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Danville, Virginia
Independent city
View of Downtown looking North
View of Downtown looking North
Official seal of Danville, Virginia
Nickname(s): River City,
City of Churches
Motto: The River City, Where Innovation Flows
Country United States
State Virginia
County None (Independent city)
 • Total 43.9 sq mi (113.8 km2)
 • Land 42.9 sq mi (111.2 km2)
 • Water 1.0 sq mi (2.6 km2)
Elevation 531 ft (162 m)
Population (2010)
 • Total 43,055
 • Density 1,004/sq mi (388/km2)
Demonym(s) Danvillian
Time zone EST (UTC-5)
 • Summer (DST) EDT (UTC-4)
Area code(s) 434
FIPS code 51-21344
GNIS feature ID 1492837

Danville is an independent city in the Commonwealth of Virginia. As of the 2010 census, the population was 43,055. It is bounded by Pittsylvania County, Virginia and Caswell County, North Carolina. It hosts the Danville Braves baseball club of the Appalachian League.

Danville is the principal city of the Danville, Virginia Micropolitan Statistical Area.

View of the Dan River Danville Virginia
View of the Dan River in downtown Danville


Numerous Native American tribes had lived in this part of the Piedmont region since prehistoric times. During the colonial period, the area was inhabited by Siouan language-speaking tribes.

In 1728, English colonist William Byrd headed an expedition sent to determine the true boundary between Virginia and North Carolina. One night late that summer, the party camped upstream from what is now Danville, Byrd was so taken with the beauty of the land, that he prophesied a future settlement in the vicinity, where people would live "with much comfort and gaiety of Heart." The river along which he camped was named the "Dan", for Byrd, supposing himself to be in the land of plenty, felt he had wandered "from Dan to Beersheba."

The first European-American settlement developed in 1792 downstream from Byrd's campsite, at a spot along the river shallow enough to allow fording. It was named "Wynne's Falls", after the first settler. The village had a "social" reason for its origin, growing from the meetings of pioneering Revolutionary War veterans, who gathered annually to fish and talk over old times.

In 1793, the General Assembly authorized construction of a tobacco warehouse at Wynne's Falls, marking the start of the town as "The World's Best Tobacco Market", Virginia's largest market for "bright leaf" tobacco. The village was renamed "Danville" by act of the Virginia Legislature on November 23, 1793. A charter for the town was drawn up February 17, 1830, but by the time of its issue, the population had exceeded the pre-arranged boundaries. This necessitated a new charter, which was issued in 1833. In that year, James Lanier was elected the first mayor, assisted by a council of "twelve fit and able men". By the mid-19th century, William T. Sutherlin, a planter and entrepreneur, was the first to apply water power to run a tobacco press, and he became a major industrialist in the region.

Shuttered textile mill Dan River Mills Danville Virginia
Abandoned Dan River Mills on the Dan River

Several railroads reached Danville including the Richmond and Danville Railroad (completed 1856), the Atlantic and Danville Railway (completed 1890), enabling the export of Danville's manufacturing and agricultural products.

Due to the falls on the river, the area was prime for industrial development based on water power. On July 22, 1882, six of Danville's citizens founded the Riverside Cotton Mills. In its day it was known nationally as Dan River Inc., the largest single-unit textile mill in the world. The mill is now closed; since the late 20th century, the textile industry has moved to offshore, cheaper labor markets. Many of Dan River's buildings have been torn down and the bricks sold. "The White Mill", considered historically and architecturally significant, is being renovated in the early 21st century as an apartment complex.

On September 9, 1882, Danville mayor John H. Johnston shot and killed John E. Hatcher, his chief of police. Hatcher had demanded an apology for a statement Johnston had made regarding unaccounted fine money. Johnston was charged with murder, but he was acquitted at trial, as the Southern "culture of honor" was still strong.

Wreck of the Old 97, 1903

A dramatic train wreck occurred in Danville. On September 27, 1903, "Old 97", the Southern Railway's crack express mail train, was running behind schedule. Its engineer "gave her full throttle", but the speed of the train caused it to jump the tracks on a high trestle crossing the valley of the Dan. The engine and five cars plunged into the ravine below, killing nine and injuring seven. The locomotive and its engineer, Joseph A. ("Steve") Broadey, were memorialized in song. A historic marker at the train crash site is located on U.S. 58 between Locust Lane and North Main Street. A mural of the Wreck of the Old 97 has been painted on a downtown Danville building in memory of the incident.

On March 2, 1911, Danville Police Chief R. E. Morris, who had been elected to three two-year terms and was running for a fourth term, was arrested as an escaped convicted murderer. He admitted that he was really Edgar Stribling of Harris County, Georgia, and had been on the run for thirteen years.

The restructuring of the tobacco, textile, and railroad industries all had an adverse effect here, resulting in the loss of many jobs in Danville. The region has struggled to develop new bases for the economy. The losses have made it difficult to preserve the city's many architecturally and historically significant properties dating from its more prosperous years. In 2007 Preservation Virginia President William B. Kerkam, III, and its Executive Director Elizabeth S. Kostelny announced at a press conference held in Danville at Main Street Methodist Church that the entire city of Danville had been named one of the Most Endangered Historic Sites in Virginia.

American Civil War

William T Sutherlin Mansion Danville Virginia
Danville home of tobacco entrepreneur William T. Sutherlin, called by locals the "Last Capitol" of the Confederacy
Jefferson Davis Fall of Richmond Virginia
Broadside by Jefferson Davis announcing move of Confederate capitol to Danville, 4 April 1865
Planters' Warehouse Danville Virginia
Broadside advertisement for tobacco warehouse, Danville, 1874

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Danville had a population of some 5,000 people. During those four years of war, the town was transformed into a strategic center of Confederate activity. Local planter and industrialist William T. Sutherlin was named quartermaster of its depot, the rail center was critical for supplying Confederate forces, and a hospital station was established for Confederate wounded. A network of batteries, breastworks, redoubts and rifle pits defended the town.

A prison camp was set up, with the conversion of six tobacco warehouses, including one owned by Sutherlin, for use as prisons. At one time they held more than 5,000 captured Federal soldiers. Starvation and dysentery, plus a smallpox epidemic in 1864, caused the death of 1,314 of these prisoners. Their remains have been interred in the Danville National Cemetery.

The Richmond and Danville Railroad was the main supply route into Petersburg, where Lee's Army of Northern Virginia was holding the defensive line to protect Richmond. The Danville supply train ran until General Stoneman's Union cavalry troops tore up the tracks. This event was immortalized in the song, "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down".

Danville became the last headquarters of the Confederate States of America over the space of a few days. Jefferson Davis stayed at the mansion of William T. Sutherlin from April 3 to 10, 1865. Here he wrote and issued his last Presidential Proclamation. The final Confederate Cabinet meeting was held at the Benedict House (later destroyed) in Danville. Davis and members of his cabinet left Danville when they learned of Lee's surrender at Appomattox, and moved to Greensboro, North Carolina. On the day they left, Governor William Smith arrived from Lynchburg to establish his headquarters.

Civil Rights Movement

Heightened activism in the Civil Rights Movement in Virginia occurred in Danville during the summer of 1963. Since the early 20th century, most blacks were excluded from voting by elements of the state constitution, despite their federal constitutional rights; legal racial segregation had been imposed when white Democrats regained control of the state legislature following the Reconstruction Era, and Jim Crow laws also supported white supremacy. On May 31, representatives of the black community organized as the Danville Christian Progressive Association (DCPA), demanding an end to segregation and job discrimination in the city. They declared a boycott of white merchants and marched to City Hall in protest of conditions.

Most of the marchers were high school students. They were met by police and city workers armed with clubs. These men sprayed the young protesters with fire hoses and hit them with clubs. Around forty protesters needed medical attention. Marches and other protests continued for several weeks. Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. came to Danville and spoke at High Street Baptist Church about the brutality of the police force. He called it the worst police brutality he had seen in the South. The date of one protest on June 10, 1963, later came to be referred to as "Bloody Monday".

The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) sent organizers to Danville to support the DCPA. They helped lead protests, including demonstrations at the Howard Johnson Hotel and restaurant on Lee Highway. The hotel was known for discriminating locally against blacks as customers and excluding them as workers. A special grand jury indicted 13 DCPA, SCLC, and SNCC activists for violating the "John Brown" law. This law, passed in 1830 after a slave uprising, made it a serious felony to "...incite the colored population to acts of violence or war against the white population." It became known as the "John Brown" law in 1860 because it was used to convict and hang abolitionist John Brown after his raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859.

By the end of August, over 600 protesters had been arrested in Danville on charges of inciting to violence, contempt, trespassing, disorderly conduct, assault, parading without a permit, and resisting arrest. Because of the large number of arrests on these charges, often the jails were overcrowded and protesters were housed in detention facilities in other nearby jurisdictions. The demonstrations failed to achieve desegregation in Danville; town facilities remained segregated until passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and African-American residents were not able to vote until the federal government enforced their constitutional rights under the Voting Rights Act of 1965.


Danville is located along the southern border of Virginia, 70 miles (110 km) south of Lynchburg and 45 miles (72 km) northeast of Greensboro, North Carolina, via U.S. Route 29. U.S. Route 58 leads east 78 miles (126 km) to South Hill and west 30 miles (48 km) to Martinsville.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 43.9 square miles (113.7 km2), of which 43.1 square miles (111.6 km2) is land and 1.0 square mile (2.6 km2) (2.3%) is water.


Climate data for Danville, Virginia (Danville Regional Airport), 1981–2010 normals
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °F (°C) 46.4
Average low °F (°C) 29.2
Precipitation inches (mm) 3.42
Snowfall inches (cm) 2.2
Avg. precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in) 10.1 9.2 10.3 10.4 10.9 9.5 10.8 9.0 8.2 7.7 8.9 9.4 114.4
Avg. snowy days (≥ 0.1 in) 0.9 0.5 0.1 0.1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.3 1.9
Source: NOAA


Historical population
Census Pop.
1850 1,514
1870 3,463
1880 7,426 114.4%
1890 10,305 38.8%
1900 16,520 60.3%
1910 19,020 15.1%
1920 21,539 13.2%
1930 22,247 3.3%
1940 32,749 47.2%
1950 35,066 7.1%
1960 46,577 32.8%
1970 46,391 −0.4%
1980 45,642 −1.6%
1990 53,056 16.2%
2000 48,411 −8.8%
2010 43,055 −11.1%
Est. 2015 42,082 −2.3%
U.S. Decennial Census
1790-1960 1900-1990
1990-2000 2010-2013

As of the census of 2010, Danville had a population of 43,055. The racial makeup of the city was White Non-Hispanic 46.7%, African American 48.3%, Hispanic 2.9%, Asian 0.9%, American Indian or Alaska Native 0.2%, and two or more races 1.3%.

25.4% of the population never married, 46.6% were married, 5.4% were separated. 11.6% were widowed and 11.0% were divorced.

Arts and culture

River District

Prior to the recession of 2008, the City of Danville and its partners began a major project focused on the revitalization of the Historic Downtown and Tobacco Warehouse districts, now coined “The River District.” Today, the project continues with a new momentum as the public sector has joined the movement. See Danville River District.

Garland Street

Tobacco Warehouse District Danville Virginia
Tobacco Warehouse Historic District
Pemberton Penn Tobacco Danville Virginia
Pemberton & Penn Tobacco Co. building, Tobacco Warehouse Historic District

Millionaire's Row has many homes built in the 19th and early 20th centuries by successful tobacco planters, who gained their wealth in this commodity crop. An example is the Penn-Wyatt House on Main Street. The mansions are in an area of many street trees and often have their own well-developed landscaping.

The entire area of "Penn's Bottom", the nickname for the part of Main Street that was developed as the first suburb of Danville during the tobacco boom of the late 19th century, has been designated as a historic district. The historic districts include The Old West End, Tobacco Warehouse, Downtown Danville, Holbrook-Ross Street, and North Main; these are benefitting by early 21st century investment and renovation. The city is capitalizing on its heritage: The many examples of Victorian architecture are showcased every Holiday season with the Christmas Tour.

Also located in this district is the "Sutherlin Mansion", now used as the Danville Museum of Fine Arts and History. This Italianate mansion was the plantation home of Major William T. Sutherlin, a major tobacco processing industrialist, banker, politician, and Confederate quartermaster. In April 1865, he offered his mansion to President Jefferson Davis and his cabinet as the site of the last "White House" of the Confederacy after the fall of Richmond. The museum and its grounds occupy a block in this district. In the late 19th century, Sutherlin's surrounding plantation was subdivided and developed to create the surrounding residential neighborhood.

Dan's Hill Virginia
Dan's Hill estate, Danville vicinity

City of churches

Danville is known as "the city of churches" because it has more churches per square mile than any other city in the state of Virginia.


Danville Mall, formerly Piedmont Mall, opened in 1984.

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