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Lynchburg Mysteries

Lynchburg, Virginia. Why is Lynchburg named Lynchburg?

That is one of the “Lynchburg Mysteries” explored (and solved) by Brian Jacks, the Associate State Director for Community Outreach with the AARP Virginia state office. Since October is traditionally the month for hauntings and mysteries, Jacks hosted an interactive Zoom experience about this historic Virginia city nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains - for those of us with inquiring minds.

But before he delved into the great mysteries of Lynchburg, Jacks took the opportunity to alert his audience to some even scarier things that he felt should be bought out of the dark - the many scams targeting vulnerable seniors across the nation.

One of AARP’s mission statements is “to empower people to choose how they live as they age.” To that end, AARP provides information on topics including caregiving, brain health, consumer protection, and healthy aging. While these big topics are the ones most commonly linked with AARP, another important focus is: The AARP Fraud Watch Network

Since October is all about mysteries and being frightened, Jacks described a common scam targeting seniors which is extremely dangerous and all too real - The Grandparent Scam.

Grandparent scams typically work like this: The victim gets a call from someone posing as his or her grandchild. This person explains, in a frantic-sounding voice, that he or she is in trouble: There’s been an accident, or an arrest, or a robbery. To up the drama and urgency, the caller might claim to be hospitalized or stuck in a foreign country; to make the impersonation more convincing, he or she will throw in a few family particulars, gleaned from the actual grandchild’s social media activity

According to Jacks, “Con artists will use any leverage they can get to separate you from your money. Sadly, that includes exploiting grandparents’ love and concern for their grandchildren, giving rise to a breed of impostor fraud specifically targeting older Americans.”

The impostor offers just enough detail about where and how the emergency happened to make it seem plausible and perhaps turns the phone over to another scammer who pretends to be a doctor, police officer or lawyer and backs up the story. The “grandchild” implores the target to wire money immediately, adding an anxious plea: “Don’t tell Mom and Dad!”

Fraudsters have also been known to ply this trick by email, text message and social media. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the FBI have warned of an uptick in grandparent scams as crooks play on emotional vulnerability and heightened fear about loved ones falling ill. 

Grandparent scams and related cons are common - from 2015 through the first quarter of 2020, the FTC logged more than 91,000 reports of crooks posing as a relative or friend of the victim. And they can be lucrative: Eight people charged in a July 2021 federal indictment allegedly ran a nationwide scam network that used this ruse to bilk some $2 million from more than seventy older Americans over an 11-month period in 2019 and 2020.

Lynchburg Scam hotline

Jacks shared an informative video and provided a link to a chilling podcast from AARP to help spread this important message to seniors everywhere. There is also an AARP hotline (877-908-3360) to help raise the alarm and put the spotlight on these sneaky criminals.

Now, let’s get back to some of those mysteries which surround the city of Lynchburg.

Mystery #1 - Why is the City of Lynchburg named “Lynchburg”?

Lynchburg was named for its founder, John Lynch, who in 1757, at the age of seventeen, started a ferry service across the James River. He was also responsible for Lynchburg's first bridge across the river, which replaced the ferry in 1812.

Mystery # 2 – Why is the Lynchburg baseball team mysteriously named the “Hillcats?”

Lynchburg mysery #2.jpg

The City of Lynchburg is sometimes referred to as Hill City or the City of Seven Hills: College Hill, Garland Hill, Federal Hill, Diamond Hill, White Rock Hill, Franklin Hill, and Daniel's Hill. There is an annual ghost tour of Lynchburg which focuses on the Daniel’s Hill section of the city.

Mystery # 3 - What is known about Miller Park in Lynchburg?

Samuel Miller, born on June 30, 1792, in Albemarle County, made a fortune buying and selling stocks and bonds. Upon his death, he left money to establish the Miller Home for Girls in Lynchburg and the Miller Home for Boys in Albemarle County. He also left Miller Park to the City of Lynchburg for the benefit of all citizens.

Mystery # 4 – What are some little-known facts about Point of Honor?

Built around 1815 by Dr. George Cabell, Sr., an eminent physician whose most famous patient was Patrick Henry, Point of Honor was the home of several important Lynchburg area families, including the Daniels, Paynes, and Owens. Although not documented, it is possible that at some time, Point of Honor may have been used as a dueling ground.

Mystery #5 – Who was a famous lodger at Nichols Tavern?

As early as 1815, the Federal style structure known today as the Joseph Nichols Tavern was a thriving "ordinary" or inn, near an extension of the Old Ferry Road, now the corner of Fifth and Madison Streets. It is probable that Thomas Jefferson lodged at the Tavern on his way from Monticello to Poplar Forest. In the 1840s the site became known as the Western Hotel and has since served as a hotel, a brothel and a rooming house. It was restored in 1975.

Mystery #6 - What fruit, referred to as the “Love Apple” was Thomas Jefferson reported to have eaten despite its poisonous reputation?

Lynchburg mystery #6

According to local legend, Thomas Jefferson, who was visiting the owners of the Miller-Claytor House on his way to his Poplar Forest home, took a bite of the "poisonous love apple." Supposedly, this was the first time anyone in Virginia had eaten this fruit, which we now call the tomato.

Mystery # 7 – The Packet Boat "Marshall," is best known for what?

Located in Riverside Park, the “Marshall” carried General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson's body to Lexington after he was mistakenly killed by his own sentry. On May 10, 1863, the Orange and Alexandria Railroad brought Jackson's remains to Lynchburg and made the transfer to the packet boat with the appropriate ceremonies.

Mystery #8 – True or False: Lynchburg was once the Virginia State Capitol?

That is true! From April 6 - 10, 1865, Lynchburg served as the Capital of Virginia. Under Governor William Smith, the executive and legislative branches of the Commonwealth moved to Lynchburg for the few days between the fall of Richmond and the fall of the Confederacy.

Mystery #9 – What exactly is a “Church Truck” and how is it connected to Lynchburg?

In 1881, Lynchburg native William D. Diuguid invented the “church truck” by putting wheels on a catafalque, which had long been used as a stationary resting place for caskets. The church truck is still used by funeral directors nationwide. His company, W. D. Diuguid, Inc., was founded in 1817 and is the second oldest funeral home in continuing service in the United States.

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Mystery #10 – Happy Birthday, Lynchburg!

In 1786 John Lynch petitioned the General Assembly of Virginia for a charter to establish a town on the bluffs above the ferry upon land Lynch had inherited from an older brother. The 1786 petition was granted, and the town of Lynchburg was born.

One hundred years later, in October 1886, Lynchburg's Centennial Celebration was held in conjunction with the Agricultural Fair. Festivities included a parade, fireworks, a band, and horse races. John Warwick Daniel gave the opening address, and a centennial oak tree was planted in Miller Park. The tree is still standing today.

Mystery #11 – Does Lynchburg have any famous inventors or entrepreneurs?

In 1889, Dr. Charles Brown Fleet, a young pharmacist invented and began selling his Fleet's ChapStick lip balm. In 1893, Fleet developed the formula for phospho-soda, the basic ingredient for the Fleet enema.

In October 1868, Dr. Malcolm (Mahlon) Loomis, a part-time resident of Lynchburg, used a vertical antenna, a high-frequency detector and a sparkgap transmitter to successfully send electro-magnetic waves through the atmosphere, thus inventing radio, six years before the birth of the "father of radio," Guglielmo Marconi. Despite records that indicate Loomis invented the radio, he lacked the necessary funds to perfect his equipment and gain recognition for his invention.

In the late 1800's and early 1900's, H.E. McWane turned two companies, known as Lynchburg Foundry Company and Griffin Pipe Products, into prosperous enterprises whose principal activity was manufacturing cast-iron pipe and fittings. Lynchburg was the first southern city in which cast-iron pipe was made, and in 1936 pipe and fittings became one of Lynchburg's principal industries, employing some six hundred people in the city. Today, Griffin Pipe Products still manufactures cast-iron pipe for municipal water systems.

Mystery #12 – Are there any good Lynchburg “ghost stories?”

How about a haunted college?

Randolph-Macon Woman's College (currently the co-ed, Randolph College) was the first women's college in the South to be accredited and to receive a Phi Beta Kappa chapter. Founded in 1893 by Dr. William Waugh Smith, the college represented the South as one of the sixteen colleges for women in the United States classified "Division A" by the United States Bureau of Education in the early 1900s. It was ranked with Vassar and Smith.

Many ghost stories have become a part of the lore of the Randolph College community. If you believe in ghosts (or even if you don’t), check out the Randolph ghost stories video that Jacks shared with his curious participants.

Mystery #13 – What is “The Listening Post?”

It’s not what you might think! Extending from Church Street to Court Street with 139 steps, Monument Terrace was built in 1924 as a memorial to citizens who fought and died in American wars. At that time the original basin, located at the base of the monument steps, was replaced with a listing of Lynchburg's WWI dead and Charles Keck's sculpture of a WWI soldier affectionately known as a “Doughboy” – named: "The Listening Post."

Mystery #14 - What was the original name of the University of Lynchburg?

Virginia Christian College, renamed Lynchburg College in 1919, and currently called University of Lynchburg, was the first college to offer coeducation facilities in Central Virginia. The college began its first session in 1903 with 155 pupils. Although founder Dr. Josephus Hopwood believed in coeducation, men and women were not allowed to sit together at either classes or meals, unless they were siblings.

Presented by Brian Jacks, Associate State Director for Community Outreach with the AARP Virginia State Office

Reported by Karen Taylor Davis

Photography © Karen Davis, Palladin Photography

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