Historic New London, Virginia
From the 18th century to the 20th, a walk along Alum Springs Road is a window in the forgotten history of New London, Virginia.
The original Bedford Alum Springs Hotel was constructed in the 1870s. The building which stands on the property today was constructed in 1913 and is the third hotel on the site. The two previous structures were both destroyed in fires. Designed to appeal to travelers seeking the health benefits of the nearby alum mineral springs, it provided the impetus for a brief revival of the town of New London in the 19th century. At the time the town was briefly renamed Bedford Springs to capitalize on the popularity of the resort. For the last 70 years or so, the building served as a private residence, until Liberty University purchased the property in the summer of 2018. Plans for archaeological investigation and restoration are in progress. Evidence points to the likelihood that a Revolutionary War arsenal was located on the site.
New London, Virginia was home to an arsenal that manufactured and supplied weapons and equipment for the Continental Army and state militias during the American Revolution. Weapons from the arsenal were used to support several important campaigns, including Colonel George Rogers Clark’s Northwest expedition and General Nathaniel Greene’s Southern campaign. After the war, the arsenal remained under state control until 1794 when Congress passed an act authorizing the War Department to construct “three or four arsenals” to keep the army properly equipped . With its already established arsenal, New London was a natural choice. However, with the establishment of the National Federal Arsenal at Harpers Ferry, VA, the process of moving the arsenal at New London to the larger federal arsenal began in 1798. Despite no longer being used to manufacture weapons, the New London facility continued to be used for military storage until at least 1812 and would eventually be abandoned altogether. Although the original arsenal structure is no longer standing, it is suspected to be located on the Bedford Alum Springs Hotel property. These suspicions have been reenforced further with the uncovering of munitions from the period located on the property through archeological test surveys conducted in the spring of 2020.
The former general store and post office in New London was constructed by Willis Washington Driskill in 1897. The building was open for business as a general store until 1930. W.W. Driskill operated several businesses in the area including the Tucker Saloon in downtown Lynchburg and bar out of the house of Mrs. Haas in New London. Evidence indicates that the lot on which the building now sits is near the location of the Revolutionary era arsenal. It is most likely across the street of the store. The current owners have restored the building, retaining some of the original features, most notably a pair of ladders which attach to the ceiling along a track. The floorboards show wear patterns and ghost marks from counters and shelves that would have been present in the original store.
The congregation of the New London United Methodist Church dates to the 1820s. The current building was first erected in 1850 with a significant addition in 1965. The church building has housed the offices of Friends of New London since 2005 and was donated to FNL for preservation in 2017. The interior has been updated and is rented out .
Built in 1763, Mead's Tavern is considered to be the oldest standing structure in Central Virginia. William Mead, one of the trustees of the town of New London, acquired Lot 6 when the town was first chartered. It was there that he erected a "magnificent house" which functioned as a tavern for several decades. In the early 19th century, the building was transformed into Roland Academy, a school for girls. After passing through the hands of various private owners, the building was purchased by the Friends of New London in 2012. In 2015, Liberty University purchased Mead's Tavern from the Friends of New London. They have since contracted with local firms for archaeological and architectural studies which will pave the way for application to the National Register. Planned restoration will provide a hands-on learning lab for Liberty University history students.
Founded in 1754, New London was the first county seat for Bedford. The courthouse was located at the intersection of what is today Town Fork and Alum Springs Road, at the center of the once bustling center for trade and travel in colonial Virginia. The courthouse and jail, neither of which survive, were constructed on Lot 10, which is designated today by a Virginia Historical marker. In 1791, Bedford County was divided and Campbell County was formed. The Bedford County seat relocated and the court was later moved to the new the town of Liberty, later renamed Bedford. This courthouse was the site of Patrick Henry’s famous “beef speech,” delivered her as part of the Johnny Hook trial in 1784.
Dr. Nicholas Kabler operated his medical practice from this building from the 1890s until the mid-20th century. Dr. Kabler was the local doctor for the New London community as well as the on-call physician for the nearby Bedford Alum Springs Hotel and New London Academy. Prior to opening in this location, Dr. Kabler practiced medicine with his father, Dr. Thaddeus Kabler in the building across the street, the former Mead's Tavern. This much smaller building includes rooms that were once used as a waiting area and exam room. Dr. Kabler lived in rooms behind these in a part of the building that is no longer present. After Kabler's death in 1946, the house was rented out to private residents but it is now vacant. There has been interest in a restoration project, but there is no known program underway.
The current New London African-American Methodist Episcopal Church is the third building erected on this lot. In 1851 Andrew Holt, an emancipated African-American, donated the small parcel of land for the construction of a church "for the special but not exclusive benefit of coloured people." This current structure was constructed in 1930 where it remained in use until 1990. In early 2017, it was acquired by the Friends of New London for restoration, a project that is currently underway.
The Holt-Ashwell House was constructed in the early 19th century in New London, VA, and it is unknown who first built it. The lot that the house rests on can be traced to the founding of New London in 1754. The lot is connected with Mary Draper Ingles who was captured by the Shawnee Amerindians during the French and Indian War and escaped her captors. For about two years after her ordeal, she lived in New London with her husband William who is listed as the original owner of this property. In 1826, an emancipated black man named Andrew Holt, purchased four lots, including the one where the house sits now. Holt donated part of his property for the construction of an African American church in 1851, and the building that stands there today is the 3rd church to be erected on the lot.