Jake Stinnett mans the front sweep of the Lizzie Langley as he maneuvers under an old railroad bridge at the end of Percival's Island between Lynchburg and Amherst County. The Lizzie Langley is taking a break from the festival this year and Stinnett (no relation to the writer) is expected to help crew another boat. Photo by Joe Stinnett.

Today, Virginia’s tobacco crop is only a shadow of what it was in the 1800s, but the unusual wooden boats built to haul it to market throughout western and Southside Virginia live on in a unique festival that follows the James River for 120 miles, from the Lynchburg waterfront to Maiden’s Landing near Richmond. This year’s James River Batteau Festival, the 37th, begins Saturday, June 18 and finishes Saturday, June 25.

As many as 500 batteaux once traveled the James between the two old cities, crewed by enslaved and free watermen, and a few whites. Their labor on the river was key to the area’s rapid growth in the early 1800s, enabling farmers and plantation owners to send their prized leaf downstream to Richmond and then on to England and Europe. Mill owners also relied on the batteaux fleet to ship their flour. Returning upriver, the batteaux brought manufactured goods, from furniture to lime. The river was the dividing line between Southside Virginia and the rest of the state and Lynchburg tobacco was regarded as some of the finest in the world. Around Virginia, river commerce above the fall line wasn’t limited to tobacco, flour or the James — batteaux hauled anything that needed to be shipped, including iron ore down the Cowpasture in Bath County, corn on the Staunton/Roanoke to Brookneal in Campbell County, and sometimes whiskey from Farmville to Petersburg on the upper Appomattox. Other batteaux navigated the New River in West Virginia. 

The simple, rugged boats were also important to the growth of another old Southside tobacco town, Danville. A batteau landing was established on the Dan River around 1800, when the settlement began to grow into a warehouse and inspection hub for growers in southern Virginia and northern North Carolina. The Dan connected with other waterways flowing east and eventually to Albemarle Sound near the Atlantic Coast. So did the Roanoke River. When a canal was built through the Dismal Swamp, produce could be sent all the way to the Tidewater Virginia ports. As a promotion, businessmen shipped a barrel of flour from near Altavista in Campbell County to Norfolk via water in 1815, according to an essay by Dan Crawford, batteau interpreter at the Explore Park in Roanoke County, leading to the formation of the Roanoke Navigation Company by Virginia and North Carolina. 

Although the boats continued to work smaller streams, the completion of the James River and Kanawha Canal to Lynchburg in 1840 and later Buchanan, followed by railroads in the 1850s, ended the era of the James River batteaux — until the 1980s. That’s when relics were discovered in the mud of a Richmond construction site, inspiring the James River Batteau Festival. The modern captains and crews hand-build batteaux to 19th century specifications, then float, pole, and steer them down the river from Lynchburg in a eight-day voyage. They replicate as far as possible the original passage to Richmond, camping together along the river each night. 

The route. Map by Robert Lunsford.

The batteaux, about 40 feet long and 6 or 7 feet wide, are crafted with heavy white oak planks. The gaps are sealed with oakum, a sticky combination of tar and cotton. Just building one of these craft is a story in itself. It’s heavy work and they are generally constructed upside down, then turned over. The batteaux are often stored from year to year underwater in a lake or stream to preserve the wood and make it swell. Still, the rocky river takes a toll on the craft and they are generally refurbished or rebuilt every few years. The chairman of this year’s festival, Andrew Shaw, a Lynchburg native who lives in Albemarle County, has built several batteaux and said his newest one took about four months working with friends on evenings and weekends. 

The annual launch from the Lynchburg riverfront draws a crowd of spectators. Some of the crews wear period garb, loose muslin shirts and knee pants. Women — the Lady’s Slipper has an all-female crew — often wear long dresses. Broad-brimmed hats, and children, are abundant. Some of the batteaux — this year there will be 15 — launch from the downtown riverfront near Percival’s Island. It’s close to where the Quaker founder of the city, John Lynch, ran a ferry and likely watched batteaux set off for Richmond with his tobacco. Modernity intrudes for the first day of the festival as a swarm of canoes and kayaks accompanies the batteaux. A couple of years ago this auxiliary flotilla included a large inflatable bull. But most of the “plastic boats” only follow the batteaux for a few hours. 

Batteaux fleet and accompanying flotilla of canoes and kayaks headed down the James River near Percival’s Island in Lynchburg. Photo by Joe Stinnett

By the second day, the batteau crews are on what they call river time. Period clothing is swapped for shorts and swimsuits. It’s not hard to slip away from the 21st century when all you see is flowing water and rocks and trees and fields and your days are ruled by natural forces like the rain and the sun and the wind. The current propels the boats downstream, along with two or more crew wielding long poles to push against the river bottom, sometimes walking planks fastened to each side of the boat. Another steers using a long oar, a “sweep,” swiveled from the stern. Some batteaux have a front sweep as well, useful for navigating downstream currents. 

Poling and guiding the batteaux can turn into hard work, especially if the river is low or high. It’s a physical experience, your feet swell, and a batteau might start off from Lynchburg with a dozen people and finish with only a few.  By the final days the crews might be asking any remaining kayakers to jump on board and help. But the rewards of the journey outweigh any hardships, and the river gets in your blood. 

Batteau captain Rob Campbell talked about the “spirit of the river” in a recent interview. “You learn something about yourself, you really do, the lessons of the river are all so intangible and unpredictable …” He works full-time for the James River Association as a conservationist, the upper James senior regional manager, with an office just across the river from downtown Lynchburg. Part of his job is education, working with hundreds of school children every year, teaching them about the environment and the river critters. “We want them to develop a love of the James for whatever reason it is. Come love the James for one reason, because when you come here you will love it for many other reasons … if you have that love, it’s something you will want to protect, that love will keep the spirit of the river intact.”

He’s not the only modern-day batteau enthusiast working on the water. The Washington Post recently wrote a long travel story about two other batteau men from Amherst County, Will Cash and Will Smith, who opened the James River Batteau Company in Scottsville in April and have already taken more than 200 passengers for river tours and sunset cruises. Smith and his brother, Taylor Smith, will captain the Morning Dew in the festival. Ralph Smith, their father, was chairman of the festival for many years and continues to captain the Anthony Rucker. Shaw, the festival chairman, grew up canoeing and kayaking the James and built his first batteau with friends when he was 18. Two of his young sons joined him last year. Campbell himself was about 10 years old, camping with his father near Bent Creek, two days downriver from Lynchburg, when he saw “big boats with people standing on them” pass by. The James River has fascinated him ever since. He worked five years for the James River Float Company as head raft guide and manager, got a degree in environmental studies from Randolph College, and has worked for the James River Association since 2013. 

The non-profit James River Association was formed in 1976 to counter the effects of toxic Kepone pollution from an industry in Hopewell near the Chesapeake Bay, but later expanded up to the middle James, the section from Richmond to Lynchburg. Prior to the federal Clean Water Act, this section was also polluted, with industrial waste, manure and chemical runoff from farms on tributary streams, and sewage from Lynchburg. Millions have been spent in federal, state and local money to restore the river, not the least of which paid for the decades-long Combined Sewer Overflow project in Lynchburg to keep raw sewage from flowing into the James when heavy rain overwhelmed the old public sewer lines.

The James River Association is part of the Upper and Middle James Riparian Consortium, which includes public, private, and non-profit groups, helping and underwriting efforts by farmers and landowners. Work to restore the watershed, the streams that feed the river, is probably the association’s biggest accomplishment in the last five years, Campbell said. The brief appearance of the inflatable bull a couple years ago was ironic, since cattle are often the culprits when it comes to polluting feeder streams because their waste eventually flows into the Chesapeake Bay. Farmers and landowners receive assistance and guidance in fencing off their streams, planting buffers of trees and grass, and stabilizing stream banks to curb this runoff. The river is much cleaner than it was in the 20th century, but the work goes on. The association’s report card for 2021 rated the overall health of the river from the Blue Ridge to the bay as a B-.

The James River Association is also working to improving public access to the James with a goal of boosting tourism and economic opportunity for rural counties. Years ago, just launching a canoe in Lynchburg was difficult and sometimes involved trespassing through an industrial parking lot. Today, the city has a canoe ramp near at the end of 7th Street downtown. Across the river, Amherst County recently upgraded an old boat ramp into a modern facility with improved access, a better ramp, a new building, and interpretive signs. James River Adventures, an affiliate of the association, offers canoe and kayak rentals and tours there. Campbell’s batteau is sometimes docked nearby and the improvements allow boaters, kayakers and batteau crews much better access. But getting on the water can still be problematic downstream, especially in the area from Mt. Athos just below Lynchburg east to Bent Creek near U.S. 60.

It’s bad luck to put a boat in the water without a name, Campbell said. His is named for his young daughter, the Addie Beth. Shaw’s current boat is the Mary Ingles. Generations of Virginia school children learned the story of Mary Draper Ingles: As a young mother, she was captured by Shawnees in Southwest Virginia at Drapers Meadows, where Virginia Tech is today. She was taken to Ohio, where her sons were adopted by the Shawnees and she was put into servitude by a French trader. She escaped and walked 500 miles back to Southwest Virginia, following rivers, in what the National Park Service1 calls “one of the great stories of survival and endurance in American history.” Shaw said he wanted to honor her fortitude, which he compared not only to the spirit of the batteaux and the river but also to the physical courage and civilizational effort required to develop frontier Virginia itself. Shaw has a history degree and has thought a lot about the relationship of landscape and geography to history. But batteaux themselves also attract him: “I just love building these boats.”

Most of the James River Batteau Festival launch activity is at Lynchburg’s Riverfront Park, near Percival’s Island and the Riverwalk Trail, and across the river at Rucker’s Landing in Riveredge Park on the Amherst side. The boats depart to a loud blast from a small cannon at 11 a.m. The cannon in recent years was fired from the Lizzie Langley, which is taking a break from the festival this year.  (Langley was a well-known Lynchburg madam in the 1800s whose establishment was just up the hill on Commerce Street. An early evangelical called Lynchburg “the seat of Satan’s Kingdom.”) Spectators then can walk along the shady trail down the island onto an old railroad bridge converted for pedestrians and watch the flotilla come down the river, pass under, and sail on out of sight.

The crews camp each night along the way, welcoming visitors and the curious, with the campsites often including food trucks. The first campsite is near Galt’s Mill, several hours downstream from Lynchburg. Next is Bent Creek, near where U.S. 60 crosses the river between Amherst and Appomattox County, followed by Wingina, an old canal hamlet in Nelson County; Howardsville in Albemarle near where the Rockfish River enters the James; Scottsville, also in Albemarle and the largest town along the route; Slate River in Buckingham near Bremo Bluff; Cartersville, another old canal village in Cumberland County; and finally Maiden’s Landing in Powhatan. There’s a boat ramp there, it’s a few miles west of Richmond, and modern dams block the batteaux from going farther. They are trailered out of the river for the return trip by road.

The Mary Ingles happened to be the first boat to arrive at Maiden’s last year, although the festival is not a race. On hand for the arrival was William E. “Bill” Trout, godfather of the modern batteaux, founder of the Virginia Canal and Navigation Society, and a longtime expert on the history of river navigation. The festival is affiliated with the canal society. Trout first became interested in the river, he told Blue Ridge Country magazine, when he saw remains of the James River and Kanawha Canal in Richmond as a 10-year-old on a Boy Scout hike. He went on to obtain a PhD in genetics but river history was his first love and today, he lives at what’s called the “Batteaux House” in Madison Heights, itself named because of the river bluff overlooking Lynchburg from the north.

The festival has been held annually since the 1980s, a few years after Trout and a friend realized that excavation of the Great Basin in downtown Richmond for construction of the high-rise James Center had uncovered the remains of original batteaux. The basin was a docking and turnaround pool. (Lynchburg had two basins, filled in long ago, and longtime residents still refer to part of the riverfront as the “lower basin.”) Multiple batteaux were abandoned in the Richmond basin and gradually forgotten as the years passed. All that changed in 1983, when the Great Basin was excavated for construction of the high-rise James Center in downtown Richmond. Trout and a friend had been watching the excavation from the street and asked the workmen if they’d found anything interesting, first locating a piece of an iron-hulled boat, then a piece of wood with batteau ribs attached. “None of this was obvious; nothing in the mud was obvious,” Trout wrote later. But the initial find led to the involvement of archaeologists and much public interest and the discovery of the remains of more than 60 watercraft, mostly batteaux. The dig unearthed one entire batteau, complete with the swivel pin for the steering oar and two hearths for cooking onboard. This became the model for most of the reproductions that followed.

In 1984, Joe Ayers of Columbia, a little river town in Fluvanna County, built and launched the first modern-day batteau, poling it down to Richmond with friends, and founded the festival in 1986, with 10 batteaux built by groups and individuals around the state. The initial festivals somehow morphed into a race down the James, with at least one batteau bristling with oars like a Roman galley. According to one tale, another featured cup holders for the oarsmen to refresh themselves with a beverage of choice, generally beer. That led Ayers and other supporters to redouble the quest for historical accuracy, with the only goal to get to Maiden’s Landing west of Richmond safely and with the batteaus intact, recreating the original journeys as much as possible. The second festival, in 1987, turned out to be a little too authentic, when one batteau, the Maiden’s Adventure II, wrecked and broke in half amid the appropriately named Wreck Island Falls.

Batteaux are part of a continuum of James River navigation in Virginia, where the soil and climate are among the best in the world for growing tobacco. Native Americans, primarily the Monacans, used the middle and upper James River for centuries before African Americans and whites arrived on the lands near Lynchburg. The Monacans constructed low rock dams to channel fish into traps and built dugout canoes from large tree split lengthwise then hollowed out with a smoldering fire. Using axes, the settlers copied this design. The indigenous people also grew tobacco, but it was too bitter for European sensibilities, so early colonist John Rolfe imported seeds of a Spanish variety, which became the colony’s chief commodity. Smoking Virginia tobacco in pipes was popular in England, with thousands of tobacco shops in London alone, but over-production and ignorance of sound agricultural practices exhausted the Tidewater soil and tobacco production moved into the Piedmont in the mid-1700s. 

By 1800, the counties west of Richmond and east of the Blue Ridge, from roughly Fredericksburg south into North Carolina, were producing much of the tobacco exported from America to Europe. The growers pressed, or “prized,” their cured leaf into large barrels called hogsheads. The James River was the most direct route to the coast but was too shallow and rocky upstream from Richmond for ship navigation. The dugout canoes could navigate the river but were too small to carry hogsheads, so the planters began to roll them through the fields and woods. They inserted wooden pins into each end, attached a long hickory sapling or pole to each pin, and harnessed the other ends to horses. The crop was important not only for the planters’ pocketbooks but also for business and commerce in general, because once state inspectors judged the tobacco’s quality and valued it, the resulting certificates could be traded and used like cash to purchase goods and services, while the tobacco itself remained in warehouses until shipped. Tobacco inspection stations and warehouses helped turn Richmond from a river outpost into a city, and did the same for Lynchburg and Danville.

This illustration from an 1800 book about tobacco culture in Virginia shows the multiple ways the hogsheads were hauled to market over the years: a – double dugout canoe b – batteau (not to scale) c – wagon d – rolling. Courtesy of Joe Stinnett.

Rolling the half-ton hogsheads was time-consuming and arduous, with multiple streams criss-crossing hilly terrain. Rather than following anything close to a straight line, the rolling roads had to run along creeks, avoiding any deep stream crossings to keep the tobacco dry. The rolling roads “were tortuous because they had to be routed … to ford in the shallows to minimize the danger of water damage to the tobacco,” wrote Alfred Percy in Tobacco Rolling Roads to Waterways. Only tough men could do it. William Tatham, who lived in Virginia off and on for years,  detailed the tobacco rollers in A Historical and Practical Essay on the Culture and Commerce of Tobacco, published in London in 1800:

“They set out to the inspection in companies, very often joining society with the wagons, and always pursuing the same method of encamping. This mode of sleeping in the woods upon such a journey; the red clay lands through which most of the tobacco rollers pass; the continual and unavoidable exposure to dews, muddy roads or dusty ones; and the distances which they travel, contribute to add to their long beards a very savage appearance; and the natural consequence of this mode of living produces rough rustic amusements, and similar dispositions. They have hence become an object of apprehension to strangers, and a terror to the English traveler.” 

Having a bunch of ruffians roll valuable property through the woods was not satisfactory for plantation owners like the Rev. Robert Rose, an Anglican preacher, surveyor, and enslaver who raised tobacco and wheat. A native of Scotland, he owned thousands of acres in what is now Amherst and Nelson counties, both bordered by the James River. Much of his property was on the Piney and Tye rivers, tributaries of the James. His plantations produced his first tobacco crop in 1747. The following year, he came up with the improbable idea of lashing two dugout canoes together side-by-side, then loading the hogsheads crosswise to travel down the river.  Other Piedmont planters quickly followed suit. 

Another minister,  the Rev. James Maury of Louisa, documented the double-dugout method a few years later. “ Nothing is more common than to see two of these tottering vehicles … carrying down our upland streams 8 or 9 heavy hogsheads of tobo to the warehouse, rolled on their gunwales crossways, and secured against moving fore and aft by small pieces of wood drove under the bulge of the two extreme hogsheads.” Maury wrote that two men poling a double-dugout, even upstream, in one day could travel a stretch of water that would take four men with a conventional boat powered by oars two days. “For this great improvement of inland navigation, we mountaineers are greatly indebted to the … ingenious Mr. Rose.”

Maury also touched on another advantage of the double dugout in a shallow, rocky river like the middle and upper James: Although cumbersome, they only drew a few inches of water and were somewhat maneuverable. Modern-day river man Rob Campbell said maneuverability is essential to navigating rivers west of the fall line as they twist and turn through outcrops, some barely submerged and difficult to see when the water is high. Both the double dugouts and later the batteaux were light enough that they could be poled upstream (the dugouts were separated first) against the current on the return trip. 

Most of the double dugouts were destroyed or washed away in the great Virginia flood of 1771 which also wiped out much of the tobacco crop. By then, settlers clearing their land had also cut many of the large trees needed for the dugouts. Another Amherst County planter, Anthony Rucker, and his brother, Benjamin, determined to replace them with a new craft, long, wide, drawing only a few inches of water, and mostly built from oak boards. French Canadians had used a kind of batteau since the late 1600s, and Amherst County veterans of the French and Indian War may have brought the idea back with them from the Old Northwest, one scholar3 has suggested. (“Batteau” is sometimes also spelled “bateau,” the French word for boat.) The Ruckers built and launched the first James River batteau in April 1775 on a tributary stream north of the river. Piedmont Virginia’s most famous tobacco planter, Thomas Jefferson, may have been on hand for the launch, because he documented it in a later patent dispute. 

Longer than the dugouts, batteaux could carry about a dozen hogsheads of tobacco. They caught on quickly and by the early 1800s hundreds were going up and down the James, hauling tobacco and flour, iron and apple brandy to Richmond, and returning with a variety of goods ranging from harpsichords to millstones. Early batteau traffic up the river from Lynchburg toward Lexington was impeded by Balcony Falls, a miles-long stretch of rocks and white water where the river passes through the mountains.The state built canal locks there to open the upper James west of Lynchburg for commerce in the 1820s.

Working on the water unsupervised by the whites, offered enslaved and free boatmen a measure of independence, and their courage and skills were well-known. One, Frank Padget, who died in 1854 trying to save passengers in a wrecked canal boat near Balcony Falls, is memorialized with a monument in Glasgow and a state highway marker in Amherst. Some also used the opportunity to escape from bondage, with newspapers frequently running advertisements seeking their capture.  The ability to take a batteau from Lynchburg to Richmond and back was “a highly-prized skill, and they played an integral role in the economy,” said Shaw, the festival chairman. Poling down the river, he sometimes thinks about the responsibility entrusted to the early batteaumen. Tobacco required two years to grow and cure, and one shipment could represent a farmer’s entire livelihood.

After the Revolution, Virginia officials began envisioning improvements to link the James to the mighty Ohio River and the new country’s northwest frontier. In 1785, the Virginia government set up the James River Company to improve navigation and begin “blasting sluices through rock ledges, building loose rock walls called wing dams to channel the river into the sluices, and constructing canals where necessary around the major falls,” wrote Trout, the author of multiple atlases documenting river navigation and canal remains through the state.

The effort to connect Virginia with Ohio with a canal, and overcome the obstacle of the Alleghany Mountains to commerce with the western part of the new country, was deemed so important by the Virginia legislature that in 1812 no less a personage than the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, John Marshall, was named to head a commission to determine its feasibility.  Marshall himself, then age 57, led a batteau expedition upriver from Lynchburg to survey the route. They poled up the James and then the Jackson River to near where Covington is today, but then had to haul the batteaux over the mountains to get to the Greenbrier River and eventually the New. Nonetheless, Marshall returned from the voyage optimistic.

Festival chairman Andrew Shaw was beyond just inspired by this bit of Virginia history: With friends including Sebastian Backström of Lynchburg, he re-created it 200 years later, building a batteau they named the Mary Marshall for the chief justice’s wife and taking it up the same route the year after Shaw graduated from UVa. He works as a general contractor and talks about the river like a professor, mentioning the phrase often attributed to Napoleon, “geography is destiny.”

National Geographic awarded him a Young Explorer grant to help finance the 2012 expedition and produce a film of it. He told National Geographic that geography “determines the way the culture develops, the industry — everything. In this case it was the determining factor in Marshall’s survey. If Virginia was the Midwest and it was just all this one big flat plain, and the rivers were deep and wide, there would be no need to determine the feasibility of a canal because a canal wouldn’t be necessary. But it was the hardship of that frontier that really drew out the grit and determination of Marshall and these other guys to facilitate development, to facilitate growth, to facilitate expansion westward and through Appalachia.” 

The original Marshall expedition proved that with improvements to navigation the route to the West was feasible. As the James River and Kanawha Canal pushed westward, batteaux were replaced by canal boats — also called packet boats — long, enclosed vessels, some with iron hulls, that were towed by mules walking a path alongside the river. The canal system eventually reached Lexington in Rockbridge County via the Maury River, and then Buchanan in Botetourt County in 1851, but never went farther as railroads replaced canal boats. 

Most any river in Virginia that was wide and deep enough to navigate was used for some type of commerce, not limited to batteaux and canal boats. For example, Port Republic on the Shenandoah River near Harrisonburg in Rockingham County bustled with boat-building activity in the 1800s, linking the river to points north including Harper’s Ferry and Georgetown. These boats, also flat-bottomed, also poled, had square ends and were called “gundalows,” and were sometimes longer than batteaux, made for hauling large amounts of freight. Like batteaux, gundalows also navigated the James River down to Richmond, with one key difference on both the James and the Shenandoah — when the gundalows reached their destination, they weren’t poled back upstream. Instead, they were disassembled and sold as lumber. Campbell said that in some cases the planks used to build the gundalows were sized in advance to serve this double duty. He said one planter upstream from Richmond shipped his tobacco in gundalows which he then used to build houses on property he owned in Richmond’s Oregon Hill neighborhood overlooking the James.

Batteaux continued to work the upper James and other rivers for years, with a young woman from Botetourt County recounting a batteau voyage from the Glen Wilton/Locust Bottom area down to Buchanan in 1852. In addition to four passengers, this batteau carried three hogsheads of tobacco bound for the canal landing in Buchanan, arriving after a journey of five hours. The return trip upstream took two days: “This was a slow method of travel but a delightful experience when one is not hurried, as we never were in those days.” Her boat was among six which traveled together and were owned by batteau companies. She was pleased with the food, which included three dinners of fresh fish, bacon, chicken, roast potatoes, biscuits, and coffee, along with pies. This voyage was included in a collection of essays about the batteau, Echoes of the River, compiled from canal society newsletters by the late Minnie Lee McGehee of Fluvanna, a longtime supporter of the James River Batteau Festival. After the Civil War, batteaux hauled corn from Campbell County down the Staunton/ Roanoke River to connect with the railroad in Randolph in Charlotte County. The last of the Appomattox River batteaumen, James Washington Seay, brought firewood to Petersburg by batteau in the 1890s. He recounted the tale of a five-gallon barrel on another batteau that began its journey on the Appomattox filled with whiskey, but arrived filled with water: Batteaumen everywhere had a reputation for pilferage and larceny. “No man’s stock of cattle, sheep or hogs are safe in a pasture bordering on the (James) River,” grumbled one wealthy planter. In addition to their skilled labor and occasional thievery, batteau crews were also known for revelry along the river at their nightly encampments, which might include banjo playing, drinking, dancing and story-telling. 

In the 1980s and 1990s, the James River Batteau Festival attracted a lot of attention and was accompanied by a separate downtown Lynchburg festival, dinner for the batteau captains, and other events. Civic groups along the way staged mini-festivals when the crews stopped for the night to camp. But these large events, including the downtown celebration, waned for reasons no one can remember or wants to talk about today. For one thing, the batteau crews are independent, helping each other along the voyage and taking care of themselves. Building and readying the batteaux means they have little time to stage or promote a big celebration, and Lynchburg’s downtown and city officials have moved on to other priorities. It’s a shame, because downtown Lynchburg is thriving again in the 21st century. This year, Three Roads Brewery at 1300 Court Street will host live music and merchandise sales from 4 to 10 p.m. Friday, June 16, in a Batteau Block Party the night before the festival, and donate 3 percent of its beer sales that day to the festival, The News & Advance reported. The 19th century brick warehouses downtown now house renovated apartments instead of tobacco, and the streets near the river include condominiums, restaurants and rooftop bars. It isn’t as busy as it was in the heyday of the batteaux, but it’s getting there.

Selected sources: The James River Batteau Festival Trail by W.E. Trout III; River Boat Echoes, compiled by Minnie Lee McGhee; The Tobacco Kingdom by Joseph C. Robert; The James River Batteau, Tobacco Transport in Virginia by Bruce G. Terrell; Batteaux on Virginia’s Rivers by Dan Crawford; Virginia Canals and Navigation Society.

— Stinnett lives in Lynchburg and is retired editor of the Lynchburg and Roanoke newspapers.

Joe Stinnett is retired editor of The News & Advance and The Roanoke Times. He is a member of the...