Hauntings in the River City

770 Main Street A look at the Lanier House, the oldest home in Danville. Reports of hauntings here date back to the 1940s, and the house itself was built in 1830. By Chris Berry

The kitchen didn’t have a door. In fact, it had been removed some time ago, as part of ongoing renovations. And yet, Cody Foster heard the sound clearly. As he walked through the house at 835 Pine, he heard a door closing in the kitchen. It’s one of several experiences, both at this house and across the city, that makes Danville one of the most haunted areas in Southside.

It’s no surprise that a city full of history has so many ghost stories to tell. Danville dates back to 1746, when William Wynne bought land and established a settlement known as Wynne Falls. After the Revolutionary War, the area became popular with veterans who met to fish and talk over old times. With the activity generated by the settlement and the growing importance of tobacco, Virginia’s General Assembly established a tobacco inspection station at Wynne Falls early in 1793. Later that year, the Legislature renamed the village Danville.

Now, more than 250 years later, some of those older residents are talking again.

Shadows on Pine & Main Streets

Hauntings in the River City
835 Pine Street A look at 835 Pine Street. It was at that front door where Cody Foster saw a full-figured shadow standing on the day he bought the house in 2020. By Chris Berry

There are more than phantom door closings happening at Cody Foster’s house. In fact, the situation started the day he bought the property in 2020.

“That first day, there was no power and I got the keys at 5 pm,” Foster said. “When I walked up, there was a full figure shadow standing in the doorway. I walked up and it disappeared. There was nothing.”

Foster also heard tapping inside, a situation that continued for more than a year. Why? He believes it might have something to do with the home’s history. This structure was built in the late 1880s. From 1885 to 1919, there were multiple deaths in the home and seven family funerals were held in the front parlor. From 1919 to 2020, there were six deaths in the building. The experience began to change, however, when Foster started renovating the structure.

“It had a negative energy when I first bought it,” he said. “My house feels completely different now that I’ve restored it to how it originally looked. There are no more shadows in the doorways. The other stuff doesn’t happen as often either.”

A walk down Main Street

Hauntings in the River City
770 Main Street A look at the Lanier House, the oldest home in Danville. Reports of hauntings here date back to the 1940s, and the house itself was built in 1830. By Chris Berry

There was no mistaking the uniform. That was a Confederate soldier walking up to 904 Main Street. But he didn’t knock. He just walked through the wall, heading into the basement of the building. Built one year before the Civil War, this home’s current residents, Jonathan and Ginger Holbrook, along with their children, have seen some unusual things.

In addition to the soldier, people are touched by unseen hands. Faucet handles in the house are known to move. The family has even seen candles light themselves on a table. And then there’s the woman. At the end of the 19th century, the owners of the home hired a cook, who lived in the servant’s quarters with her autistic son. Now and then, a woman can be seen passing through a wall, where a door used to be, just off the old kitchen.

Further down Main Street is the Lanier House, the oldest home in the city. Located at 770 Main St., it was built in 1830 by Captain James Lanier, Danville’s first mayor. From the 1940s until the 1970s, the city’s first pediatrician, Dr. Samuel Newman, called it home. And it was during this time that reports started coming in. People were hearing voices when nobody else was around, and footsteps when they were the only people in the house. And some have said they can smell cigar smoke, despite the fact that no one in the building smoked. The building is now used as the Danville office for insurance attorneys Garrett & Garrett.

A trip up Gravity Hill

Hauntings in the River City
Gravity Hill Intersection The street name signs are missing. By Peter Berry

Not all of the paranormal stories from this area are about houses. In fact, one is about a haunted road. This is Gravity Hill. Take U.S. 58 to Oak Hill Road in Danville. Travel to the intersection with Berry Hill Bridge Road. If local folklore is to be believed, a witch lived in the area back in the 1800s. The story goes that she “caused problems” for local residents, although it’s never specified what those problems were.

The residents stormed out and hanged the woman, supposedly at this very intersection. Now why is all that important? Because of what happens at this spot. If you put any type of vehicle in neutral, it will slowly start moving uphill. This works for trucks, cars, or any type of vehicle. Put the vehicle in neutral, take your foot off the brake and stay away from the accelerator. You’ll start feeling the vehicle begin to move.

What’s causing this? Nobody can say. Now the folklore version is that this is the act of the aforementioned witch, trying to drag residents to their doom. Another version says her ghost is just trying to help people get up the hill and away from oncoming traffic. The scientific argument is that it’s an optical illusion, appearing to be an uphill slope when it’s not. Which one is correct? That’s up to the individual to decide, as even the scientific argument is just that. There hasn’t been an actual study with proof.

Hauntings in the River City
Gravity Hill Area Oak Hill Road comes to an end at Berry Hill Road where the Southern Virginia Megasite at Berry Hill is located. By Peter Berry

Those who venture out this way  can also see part of what started the folklore version.  There are the remains of what appears to be a structure from the 1800s, just about one-tenth of a mile from Gravity Hill. Was this the witch’s house? It’s another place where voices can be heard when one is alone, with footsteps signaling that someone else is inside, even if they can’t be seen.

Now this is the only part of the story where we have to issue a warning. No, it’s not about any ghosts. It’s about humans. Look around before you test Gravity Hill. Traffic does move through this area, so look both ways and take precautions before shifting to neutral.

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