Lewisburg is a charming town in southern West Virginia, situated deep in the heart of the Appalachian Mountain Range, near the Greenbrier River. It has an average population of 3,500 people. The township is laid out over an area of 3.81 square miles, much of which is built along the geological karst belt. The land is composed of porous materials such as limestone that are slowly dissolved by ground water. Sinkholes and caverns are common, and the thin layer of soil above the limestone creates savannahs where trees or other plants which require a deep root system cannot proliferate.
Lewisburg is located at the intersection of U.S. Route 60 and U.S. Route 219, both of which were originally Native American trails (the Midland Trail and the Warrior’s Trail). The area became important to settlers in the mid 1700’s when a young surveyor by the name of Andrew Lewis established a camp near a large spring in the Greenbrier Valley. Lewis would go on to become a General in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, and is considered to be the founder of Lewisburg. By 1750, the Greenbrier Valley was home to dozens of families. Able bodied men from the settlement formed a colonial militia, and around 1770 a fort was built just above the Lewis Spring. The military base was called Fort Savannah by the colonists, although it was sometimes referred to as Fort Union by the British Army.
At the onset of the Revolutionary War in 1776, the newly formed American Continental Congress took control of Virginia and chose Patrick Henry as Governor. The colonial militia stationed at Fort Savannah was dissolved and the men joined the Continental Army. Now an American possession, Fort Union officially became Fort Savannah. It was the largest and most important military fort in the district.
As the Revolutionary War waned, the settlement around Fort Savannah continued to expand. The homesteaders petitioned the Virginia Commonwealth for a charter, and chose Lewisburg as the town’s name, in honor of General Andrew Lewis. In 1782, Lewisburg was formally established by an Act of the Virginia General Assembly, who also chose the town to be the Greenbrier County Seat.
As Lewisburg expanded, Fort Savannah was dismantled to make room for the growing population. Many of the logs from the stockade fence and the militia quarters were used as building materials by the local residents, and a stone spring house was erected around the Lewis Spring to protect the town’s water supply.
By the 1860’s, Lewisburg was a prosperous community. During the Civil War, several battles were fought in the area. Lewisburg was important strategically in that it lay along the path of the James River and Kanawha Turnpike, which connected the Kanawha Valley in the west and Lynchburg in the south. The Battle of Lewisburg took place within the boundaries of the town on May 23, 1862. The two opposing armies were headed by Union Commander Colonel George Cook and Confederate Commander Brigadier General Henry Heth. The engagement was considered to be a Union victory. A year later, on June 20, 1863, Lewisburg officially became part of the newly created state of West Virginia when President Abraham Lincoln divided the war torn state of Virginia into two separate entities.
In 1902 Andrew Carnegie, a steel baron and philanthropist, built one of his Carnegie Hall buildings in Lewisburg. It was incorporated in 1983 as a regional not-for-profit Arts and Education Center. The building has more than 75,000 visitors each year, presenting artists from around the world, as well as an arts-in-education program, fine art exhibitions, and much more. It is one of only four Carnegie Hall buildings that is still in continuous operation in the world today.
The Greenbrier Historical Society, which operates from the North House Museum in Lewisburg, has been dedicated to preserving the history of the town and Greenbrier County since 1976. The Museum was originally built by attorney John North in 1820 and was later turned into a museum.
In 1978, a 236-acre portion of Lewisburg at the center of the town was designated as a National Register Historic District. Lewisburg is also home to the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine, one of 29 such schools in America, and one of only three medical schools in the state.
The Greenbrier Valley Airport in Lewisburg provides daily flights to visitors and residents. The town is located near several luxury hotels that feature hot springs, and is close to the world famous Greenbrier Resort. Additionally, Lewisburg is well known for the Lost World Caverns, one of the most visited cave systems in America, and for its proximity to the Monongahela National Forest.
Lewisburg has truly stood the test of time. From its humble beginning as Fort Savannah, it has evolved over the past 250 years to become a popular and unique town. It has all of the charm and grace of the old south, while at the same time embracing new technologies and opportunities that insure success for its citizens in the 21st century.