In its heyday, Lynchburg was a major industrial center along the James River, and prior to the Civil War, it was the second richest city in America. Only Newport, Rhode Island was richer. Of all the industries, the most important was shoemaking. Yes, my friends, shoes. Millions of shoes.
The largest was the Craddock-Terry Shoe Company. It was founded in 1888, and at its peak, was the fifth largest shoe manufacturer in the world, producing everything from women’s shoes to combat boots. When I say large, I mean a 100,000 pairs per day. The main factory space was along the James, built from locally-produced and fired bricks. You will find many of these bricks used as pavers throughout the eight historic districts.
As with many companies, costs drove the shoe industry out of the United States and the Craddock-Terry Shoe Company went out of business. For decades, the buildings sat vacant and deteriorating. Commerce Street down to the waterfront took on the look of a war zone, with crumbling buildings serving as pigeon roosts.
All that changed when Lynchburg finally decided to save itself. As part of the city’s redevelopment efforts, the old Commerce Street factory, still owned by the Craddock-Terry family, decided to turn the moldering building into a hotel and convention center. Architect Hal Craddock, great-grandson of the company’s founder, led this charge. He incorporated two shoe factory buildings and the adjacent King/Imperial Tobacco Company storage and drying facility.
It took five years to replace weather and termite damage and refit the space as a hotel. It’s small and intimate compared to larger chain hotels usually found in cities of Lynchburg’s size. In the lobby is the original fireproof safe from the factory, an early 20th Century shoeshine chair, plus examples of shoes produced over the years, from high-button shoes to strappy sandals to riding boots.
Every sleeping room door has a hand-painted reproduction of a shoe style the factory produced. The hallways and sleeping rooms have exposed brick and wooden beam ceilings from the original factory fittings. There are two on-site restaurants. The one on the bottom level of the hotel facing Jefferson Street is the Waterstone. In my opinion, they make the best pizzas and salads in town. They also have an upscale microbrewery. Jordan and her best friend, Fireball, are well acquainted with Waterstone and its potent potable.
Beside the hotel’s main entrance is Shoemaker’s Grille, a great place to eat. Too rich for Fireball’s blood, but Gray enjoys it. He says it reminds him of restaurants in San Francisco.
It is a tribute to the city that instead of continuing to let the riverfront area disintegrate, they have chosen to rebuild. In the coming months, I’ll introduce you to some other special spots in downtown and the surrounding area.
The front view of the Craddock-Terry Hotel