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Daniel's Hill: Community grew to mix of grand mansions and modest homes

Daniel's Hill: Community grew to mix of grand mansions and modest homes

Tucked in a sliver of land between the Blackwater Creek and the James River is the historic Lynchburg neighborhood known as Daniel’s Hill.

The old blocks that formed the original paving of Cabell Street still show in patches and the massive old trees in front yards shade the avenue.

Grand mansions built in the Federal, Italianate, Queen Anne, and Georgian Revival styles dot the neighborhood, but mixed in are more modest homes built for the workers who ran the mills and warehouses at the riverfront and the servants who staffed those grand mansions.

Daniel’s Hill is one of those communities that seems almost separate from the rest of the city, as though it remains its early 20th century self despite the passage of generations.

Situated just off Rivermont Avenue, the community extends from Hancock to Norwood streets and from A to H streets. Cabell Street forms its central — and only — thoroughfare. The historic district consists of about 21 blocks and 180 homes, with construction dates mostly ranging from early 19th century through early 20th century, according to the nomination form for the neighborhood’s inclusion in the National Historic Register.

The community’s most famous house, the Federal-style Point of Honor, is the reason the neighborhood developed — born out of land sold by Judge William Daniel Jr., who later owned the Cabell plantation. Point of Honor was the first and only house on the hill from its construction in 1815 until the 1840s; it was annexed into the city in 1870.

The house now is part of the city museum system, open to visitors who want to reflect on a time in the city’s history when that mansion sat alone on its perch over the James River and its visitors came by boat.

“An excellent view of Point of Honor and indeed of most of Daniel’s Hill can be seen from the bridge across the James River leading into the central business district,” according to the application.

“The district’s only thoroughfare, Cabell Street, is lined with an impressive progression of mid- and late-19th-century mansions, all excellent examples of their respective styles and most associated with prominent local families,” according to the application. “Providing an interesting contrast to these architecturally sophisticated buildings and adding to the district’s variety is a large quantity of vernacular workers’ houses scattered along the streets adjacent to Cabell Street.”

Three buildings at the foot of Cabell Street were built as commercial buildings but have been converted into condominiums. Two of them were constructed as tobacco warehouses, associated with the industry that built Lynchburg’s 19th century economy.

Growth really began to take off in Daniel’s Hill in the 1870s after a new bridge was built across the deep expanse of Blackwater Creek.

“The Lynchburg News of June 29, 1875 applauded the activity of the neighborhood: ‘Buildings are going up in every direction on Daniel’s Hill. The handsome residence of I. Holcombe Adams is now receiving the finishing touches of the workmen ... On top of the hill just above Mr. Hurt’s, the foundation is being dug out for a splendid residence of brick already contracted for by Colonel Thomas Watts,’” according to the application.

By the 1880s, more modest houses began to dot the community, creating an “interesting intermingling of very elaborate with very unassuming residential architecture, one type setting off the other and forming a dramatic contrast,” the application reads.

“The Lynchburg Directory of 1887-88 indicates that most of the residents on Hancock Street were black laborers,” the application reads. “Along the cross streets, Norwood and Stonewall, most residents were white and worked as carpenters, clerks, printers, policemen, mail agents, or rail workers. Cabell Street remained the address of managers, accountants, and professionals.”

By the 1920s, the neighborhood was pretty much built out, with Cabell Street remaining home to the wealthy, and the homes on Hancock, Norwood and the lettered street “sheltered a more modest society, both black and white,” the application read.

The neighborhood began to decline following World War II. Many of the homes on Daniel’s Hill succumbed to the forces of time and neglect, and the mansions found themselves subdivided into apartments. But that trend began to change in the early 2000s.

“Much of the credit for such efforts goes to the HUD-sponsored Daniel’s Hill Community Development Project,” according to the application. “Rather than choosing the option of massive demolition and investment in the construction of new housing, the city of Lynchburg has slated Daniel’s Hill for preservation through the rehabilitation of existing structures.”

New residents with a commitment to preserve these historic old homes have taken on the challenge to breathe life into the community once again.

Wayne and Susan Stoner have been painstakingly restoring their Queen Anne for more than 15 years. When they bought the mansion, it had been condemned and they fought for the first two years to stabilize their home to save it from demolition.

The Stoners describe Cabell Street as a safe and friendly neighborhood with all the amenities of living downtown and along the Blackwater Creek trail. Children often are out playing the streets, and new neighbors have been moving in, restoring even more of the old homes.

Matthew Tolbert owns one of the Cabell Street mansions with his wife Daniela. The couple described the neighborhood as a front yard kind of place, where neighbors sit on their porches and visit.

“This is the way it used to be,” Matthew previously told The News & Advance. “People lived out on their front porches. They knew their neighbors. The way they build neighborhoods now is to seclude yourself. You have fences up everywhere and you spend time in your backyard. This is the way it could be still.”

A number of remarkable homes stand on Daniel’s Hill. Here’s a look at just a few of them.

Point of Honor

Dr. George Cabell, whose most famous patient was Founding Father Patrick Henry, built his home in about 1815 with an eye for elegance.

“The house he erected there was unquestionably the most elegant yet seen in the immediate vicinity, and after more than 150 years, Point of Honor still bids fair claim to the title of the city’s finest dwelling,” wrote S. Allen Chambers in his book, “Lynchburg, An Architectural History,” originally published in 1981.

Cabell died in 1823, and his wife Sarah in 1826. The estate was left to their son, William Lewis Cabell, and his bride, Elizabeth Daniel, who both died of tuberculosis in 1830.

The house then was inherited by Elizabeth’s father, Judge William Daniel Sr. When he died in 1839 and his wife in 1840, their son, William Daniel Jr., inherited the house and moved in with his wife Sarah Ann Warwick in 1841. After Sarah’s death four years later, the property was divided and sold, changing hands several times.

Point of Honor eventually was sold at auction in 1928 to James R. Gilliam Jr., who donated the property to the city of Lynchburg. It had new life as a recreation center for the Daniel’s Hill neighborhood.

Point of Honor’s restoration to its circa-1815 appearance began in 1968 and by 1977, the restored home opened to the public as part of the Lynchburg Museum System.

R.C. Burkholder house

Presently owned by Matthew and Daniela Tolbert, the distinctive Y-shape home almost wraps around its guests as they enter.

The Robert Calhoun Burkholder house was built in 1875 on the west corner of Cabell and B streets, but Burkholder would only live in it for less than five years.

“An architect’s own home is of especial interest to the historian, as it presumably reflects his personal tastes in a way that no commissioned design ever can,” wrote S. Allen Chambers in his book, “Lynchburg, An Architectural History.”

Burkholder started out as a carpenter in Lynchburg in 1850. He served as a confederate soldier in the Civil War, and afterward was elected as one of three delegates from Campbell County during the first session of the Virginia General Assembly after Congressional Reconstruction ended.

Burkholder, who died in 1914, was married and had 10 children, eight of whom survived into adulthood.

The Tolberts purchased the house in 2016 and set to work restoring it.

“We feel like we’re just custodians of this house that has such a long history,” Daniela told The News & Advance. “That is pretty much how we feel — that we’re passing through and if we can make it last a little bit longer that’s fine.”

The Watts House

The Italianate-style mansion at 404 Cabell St. presently serves as the Carriage House Inn B&B, owned by Kathy and Michael Bedsworth.

Richard Thomas Watts began construction on the brick home in 1875. Watts served the Confederacy during the Civil War and became a prisoner of war in the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House in 1864. When he returned home, he partnered with his brother, James Watts, and brother-in-law George M. Jones to establish the hardware store Jones, Watts, & Co. He later became vice president of the Lynchburg Trust & Savings Company and director of the Lynchburg Cotton Mill.

When Watts died in 1910, he left his wife, Emma, his estate. She died a year later and, without a will, her children decided the youngest, Mary, would inherit the mansion. Mary later became the wife of John Williams James, a vice president for Craddock Terry Shoes. The couple lived in the house until 1928. It then was purchased by Lena Fore for a “tourist home” during World War II, when trainloads of soldiers bound for war stopped in the city overnight. Lena’s properties were sold at auction in 1961.

The Watt’s house changed hands a number of times before the Bedsworths purchased the stately brick house in 2003 and set to work restoring the property; the inn opened in 2007.

Michael thought he could rehabilitate the house in a year; 18 years have passed and the work isn’t complete.

“It’ll never be all done,” Kathy said. “That’s an old house for you. … I don’t know why we kept going, when you really think about it.”

Michael called it a “labor of love or act of insanity — or maybe both.”

Waldron-Hancock House

The home of Wayne and Susan Stoner was practically imploding when the couple first purchased it in 2004 as a retirement project.

The blue Victorian-style home with its white trim, ample porch, stained glass window and turret-style projections literally was condemned. Portions of the floor were so rotten that one could see into the basement and the den floor sagged more than four inches in the center. The wood trim had been stripped from the walls. Very few of its vital systems still worked, the roof had massive leaks and the upper floor was collapsing.

Yet Wayne and Susan saw something in that circa-1874 ramshackle house.

The house was built on property owned by Cabell and is known as the Waldron-Hancock house. Its original owner ran the tobacco warehouse-turned-apartments at the end of the street.

The original carriage stone rests beside the house, with E.A. Hancock’s name etched in it.

Wayne said little else is known of its history. Records that once were at the Jones Memorial Library are missing.

The Stones are proud of the home they resurrected.

“We would never do it again but we don’t regret that we did it this time,” Wayne told The News & Advance previously, and Susan added, “To me, the whole house is amazing.”

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