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Bedford Historic District

Photo courtesy of Virginia Main Street Program

Since the mid-18th century, a settlement has existed on the site of this picturesque town that is surrounded by the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The settlement was originally named Liberty when it became the county seat of Bedford County in 1782. The community would carry that name for more than 100 years, until in 1890 it was officially changed to Bedford City, and soon after shortened to just Bedford.

The driving economic force in Bedford during the 19th and early 20th centuries was tobacco production. The antebellum years of 1830 to 1860 saw the real beginning of the local tobacco industry. No industrial or commercial buildings survive from the antebellum era, but a number of churches and houses are extant, including Avenel, the 1836 home of Virginia politician William M. Burwell. In June of 1864, Liberty was the scene of combat between Union General David Hunter and Confederate General Jubal Early, with fighting taking place in Centertown. The Union Army was pushed out of town, and Early followed Hunter west toward Hanging Rock (Salem).

[photo] Bedford Historic District
Photo courtesy of Virginia Main Street Program

In the 1870s and 1880s, the local tobacco industry grew dramatically. By 1881, Bedford was the fifth largest manufacturing center in Virginia with 11 tobacco manufacturers. But during these prosperous years, a devastating fire spread through the commercial area of the city on October 12, 1884, destroying almost every building in its path and causing close to $1 million worth of damage. Learning from this experience, Bedford created a municipal water supply system and reconstructed its commercial area. As a measure of fire prevention, the new commercial buildings were all constructed of brick, and some with cast iron fronts such as the building at 110 North Bridge Street. Other impressive buildings dating from this period are the Romanesque Masonic Hall erected in 1895, which now serves as the Bedford City/County Museum, and the commercial complex at 112-114-116 North Bridge Street.

During World War II, Bedford provided a company of soldiers (Company A) to the 29th Infantry Division when the National Guard's 116th Infantry Regiment was activated. On D-Day--June 6, 1944--Company A assaulted Omaha Beach as part of the First Division's Task Force O. By day's end, 19 of the company's Bedford soldiers were dead. Two more Bedford soldiers died later in the Normandy campaign, as did yet another two assigned to other 116th Infantry companies. Bedford's population in 19 44 was about 3,200. Proportionally this community suffered the Nation's severest D-Day losses. Recognizing Bedford as symbolic of all communities, large and small, whose citizen-soldiers served on D-Day, Congress warranted the establishment of the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford.

Centerfest in Bedford

Photo courtesy of Virginia Main Street Program
In 1984, the Bedford Historic District was listed in the National Register, and the following year Bedford became a designated Virginia Main Street community. The community's Centerfest, held annually in September, farmers market, renovation incentives and other Main Street activities led by Bedford Main Street, Inc. have been widely emulated in other communities for almost two decades. Since 1985, hundreds of buildings have been rehabilitated with millions of dollars of private and public funds invested in downtown.

The Bedford Historic District is located at the intersections of U.S. Rte. 460 Business, VA Rte. 43 and VA Rte. 122, and is roughly bounded by Longwood, Bedford and Mountain aves., and Peaks, Oak, Grove and Washington sts. Bedford Main Street, Inc. is located at 108 ½ Main St. and is open from 9:00am to 5:00pm, Monday-Friday. For more information about shopping, dining and events in downtown Bedford call Bedford Main Street at 540-586-2148.

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