bounded on the east by Twelfth Street and the west by Fifth Street. With the entire town on a hill sloping down to the James River, the area was sometimes called “Lynchburg Hill.”
This hill had many homes built in the early 1800s, with the John Warwick Daniel house completed in 1826 and the Carter Glass home on Clay Street in 1827.
In 1855, the second Lynchburg Court House was built on the site of the original with a view down Ninth Street to the river where Lynch’s Ferry stood. In the late 1970s, the second courthouse became the home of the Lynchburg Museum.
Court House Hill is also home to a number of churches originally built on what became Church Street.
The Lynchburg Museum website states that by the mid-20th century, the churches had all moved to other areas of the city. After 1880, large churches were built on Court and Clay streets.
In the 20th century, the Academy of Music opened, as did a new post office and several schools. As a memorial to the World War I dead, Monument Terrace was completed in 1925.
Bounded by the James River, Blackwater Creek, and H Street, the hill is named for the Daniel family.
This hill is home to Point of Honor, which Dr. George Cabell had purchased in 1805. His land included much of what is now Daniel’s Hill, plus the river islands and the flood plain where U.S. Pipe Foundry is now located.
Daniel’s Hill was a very industrial and commercial neighborhood with factories all around, Delaney said.
“A lot of people who worked in those factories lived in the neighborhood, but they didn’t live on Cabell Street,” he said. “They lived in smaller, more working-class, affordable housing that was on the side streets.”
He said it’s important for people to look more broadly at what makes a neighborhood instead of just recognizing the famous white people who lived on the main streets.
“We have to look at the supporting side streets and all the other supporting structures in the neighborhood,” he said, adding we should be thinking about where enslaved people lived in these older neighborhoods. Sometimes it was in quarters that were behind a house.
Diamond Hill lies to the south and west of Downtown Lynchburg and has steep terrain and ravines. The naming of Diamond Hill is still a mystery, according to the Lynchburg Museum, but theories include that the hill was named for wealthy residents, triangular-shaped lots, or sparkling minerals in the soil.
Two hospitals once stood along Grace Street including Marshall Lodge Memorial Hospital, which opened in 1886 and closed in 1971. In 1931 the Guggenheimer family home became Guggenheimer Memorial Hospital. >>
The smallest of the city’s seven hills, Federal Hill is bounded by steep hills near Twelfth Street and valleys near Eighth and Madison streets.
According to the Lynchburg Museum website, Federal Hill was originally outside of the town’s limits and was considered Lynchburg’s first suburb.
While the Federal Hill name shows up by 1839, its origin is not known. When the nation was first founded, leaders such as George Washington and John Adams were known as “Federalists.” The name may be related to their political party.
Delaney says there is a spot in Federal Hill where there used to be a whole row of enslaved housing for people who worked in factories.
Franklin Hill is one of the most clearly defined hills in Lynchburg, bounded by the Lynchburg Expressway to the west, Main Street to the north, Florida Avenue on the east, and Fishing Creek along the south.
It is believed the hill was named after Benjamin Franklin, the Lynchburg Museum states.
The most well-known landmark in the neighborhood is Presbyterian Cemetery, founded in 1823.
Delaney said there might just be about one in 1,000 people who have ever heard of this hill because many would consider themselves residents of White Rock Hill.
“So the fact that it’s on paper and someone says it’s an original hill may not really have any value or meaning if the people today don’t think of it that way,” he said. “Think of the hills very broadly and not just as a couple of beautiful houses and famous people. But think of the whole history of what were some of the other activities that were happening in the neighborhood.”
Originally, Garland Hill was the farm of William Lynch, Sr., the son of Lynchburg founder John Lynch. Blackwater Creek forms the boundary for much of the neighborhood along with a portion of Fifth Street and the valley near Old City Cemetery.
The oldest home still in its original location in the city is at 619 First Street in Garland Hill. The “Lynch House” was built by the Lynch family in 1787. According to the Lynchburg Museum, William Lynch, Jr., left the land to his cousin Celine Dupuy, who sold off block-size lots beginning in 1845. By the mid-19th century, there were so many members of the Garland family living in the neighborhood that the hill became known as Garland Hill.
Part of this Hill also bleeds into Tinbridge Hill, which is an example, Delaney said, of how the definition of the hills and its boundaries has changed over time.
“I think there’s a lot of really arbitrary nature in the definition of the hills and how their boundaries were defined and who named them,” he said. “There are a whole bunch of people who live in that area who call themselves Tinbridge Hill, but someone decided a long time ago it was Garland Hill. So we just have to think about whether the boundary is legitimate, accurate and meaningful.”
White Rock Hill
This hill is located east of Franklin Hill and is bounded by Florida Avenue, the James River and Fishing Creek. White Rock Hill was named for the outcropping of white quartz rocks along the bluff of the James River that was a well-known local landmark, the Lynchburg Museum states.
A portion of the hill was incorporated into the city in 1870. The steep hillsides of this neighborhood prevented development, and the area was not fully annexed into the city until 1908.
The seven-acre White Rock Cemetery was established in 1882 for African Americans and was used by many local Black churches for more than a century. The Lynchburg Museum states that approximately 4,000 people are estimated to be buried there, one of whom is believed to be Ota Benga,
a member of the Batwa or Mbuti tribe of the Congo.
While knowing the history of our city’s original hills is important, Delaney says we should also remember to look to the current residents of these hills and ask them how they would define their neighborhood.
“It’s an opportunity to learn more about your place, where you live and the community in your neighborhood,” he said. “On one hand I know the city’s got to change so we want to strike a balance of remembering history and preserving memories but also making space for your city to grow and evolve.”
What About the Other Hills?
There are four additional hills, or well-known neighborhoods, in Lynchburg: Cotton Hill, Tinbridge Hill, Chestnut Hill, Fort Hill. Learn more about these hills at www.lynchburgmuseum.org/more-hills.