A Bit of Town History
A Bit of History
(Clickthe underlined words to see Picture)
Situated in the western part of the Piedmont plain., about seven miles from the scenicPeaks of Otter,Bedfordhas had a long, proud history. Over the years its name has been altered severaltimes. First called "Liberty” when it was founded in 1782, it became known as "BedfordCity" during the boom of 1890. In 1912, when allhope of Bedforddeveloping into a large industrial center had faded, "City" wasdropped, only to be incorporated in the name again in 1968, when by action of the town council, it became known as the "City of Bedford”.
Painting of Town of Liberty
The story of how the town of Libertygot its start is an interesting one. When New London,which served as the county seat until 1782,became a part of the newly formed Campbell County, Bedfordwas forced to look for a new site. WilliamCallaway, Jr. was asked to make a survey of the county in orderto locate the new court house as near the center as possible.
Picture of William Calloway, Jr.
In the meantime an offer of a hundred acres of landalong what was known as Bramblett's Roadwas made by JosephFuqua and William Downey. A committee, consistingof William MeadWilliam Leftwich, William Trigg, Henry Buford, andJames Buford, was asked to examine the land to determine its suitability and reportto the court by July 23, 1782. Thereport being favorable, James Buford was asked to make a contract for thebuilding of a courthouse, prison, and stocks. Accordingly, a courthouse 20' by30' with a twelve-foot pitch and a chimney of thick dirt or stone was erectedin a grove of oaks on the site of the present Bulletin-Democrat building, and the first courtwas held on August 25, 1782.
About Joseph Fuqua
In October, 1782, in responseto a petition by the justices of Bedford,the General Assembly of Virginia, passed an act establishing the town ofLibertyin title Countyof Bedford, which was named after JohnRessell (Duke of Bedford) the English Prime Minister, with theprovision that the court-house property continue to remain in countyhands. William Leftwich, James Turner,James Wright, William Meade, William Callaway, James Buford, and Robert Clarkewere named as trustees of the hundred acres and were authorized to “divide”it into lots of half an acre each, or more, with convenient streets, whichshall be and the same as, hereby established a town by the name of “Liberty”. It has been suggested that the name "Liberty"was chosen for one of two reasons; namely, because of Patrick Henry's great speech on "Liberty" or because of the newgained freedom the colonies had so recently won from England.
The following quotation, whichappeared in The History of BedfordCounty, Virginia, by Lula Jeter Parker, was culled from a newspaper clippingin the possession ofC. R. Hurt of the county, and describes “Liberty” in the year 1830. :
· Liberty, P. V. andseat of justice, is situated on a branch of Otter River,26 ms. S.W. from R. and 223 ms. from W. Lat. 37 dg. 17' long. 20 dg. W. of N.C.The Lynchburgand Salem Turnpike runs through the town, which contains, besides thecounty buildings, 70 houses, two Baptist and one Free Church; MasonicHall, two taverns, five mercantile stores, one tobacco manufactory, twotanyards, three house carpenters, one wheelwright, and two turners.
The mail arrivesand departs fifteen times in a week. “Liberty” contains nine attorneysand four regular physicians; whole population 350.
Henry Howe, in Historical Collections of Virginia published in 1856, had this to say about Liberty:
· Liberty,the County-Seat, is on the Lynchburg and Salem Turnpike, 26 miles southwestof, the former, and contains five mercantile stores, one Baptist,onePresbyterian, one Episcopal andone Methodist church, a largeand handsome courthouse, built in 1834, and a population of about 600. This neatand flourishing village is the admiration of travelers, being surrounded by abeautiful, rolling, fertile country, bounded by a background of greatsublimity.
Reverend Joseph A. Craves, in his Historyof the Bedford Light Artillery, hasgiven the following description of the town:
· “Liberty”, in May,1861, was a quiet, unpretentious town. The streets were paved with poormaterial and only for a short distance. Our orators and politicians were JamesF. Johnson, William Burwell, William L. Goggin and the Hon. John Goode. Ourleading merchants were Alfred Bell, 0. P. Bell, S. H. Hoffman and WilliamGraves. The storehouses in which they did business were inconvenient woodenbuildings, without any apparatus for heating them save in the counting room,into which a very few persons were allowed to come; but they kept a full lineof almost every kind of merchandise. There were no soda fountains, nor hardwarestores, nor tobacco warehouses.
We had no water works, no telephone, and no electric lights.When the moon did not shine we took our lanterns.
Map of Liberty 1870
The following excerpts are from a talk made by T. W. Richardson, postmaster at Bedford, before the Board ofTrade at its annual meeting on Friday, March18, 1921:
· I came to Bedforda little over twenty-five years ago. Bedford had then something around 2,000 inhabitants,and there were hardly half a dozen men in the place who had assets amounting to$25,000. Bedfordnow has over 3,000 population, and there are: at least half a dozen men whocould scratch around and find $100,000 each. There was a tumble-down store on the Roadcap cornerwith billboards on vacant fronts behind it. This corner with its terrazzofloors, splendid fittings and handsome clerks has been built in less thanfifteen years, and Fizer's storeand the Gills building not long before. When I walked out Longwood Avenue on my first trip to Bedford, I passedthe house now occupied by Ellis Bibb, the next was Mrs. Lee’s and the JudgeTucker's (the John Goode house). The next building on that street was at the Forksof the Road. Call to mind the handsome residences on that street now. Look atthe fine dwellings on Avenel Street, only one of which was there much less thantwenty-five years ago. Those of us whowere here at the time will never forget the old board walks and the mud andslime of some of our principal streets, hack owners sometimes actuallyrefusing to take their teams to the station at the worst seasons. This has allbeen changed by the enterprise and progress of Bedford citizens. All theprincipal streets have concrete sidewalks; there is about a mile of brickpaved streets and several miles of macadam.
Bedford's economic developmentseemingly was shaped by two major happenings in its early history. One of thesewas the Great Fire of 1884, which startedin a store operated by J. N. Early located on the southeast corner of Bridge Street and Railroad Avenue.
Most of the buildings alongboth sides of Bridge Street weremade of wood and flimsily constructed so that when the fire was discovered onthe morning of October 12, 1884,very little could be done, as there was no organized fire department and ameager water supply. Soon the heart of town was “A Blazing Inferno”. When daylight came, only twobuildings were left standing, and the scene was one of desolation.
The fire, however, proved a blessingin disguise, for when the owners rebuilt, the establishments were made largerand of more permanent material such as brick. The town also realized the necessity of having greater Fire Protection and a more Adequate Water Supply.It wasn't long before reforms along these lines were effected.
The second event was the Boom of 1890. Liberty, like many other placesin southwest Virginia, was seized with an urge for expansion. Ever since the Great Fire,the town had grown amazingly. Liberty, in fact, hoped to imitate Roanokeand become a thriving industrial center. Many promoters were drawn to thelittle town, and several new land companies were formed, such as the Central Land Company, headed by 0. W.Kelsey, and the Bedford Real EstateCompany, of which E. P. Vandershee was president.
Land adjacent to town wasbought by these companies, and a map of the period shows that the newlyacquired property was divided off into proper streets and avenues. At this timethe name "Liberty" was changedto "Bedford City", and animposing new hotel, called Hotel Bedford, was built on the sitewhere the ElksNational Home is now.
However, the expected "miracle"never happened. As a result, businesses failed, banks closed, and Bedfordexperienced a depression impossible to describe. When the town recovered byslow degrees, it was evident that Bedford would never attain the status of a bigcity. In fact, the term "city"was dropped, and the citizens seemed content that their town develop at aslower pace.
The following is a list of the known Mayorsof Liberty, according toEdward Pollock in the Sketch Book ofLiberty:
Mayors of OldeLiberty
· Samuel Hoffman - elected June 5, 1849
· Dr. John A. Otey - elected June 8, 1850
· William L Hoit - elected October 3, 1853
· John A. Wharton served until June 5, 1849
· Hugh White - elected May 9, 1854
· P. Bell - elected July 25, 1855
· John R. Steptoe - elected July 30, 1856
· (Minutes missing from Feb.18, 1857 –
· Dr. John A. Otey - elected Nov.27, 1860
· (Minutes missing from May 3, 1862 to Oct 23, 1866)
· John A. Otey again mentioned as mayor in the minutes ofOct.23, 1866
· W. Leftwich - elected July 23, 1667
· Dr. T. M. Sawyer - elected April 13, 1871
· P. Sell - elected July 1, 1878
· McLeod Kasey - elected July 1, 1880
· Dr. C. A. Board - elected June 14, 1881
· Dr. T. M. Bowyer -elected July 1, 1884
· Dr. C. A. Board - elected Jan.12, 1886
SPECIAL OCCASIONS INOLD BEDFORD
MemorialDay used to be a big event in the lives of the Citizens of Old Bedford. It was a time of payingannual tribute to the memory of the ConfederateDead, and the ceremonies were conducted under the auspices ofthe William R. Terry Chapter of U.D.C. On this day the streets, places of business, and evenindividual houses were appropriately decorated. The following is a brief account of an observance reported in 1910:
· A committee ofthe chapter, headed by Mrs. S. Griffin, president, repaired first to the Cemetery on Piedmont Hill, leaving a tribute of flowers to the500 soldiers from many states buried there. Then they moved on to Longwood Cemetery and adorned the graves of nearly 100 soldiers with flowers and small flags. At 10:45 the chapter officers drove to the Courthouse on Main Street to greet the veterans who hadassembled there, and escorted them in a march to the Belmont Theater, where thechief ceremonies were to take place. They were cheered along the way byhundreds of onlookers waving banners. The veterans, many attired in ConfederateUniform, werecommanded by Gen. S.Griffin, Chief Marshall, and his aides, Maj. W. H. Mosby, Maj. W. F. Gravesand Caption T. S. West. The invocationwas offered by the Rev. S.S. Lambeth D.D., who served with distinctionthroughout the war, and the speaker was the Hon. James W. Marshall of CraigCounty, a noted orator of the day. Later the soldiers marched to the courthouse lawn, where a Splendid Monument had been erected to the Confederate dead the year before. Here a prayer and benediction wereoffered by the Rev. T. C. Page, after which the veterans repaired to theAlliance Warehouse, where a sumptuous banquet had been prepared for them, andwere served by young ladies dressed in white with sprigs of red roses pinned onthem.
The fourth Monday ineach month was a special occasion for people in Liberty nearly a hundred years ago.It was Court Day, and though the County Court system was abolished in1901, the old “court day" continued to be observed for County Courts.years by many throughout the county.
The town took on a holiday air,and people streamed in from near and far to transact business and also to seeand be seen. The local merchants and eating places did a thriving business. Horse trading was a favorite "sport" on that day, and manya farmer realized too late that he had been cheated on “Jockey Alley."
In 1887 Micajah Davis was judge of the County Court and RobertS. Quarles, clerk. Commonwealth's attorney, Henry C. Lowry, servedin both the Circuit and County Courts.
HOWOLD “LIBERTY” CITIZENS DISPORTED THEMSELVES MANY YEARS AGO
The following account comesfrom a newspaper article found in the scrapbook of a deceased Bedford resident.It is signed “Yeto”, which spelt backwards is "Otey"- presumablya descendant of the pioneer, John Otey:
· WhereJ. A. and Charley Wharton's houses and the Episcopal Church(now the Christian) presently stand was a dense oak forest. Mrs.Burwell’s house now stands on the ground on which the boys of the town hadcleaned out a round race track of one hundred yards in length, and many aclosely contested foot-race was run over this course. Between this and the ForestRoad (now Bridge Street) was where barbecues were held. I wellrecall the pits dug in the ground and filled with burning coals over whichwhole shoats, quarters of fat beef, and hundreds of squirrels were spitted andplaced to be cooked. When they were done 'Old Jack Seldon' and othercooks took them up and placed them upon rudely improvised tables, surroundedthem with baskets of ready-baked bread, pies, pickles, etc., and announced thatdinner was ready, when the people would gather in from every direction andproceeded to satisfy their appetites, rendered doubly keen by inhaling thesavory smell which had for some hours been rising from the rich viands duringthe culinary process to which they had been subjected.
· "Fives" was the game mostlyplayed by the young athletes of the day. A yard was cleaned off and a batteryerected in the hollow back of where Mr. Wharton's house now stands, andin the cool of the evening the contestants for victory would meet and play. Thespectators, male and female, young and old, would gather under the umbrageousoaks and witness the game.
A tournament, as “Old Liberty” knew it, was asport in which many contestants on horseback engaged for the purpose of seeingwhich one could collect the most rings on his lance as he dashed along a welldefined course. The following description of such an event was taken from The Bedford Sentinel of August, 1869:
At the appointed hour the Knights assembled in front of LibertyHouse, and were drawn up into line by Col. Jno. G. Kasey, chiefmarshal, marched up Bridge to Main Street, and from thence tothe grounds which were selected for the occasion, situated in the suburb on afield formerly owned by Col. A. Otey, where a crowd of spectators hadassembled to witness the contest for knightly honors. An appropriate
charge was delivered by Mr. Charles A. Bower, Esq.
Dr. T. M. Bowyer, C. A.Nicho1s, Esq., and Joseph Wilson, judges, took their positions on the field,and the riding commenced in earnest. There were several fine fast horses onthe track. The riding commenced at precisely 12 o'clock and continued untiltwo P.M. with the following results: H. S. Quarles, Knight of the Old Dominion,first honor; J. N. Early Knight of Piedmont, second honor; M. L. Kasey, Knightof Despondence, third honor; and C. Lowry, Knight of Trueheart, fourth honor.When it was officially announced that H. S. Quarles was the successful Knight,cheer after cheer rent the air as he left the field, showing that this knightwas a general favorite.
The Grand Coronation Ball cameoff at the Liberty House, at 9:30 P.M., and about that hour numbers ofBedford's fair daughters, together with others equally fair from other portionsof the state, might have been seen wending their way in that direction intentupon paying homage to her Royal Highness, tripping the light fantastic andwitnessing the crowning of her majesty by the successful knight.
Miss Lelia Pleasants ofRichmond was selected Queen of Love and Beauty, and right well did she gracethe royal throne. Miss Ella Steptoe was selected as first maid of honor, MissSamuella Owen, second, and Miss Rosa Bell, third. The throne, as may well be imagined,presented a dazzling array of beauty such as it is the pleasure of but fewmortals to behold.
Our friend Wilkes furnishedrefreshments for the party, and fully sustained on this occasion his reputationas a caterer. The dance continued until “day light in the morning” when alleven at that hour left reluctantly and dispersed for their homes.
Before the advent of radio andtelevision, certain things loomed large in the minds of young people inBedford. One of these was the arrival of the Circus, which usually came to townevery summer. Sometimes it was a small circus, but often a larger, three-ringone, like RinglingBrothers or John D. Robinson. In the early days circuses were conveyedfrom town to town by their own special trains.
On CircusDay the young boys of town usually congregated at the railroad stationto watch the arrival and unloading of the cars. People for milesaround thronged into town and lined the streets to watch the Big Parade,which started at the station and wound its way through town to the lot wherethe LargeTent had been set up.
And such a Parade! A string of elephants attired in brilliant colorsand often bearing Circus Queens in gaudy array; huge gilded cages on wheels carryingwild animals, such as lions, bears, or tigers; large white horses, upon whosebacks acrobatic feats would be performed; exotic animals, like camels andzebras, being led by circus hands; troops of clowns engaging in endlesshorseplay; an ornate wagon bearing the calliope, that magical old steampiano-all these things were a part
The Big Tent afforded endlessamusement to both young and old. Provisioned with peanuts and cracker-jacks,the spectators sat spellbound as the ringmaster announced act after act. Surelyno circus performance at Madison Square Garden today could ever approach thesheer magic of those old circuses.
HERE COMES THE STAGE!
The arrival of the stage coachesin Liberty Town was a momentous event one hundred and fifty years ago. Stagesloaded with passengers and carrying mail would swoop into town from Shenandoahand Lynchburg. Well ahead of time, carriages and saddle horses would befastened to posts along Courthouse Square. Ladies arrayedin their best, perhaps with parasols raised to shade them from thenoonday sun, would promenade along the flagstone walk in front of the courthouse,awaiting the thunderous approach of the coach, drawn by four to six horses.Upon its arrival it was said that business men would rush from their shops andoffices and workmen would stop to stare.
Themain thoroughfare through the town was the old Lynchburg-Salem Turnpike,constructed under the General Turnpike Act of 1818 and completed in the early1830's. At one time there were toll gates at intervals along this road, andcoaches and passengers had to pay to go over it. A pocket map of the state ofVirginia, published in 1846, with stage routes given on the margin, showedLynchburg as quite a stage center. One route was from the Hill City viaLiberty, Fluke, Fincastle, Sweet Springs on to Lewisburg, 112 miles, threetimes a week. Another was from Lynchburg by wayof Liberty to Salem three times a week. In the beginning the roads were bad and travel was slow. For that reason taverns and ordinaries werelocated at internals along the route to provide food, shelter, and care fortravel-weary passengers and horses. About 1780, when New London was the countyseat and Jimmy Steptoe the clerk of the court, a stop at the more pretentiousEchors Tavern in this thriving little town must have been a real treat,especially if passengers could get a glimpse of “Jemmy Steptoe" arrivingfrom nearby “Federal Hill”in his powdered wig and queue, white broadcloth and his tri-corn velvethat." Farther up the "Pike," about six miles from Liberty, wasMerriman's Tavern, a large brick structure, built in 1821 by Edward Merrimanand operated by him for many years. It was said that Andrew Jackson once spenta night there.
As early as 1787 in the townof Liberty, Smith'sTavern, which later became the Aunspaugh home and still later the homeof Mr. Willie Stone, was a favorite stopping place. If the year was 1825, stagedrivers had a choice between the Eagle Tavern, operated by John Armistead Oteyand located on the site of the present MasonicBuilding, or Bell's Tavern,located on the lot where the First and Merchants Bank now stands.
In these taverns there wereusually a tap room, a parlor, and a dining room, the larger ones havingsleeping accommodations above for guests. Prices for food and drink were set bythe County Court and posted. In 1830 awarm dinner with toddy cost 50 cents; a cold dinner with toddy only 25 cents.Lodging for the night was 121/2 cents.Breakfast and supper were 371/2cents.
In the tap room both peachbrandy and French brandy were selling at 17 cents per pint, while apple brandyand common whiskey cost only 12 1/2 cents a pint. More exclusive items, such assherry, Lisbon, and port, could be bought for 50 cents per bottle.
As the stage left Liberty andtraveled along the western edge of the town on a portion of the route known as"Bramblett's Road," the passengers might have craned their necks toview "Cedar Hill," now owned by the Cauthorn family, but the olderpart of which was probably built before 1779 by William Bramblett, Jr., son ofthe early pioneer, William Bramblett,Sr. When Jimmy Steptoe assumed duties as clerk of the court in Liberty, he lived at "CedarHill." If the year were 1836, afar off to their right they mighthave glimpsed stately "Avenel," builtby the Hon. William Burwell, whose father was private secretary to ThomasJefferson and a friend of Robert E. Lee.
Beyond Liberty, at what was'known as Buford's Gap, stood Buford's Tavern, which was in operation by 1770. Many tales have been handed down regardingthe hospitality and gay entertainment typical of this old inn. Guests arrivingthere by stage from the Black Horse Tavern located on a protected shelf of the Blue RidgeMountains were often amazed to find a hot meal awaiting them. Littledid they know that an obliging tavern keeper at the Black Horse had rushed toan overhanging ledge and blasted out a signal on a stage horn, informingPaschal Buford, the tavern keeper, “how many chickens to toss into thepot" and just the number, ofbiscuits to fling into the great oven."
Sooner or later, manygood and useful things have to bow to progress, and such wasthe fate of the stage coach. When the Atlantic,Mississippi and Ohio Railroad (now the Norfolk and Western) was builtin 1852, travel by stage soon became extinct. Thus closed a boisterous but colorful chapter in our history.