history · published · school

Farmville’s historic landmarks for dummies

A guide for the rest of us!

This article originally appeared in The Rotundaarchived here.

Farmville, Va. is an area steeped in history, and this is best reflected in the myriad of landmarks around the area. From serving as a backdrop to the twilight of the Civil War to fostering a generation of activists demanding equal rights in education, Farmville has played a decisive role in American history.

In 1853, High Bridge was built as a section of the South Side Railroad that passed through Farmville on a route between Petersburg and Lynchburg. Two years later, Confederate General Robert E. Lee and his men were retreating from Sailor’s Creek for the supply depot in Farmville. He burned the bridge in an unsuccessful attempt to block the Union forces as they chased him to the Appomattox Courthouse where he would later surrender. Tourists can see the entire 100 miles on a tour from Petersburg to Appomattox.

In the aftermath of the war, High Bridge and the rest of the South Side Railroad were repaired by Confederate General William “Billy” Mahone. Though it was later absorbed by the Norfolk Southern Railway system, it was abandoned when maintaining it became too expensive. Today, it is part of the 31 miles of Norfolk Southern abandoned rail that are protected by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, and the entire length of High Bridge is open to the public.

At the intersection of High Street and Randolph Street, the Confederate Monument is another testament to the Civil War’s legacy. Originally planned by local Confederate veterans and residents, the structure was taken over by the Farmville chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1896. It stands 19 feet tall and is the work of Petersburg Marble Works.

The Moton Museum is a museum converted from the original Robert Russa Moton High School, and occupies a stop on the Civil Rights in Education Heritage Trail. It was here that 16 year-old Barbara Johns and her classmates organized a strike to protest the inferior conditions of their school versus the white Farmville High School. Johns and her friends caught the attention of two attorneys from the NAACP, Spottswood Robinson and Oliver Hill. The resulting Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County case was appealed to the Supreme Court and combined with four other cases to become to Brown v. Board of Education, which ended the “separate, but equal” policy. Encyclopedia Virginia states that this strike “is considered by many historians to signal the start of the desegregation movement.” The movement’s primordial stages, however, were not just a group of children and two lawyers. The Farmville First Baptist Church was the host of many a meeting on the topic of desegregation.

Though Longwood University is the center of the vice presidential debate, Farmville is America’s first two-college town for a reason. Hampden-Sydney College is much older than Longwood, and is in fact one of the oldest higher education institutions in the country, being founded in 1775. Its private charter from 1793 is the oldest in the South. Several key American figures are connected to the college. Patrick Henry and James Madison were both members of the first Board of Trustees, and the ninth President of the United States, William Henry Harrison, graduated with the Class of 1791.

Longwood University itself is a historic landmark. It was originally created as the Farmville Female Seminary in 1839. From Ruffner Hall, students were able to see Robert E. Lee’s troops on the retreat to Appomattox. The school became the first Normal School available to white female teachers in 1884 when it also became a public institution. It changed to a fully coeducational school in 1976.

There are many historic landmarks that grace Farmville; this is just a very short list. History lives on in each landmark, a post card from the past.

All of the listed landmarks are open to the public and more can be found on this document from Longwood.

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