Past Meets Present in Palmyra

“Safe in the hallowed quiet of the past“

James Russell Lowell

The past and present come together in the village of Palmyra, Fluvanna’s county seat.

It begins with a visit to Maggie’s house, the headquarters of the Fluvanna Historical Society and where the first brushes with the past begin. One can almost feel the spirit of Maggie in the kitchen preparing meals to take to the prisoners next door.

Proceed up the street and the Old Stone Jail is on your right. It was built in 1828 and for many years housed the scofflaws of Fluvanna. As you pass its solid stone walls, you may feel that the ghosts of hundreds of prisoners are staring through the bars.

Climb the staircase from the road, and the next stop is the old courthouse. John Hartwell Cocke smiles from his picture on the wall. He was the prime mover in getting the courthouse built in 1830.

Behind the old courthouse, and passed several small brick buildings, is a white wooden structure. This is the Palmrya Methodist Church. The original structure was built in the 1830’s on land donated by the village’s founder, Walker Timberlake. The current structure dates back to the 1890’s.

Proceed along the road, Main Street, back to the village’s center. Along the way you pass homes and buildings that survived the fire of 1930. Palmyra had once been a thriving town. Its proximity to the Rivanna River, the canal, and ultimately the railroad, had ensured its prosperity. After the fire and the decline of the railroad, it began to slip into a quiet existence.

Next, between the Chamber of Commerce Office and the Old Stone Jail, is Confederate Park. In bygone Veterans Day celebrations, Confederate veterans had rubbed elbows with the veterans of World War I – the war to end all wars. Now only their ghosts mingle around the monument and, unfortunately, have been joined by ghosts of subsequent wars.

Finally, standing on a rise in front of the new courthouse, view the village square, the county offices and the new courthouse. Palmyra has awakened from its slumber; it has risen from its ashes and is now a vibrant town again.

When the gentle dusk descends and warm light spills from the windows of Maggie’s house, the ghosts of Walker Timberlake, John Hartwell Cocke, and Texas Jack smile down on what their little Palmyra has become.

Yes, the past meets the present in Palmyra.

Bill Jones – Fluvanna County Historical Society
with edits by Jennifer Monges – Chamber of Commerce