Black History Month Feature: Pierce Street Gateway
By: Alyssa Wilson, University of Lynchburg Bonner Intern
When traveling down Pierce Street in the City of Lynchburg you can look around and see a deep, rich history surrounding you. Pierce Street consists of many landmarks: the Calloway and Spencer Store, Anne Spencer House & Garden Museum and the home of tennis coach and physician Dr. Robert Walter Johsnon.
The Pierce Street Gateway became a 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization in 2018. The Gateway’s website states their goal “to study, stabilize, then preserve and restore the important historical structure at 1301 Pierce Street, while working to create a visitor center to serve as a hub for neighborhood tourism.”
Dr. Ghislaine Lewis is the new Director of Pierce Street Gateway. She said, “...the position has recently been incorporated into my duties at the University of Lynchburg. The role has been created through a kind gift to the campus from visionary and University of Lynchburg board member, Mr. Stewart Coleman.”
Coleman said, “Like many properties in the neighborhood, 1301 Pierce Street is, in its own right, a significant historic building with a strong and valuable story. Known as Calloway and Spencer Store and now as Pierce Street Gateway, the property offers an important opportunity to create much more than a singular historic landmark.”
Pierce Street Gateway creates the opportunity for every story of the neighborhood to be intertwined with each other. Previously, the Gateway was known as the Calloway and Spencer Store but now is named for a much broader purpose.
Coleman lists the many possibilities that this purpose could take shape in:
Create a visitor’s center to provide restrooms, kitchen facilities, and potential staff, which would serve the museums and promote the historic importance of the neighborhood.
Support the neighborhood historical organizations by offering help with activities, writing, marketing and disseminating information.
Provide community meeting and exhibition space for a variety of purposes including historic and art exhibitions, lectures and presentations.
Create a community youth center to engage neighborhood youth in a variety of educational activities in addition to historical programs.
This list of possibilities lends an even greater effect to the greater Lynchburg area. The Gateway project has the potential to promote Lynchburg not only locally but also on a regional and statewide level.
In addition to these possibilities provided by revitalizing the Calloway and Spencer store, one of the first black-owned-and-operated grocery stores in Lynchburg, the Gateway also added a community garden in the summer of 2021. The Pierce Street Community Garden aims to help residents out of a food desert, an area where there is a lack of affordable access to healthy foods, as well as drawing attention to the mission of the Pierce Street Gateway project.
The living history experience that is conveyed through the Calloway store and Anne Spencer House & Garden Museum is a stark reminder of the rich history that the neighborhood holds.
Lewis said, “I think this initiative is important to the Lynchburg community because it allows us to tell the stories of the members of the African American community who have helped to shape the identity of the neighborhood and the city. Often the contributions of these local change makers go unnoticed and unvoiced.”
The Gateway aims to take these historic buildings and turn them into educational landmarks where people of all ages can learn about the rich history of Pierce Street and the many important people who have lived, learned and worked there over the years.
Learn more about the history of Pierce Street Gateway and ways to get involved by visiting Pierce Street Gateway’s profile at SHARE Greater Lynchburg.