Where Gumbo Was #297
Danville Virginia, located on the border between Virginia and North Carolina, made its fortune in the tobacco and subsequent textile industries. But like many cities, it lost ground to other locations and is now working on making a comeback in modern businesses and renovating their shuttered buildings.
A million dollars or euros may be commonplace with successful business owners nowadays, but back in the 18th and 19th centuries it also brought political and social influence, plus competition among those in the same industry to outdo the others.
Before its founding in 1793, Danville was a huge tobacco producer when no other crop would succeed except the “Bright Leaf” tobacco which made Danville tobacco one of the most sought after varieties and top tobacco producing areas in the world.
Competing tycoons built many homes along Main Street trying to one up each other. As a result, Danville’s Millionaires’ Row of homes became a symbol of Victorian and Edwardian architecture in the early United States. Professor Abe was able to recognize it from the clues in this week's Where in the World puzzle.
Loaded down with many bottles of water on an extremely hot southern day, I walked down the Millionaires’ Row of homes from arguably the most famous Sutherlin Mansion on the Row at the top of the hill to the to the city proper and back up.
As one of the third richest cities in early America, Danville became known as the “City of Churches” as they sprang up along Millionaires’ Row and throughout the city. Current homeowners on Millionaires’ Row are proud of their restored homes and have opened their doors to tourists who elect to take the guided Walking Tour.
I was delighted to see that Danville has implemented the Free Little Library project that many localities in the United States are taking to improve children’s access to books. These little repositories are almost always built by residents then installed in locations that have high foot traffic. Books are put inside and residents can remove those books for free with hopes they add some in return.
The most famous of all the houses on Millionaires’ Row is the Sutherlin House, which is now a Fine Arts Museum which I will blog about in another TravelGumbo edition including some other sites around the town. It gained its fame as the location of the last Capitol of the Confederacy prior to their surrender. If you are old enough, you may have recollected the song “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” made famous by Joan Baez and the first stanza was “Virgil Caine is the name, and I served on the Danville train.”
A historian I met in Danville told me the Capitol of the Confederacy was there because the railroad tracks from Richmond ended in Danville, so it was the furthest the Confederate leaders could retreat from the former Capitol in Richmond.
All of the homes on Millionaires’ Row are renovated and kept in excellent condition and open their homes to tourists. It seems to catch on with residents on the side streets who show pride in their homes.
For information about the walking tours, contact the Welcome Center at 645 River Park Drive, Danville Virginia 24540 or explore oldwestendva.com or exploredanville.com.