End of Summer: When Lynchburg closed its pools

End of Summer: When Lynchburg closed its pools

On July 4, 1961, Audrey Lenon was swimming at Jefferson Park pool. At the time, it was the only public pool open to African Americans in Lynchburg, Virginia. The day was hot, with temperatures in the mid-80s. One might imagine the pool was packed.

And then the police arrived.

“We were in the water and there was a ramp that you walked down to get to the pool,” Lenon, who was 15 at the time, recalled. “We looked up and it was lined with police officers. They told us to get out of the water. No explanation.”

Lenon said she and the other swimmers were “herded … like we were criminals,” told to gather their things and leave. The police refused to answer any questions.

Jefferson Park Pool - Gilmore Pic for blog
Swimmers pose for a photo at Jefferson Park pool. Photo courtesy of Charlie Gilmore.

“We asked, ‘What happened?’ and ‘Why are you closing the pool?’ but we didn’t get any answers,” she said. “We were just told to put our clothes on and the pool was closed. That’s all they said, no why it’s closed. I guess they didn’t feel like they needed to tell us. … Do they really need to give a child an explanation?”

What Lenon didn’t know at the time, what she heard later on the evening news, was that something had happened across town at the whites-only Miller Park pool. Something that had caused the police to come Jefferson Park, something that would ruin a summer holiday so full of fun and promise and essentially put an end to summer.

On that Independence Day, 55 years ago, six black boys and an adult civil rights leader tried to buy tickets to Miller Park pool, one of two city pools open only to whites. The newspapers, no doubt familiar with sit-ins happening at lunch counters all over the country, would call it a “wade-in” and “swim-in.”

The City of Lynchburg’s response to this act of civil disobedience was to close all of its pools.

In a newspaper article the next day, City Manager Robert Morrison said the pools were closed as a “matter of public safety.” The same article also listed the boys’ names and their parents’ names and addresses.

An editorial titled, “Closing the Pools,” which ran a few days later, blamed “militant Negro leaders” and their “sense of justice” for what happened that day:

Now, each of these pools has been drained. Negro leaders forcing the issue knew that this would be the result of any attempt to integrate either of the pools used by whites. Perhaps, today, they are proud of their accomplishment and consider their ‘sense of justice’ somewhat satisfied.

It’s true, the wade-in didn’t come as a big surprise to city officials. It was all part of a bigger initiative organized by local civil rights leaders to desegregate public facilities. One of these activists was Virgil Wood, who was then pastor of Diamond Hill Baptist Church.

Wood said city officials had known about the plans for a wade-in and told him the pools would be closed if they actually did it. Wood also described the city manager as a “very decent man” who seemed to be a victim of the times.

“I think he didn’t believe in the old way, but he was trapped in having to carry out what he didn’t believe in,” Wood said. “That was my impression. We also had a high level of respect for each other. We didn’t do sneak attacks. We also gave them the opportunity to do what was right before we challenged it.”

What the City of Lynchburg did that day was similar to what nearby Prince Edward County had done two years before as part of what was called the “Massive Resistance.” Prince Edward closed all of its public schools, rather than allow blacks and whites to attend school together.

The prevailing opinion was that while federal law said schools must be integrated, no one said you had to have public schools.

Regarding Lynchburg’s pools, Morrison told a reporter, “The city does not have the right to deny any citizens admission to a pool operated by the city of Lynchburg. The only way to legally prevent their admission is by closing the pools.”

Two weeks after the pools were closed, Brian Robinson, a 12-year-old African-American boy, drowned while swimming in a canal lock in downtown Lynchburg. According to a newspaper account of the drowning, he would have normally cooled off at Jefferson Park pool.

Robinson’s death was blamed on Wood and others in the local civil rights movement. An editorial in the July 23 newspaper reads, in part, “Because the pools were closed by the wade-in, as city authorities had always said they would be if such a move was made, it’s easy enough to see where the responsibility lies.”

Three city pools closed on July 4, 1961, at Miller, Jefferson and Riverside parks. Eventually, the pools were filled with dirt and grass was planted.

Riverside Park Pool
What remains of Riverside Park pool today.

Today, the only visible evidence of the three pools is at Riverside Park, where you’ll find a large rectangle of sod, surrounded by a stone pool deck. In what was the deep end, you can still see the concrete sides and the metal rings, through which ropes once ran around the pool’s perimeter.

A year or so ago, the city installed an interpretive sign at Riverside Park that tells the story of what happened to the city’s pools in 1961.

As for what Lenon and her friends did on that summer day 55 years ago, after the police had locked the gate and left, it appears they tried to make the best of it.

“There was a concession stand as you were entering the pool,” she said. “The lady kept it open. It was Fourth of July. Kids needed something to do. She kept it open, so we bought food and just sat on the hill and looked at the water.”

Avoca Museum: Home of Southern hospitality, Victorian charm … and beer

Avoca Museum: Home of Southern hospitality, Victorian charm … and beer

Avoca was once the home of Col. Charles Lynch — planter, lawmaker and Revolutionary War soldier. Lynch also was the brother of Lynchburg founder John Lynch. Originally called “Green Level,” the land on which Avoca now sits was acquired through a land grant to Col. Lynch’s father from King George II in 1740.

There have been three houses at Avoca over its 261-year history. The first home was built by Col. Lynch in 1755. It burned down in 1879. A second home was built, and it burned down in 1900. The current house, a stately Queen Anne with Eastlake details, is the third house and is now officially known as Avoca Museum.

Avoca — tagline, “Where Southern Hospitality Meets Victorian Charm” — is open for tours, and the home and property can be rented for weddings and other celebrations. The museum also hosts annual events, including a Mother’s Day Tea, lantern tours and beer and wine festivals.

Next 2 the Tracks - Adrian Baird photo credit
Next 2 the Tracks. Photo, Adrian Baird.

This Saturday, June 18, Avoca will host its 4th-annual Made in the Shade Craft Beer Festival. Gates open at noon, and tickets are $20 ($15 in advance). Admission includes tickets for eight samples from the six craft breweries that will be on site.

The event also will feature concessions, vendors, and live music by Next 2 the Tracks and Chamomile and Whiskey.

I’ll be there Saturday, not only because Next 2 the Tracks is staying at my house (really, I must start cleaning…) but also because I’ll be a vendor. I’ll be selling bottle cap folk art and bracelets made from vintage belts. And, for full-disclosure purposes, my sister is Avoca’s event planner, so of course I’ll be there.

So, you should be there, too! It’s always a fun time. Avoca is located about a half-hour south of Lynchburg, in Altavista. For more information, visit Avoca’s website or email avocaevents@embarqmail.com.

Moving people, dead and alive: A story of Smith Mountain Lake

Lake View 1964
Smith Mountain Lake in 1964, before it reached “full pond.” (Photo provided by Marge Dillard.)

A few years ago, I was asked to write a story for a local magazine about the history of Smith Mountain Lake. The popular recreation area, located about an hour from Lynchburg, was created 50 years ago by Appalachian Power Company.

Throughout 2016, communities around the lake are celebrating the anniversary.

So, I researched and wrote the story, reporting about feasibility studies and how the power company acquired property in Bedford, Franklin and Pittsylvania counties. I wrote about the hydroelectric dam and how the Roanoke River Basin was flooded to provide power, recreational opportunities and other things.

What I found most interesting, however, was what had to be displaced for all of this to happen: namely people, dead and alive.

In May of 1960, two Appalachian Power employees were given a challenging — some might have said impossible — task: find and relocate every grave on the 20,000 acres of rolling Virginia farmland that would eventually become Smith Mountain Lake.

Those employees were an administrative assistant named C.O. Roberson and his coworker Herbert Taylor. Roberson, also known to be an “avid genealogist,” documented the daunting task in his 1963 report, “Relocation of Cemeteries in the Smith Mountain Lake and Leesville Reservoir Areas of Bedford, Franklin and Pittsylvania Counties.”

The report can be read, in full, at Jones Memorial Library in Lynchburg.

As Roberson wrote in his report, he and Taylor quickly realized “that the finding of these cemeteries would indeed be the most difficult task. Several months were spent on this one phase of the job. Many of the burial grounds were in most remote, isolated locations, far removed from accessible highways.

“They had to be found by walking and searching long distances through dense forests, briers, and bushes, and treelaps and honeysuckle vines, and everything else that grew over them. In some cases we spent hours locating a particular cemetery. We frequently solicited the aid of local residents and in a number of instances they joined the search.”

For months, Roberson and Taylor scoured fields and forests. They searched for tombstones, field stones, dips in the earth — anything that could possibly be a grave site. They also looked for periwinkle, a popular ground cover used in cemeteries.

“Periwinkle proved to be a blessing in helping us find cemeteries,” Roberson wrote.

The intrepid pair tangled with vines and briers. They got bit by lots of ticks but luckily no snakes.

“We killed two rattlesnakes and some moccasins, but we let the blacksnakes go,” the candid Roberson wrote, adding, “If anyone believes it is fun looking for graves in a rattlesnake and tick infested area, he should try it some time. We were often bitten by ticks, but fortunately not by a snake.”

Roberson and Taylor found graves from as far back as the 1750s. They also suspected many of the graves they found belonged to slaves. Very few graves were marked with names and dates, and many of the remains were of children.

Chimney at SML
My friend, Paula, found this chimney at Smith Mountain Lake State Park.

The pair found many graves at old home sites, identified only by a foundation or a couple of chimneys and, as Roberson put it, “often with large trees standing among the graves.”

During their two-year odyssey, Roberson and Taylor drove at least 100,000 miles and communicated with next-of-kin from all over the U.S. and Canada.

Roberson wrote that, “most of the next of kin desired and requested that the graves of their people be relocated, but in many instances their kinship was so distant that they did not show much concern or interest.”

Those in the black community, however, were adamant that their ancestors’ remains be relocated. “Without exception, colored people requested … their ancestors be moved to ‘higher ground,’ ” Roberson wrote. “They could not seem to bear the thought of permitting the graves to be inundated.”

Roberson and Taylor eventually found and coordinated the relocation of 1,135 graves from dozens of cemeteries. It was hard work, but it appears Roberson considered it a worthwhile endeavor.

“The relocation of graves, with all the minute details involved, turned out to be a bigger undertaking than we first anticipated,” he wrote at the end of his report. “It took longer than we thought it would, but it was a job that had to be done. We did the best that we knew how.”

Lots of living people also had to leave the area, among them people from Huddleston’s black community. Some families had been in the area since before the Civil War — first as slaves, then as sharecroppers.

For my original article, I talked with Margaret Garrett Moon, a sharecropper’s daughter. She grew up south of Lynchburg in Evington, but went to church in Huddleston.

Moon and her family attended church at Oak Grove Baptist and Thomas Slave Chapel. Thomas Slave Chapel was founded by freed slaves in 1877. It’s still used today, although mostly for annual homecoming-type services.

Moon remembered the older folks talking about being forced out by the impending flood. “Everybody, rich or poor, had to leave. … The dam was taking everything,” she said.

Trouble was, some people had nowhere to go. So the churches collaborated, building a shanty town at Oak Grove Baptist Church.

“Huts were put up … anywhere they could find a place to live,” Moon said, adding that some people lived on the church grounds “till they died or went into a nursing home or something.”

My friend and running partner, Paula, featured in the photo with the chimney, blogs at Virginia Sweet Pea. There, she writes about a variety of things, including crafting, fashion, food and her dog, Sherman. 

Final resting places

New Mexico tombstone
This wooden cross marks a grave in New Mexico.

Husband John and I like cemeteries and graveyards and — strange, morbid, whatever — have found ourselves wandering through them all over the country.

Before I go any further, some people might want to know what the difference is between a cemetery and a graveyard. They are often used interchangeably, but apparently there’s a difference and it has to do with location.

Based on what I found online, a graveyard is a burial ground that’s next to a church — in the yard, so to speak. A cemetery, on the other hand, is a burial ground that’s not next to a church.

To summarize: Small plot located behind a country church? Graveyard. Sprawling sea of tombstones next to the highway? Cemetery. According to what I found on this very informative Wikipedia page, a private family burial plot also would be called a cemetery.

One of my favorite burial grounds, so far, is Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia. It was made popular by John Berendt’s wonderful non-fiction book, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” I haven’t read the book in years but I might have to crack it open again soon. The movie, which starred Kevin Spacey, also was good. I love Kevin Spacey, even when he’s the bad guy.

Bonaventure has many beautiful statues. It’s very shady, park-like and ornate. Savannah native Johnny Mercer, who wrote the lyrics to “Moon River” and was the founder of Capitol Records, among other things, is buried there.

savannah cemetery angel
An angel statue at Bonaventure.

John and I visited Bonaventure several years ago. It was on a day trip while we were vacationing in Charleston, South Carolina, which is a couple of hours north. Charleston has some amazing graveyards, too. I’ve been to several in the historic district, among them at the Circular Congregational Church, St. Philips and the Unitarian Church.

Last time I was at the Unitarian graveyard it was this jungle-like mess of foliage and tombstones. It was kind of like I imagine Unitarians to be — do what you want, free and easy, without much concern for convention. But for that reason, it’s also one of my favorite Charleston graveyards.

New Mexican graveyards, for the most part, are very different from those in Virginia. First of all, you’ll never find a wooden tombstone in Virginia — too much rain — but they’re commonplace in the much-drier Land of Enchantment.

You also won’t see much grass in New Mexican graveyards. In a lot of the ones I’ve seen while vacationing there, there’s no grass at all. That said, the graveyards are beautiful, if in a desolate way, and I enjoy visiting them.

Fredericksburg Grave
A child’s grave in the Texas Hill Country.

In the Texas Hill Country town of Fredericksburg, John and I happened upon a German cemetery, where many of the tombstones were inscribed in German.

There, we saw dozens of small graves, each surrounded by a wrought-iron fence. Upon further inspection, it dawned on me that these were children’s graves. The fences encircling them were made to look like cribs.

While touring St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 in New Orleans a few years ago, I learned about “oven vaults.”

As explained on this tour website, “These walls of tombs were meant to be used to house the dead for an entire family line. Well after the funeral, the remains could be pushed to the back of the receptacle, to make room for the next deceased.”

Oven vaults remind me of brick pizza ovens, and I’m not just saying that because I’m hungry as I write this. When I see one, I imagine the remains of the last person being shoved to the back of the vault with a big spatula — kind of like a pizza.

Morbid, yes, but it’s an easy way to remember what an oven vault is.

Oven Vaults St louis cemetery 1
Oven vaults in New Orleans.

Not too long ago, one of my aunts showed me the tombstone of a relative I didn’t even know I had: my great aunt, Martha Jane Miles. Poor little Martha Jane was my maternal grandfather’s younger sister. She was born and died in 1909 and is buried near Barbourville, Kentucky. Martha Jane’s tombstone is a simple rock, crudely (but sweetly) engraved with her initials and two dates.

Martha Jane Miles
Martha Jane’s grave

Martha Jane died not too long before the rest of her family moved to Oklahoma, with plans to homestead. They didn’t stay in Oklahoma long, however, maybe a couple of years. I heard they returned home because my great-grandma missed her mother, but I also wonder if she missed the baby she left behind.

Indeed, there are interesting discoveries to be made in cemeteries and graveyards — too many to include in one post, that’s for sure.

Are there any neat burial grounds that you’d recommend John and I visit?


Old City Cemetery

grave rows
The Confederate Section is the final resting place of more than 2,200 Civil War soldiers.

One of my favorite places in Lynchburg is Old City Cemetery. Husband John and I visited again in mid-May. It was about a week after “Rose Day,” an annual event that shows off the cemetery’s amazing collection of antique roses.

roses on wall
Roses and other perennials in bloom along the cemetery wall.

Many of the rose bushes are planted on either side of a brick wall that surrounds the cemetery’s Confederate Section. More than 2,200 Confederate soldiers from 14 states are buried there. Many (perhaps all) died at Lynchburg’s 30-some Civil War hospitals.

During the Civil War, Lynchburg was a hospital and railroad center. Many of the city’s tobacco warehouses and homes became makeshift hospitals. Three railroads brought the wounded from area battlefields, including The Wilderness, where casualties numbered more than 29,000.

According to the folks at Old City Cemetery, “after the Battle of the Wilderness (May 1864) … Lynchburg, with 6,000 inhabitants, was overwhelmed with over 10,000 wounded and diseased soldiers.”

It’s estimated that more than 20,000 soldiers were treated in Lynchburg during the Civil War and about 3,000 died.

Terriza Wallace Grave
Terriza Wallace’s is the oldest known grave at the cemetery.

The oldest section of Old City Cemetery is located just inside the main entrance, to the right. There, one can find the oldest known grave, that of Terriza Wallace. Terriza died in 1808 at about a year old.

While Terriza is listed in the cemetery’s database as white, about 75 percent of those buried at Old City Cemetery are black. Until 1885, Old City Cemetery was the only Lynchburg cemetery open to African Americans.

Among the African Americans buried there are educators, politicians, ministers and other prominent local figures. You can read more about some of the interesting people buried in the cemetery here.

Some of the most colorful characters buried in the cemetery are “Blind Billy” and the Langleys.

Blind Billy was born a slave in about 1805 and died in 1855. According to cemetery literature, he was a “beloved fife player and street musician. He led parades and played for private parties in the homes of affluent citizens.” He was apparently so well-liked that grateful citizens bought his freedom.

Agnes and Lizzie Langley’s plot

Near the cemetery entrance, mother and daughter Agnes and Lizzie Langley are buried in an elaborate plot surrounded by a wrought-iron fence. The pair ran a “sporting house” in the 1800s. The house of ill repute was located on Commerce Street, in an area of town known as “Buzzard’s Roost.”

(As a side note, there’s a neat antique store on Lynchburg’s Commerce Street that’s called “Buzzard’s Roost,” an homage to the old red-light district.)

According to cemetery literature, “It is not known whether [the Langley’s] impressive family plot was a result of the ladies’ earnings or the admiration of those of great wealth.”

You can learn more about the Langleys and other Lynchburg “sporting women” at the cemetery’s annual “Bawdy Ladies” tour. The tour and other events, including bird walks, candlelight tours, workshops and concerts, are listed on the cemetery’s website.

There are five different museums at Old City Cemetery, among them the Mourning Museum. Its exhibits include mourning clothing and jewelry and other items relating to 19th- and early 20th-century funeral traditions.

Outside, there’s an exhibit about African-American burial traditions, which includes a bottle tree.

pest house
Pest House Medical Museum

There’s also the Pest House Medical Museum. It’s a funny-sounding name, but basically a “pest house” was where the very sick and those with infectious diseases were taken to die.

There’s also the Station House Museum, the Hearse House and Caretakers’ Museum, the potters fields, the lotus pond…

I could go on and on, but I’m going to stop here, because there are way too many neat things at Old City Cemetery to put in one blog post. So you’re just going to have to go there. Really, you are. It’s definitely worth the trip.

Happy Doughnut Day!

mama crocketts
The hard-to-miss Mama Crockett’s camper.

The first Friday in June is National Doughnut (or Donut) Day.

National Doughnut Day has been around since 1938, when the Salvation Army started the holiday as a fundraiser and to increase awareness for its programs. The holiday’s origins, however, go back to 1917.

During World War I, female Salvation Army volunteers — “donut lassies” — gave doughnuts to American Soldiers in France.

According to The Salvation Army Metropolitan Division in Chicago, “With limited resources, these treats were fried, only seven at a time. The Salvation Army’s Ensign Margaret Sheldon and Adjutant Helen Purviance cleverly thought of frying donuts in soldiers’ helmets.”

It was a morale-boosting effort. While the “lassies” also mended clothes, cooked and provided the soldiers with writing supplies and stamps, the doughnuts apparently made the biggest impact. How do I know this? Well, today isn’t letter-writing or sock-darning day, now is it?

So, in honor of this great holiday (and because we really like doughnuts) my sister, Theresa, and I went out today in search of free doughnuts.

station house
Station House Museum at Old City Cemetery

First, we went to Lynchburg’s Old City Cemetery, where volunteers were handing out tasty Chestnut Hill Bakery doughnuts and coffee at the Station House Museum. The circa-1898 C&O Railway station house was originally located in the Amherst County, Virginia, community of Stapleton.

The station house was dismantled and moved to the cemetery in 1999. It was reconstructed in 2001. Today, its interior is decorated with a World War I theme — perfect for a holiday commemorating good deeds from the Great War.

The next place Theresa and I found free doughnuts was at Mama Crockett’s. The guys at Mama Crockett’s operate out of a turquoise blue camper trailer. The trailer is often parked on Lynchburg’s Main Street, but also can be found at other Lynchburg-area locations, including the popular Food Truck Thursdays at Miller Park.

theresa and donut
Theresa shows off her Mama Crockett’s doughnut.

Mama Crockett’s specializes in apple cider doughnuts. They are fresh, hot and to die for, and today they were free. Can’t beat that.

Also, in case you’re wondering, is it “doughnut” or “donut”? The Grammarist has this to say:

The dictionary-approved spelling for the ring-shaped cake made of dough and fried in fat is doughnut. The shortened donut has been around since the late 1800s, but it wasn’t popularized until the late 20th century, when the successful American doughnut chain Dunkin’ Donuts made it ubiquitous. Today, writers outside the U.S. still favor doughnut by a wide margin. Donut appears about a third of the time in published American writing.

I like the long version. Happy Doughnut Day!

Behold, the Sausage Poof!

Sandra’s Sausage Poofs

Have you ever thought, “Why doesn’t someone inject sausage gravy into a dinner roll, kind of like lemon filling into a jelly doughnut?” I hadn’t either, but I’m glad someone thought of it, and that someone was Sandra at Jerry’s Family Restaurant in Vinton, Va.

Jerry’s Family Restaurant

At Jerry’s, which is located at 1340 Washington Ave. (Va. 24) in Vinton, one item on the menu of home-cooked specialties is “Sandra’s Sausage Poofs.” The glorious little bundles consist of thick sausage gravy wrapped in a dinner roll. They’re 69 cents each and totally worth it. I believe I could eat my weight in them, which would of course be a terrible mistake.

You can read more about Sandra’s Sausage Poofs here, in an article my sister Theresa wrote a few years ago for our local newspaper. At the time, she was doing a regular food column, “Will Drive 4 Food,” for which she and I drove around eating and shopping.

Tough gig, I know.