UL in History: LUNCHburg

Dr Clifton W. Potter Jr, UL History Professor~

Last week while cleaning out one of the drawers in my file cabinet I found a spiral binder that one of my students gave me, but it has lain forgotten for years.  I kept it because the cover was misprinted. Instead of “Lynchburg College” one reads “Lunchburg College.” Next Sunday, November 11th we shall mark the centennial of the end of World War I.  One hundred years ago Lynchburg really was Lunchburg.

On April 6, 1917 the United States declared war on Germany, and as the nation began to devote its energies to defeating the Central Powers, Lynchburg became an important part of the war effort.  Of course, Lynchburg’s industries provided strategic materials, but its railway connections were crucial in the movement of military personnel and supplies. Lynchburg had been one of the most important rail centers in the upper south since the 1850s.  The Battle of Lynchburg was waged and lost by Union Gen. David Hunter to destroy the railway connections. In 1917 trains moving north and south passed through the Kemper Street Station off Park Avenue, and trains linking the east with the west stopped at the Norfolk and Western Station at the bottom of Ninth Street.

Troop trains briefly stopped in Lynchburg each day bound for various ports of embarkation on the East Coast. The men aboard these transports were provided with minimum rations, however they could purchase food and drink from the “butchers” who walked through the cars selling their wares at inflated prices.  By the fall of 1917 the Lynchburg Chapter of the American Red Cross took steps to alleviate this situation. Since these trains usually passed through the city’s two stations at midday, the women who manned the canteens met the trains with baskets of sandwiches, fruit, desserts, and hot beverages for the men bound for Europe.  To troops all up and down the line Lynchburg soon became “Lunchburg.”

One of the most active members of the effort to feed the troops was Mrs. Lucille McWane Watson whose family was closed associated with Lynchburg College from the its founding.  McWane Hall which was razed this summer was named for her family, and towards the end of her life Mrs. Watson was honored for her service to the city with an honorary doctorate from Lynchburg College.  A number of young men who were students at Virginia Christian College [we became Lynchburg College in 1919] enlisted in the armed forces while many of our female students sought to help the war effort by working with the local Red Cross.  They rolled bandages, helped at the canteens, and in some instances eventually worked in the facilities that served the wounded and their families.

It is possible that one of our students while writing a letter home for a wounded doughboy just back from the front might have mentioned in conversation that she attended college in Lynchburg, Virginia.  Surely, they both must have laughed when he reminded her that it was Lunchburg not Lynchburg. You see the supposed error on the notebook is not a mistake—it is a memory.