Court House Hill Historic District
The Court House Hill Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001. Selected text , below, was adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. Adaptation copyright © 2007, The Gombach Group.
Lynchburg was established in 1786 uphill from the site of John Lynch's Ferry across the James River. Lynch, a Quaker Merchant, built his ferry in 1757 and in the following decades built a tobacco warehouse, a tavern, and a dwelling near the banks of the James. Lynch's Ferry was located where Ninth Street now ends at the James River, establishing Ninth Street as the primary thoroughfare for traffic entering the city from the River. In 1786, the area bounded today by Commerce, Clay, Sixth and Twelfth streets was divided into 1/2 acre lots and named Lynchburg. As early as 1787, Lynch reserved the block between Main and Commerce and between Eighth and Ninth streets, indicating that he recognized the future center of the town. Lynch managed to keep his personal property on the bank of the river outside of the city limits. It was not until the early 19th century that the Lower Basin area, as it is known today, was annexed to the city. Although there are no structures that survive in the district from this period, the pattern of development with the center of town along Ninth and Main streets that was established continues to exist.
The area of Lynchburg was first settled by Quakers from the Tidewater area and Pennsylvania in the 1750s. John Lynch, the Quaker 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. The area served as a port for the nearby town of New London, which had been established as the Bedford county seat in 1751, and for the surrounding agricultural region, which was rich in tobacco production. During the Revolutionary War, Lynch's Ferry served as a shipping point for lead from the mines of western Virginia (Chambers 1981:6). 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, as well as Lynch's dwelling. In 1785, Lynch established one of the first tobacco inspection stations west of the Tidewater and the production and manufacturing of tobacco in the Piedmont region began to surpass that of the Tidewater (Chambers 1981:7).
After a failed petition in 1784, the town of Lynchburg was established in 1786 as testament to the continued growth and prosperity of the river settlement. The Act of the General Assembly called for "forty-five acres of land, the property of John Lynch, and lying contiguous to Lynch's ferry" to be laid out in half-acre lots "with convenient streets and established as a town by the name of Lynchburg" (Chambers 1981:10). Robert Smith, surveyor of Bedford and Campbell counties, laid out the original town into 72 lots bounded by present-day Commerce, Clay, 6th and 12th streets. In June 1787, 22 of the 72 lots were sold at public auction with John Lynch reserving the block at the center of town between Commerce, Main, 8th, and 9th streets as well as 14 other lots (Chambers 1981: 13). It is interesting to note that although Lynchburg was definitely established as a river settlement, the town did not originally include the land along the river. In giving the land for the town, Lynch did not include his riverfront property, thereby excluding his valuable ferry, tavern, warehouse, and mill from any town taxes or regulations. The establishment of three new retailers in 1788 at Lynch's Ferry instead of Lynchburg illustrates the continued dominance of the riverfront even after the establishment of the town.
Chambers, S. Allen. Lynchburg: An Architectural History. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 1981.