The Lynchburg Museum is housed in the Old Court House, situated across Court Street from the top of Monument Terrace is the second historic courthouse to occupy the space. The first "old court house" was built in 1813, and was a modest brick building with a shingle roof. However, it became too small for the growing population of Lynchburg. In 1849 citizens voted to construct a new courthouse on the site, and in 1853 construction began. The new building was designed by William S. Ellison and constructed by his older brother Andrew. It was finished in 1855, and is an example of the Greek Revival style which was popular during the 19th century. It housed two courtrooms: one on the first floor and the other on the second. The building operated as a courthouse from 1855 until 1974, when it was closed for restoration in anticipation for 1976 Bicentennial. The Lynchburg City Council decided the courthouse should be converted into a museum to reuse the landmark to benefit the community.The Hustings Court was restored to its original appearance as created by Ellison. Many of the other rooms throughout the building were converted into spaces ready for use by the new museum. The doors were opened to the public in 1977. Restoration is an ongoing process, however. More recently, the second floor courtroom's ceiling collapsed in 2000. Following its repair extensive work was done to ensure the building remains structurally sound. Also, the heating and air conditioning systems and fire suppression systems inside have been updated to help protect the building and historical artifacts.
The first floor courtroom was the Hustings Court. Hustings courts in the United States were unique to Virginia, and have their roots in the English court system. A Hustings court were comprised of multiple officials, or "aldermen," who heard cases brought before the court. They sat on the raised stage (seen in the above photo) in the back of the room. People bringing cases to the court sat on a raised platform in the center of the room. Chairs were arranged in the rest of the space to operate as a gallery. When court was in session, the front doors and the two back doors would have been locked.
This room is now the Main Courtroom Gallery. The chronological history of Lynchburg is shown on panels placed on the walls. It starts with the first settlement in Virginia in 1607 and ends four hundred years later in 2007. Artifacts are shown in cases attached to and underneath the panels, and relate to the different time periods. The main stage displays larger and more notable artifacts from the various periods and is backed by a wallpaper made from an early image of Lynchburg created by Edward Beyer.
The four back rooms on the first floor were formerly law and clerk offices when the courthouse was in use. They now contain four different exhibits highlighting specific aspects of Lynchburg's history. The first of these is "Ornament on the Hill." This gallery is devoted to the Museum’s largest artifact—the building itself. It also contains some artifacts from the building's early history, such as an original 1855 gargoyle that was located on the roof of the building.
The second of these galleries is "Art and Artisans." Devoted to Lynchburg’s exceptional artists and craftsman, this exhibit showcases art and objects created by people who have lived in the city. Fine examples of textiles, silver, furniture, ceramics, and paintings can be found here.
The third gallery is "Piedmont Pride." Even prior to Lynchburg’s founding in 1786, the people of the Central Virginia fought to defend this land against the British. Highlighted in the Piedmont Pride Gallery are the stories of men and women from Lynchburg who served in the military through the years. Conflicts shown include the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World Wars I and II, the wars in Korea and Vietnam, the Gulf War, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The fourth gallery is "Life in Lynchburg." It highlights aspects of growing up in Lynchburg from education to sports and entertainment. Special features of this gallery include a rotating display of textiles and the "Made in Lynchburg" case which displays products made by Lynchburg companies past and present. Another is a set of panels focusing on the story of local government in Lynchburg.
The second floor contained another courtroom, as well as various offices for judges, lawyers, and clerks. The former courtroom is now known as Gifford Gallery, and is used as a space for "temporary" exhibits that are left in place for at least a year. It currently displays the "Lynchburg Takes Flight" and features items from the Lynchburg Regional Airport and Piedmont Airlines, as well as local aviators like Lucille Kent and NASA astronaut Leland Melvin. We also play a video interview with Chauncey Spencer discussing his experience paving the way for the Tuskegee Airmen. Uniforms, flight suits, and historic images are on display showcasing the history of flight in Lynchburg.
The upper hallway, situated above the Main Courtroom Gallery, was the location of some of those former offices. These have been converted into offices for the museum's full-time staff. The walls of the hallway display the other exhibit upstairs, which is the "Seven Hills of History." It offers a history of the "original"famous seven hills in Lynchburg, and also explores some of the other notable hills in the city.