Text by Elaine Finestone
Drawings by Carla Bell
Layout by Susan Rollinson/Alleghany Micro
WWW adaptation by Susan Rollinson, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ed Smyth, Program Manager, 1993-96
Copyright © 1993-1998 Clifton Forge Main Street
501 E. Ridgeway St., Clifton Forge, VA 24422
540 / 862-2000
Clifton Forge is the only city by that name in the United States. The city occupies the terraces and slopes on the north side of the Jackson River three miles north of where it merges with the Cowpasture River to form the historic James.
During the nineteenth century the Kanawha Valley Turnpike passed along the north side of the Jackson River here. The area was known as Williamson, named after an early landowner. By 1857 the Virginia Central Railroad had extended its track from Staunton to the Jackson River. After the Civil War, the railroad expanded west to connect with the Covington and Ohio Railroad. In 1868 the two lines merged to form the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad. When the track to Richmond was completed in 1881, the town boomed--its fate for the next 100 years directly tied to the railroad industry.
The name of Clifton Forge came from the charcoal furnace and iron forge operating in nearby Rainbow Rock Gap. W.L. Alexander was operating the forge there and named it "Clifton" after his father's estate in Rockbridge County. The city incorporated that name in 1884, two years after the C&O Railway named its new depot at the east end of the town "Clifton Forge."
The company then consolidated its various shop facilities about one mile west of the depot. As a result the area in between was developed into the city's new commercial district. There were two streams to bridge and gullies to cross, but the town's growth followed the railroad. This area around the C&O Shops became known as West Clifton. The two little towns finally incorporated together in 1906--twenty-two years after Clifton Forge made the first move.
So that is why today's visitor finds the beginning of the tour at the west end of Ridgeway Street, right at the railroad station.
|Map of Historic Downtown Clifton Forge
||Clifton Forge Map
Copyright © 1993 by Susan W. Rollinson
1 The C&O Railroad Office Building (1906) is a two story frame weatherboard structure with a hip roof, pedimented dormers and decorative windows. A large bracketed bay window faces the tracks. You can see the impressive building of the C&O Shops, and envision the busy days of the 1920's when a hundred trains a day came across these tracks. There was once a famous hotel here, the Gladys Inn, and a touch of the old grandeur can be seen on the brackets of the covered way along the track.
2 On E. Ridgeway St., in front of the railway office, you are looking straight across at the W.W. Pendleton Building (1898) topped off with an elaborate milled wood parapet. This building was designed by G.F. Barber, a mail order architect from Knoxville. It is now the home of the C&O Historical Society. Go in to see their display of Chessie items and their impressive collection of photos and documents.
Looking up Ridgeway Street, you will see an almost uninterrupted view of an early twentieth-century commercial streetscape. There are two and three story structures with elaborate cornices, decorated window openings, and a variety of building materials.Clifton Forge Map
3 The triangular shaped building (Virginia Taxi) on the corner, covered in red asbestos "brick" siding, was owned at the turn of the century by the successful black businessman E.F. Scott. He sold produce and operated a restaurant from this location near the tracks, ran a hotel in the upper stories, and a barber shop next door. Both of these store-fronts have attractive decorative transoms and milled wood trim with colored glass inserts.
E.F. Scott's nephew, George Washington "Babe" Scott, carved canes and animal figures and sold them at the station and gave some away to railroad men. The Alleghany Highlands Arts and Crafts Center did a show and a video about "Babe" Scott's carvings. If you own any, be sure and stop in and tell them about it. He is recognized as a true folk artist.
Stop and admire the colored glass transom at 412 E. Ridgeway St.Clifton Forge Map
4 The Ridge Theatre (1929), at 418 E. Ridgeway St., now empty, was one of two continuously operating theaters operating from the boom years of the 1930's until it closed in 1958. It is a Spanish Eclectic creation with a false metal balcony and mission style touches.Clifton Forge Map
5 Michel Cafe at 424 E. Ridgeway St., our authentic French restaurant, has been repainted to highlight the delicate cornice moulding. Inside is a tin ceiling. This was the first building restored in cooperation with the Clifton Forge Main Street Program.
Update: Michel Cafe has now relocated to a larger location on US 11 north in Lexington. Lexington's gain is most definitely our loss.Clifton Forge Map
6 The building at 434 E. Ridgeway St., now True Value Hardware, has been restored close to its original 1900 appearance. It is unique with its rock-faced concrete block and wrought-iron awning, which originally held colored glass inserts.Clifton Forge Map
7 The Alleghany Highlands Arts and Crafts Center, at 439 E. Ridgeway St.,combines two buildings whose fronts are topped with elaborate decorative brickwork and a cast concrete cartouche. The Center offers juried selections of regional arts and crafts and has a fine art gallery whose exhibits changing monthly. Inside, too, is a 1950 original demonstration kitchen installed when the building was owned by VEPCO.
8 The Alleghany Building (1910), at 505-513 E. Ridgeway St., is the largest building on the street. Its three story street facade has brick quoining acting as dividers, and a pressed-metal cornice. Railroad workers lived in the upstairs apartments. A million-dollar renovation by the Alleghany Highlands Housing Alliance has been completed recently.Clifton Forge Map
9 The Club Car (formerly Farrar's Drug Store), 525 Main St., is a fine example of a 1930 Art Deco building. Notice the molded concrete trim and bronze panels over the transom. Pharmacist Farrar offered the first Lending Library in the city. Here, E. Ridgeway St. ends and joins with Main Street. You are walking toward the oldest part of town.Clifton Forge Map
10 The Clifton Forge City Hall (1910) is a Neoclassical building whose finer Ionic details were damaged by fire in the 1940's. A major renovation of the exterior, completed in 1995, restored its original grace and dignity.
Update: Clifton Forge reverted to "town" status in 2001 and this building is now more properly called "Clifton Forge Town Hall".
11 One of three gable-fronted buildings that survive from before the turn of the century (1890) is the Dr. Wiley House at 622 Main St. with its Italianate and Gothic Revival ornaments. Notice also the interesting corner entrance and decorative trim on Always Roxie's (1907). The original tin ceilings inside are typical of the period.Clifton Forge Map
12 In the rail yard, on the south side of Main Street, is the C&O Freight Depot. It a brick building with corbelled gables and elaborate brick work which dates to the late nineteenth century. It is similar to the work on the Shop buildings at the other end of town. The Freight Depot has been leased to the C&O Historical Society and will be restored as a railroad history interpretive center.Clifton Forge Map
13 Stand at the triangle corner of the First National Bank Building, where the fountain is. This was the busiest spot in town, for this was where the two wooden bridges that crossed Smith Creek met--until one collapsed in 1899 and City Council had to float bonds of $20,000 to rebuild properly. There was always a hitching post and a horse trough on this point. After the arrival of the automobile there was a fresh fruit stand and then a hot dog stand occupying this central spot.
Update: After several changes of ownership, the First National Bank is currently SONA Bank (July 2006).Clifton Forge Map
14 The Masonic Theatre (1905) was the oldest continuously operating theatre in Virginia until it closed in 1987. It is now operated by Apalfolks of America and the town of Clifton Forge featuring live performances. It is a three-story Beaux Arts brick building with pilastered facade, cove ceiling lobby and unaltered performance hall with stage and balcony. Lash LaRue rode his horse down the aisle; Roy Rogers had Trigger on the stage; eighteen sheep appeared on the stage for one pageant; and a local band known as "The Merry Makers" played before each performance. A furniture company operated from the basement of the theatre building, right along the railroad spur. The theatre was designed by the architectural firm of Frye and Chesterman of Lynchburg, as was the building with the heavy pressed-metal cornice right next door (508 Main St.).Kid's View
15 The Carpenter-Moody Building (1892), located at 504 Main St., is an example of the extensive use made of cast-iron decoration that could be ordered direct from design books and delivered by rail. This is now the home of Press's Wholesale.Clifton Forge Map || Kid's View
16 The E.A. Snead Building is an example of a Clifton Forge success story. Built between 1892 and 1897, it was one of the largest home furnishings stores in western Virginia. "Deacon" Snead started out with a small cigar store and then expanded. He became an influential town leader and politician. The first elevator in Clifton Forge was installed in this building, and is still in operation. A third floor was added later, which accounts for the difference in the brick colors.Clifton Forge Map || Kid's View
17 Tucked in on Commercial Ave. just behind Snead's, is an elaborately decorated Neoclassical structure, the J.C. Carpenter Building (1905). Its round-arched doors and windows are topped with cast concrete cartouches, and it has piers extending from the street to the top. It is thought that this building, too, was designed by Frye and Chesterman, as was the building across the street of the same distinctive buff-colored brick. The same firm did the C&O Historical Society Building, one of the Art Center buildings, and also the large Clifton Forge Presbyterian Church (1907) at the corner of Church St. and Jefferson Ave. Presumably the buff-colored brick they favored was shipped by rail from Lynchburg to Clifton Forge.Clifton Forge Presbyterian Church
18 The Post Office is the city's most sophisticated building. It was designed by James Knox Taylor and built in 1909-10. This is a Beaux Arts design, capped by an octagonal rotunda and a tile roof. The inside is quite elaborate with marble walls and molded plaster detailing.
19 The three-story Clifton Forge Grocery Company Building (1917) is situated on its own railroad spur that passed along Smith Creek.Clifton Forge Map
Clifton Forge Main Street
501 E. Ridgeway St.
Clifton Forge, VA 24422
540 / 862-2000