Virginia's classic tobacco town goes by a few different monikers. As the "City of Seven Hills," Lynchburg (pop. 66,000) bulges with lofty historic districts and stately inns. As the center of Virginia's conservative religious heartland, it's also called the "Buckle in the Bible Belt," with more than 130 houses of worship, Jerry Falwells's Liberty University, Dial-the-Bible listings in the White Pages, and radio preachers who end every sentence in "-uh." (The years 2002 was Falwell's 46th year preaching at the Thomas Road Baptist Church.) Even its tourist slogan "The Real Virginia" rings true thanks to Lynchburg's combination of the new (ideas debated in several medium-sized colleges) and the old (Thomas Jefferson's Poplar Forest and Appomattox Court House, both nearby).
After earning his freedom from a wealthy Quaker planter, indentured Irish servant Charles Lynch went on to marry the boss's daughter and build the town's first warehouses and commercial buildings on land he had acquired along the upper James River. In 1757, his son John set up a ferry terminal at the bottom of today's 9th Street, and Lynchburg was off and running as a regional commercial center.
Trade poured in along the river, the James River and Kanawah Canal from Richmond, and railroads from Petersburg and Alexandria. A dark, coarse-leafed local variety of tobacco soon became the area's main cash crop. Farmers hummed poplar songs like "Goin' Down to Lynchburg Town to Carry my Tobacco Down" as they brought huge hogsheads to dozens of warehouses along the riverbanks. Small boats called bateaux, usually manned by a trio of skilled, brawny slaves, waited on the water to take the containers to Richmond.
By the mid-19th century, Lynchburg was second only to New Bedford, Massachusetts, in per capita income (whale oil still brought in more money than tobacco). Soon more than 30 million pounds of tobacco were passing thought the city's warehouses every year. Lynchburg served as a major Confederate storage depot during the Civil War and as one of four quartermaster (horse) depots in the Confederacy. On June 18, 1864, Gen Jubal Early narrowly managed to save the city from destruction by running empty trains back and forth with much noise and commotion, convincing Union generals that imaginary reinforcements had arrived.
The tobacco trade carried Lynchburg into the early 20th century, but as demand slackened, the city turned to its wealth of antiquity to lure visitors. Many antebellum houses marred by mid-century neglect have been restored as homes and offices.