Darrell Laurant: Is it historic, or history?





NEW LONDON, Va. -- Union troops marched through here back in 1864, on their way to capture Lynchburg. Two days later, they came through again, a little faster this time.

That capturing thing didn’t quite work out, and David Hunter’s troops were in full retreat.

These days, so is New London itself. And the enemy at the gates isn’t a blue-clad regiment, but progress.
“It’s something we think about a lot,” said Randy Lichtenberg of Friends of New London, reflecting on whether the residential development currently sweeping across Campbell and Bedford counties like a brush fire might overrun the vestiges of Thomas Jefferson’s pet community and bury it forever. “We’re trying to save as much as we can.”

After taking a walking tour offered as part of New London’s 250th anniversary on Saturday, I asked Reve Carwile Jr., another Friend of New London, if people in places like Richmond, Roanoke and Charlottesville know about the village, and the history still to be found here less than a mile off U.S. 460.

“People in Campbell and Bedford don’t know about it,” he replied.

One of the problems with preservation, of course, is that no one ever looks at the present as future history. We wouldn’t think twice about tearing down a building constructed in 1980, for instance. Similarly, Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson weren’t icons to the New Londonites of the late 1700s, so there was no push to save everything that might be associated with them.

Thus, the courthouse in which Henry argued one of his more famous cases became a barn, then a vacant lot. The arsenal that supplied weapons for the Revolutionary War has been reduced to an occasional musket ball hiding in the clay, on a lot recently zoned commercial.

Modern life has overtaken and trampled history in New London. A former stagecoach stop, for example, is now a pleasant two-story residence covered with siding. A mobile home park sprawls across the courthouse site....


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