A neighborhood west of downtown Danville that developed in the late 19th century and early 20th century as an ethnically-mixed, residential district catering to workers in the nearby textile and tobacco-processing facilities has been added to the National Register of Historic Places.
The Mechanicsville Historic District joined the national register on May 19. It was placed on the Virginia Landmarks Register in March.
The National Register of Historic Places, established in 1966 and managed by the National Park Service, is the official list of the nation's historic places worthy of preservation.
The Mechanicsville Historic District is bordered by Floyd, High, Ridge and Upper Streets. The streets within the district are arranged in a grid pattern. Ridge Street is the main thoroughfare.
The neighborhood first emerged as the city experienced rapid growth due to the tobacco boom of the late 1800s and early 1900s and the expansion of the cotton milling industry along the Dan River.
Reflective of its beginnings as a small but distinctive working-class neighborhood of tradesmen, educators, skilled workers and laborers associated with textiles and tobacco, the houses in the district are in a blend of styles, but are characterized by similar lot sizes and setbacks. The nine earliest existing district residences were built in the 1890s. Concentrated along Monroe Street, these dwellings include two single-family detached houses and seven duplexes.
A building that originally served as a tobacco prizery (a building where tobacco leaves are packed into barrels) survives as does the former YMCA for African-Americans and two commercial buildings.
As Mechanicsville grew, churches and social halls were built to serve residents. The churches and fraternal organizations located along High Street were anchors of the African-American community.
Built in 1901, the High Street Baptist Church, an excellent example of the Romanesque Revival style, was constructed for an African-American congregation and has ties to the Civil Rights Movement. Its former pastor, the Rev. Lendell W. Chase, was a civil rights activist and president of the Danville Christian Progressive Association. The church served as the headquarters for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee while it helped to organize protests in Danville. In 1963, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made a speech at High Street Baptist Church, tying Mechanicsville to a pivotal era in American history.