Lynchburg in History: Our College Lake

Dr. Clifton W. Potter, UofL History Professor~

Virginia Christian College, which was our name until 1919, was in a rural setting outside the city limits of Lynchburg, just beyond the terminal point of the streetcar line.  When Westover Hall was constructed in 1890, some of the land around the structure was cleared, but the site was still heavily wooded in 1903 when Dr. Hopwood purchased the property.

With the construction of Carnegie Hall and Hopwood Hall in 1909, a number of trees were felled. The baseball team was allowed to further clear the area in front of Hopwood Hall as a playing field. While the wood was not wasted, but used as fuel, a valuable habitat for birds and other wildlife was quickly disappearing.

        To reconfigure the campus after the construction of the new buildings and the baseball diamond, Dr. Hopwood initiated the first landscaping project in the history of the college. The trees that were cut were replaced with a grove of oaks, many of which are still standing near the library. There is a postcard in the college archives, which is based on a photograph taken circa 1910, shortly before Dr. Hopwood’s presidency ended. Westover Hall is in the background framed by the oak saplings.  

Shortly before the beginning of this semester one of those trees were removed because it was slowly dying. There was an indentation in the trunk that was at the right angle to provide a comfortable seat. I used to study there, and sometimes dream about what the future might hold. The tree is gone, some of the dreams have been fulfilled, but others remain to be realized.

        The healing springs which led to the building of the resort hotel are still flowing, but after 1903 their value was minimal.  Far more important to existence of the college was Blackwater Creek. A century ago the stream was a potable water source. To protect this resource from contamination by livestock, the fences at the edge of the creek were constantly maintained.  

The water was dammed about a mile from the main campus creating a small pond for swimming, and it was in use until 1934 when College Lake was created. Regrettably unregulated growth in the West Lynchburg area after World War II led to the pollution of Blackwater Creek and in turn the lake. This important recreational site has been slowly dying for almost sixty years, and early in August during a torrential downpour the City of Lynchburg drained it. Its restoration would have been a real victory for environmentalists.

        In recent years, there has been an increasing awareness among evangelical Christians that they have an obligation to protect the environment.  While some of their number have denounced this new endeavor as the “Devil’s work,” Dr. Hopwood would have approved of their attempt to protect God’s creation.  

The Hopwoods were also conservative Christians, but they gladly accepted their stewardship of the Earth over a century ago. We have a responsibility to embrace their legacy—in so doing our campus family will be able to renew yet another link with our rich heritage.