Leisurely Lynchburg, Virginia Beckons with its Leafy Neighborhoods, Historic Sensibility and Reasonably Priced Homes
Cost of Living: Below the National Average
Lynchburg (population 80,000) sits amid rolling hills along the banks of the James River in central Virginia. It is an affordable small city that often lands on "Best Places to Live" lists. Founded in 1757 and named after John Lynch, a young entrepreneur who started a ferry service, this quiet place once had a rowdy reputation (attributed to a lack of churches) and was at one time one of America's wealthiest cities. It was the only major Virginia town not to fall to the North during the Civil War, and it was the spot that Thomas Jefferson chose to build Poplar Forest, his minimalist but elegant personal retreat.
Today, Lynchburg boasts traditional, working class values, a mellow pace and an unassuming Southern character. Thirty-seven percent of the population is age 45 or better, and 34% of residents have at least a four year college degree. The crime rate is below the national average, and the city is racially diverse. The cost of living is 11% below the national average. Politics lean to the right.
The median home price of $150,000. Neighborhoods are leafy and tidy, and standing tall throughout many of them are fine examples of Italian Renaissance, Federal, Georgian, Jeffersonian, Queen Anne and Colonial architecture. Many homes are also simple red brick ranch ramblers. Small bungalows and doll houses in peaceful, shady neighborhoods can be found at around $100,000. Stately brick Federal-style residences with four bedrooms, three baths and 3,000 square feet are for sale in the $300,000 range.
When it comes to taxes, Virginia is a mixed bag. Social Security is not taxed, and, depending on income, people age 65 and better may deduct up to an additional $12,000 in retirement income. All other income is taxed at rates between 2% and 5.75%. Long term care insurance premiums are deductible. Real estate is assessed at 100% of fair market value. The annual taxes on a $150,000 residence are approximately $1,498. The state sales tax is 4.3%, but another 1% is added at the local level. Prescription and non-prescription drugs are not taxed, but food for home consumption is taxed at 2.5%.
Lynchburg, sometimes called "Hill City" for its hilly terrain, is in a pretty location with the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance. The downtown is small but attractive with shops, banks, bookstores and coffeehouses nestled along tree-lined streets. Old industrial buildings sport modern facades, and the inviting River Walk path meanders along the James River not far from downtown. The 56-acre Percival's Island Natural Area is a popular park right in the middle of the river. In 2006 the city even won a Great American Main Street Award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation for its preservation efforts.
The downtown, however, is not just about shops and preservation. The most prominent feature is the distinctive Monument Terrace, stretching from Church Street up a hill to Court Street. It uses the landings of its 139 steps to commemorate the Lynchburg citizens who fought and died in the Civil War, the Spanish American War, World Wars I and II, the Korean War, Vietnam War and current conflicts.
Lynchburg is home to five colleges, including Lynchburg College and Liberty University. Most of these institutions are small, but Liberty University has 15,000 students on campus, another 95,000 students online and is the largest Christian evangelical university in the world. It wields considerable social and political clout throughout the city and even buses its students to polling places so that they vote in local, state-wide and national elections.
Nightlife is not robust, but the Ellington Fellowship Playhouse hosts musical acts, primarily jazz ensembles. The Lynchburg Symphony Orchestra has a limited schedule but receives good reviews. Opera on the James presents three operas a season. The Academy for the Arts hosts live performances and offers classes.
History is a top Lynchburg draw, with reminders of the past all around. In fact, the city has 40 structures on the National Registry of Historic Places. Just outside of town, Appomattox Courthouse, where General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant in 1865, is a must for any history buff. The Old City Cemetery has an extensive section of Confederate graves and an interesting, if somewhat gruesome, medical museum. Booker T. Washington's birthplace, with a recreated farm and slave cabin, is worth a visit. The Natural Bridge, a 215-foot natural stone arch bought by Thomas Jefferson from King George in 1774, is a fun excursion. Jefferson's wonderful Poplar Forest is open for tours.
The surrounding mountains peek through the haze, and the drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway is always a treat. Also nestled in the mountains are numerous wineries and vineyards. Lynchburg College and Liberty University both have athletic teams, and the Lynchburg Hillcats are the Class High-A professional baseball team in the Carolina League. They are also the farm team for the Cleveland Indians.
Lynchburg has a few events as well. The James River Batteau Festival in June is a week-long event that celebrates the flat-bottom wooden craft that hauled tobacco downstream in John's Lynch's day. Garden Day is part of Historic Garden Week in Virginia, the largest house and garden tour in the country. The Bean to Bar Chocolate Tour and Tasting explores the wonderful world of chocolate.
The dining scene includes a number of very good restaurants, including Rivermont Pizza and the Shoemakers Grille, which has an open air courtyard overlooking the river. The city also boasts the Lynchburg Community Market, the third oldest farmers' market in the country. It is open year round from Tuesday through Saturday. For shoppers, there are strip malls, a small indoor mall with national retailers. The city also has two Wal-Marts.
The Park and Recreation Department's Fifty Plus Program has a good selection of services and activities for people age 50+, and transportation to the programs, many located in neighborhood centers, is provided. The Commander Templeton Senior Center has been newly designated as the first city building just for adult programs and is ramping up its services. Meals on Wheels is also active.
The Lynchburg Public Library has public computers with Internet access, an interlibrary loan program, a book discussion group, a public law library and a genealogy department. It also has plenty of volunteer opportunities.
Lynchburg General Hospital (358 beds) is accredited by the Joint Commission, is a Primary Stroke Center and is a Level II Adult Trauma Center. It is award winning for excellence in patient safety, overall patient experience, joint replacement, general surgery and more and has been named a Top 50 Cardiovascular Hospital by Thomson Reuters. It accepts Medicare patients. For military veterans, Lynchburg has a VA outpatient clinic, but the closest VA hospital is in Richmond, 100 miles to the east.
The public bus system (GLTC) offers regular, fixed-route service ($1.00 to $2.00) as well as a para-transit service ($4.00). People age 65 and better ride for half price.
Lynchburg has a humid, four-season climate with hot summers and cool winters. July temperatures are in the 70s, 80s and 90s, while winter temperatures are in the 20s, 30s and 40s. On average, the area receives 40 inches of snow and 18 inches of rain per year. The sun shines 220 days of the year.
For all of its pluses, a Lynchburg retirement has a couple of drawbacks. It is off the major airline route system and expensive to reach via airplane. The hilly terrain can take its toll on older knees.
So, while Lynchburg is not a perfect, its quiet streets, tree-lined neighborhoods, sense of history and pretty setting make for an affable city. Thomas Jefferson was happy here, and so, too, it seems, are the retirees who make Lynchburg their home today.
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