History of Farmville, Virginia
Our area, known as Virginia’s Heartland, is rich in history that tells a story of courage and perseverance. Located in the Heart of Virginia, the Farmville Area includes the Town of Farmville, the County of Cumberland and the County of Prince Edward.
Prince Edward County dates to 1754; Cumberland County to 1749; and the Town of Farmville to 1798. Farmville soon became the center of trade, education, law and finance for the surrounding seven counties, a position it maintains today, as the largest municipality between Richmond and Lynchburg. It is home to many successful businesses, industries, and cultural and educational organizations. Hampden-Sydney College, a selective private four-year college, was founded in 1776; Longwood University, chartered in 1839 as Farmville Female Seminary, was the first state teacher training college in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Patrick Henry, five-time Governor of Virginia, served as Prince Edward’s representative in the Virginia General Assembly. As the county’s representative, he participated with John Randolph in debates over the ratification of the U.S. Constitution.
The first call for independence came from Cumberland County; when the certainty of the approaching conflict came, Cumberland led the Colonies in calling for a completely independent American nation. On April 22, 1776, from the balcony of Effingham Tavern, Carter H. Harrison read the committee’s instruction to the county delegates to the state convention: “We therefore, your constituents, instruct you positively to declare for an Independency, that you solemnly adjure any allegiance to His Britannic Majesty and bid him a good night forever …” The Virginia Convention decided to follow Cumberland’s lead, and this resulted in the Virginian Resolutions, which were presented to the
Continental Congress and embodied in the Declaration of Independence.
The Civil War left its mark on Farmville, with its last major battle at nearby Sailor’s Creek. On April 6, 1876, just three days before the surrender at Appomattox Court House, nearly a quarter of General Lee’s army – more than 7,700 men – were killed, wounded or captured at the Battle of Sailor’s Creek. Lee then retreated directly through the town, and the Confederates crossed and then attempted to burn the railroad’s impressive High Bridge, a 120-foot-high, nearly half-mile-long span across the Appomattox River. The bridge and other sites along Lee’s Retreat are part of the state’s Civil War Trails.
Farmville is also home to some key players in the early fight for civil rights. In 1951, in Farmville, Virginia, 16-year-old Barbara Johns bravely organized and inspired her fellow 450 students to walk out of school and protest the overcrowded and inadequate conditions at Prince Edward County’s all-black Robert Russa Moton High School. This strike launched a 13 year struggle for better educational opportunities in Prince Edward County that emblematized the youth-driven efforts for civil rights across the United States.
The original court case, Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, that arose from the strike was one of the five cases decided by the Supreme Court in its 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision. It was the only case initiated by students. This citizens’ crusade for equal rights in education drew Martin Luther King Jr. and other national leaders to visit our area. The Robert Russa Moton High School, site of the 1951 student strike, is a National Historic Landmark, a civil rights museum, and the centerpiece of Virginia’s Civil
Rights in Education Heritage Trail, honoring the efforts of local students and citizens who paved the way for integrated public education nationwide.
A marker at the county courthouse titled “The Light of Reconciliation,” acknowledges the county’s racial history and makes the promise to prevent any future inequalities from taking place in the county. The story of civil rights in Prince Edward County and Virginia teaches people about the capacity of everyday, local people to use their constitutional rights to create lasting social change.
Seven historic buildings and two historic districts in the County of Prince Edward are listed on the Virginia Register of Historic Places:
- Briery Church was constructed in 1760 and was the first structure in Prince Edward to be listed on the Virginia Historic Register. (Route 747 – Briery Church Road)
- Robert Russa Moton Museum, 900 Griffin Boulevard in Farmville
- First Baptist Church, 100 South Main Street, Farmville
- Debtor’s Prison, U.S. Route 15
- Old Prince Edward County Clerks’ Office now known as Worsham Clerk’s Office, served as the first clerk’s office at Prince Edward Courthouse. (Route 15- Farmville Road)
- Falkland, a large, framed plantation house built in 1815 by the Watkins family, was home to important figures in the early history of Prince Edward County and Hampden-Sydney College. (Route 632 – Falkland Road)
- Buffalo Presbyterian Church, 1804, in Pamplin
- Farmville Historic District, 1830-1930
- Hampden-Sydney College Historic District, 1856-1840
- Longwood House, 1811
- Worsham High School, 8832 Abilene Road
- Twin Lakes Sate Park, 788 Twin Lakes Road