History

graphicCitizens of Bedford City and County enjoy a quality of life that is rarely available in today’s communities. Bordered by the Blue Ridge Mountains on the west, James River to the north and Smith Mountain Lake on the south, the area offers natural beauty that is unparalleled in the State of Virginia. The Bedford area is not only a scenic community but is also rich in history. Thomas Jefferson was so impressed by the beauty and natural resources in the area that he chose Forest in Bedford County, as the site of Poplar Forest, his family retreat.

Bedford County was originally formed in 1754 from part of Lunenburg County. The name Bedford was chosen by the House of Burgesses, in honor of John Russell, the fourth Duke of Bedford and then Secretary of State of Great Britain. Patriotism abounded following the Revolutionary War and in October of 1782, the Town of Liberty, now known as the City of Bedford, was established.

The first court was held at the "House of Matthew Talbot" and continued there until the courthouse was built in New London, the first county seat. William Calloway donated 100 acres of land located at a fork in the road near his home and built a very modest courthouse and prison. In 1766 the court ordered that a new building be erected upon the courthouse lot in New London Towne. This new courthouse, while offering great improvements over the existing structure, was very different from the modern County Courthouse that exists in Bedford today! graphic

New London quickly became the site of a flourishing village. Lots were sold in town for houses and storefronts. Several schools including New London Academy, the oldest secondary school in Virginia, were responsible for attracting students and families from every area.

There are many homes and districts of historic significance in Bedford including: Poplar Forest, Fancy Farm, Avenel, Three Otters, Lochwood Hall, Old Jeter Place, Liberty Hall, Woodbourne, Bedford Historic District and Cifax Rural Historic District. The list ranges from log cabins and tobacco barns to very sophisticated homes.

Bedford is the home of one of Virginia’s first five Main Street communities and provides a year-round farmers market and unique shopping opportunities, from antique malls to regional arts and crafts. Area restaurants offer an opportunity to taste local fare including fine dining at Olde Liberty Station, the home of the old train station.

Residents and visitors alike are welcome at the Bedford City/County museum located on Main Street where volunteers are available to assist with genealogical research. Displays include homemade quilts, elaborate antique bridal gowns and civil war uniforms. A trip to Bedford would not be complete without a stop at the National D-Day Memorial where visitors may view breathtaking statuary and recognize the valor, fidelity and sacrifice of the Allied Armed Forces who landed in Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944.

While Bedford’s present is rooted firmly in its past, visitors who expect to find a sleepy community will be disappointed. Bedford is the site of a thriving modern culture with a strong economy that makes members of the area proud to call the district home. Today’s Bedford combines the quiet of rural living with opportunities in the business world. Conveniently positioned within a half-hour drive of Lynchburg and Roanoke, the community is located between two airports and within a four-hour drive of several major metropolitan areas. A good mix of industry, commerce and agriculture ensures a strong, diversified economy and positive business climate.

Bedford offers businesses, visitors and residents the best of all worlds. The community is committed to preserving the quality of life and natural beauty that makes the area unique. Whether you come for the scenic views, the history, festivals, as a resident or as a member of the business community, Bedford has something for you. graphic

BEDFORD HISTORICAL SOCIETY

For over 30 years, the Bedford Historical Society, an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization of 400 members has provided leadership and resources for numerous preservation, educational and heritage tourism projects. The society’s funds come only from private donations, projects and events.

The Historical Society was formed to rescue the Historic Meeting House from the bulldozer. The restored Landmark Memorial was the first building in Bedford City to be placed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places (1977) and is now protected in perpetuity by a preservation easement. Numerous other properties, including New London Academy and "the historic corridor" in Forest have benefited from National Register listing prompted by the Historical Society.

The Bedford Historical Society played an early, unpublicized and vital role in the future of Poplar Forest as a Bedford County landmark. In a similar situation, the Bedford Historical Society provided support in the early days of the Avenel project and has given $10,000 to the Avenel Foundation to assist in purchase and restoration of this Bedford landmark.

Prior to the advent of the Main Street Program in Virginia, the Bedford Historical Society was instrumental in obtaining the listing of the Bedford Historic District on the National Register (1984) and providing the resources for early downtown revitalization projects. The society has continued to support the Bedford Main Street program with funding and resources for the façade rehabs, the walking tour brochure, promotions at the Meeting House and other projects.

The Bedford Historical Society also donated $1,500 to the Bedford Public Library expansion and has provided many educational and promotional services in the community. For the past several years the Historical Society has been involved with the preservation and restoration of the Charles & Louise Wharton House which serves as the Society’s headquarters.graphic

Currently, the Historical Society, with the assistance of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, is conducting studies and making plans to hire an executive director.

On February 23rd, at the society’s annual meeting, the Board of Directors announced the establishment of the Clara Lambeth Endowment Fund for Support of Executive Director Services in honor of Mrs. Lambeth’s many contributions to preservation efforts in the Bedford area.

Membership is open to all interested citizens. For information, contact The Bedford Historical Society at P.O. Box 602, Bedford, VA 24523; e-mail: bedfordhs@aol.com, or visit our website: http://members.aol.com/bedfordhs.

The Bedford Area Chamber of Commerce wishes to acknowledge Betty Gereau with the Bedford Historical Society for contributions to this article. For additional reading: Bedford Villages, Lost & Found published by Peaks of Otter DAR, The History of Bedford County, Virginia by Lula Parker Jeter and Echos of Old Liberty, DAR 1976.

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