By Brandy Centolanza
One of the more historic streets in downtown Lynchburg, 5th street was once known as the city’s African American business district. At one time, many Black doctors served along the street, including Dr. Robert Walter Johnson. He was the first African American to earn staffing privileges at Lynchburg General Hospital and also taught tennis to Arthur Ashe and Althea Gibson, which lead to the desegregation of tennis. More recently, in April 2021, a historical marker was also unveiled in honor of Augustus Nathaniel Lushington, the country’s first Black veterinarian.
Today, the revamped 5th Street is home to various restaurants, shops, museums, and historic sites. Here are just a few of the sites worth checking out during your 5th Street experience.
The Legacy Museum of African American History helps preserve the city’s rich African American heritage and culture. The museum, which first opened in 2000, honors the contributions African Americans have made and continue to make in Lynchburg. The Legacy Museum offers a variety of exhibits and educational programs celebrating Black residents present and past. Its current exhibit, “The Development of An Athlete: Framing Sports Through Race, Gender, Perseverance and Community,” focuses on sports in Lynchburg and neighboring counties.
The Garland Hill Historic District is a small residential neighborhood situated atop one of the city’s seven hills along Blackwater Creek. Here, you’ll find some of Lynchburg’s oldest homes still intact as well as the building that is now known as the Joseph Nichols Tavern. Thomas Jefferson once stayed in this tavern, which was first built in the 1800s, while traveling between Monticello and Poplar Forest. Joseph Nichols is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Register of Virginia Historical Landmarks. The homes in this district have unique features including stone walls, iron gates, and varying unique styles that make them memorable.
Old City Cemetery Museums & Arboretum is one of the city’s most visited historic sites and comes alive during spring and summer. The cemetery boasts one of the largest collections of antique roses in the state. As more and more people prefer to be outside, visitors should add this cemetery and its gardens to their list. In addition to its myriad roses, Old City Cemetery has a lotus pond, a shrub garden, a butterfly garden, and an apple tree orchard. Families with young children will also enjoy the goats in the garden that you can feed and pet.
Those who prefer more hands-on activities should pop into Vector Space, a non-profit community makerspace started in 2015 by Adam and Elise Spontarelli. Here, you can let your creative juices flow. Tools and equipment are available to build nearly anything you desire in the fields of woodworking, metalworking, textiles, electronics, computers, and prototyping. Classes and workshops are also available for those who wish to consider a membership.
Bittersweet Clothing & Accessories is a trendy clothing boutique that should also be added to your 5th Street to-visit list. Shoppers will want to check out the store’s newest arrivals, which includes summer staples such as swimwear, tank tops, and sundresses. Bittersweet Clothing also carries shoes, hats, sunglasses, and jewelry. Ayven Avenue Boutique is another unique clothing store on 5th Street. Ayven sells graphic tees and other tops, other items of clothing and accessories including bags.
Meanwhile, foodies will have a field day on 5th Street. Fifth & Federal Station, which is located in a renovated gas station, specializes in Southern cuisine with a focus on barbeque as well as whiskey; they have more than 250 varieties! Grey’s On Fifth Restaurant serves up eclectic American fare including salads, sandwiches, and fried chicken. Grey’s, which also has a full bar as well as brunch on the weekends, often rotates its menu seasonally. Prefer a glass of wine? Head over to Everyday Sommelier. This establishment provides classes in wine education and gives tours of nearby wineries and other destinations. Here, you’ll learn about the wines of Spain, Tuscany, and Bordeaux as well as various sparkling wines from around the world. Those with a sweet tooth will want to begin or end their 5th Street experience by satisfying their craving at Mama Crockett’s Cider Donuts, a local favorite famous for their doughnuts with various toppings. On Tuesdays, Mama Crockett’s prepares gluten-free doughnuts especially for those with diet sensitivities.
Want to spend the night so you’ll have more time to explore? Consider checking in to the House of Lydia Bed & Breakfast, a charming faith-based B&B. The Victorian-style B&B was built around 1883 and offers a quiet, private place to relax and recharge. House of Lydia Bed & Breakfast welcomes children 10 or older for those on a family outing.
Brandy Centolanza is a freelance writer who covers health, family travel, and the hospitality industry.
She writes from her Virginia home surrounded by her husband of 20 years and their two teens, three cats,
and a bearded dragon named Craig.
See More of her work HERE