Tuesday, November 11, 2014

With Lynchburg’s importance as a hub for rail and water transportation in the nineteenth century, the city became a key postal distribution service. Lynchburg’s constant need for more post office space impacted the architecture of downtown as we see it today.

The United States Post Office was created in 1775 and reorganized into the Post Office Department in 1792. For those who lived in Lynchburg, receiving mail and being patient went hand in hand. Around the turn of the 19th century, Lynchburg mail was shipped to Richmond, coming by sloop from northern cities, and then delivered once a week by horse to the small town.

Irregularities and failure of mail delivery were common complaints for many Americans, and Lynchburg residents were no exception. In 1820, The Lynchburg Press, having grown weary of customer complaints over not receiving their copies of the newspaper, ran an editorial concerning the matter. “As far as our duty extends, in issuing the paper in the proper time, and depositing it with the mails” the editorial defends, “we can answer for its discharge. It is to the carriers of the mail that the fault is attributable. …One of them was seen drunk in the streets on Friday morning…and was still in the vicinity in the evening, when he should have been a day’s journey on his route.”

As transportation options improved, the post office began using expanded means to deliver mail. In 1823 waterways were officially declared post roads, a move that benefitted Lynchburg with its location on the James River. Further improvements were made when Congress passed an 1838 act designating all railroads in the country as postal routes.

This nightstick belonged to Thomas W. Akers, who was employed by the Railway Mail Service. As the RMS grew in importance, workers’ safety became a priority. At larger train stations where the trains stopped, security guards were often on duty. Nightsticks like this one may have been a standard issue for RMS clerks, as well, as an added safety measure.

The Railroad Mail Service was inaugurated in 1869, and soon rail cars designed to allow for mail sorting and distribution en route became standard. When the trains passed through smaller towns, clerks would use a system of poles and hooks to deliver and receive mail without the train stopping. Because Lynchburg was the depot for several railroads, trains with RMS cars always stopped at the city. 

From the conception of the system through the mid-twentieth century, the Postmaster General was the last in the presidential line of succession and the President appointed local postmasters. This certificate, signed by President Rutherford B. Hayes, appointed John F. Wilson Postmaster at “Lynchburgh”, beginning in 1877.

This postal scale belonged to John F. Wilson, Lynchburg Postmaster from 1877-1885. While the unit of measurement is not clearly marked, it appears to be able to weigh items up to 9 ½ ounces. When Congress passed an act in 1847 allowing the issuance of stamps, a 5 cent stamp paid for a letter weighing less than 1 oz. and travelling less than 300 miles, while a 10 cent stamp covered everything else.

The Federal Government rented buildings in Lynchburg for federal offices, including the post office, until the 1880s. In 1882, Congress authorized the construction of Lynchburg’s first post office, built on the corner of 9th and Church Streets. The building was completed in early 1888 for the sum of $120,288.65, by far the most expensive building built in the city to that point.

This post office bill is postmarked “Lynchburg, VA, June 1870.” It was sent to Mr. J Humphries, and the payment would cover his postage and rent of a post office box for three months.

The first federal building only lasted 22 years, when it was torn down and replaced with a larger building on the same site. The builders stockpiled many of the bricks from the first building and used them as backing for the limestone walls of the new building. Lynchburg’s second post office eventually became the city hall, and stands today as the Monument Terrace Building.

By the 1930s it had become apparent that the post office needed a larger space to operate, as the growth of the city caused the need for a larger postal service. In 1926 the post office began using the old Westminster Presbyterian Church, located across the street, as an annex, and in 1931 also annexed a portion of the former Friend’s Warehouse, located next to the church. To address the need for additional space, Lynchburg’s third post office opened in 1933. To build it, the Federal Government acquired the title to the church, warehouse, and former Dudley Hall across the street from the existing post office, demolished them, and built a building spanning the entire block. The building currently stands as City Hall.

Lynchburg is home to six post office buildings today. One is still located downtown on Clay Street, while the others are scattered across the city on Fort Avenue, Odd Fellows Road, Rivermont Avenue, Timberlake Road, and Boonsboro Road.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Argus Iron Claw

The term handcuff usually conjures up images of two loops linked by a chain that must be unlocked with a particular key.  In actuality, handcuffs come in a number of shapes, materials, and purposes.  From zipties to “nippers,” police use all sorts of restraints to incapacitate suspects and give police an upper hand in the transportation of said suspects.  This month’s artifact comes by way of the Lynchburg Police Department (LPD) and exemplifies the gamut of novelty that handcuffs run.

The Argus Iron Claw debuted in 1934, but underwent several evolutions before it reached the form that was used by the LPD.  There were (arguably) six versions of this particular restraint rolled out by Argus Manufacturing during a period of about 30 years, including a small production of a final version produced by Argus-Jay Pee in Taiwan. The police equipment company Jay Pee acquired the Iron Claw from Argus around 1960. 

The differences between most of the versions are minute.  The initial and most prominent change in the versions of the Iron Claw came between the first and second when inventor Yngve Smith-Stange added a protective sleeve to protect the fingers of officers applying the restraint from the sharp, ratcheting teeth that kept the device locked.  The only alterations between the second and third and third and fourth iterations of The Iron Claw were the printing of patents that had been successfully filed for the device.  The fifth version of The Iron Claw added the Jay Pee name to the restraint while the sixth version had a slightly elongated housing for the joints of the pincers and the imprint noted that the claw was manufactured in Taiwan.

The Iron Claw was used as a very direct way of controlling and restraining an arrested individual.  The pincers were ratcheted open, then shut around the wrist of the individual to be transported and the officer would hold onto the Iron Claw’s handle for control.  The pincers would be locked tight and if the suspect tried to resist or escape, a broken wrist was the likely result.

This particular design of restraint was popular for its utility and ease of use.  The entire process of attaching it to the wrist of a suspect can be completed essentially with a single fluid motion that results in the handle of this “come-along” device already being in the hand of the officer.  Inventor Smith-Strange also mentions in one of the patents for Iron Claw that if necessary the pincers could locked in the open position “as to permit the latter to be grasped safely by the hand of the user when employing the handle bar as a striking weapon.”

Recently, during the museum’s Discover Lynchburg Teacher Recertification Camp, Museum Educator Whitney Roberts had our teacher/campers guess about the use of this heavy, intimidating device.  Among the more popular and amusing suggestions was that the Iron Claw was actually an old dental tool.  As uncomfortable as the claw must have been as a police restraint, its re-imagined use as a device with which to remove teeth is far more frightening.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Chase & Company's Victorian Carriage Robe

“A plush robe in every buggy” – Thomas Goodall

It may be too soon to admit, but the hot weather and humidity have the museum staff thinking of cooler days. A recent donation to the Lynchburg Museum has inspired thoughts of horse-drawn sleighs, buggies, and carriages.  These Victorian-era modes of transportation are often romanticized during the winter season but imagine what it must have been like, trying to keep warm in a Model T, fording creeks and mud during the cold months. A family would have needed several layers of warm blankets.

A Chase & Company brand carriage robe (also called a “lap robe”) was donated to the Lynchburg Museum by Robert & Agnes Trent of Lynchburg. Mrs. Trent remembers taking a Model-T from Greenville to Midway, North Carolina with her parents, on a route that did involve crossing a creek. The ride was neither smooth nor temperature controlled and there is a very good chance they would have been bundled up under heavy blankets if the weather was chilly.

The Chase robe would have been a luxurious but utilitarian accessory. The blankets were manufactured by Sanford Mills, in Sanford, Maine by Thomas Goodall. They are characterized by plush mohair (angora), bright colors of the Chase brand, and ornamental borders stenciled on the front of the blanket rather than woven into it. The standard size is 48” by 60.”

The Museum’s carriage robe is of three attentive dogs on a small bed, two of which still have their trademark glass eyes. The robe is in remarkable condition and the ornate stenciled green borders are still sharp and bright. Under all of the dyed decorative images, the woven pattern is brown and beige mohair and rather plain. The Trents displayed the carriage robe on their wall as one would a tapestry or a quilt, and it is grand enough to be a work of art.

The robe was originally thought to be from the mid-1920s, but, according to Harland Eastman, President of the Sanford-Springvale Historical Society in Sanford, Maine, the animal motif dates the carriage robe to as early as the 1880s. The Historical Society has the largest collection of Chase carriage robes and Eastman has said he has yet to see the same design twice, though many were sold.


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Lynchburg Liquor During the Rise and Fall of Prohibition

Midst the many interesting artifacts the Museum System has stored away, pining for exposure is a myriad of liquor bottles from pre-Prohibition Lynchburg.  Lynchburg had a tumultuous relationship with Temperance Movements and Prohibition.  In the wake of the Civil War, Virginia allowed its independent municipalities to enact local dry laws.  As was the case with much of the American population, the citizens of Lynchburg were very much split on the issue of Prohibition causing the issue to be on the forefront of ballots for 25 years.  Votes on whether or not to allow the sale of alcohol in Lynchburg were balloted in 1886, 1890, and 1898.  These first three votes all fell to the wets who wanted to retain their right to buy and consume alcohol.  In 1909, however, Lynchburg’s drys managed to pass referendum prohibiting the sale of liquor within the Lynchburg city limits.  This referendum was overturned two years later; but in 1916 with the passage of the Mapp Act the entire state of Virginia went dry.  The Federal government made Prohibition national edict in 1920 following the ratification of the 18th Amendment.
Among the various purveyors of “ardent” liquors in Lynchburg two of the more prominent were Bigbie Bros. & Co. and R. Fazzi.  The Museum’s collection includes numerous bottles from each of these stores and they appear under regionally inspired house brand names such as Piedmont Club and Natural Bridge.  Other prominent liquor sellers in Lynchburg included L Lazarus & Son, Jos. Lawson & Co., Morrison Bros, Charles H. Ross & Co. and CC Trent.  Many of these stores remained open in Lynchburg during the brief local Prohibition between 1909 and 1911, but had to shut down after the Mapp Act.  The formerly prosperous owners of these popular liquor stores looked to new investments.  William Bigbie of Bigbie Bros. & Co. invested in the G.A. Coleman Company, a successful Lynchburg shoe manufacturer, after briefly partaking in the liquor business in Maryland before nationwide Prohibition took effect and he returned to Lynchburg.

During Prohibition, rural Virginia became one of the more infamous regions in the country as it was one of the production hubs for backwoods distilleries and moonshine.  Cities such as Danville, Roanoke, and Lynchburg became hubs of moonshine consumption.

After the ratification of the 21st Amendment in December of 1933, Prohibition came to an end.  From 1916-1933 the state of Virginia had its own Department of Prohibition.  From 1916 until 1920, the main purpose of that department was to prevent liquor produced in a “wet” locale from being smuggled into Virginia.  After national Prohibition was enacted the Virginia Dept. of Prohibition began tackling moonshiners and speakeasies, a losing battle.  With the repeal of Prohibition, Virginia’s Dept. of Prohibition was the only organization with any authority in regards to the sale and manufacture of alcohol in the state and, in an ironic turn, was put in charge of regulating the sale, transportation, and production of alcohol in the state until it could be replaced by the still-active Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control in 1934.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Museums are Fashionable too!

Judging from the success and popularity of the “Hollywood Costume” exhibit at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts last fall (curated by the Victoria & Albert Museum in England), the history of costume and fashion is still a big draw for museum visitors. The Lynchburg Museum is fortunate to have a substantial amount of textiles from all eras in our collection, some which are currently on display. Military uniforms from World War One through the Korean War may be seen in the Piedmont Pride Gallery while items made or purchased in Lynchburg may be seen in the Lynchburg Life Gallery and on the Main Stage.
The Museum recently put this 1930s evening gown of Miriam
Moss Jones on display in the Lynchburg Life Gallery
1923 Wedding Dress of Miriam Jones
Beadwork on the drop waist
While some clothing items must simply wait their turn to have the spotlight, there are still several pieces which cannot be displayed due to their fragile condition. Beaded items must be handled with extreme care.

This month’s Awesome Artifact blog is focusing on items donated to the museum by Mrs. John Williams Jones (nee Miriam Diuguid Moss). Mrs. Jones was born on July 15, 1897 and would have been coming of age during the 1920s.  She was married in June of 1923 and the Museum has her cream silk and crepe-de-chine wedding dress and the navy blue chiffon ensemble known as the “going away” dress, among other items of hers, in our collection.

More glass beadwork on the bodice of the bridal dress


The navy blue "going away" dress is what the bride would put on after the ceremony and reception, then get into the “Just Married” vehicle for the honeymoon.

The "going away" dress without the attachable sleeves

The 1920s were the era of the flapper dress; flapper being a slang term for a young woman “testing out her wings” or “leaving the nest.” The dresses often had a low waistline and could be sleeveless or above the knee. Mrs. Jones’s dress is long and has the optional long sleeve component she could wear, perhaps something more modest for a new bride. The beadwork on the dress is exceptional, as on the beaded purse and the small cloche style hat.

Matching cloche hat and handbag for the bride's fashionable "going away" look


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Public Education for Lynchburg's African-Americans

After a very successful First Friday, celebrating Dunbar High School, this month’s blog takes a look at another school established for African-Americans in Lynchburg in the early 20th Century.

Roster of graduates from the Jackson Street School, 1905-1925
In 1991, the Lynchburg Museum received a donation from Lynchburg City Schools consisting of turn of the twentieth century documents and photographs. Chosen from that collection, is a ledger book entitled Graduates Colored High School, Lynchburg 1905-1925. Listed, in perfect script, are the names of students in each year’s graduating class, class mottoes, and later job occupations, marriages, and/or deaths. The Museum does not know who kept the ledger book but it was for the graduates of the Jackson Street School, then named Lynchburg Colored High School. According to the records, from 1905-1925 there were 339 graduates of the Jackson Street school. The graduates spread out along the east coast; Philadelphia, New York, and North Carolina, and attended colleges such as Howard University and Virginia Seminary. Many became teachers or were married. Other examples listed beside the names are: railroad clerk, knitting or hosiery mill worker, piano or music teacher, physician, seamstress, stenographer, or employed by the government in Washington D.C.

The graduating class of 1925 and post-graduation information including employment and life events
According to Lynchburg and its People by William Asbury Christian, the first free public schools in Lynchburg opened their doors on April 5, 1871.[1] Some residents did not want to pay taxes for public schools but “this was the beginning of one of the best systems of public schools in the state.”[2] The Jackson Street School originally operated inside Jackson Street Methodist Church at 901 Jackson St. In 1911, the Yoder School was built on Jackson between First and Second Streets, giving black children an actual school building. This school served the Tinbridge Hill community. Though the black schools in Lynchburg mostly received used textbooks and “a lot of the finances were lacking...the black teachers were more caring about the black [kids],” said Marvin Stevens in Remembering Tinbridge Hill

Jackson Street School

In 1923, Dunbar High School opened for black high school students which made the Yoder School an elementary school. After years of neglect and a declining neighborhood population, the Yoder School was demolished in 1970.[3] As the Lynchburg schools were desegregated, Dunbar High closed in 1970 and those students began attending E. C. Glass High School.  It reopened as the Dunbar Middle school we know today. 

Commencement Program, Class of 1910
The 1910 Graduates

[1] William Asbury Christian, Lynchburg and Its People, (Lynchburg: J. P. Bell Company Printing, 1900), 287.
[2] Christian, 288.
[3] Carolyn Bell, ed. Remembering Tinbridge Hill, (Lynchburg: Blackwell Press, 2011), 89.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

An Early Library for Lynchburg

Working at the Lynchburg Museum can be a lot like Christmas. When the Curator and staff are tracking down items for exhibits, they may open a box and become distracted by other artifacts. This is exactly how January’s Awesome Artifact was discovered.

January’s artifact is the 1883 novel Jenifer by Annie Thomas, enclosed in a book cover that proclaims: “The Lynchburg Circulating Library, owned and conducted by J. D. Suter & Co., Booksellers and Stationers, No. 1017 Main Street.” Investigating the origin of a single item easily becomes a history lesson. In this case, a single glance into an archival folder yielded an item which can be traced back to the beginning of an institution which today is taken for granted: the public library. Early libraries were not free. In the late 1800s many of the well-educated and wealthy had personal libraries or the money to borrow books from circulating libraries such as Suter’s.  There was not a true public library for all Lynchburg residents to patronize until 1966.   

For a small fee, one could borrow and read a book like Jenifer, Selected Poems of Matthew Arnold, or a Dickens Reader. These books were available through subscriptions offered to businesses ($10/year). Harper & Brothers (the future HarperCollins) published 52 books a year especially for this purpose under the Harper Franklin Square Library imprint. 

For several years J. D. Suter owned a prominent bookselling and library business on Main Street. His letterhead boasts a variety of items available, from school books, sheet music, and gold pens to imported stationery. It also states “Rare Books, and Books that are Out of Print, Obtained at Short Notice.” The credit account for Mrs. I. S. Moore in July of 1886 lists purchased items such as N. Y. Fashion B’zar, Maurice Mystery, and the service of “Repairing Gold Pen.” Other receipts in the Museum’s collection include items like ink holders, pencils and blank books, 3 volumes of Scott’s History, Swinton’s Complete Geography, Bingham’s Latin Grammar, valentines, toothpicks, games of Cock Robin, and a vase. 

In the Trade Notes section of an 1884 issue of The American Bookseller, Suter announced: “…that his business has been enlarged by the taking-in of a partner, and that a job office will be added to their other business.” Suter & Co. also placed an ad in an 1884 Publisher’s Weekly which may have been to fulfill requests from customers, either for purchase or for the circulating library: 

Books Wanted
John D. Suter & Co., Lynchburg, Va.

Philostratus’s Life of Apollonius of Tyana, tr. By Rev. Ed. Berwick
The Jesus of History, by Sir R. D. Hanson
The New Virginians, Blackwood, 1879.
Wolfenbuttel, Fragments, tr. By C. Voysey.
Lyle’s Collection of Poems and Ballads, 1827.

Suter’s eventually closed and the Museum could not locate any images of the actual store, but for a time, it seemed to offer Lynchburg a little bit of everything. J. D. Suter died sometime before 1900, leaving a widow, Fannie. 

As the past intersects with the present, it leaves many thinking about the fate of libraries and bookstores because of the digitization of printed matter. With so much information available on the internet (but unfortunately, much of it inaccurate), libraries are not the public institutions they used to be. Neither are the brick and mortar bookstores, though books continue to sell through online vendors. Some wonder if all physical books will become relics or artifacts, but time will tell.

Business Card of John D. Suter & Company's First Location