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“Ain't No Big Thing, But It's Growing.”
Nestled in the heart of Virginia’s Pittsylvania County is the town of
Gretna, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2001.
The town sprang up from a railroad stop that was operational in the
late 1800s. U.S. 29 Business, north to south, and Route 40, east to west,
intersect at the town’s only stoplight.
The town is guided by Mayor Glenna Lingafelt and six councilmen.
Police Chief E.L. Farries Jr. distributes advice and information to
young people at the grand opening of Gretna’s shopping center.
The day-to-day business of the town is conducted by Town Manager David
Lilly and Clerk/Treasurer Margaret
Wilson, who have offices in Town Hall. Town Hall is also home to the
Gretna Police Department, with a four-man force under the leadership of
Police Chief E.L. Farries Jr.
“Gretna is a special place to put down roots and raise a family, live
constructively during your middle years, or find fulfillment in lending a
helping hand during your retirement,” says Mayor Lingafelt, a retired
school librarian. “During the process, you have the help of friends and
neighbors, churches and schools, businesses, service organizations,
volunteer fire department and rescue squad.”
A Fledgling Town
Gretna’s first citizen was Jeremiah Talbott, who was more than 50
years old when he enlisted in the Confederate army during the Civil War to
serve on behalf of another man, a common practice during the war.
For his service, Talbott received 408 1⁄2 acres of land in
Pittsylvania County and built the first house in what was eventually to
become the town of Gretna.
In 1879, the Franklin & Pittsylvania Railroad was completed. Gretna
was then named Franklin Junction and served as a passenger and freight
station. The post office was called Elba.
Talbott sold land to Hunt Tardy and Thomas C. Creasy, who built stores.
The railroad stop was becoming a town. More people moved in, purchased
land from Talbott, and put up homes and buildings to establish businesses.
The village of Elba had grown by 1901 to include five stores, two
livery stables, a hotel, a drug store and approximately 150 residents.
From 1909 until 1922, the sale of tobacco was the main industry and there
were four warehouses bordering the town’s dirt streets.
Always popular at Old Timer’s Jubilee is “The Great Train
Robbery” re-enactment. Sheriff Boyd Ayers (left) points out the
trouble to Deputy David Lilly. In real life, Lilly is Gretna’s
The town was incorporated in February 1901 by special act of the
Virginia legislature. The charter of the town of Elba was renewed and
amended in 1912.
By an act of the legislature of 1916, the name of the town was changed
from Elba Post Office and Franklin Junction Station to Gretna. The name
was selected by town council from a list of names furnished by the post
Gretna Has Everything
Located about halfway between the cities of Danville and Lynchburg,
Gretna residents have the best of both worlds — quiet country life, but
close enough to enjoy urban amenities.
A prized documentary of the town’s history is a labor of love by Estelle
Ironmonger Tyler — her book entitled: The
Junction, Elba, Gretna, Virginia.
Mrs. Tyler and her late husband, Kenneth S. Tyler Sr., came to Gretna
as educators and fell in love with the students and town. She taught at
Gretna High School for 27 years of her 38-year career and still lives in
town. Mr. Tyler was a well-known and respected Gretna High School
Mrs. Tyler says Gretna is “a friendly town with the kind of people
who wave to strangers.”
Her book traces the town’s people and events. One significant event
mentioned in her book is the establishment of the local Mecklenburg
Electric Cooperative District. Clyde
Midkiff, retired district manager, remembers the stories of the first
office being located at Pete Moon’s livery stable in the year of 1938.
This served as the building base for providing electricity to the rural
areas surrounding Gretna.
Also mentioned is the famous bank robbery of 1946 when three robbers
pulled a caper at Peoples Bank and escaped by pickup truck. They got away
with about $7,000, a big haul for the times. The three were later
apprehended and prosecuted.
Gretna has the usual small-town atmosphere where everyone knows
everyone and all about their lives, but Gretna also has many things that
other small towns don’t have.
Gretna has one of Pittsylvania County’s industrial parks that is home
to several industries. The county recently purchased 100 acres for
expansion of the park.
Home to Three County Schools
Gretna’s Railroad Park on Main Street has a caboose that is open
Gretna is home to three Pittsylvania County schools: Gretna High School
on Coffee Street; Gretna Middle School on Northside Drive; and the newly
constructed Gretna Elementary School on Franklin Boulevard.
The county recently passed a bond referendum to build four new middle
schools and one of them will be built in Gretna. Construction is to begin
later this year.
The Riddle Learning Center was dedicated in 2000. It combines a branch
of the Pittsylvania County Public Library with a distance-learning center
for Danville Community College.
Gretna’s library was formed in 1965 under the sponsorship of the
Jaycees and was located in a small red house on Franklin Boulevard.
Addressing the need for a new library, Friends of the Gretna Library
organized in November 1996. These volunteers single-handedly spearheaded a
mammoth fundraising project that included children and adults from all
walks of life working together to make the library possible.
Gretna has two large parks with picnic shelters, athletic fields and
The town also has two attractive mini-parks that are just for relaxing.
The Railroad Park on Main Street features a bright-red caboose, a section
of narrow-gauge track from the old F & P Railroad, benches and a swing
built by the Boy Scouts. There is also a mini-park on the corner of
Franklin Boulevard and Watts Street that offers beauty and solitude.
The Gretna community has two medical centers. Centra Health Gretna
Family Practice Medical Center is part of Centra Health, a regional
health-care system headquartered in Lynchburg and associated with
Lynchburg General and Virginia Baptist hospitals to the north.
Pictured are Gretna Volunteer Fire Department, Gretna Police
Department and Gretna Town Hall, which share a building in downtown.
A second medical facility — Danville Regional Medical Heathcare
Center — is located on Main Street and associated with Danville Regional
Medical Center to the south.
Gretna Health Care Center, also in town, is a 90-bed skilled-care
facility that meets the needs of the community.
Gretna is blessed with nine churches. This year several community
churches, under the leadership of First Baptist Church of Gretna, worked
together to build a home through Habitat for Humanity.
The town’s first shopping center, “The Junction at Gretna,”
opened last year. Developer Cecil Creasy of Wilmington, N.C., has a
special interest in Gretna. His family has owned property in town since it
Last February, the town hosted a 100th birthday party. The gala event
brought out young and old to enjoy musical entertainment by the Gretna
High School chorus, Gretna Elementary School chorus and Gretna Middle
Residents brought old photographs and memorabilia for display. The
afternoon birthday cake and punch were sponsored by Mecklenburg Electric
A Great Place to Live
One of the oldest homes in town was built by Thomas C. Creasy around
Gretna doesn’t stop at the town limits. It is a community filled with
caring people who don’t just talk about needs and problems — they
pitch in and do something about them. This spirit of community service
makes Gretna a great place to live.
The town and surrounding community are fortunate to have Gretna
Volunteer Fire Department and Gretna Rescue Squad. The fire department was
organized in 1935 and the rescue squad in 1968.
Members are men and women who donate their time for training and
service. They conduct fundraisers to purchase needed units, equipment and
supplies. The rescue squad building is relatively new and plans are
underway for a new fire station.
The Merchants Association of Gretna annually sponsors activities and
projects to enhance the town. Members are dedicated volunteers who
organize Old Timer’s Jubilee and the Gretna Horse Show, and name a
“Citizen of the Year” and “Business of the Year” each December.
Organized in 1985, Gretna PACE Club sponsors activities, community
events and educational scholarships. Membership is open to anyone who
wants to be part of a working organization.
The club co-sponsored the Miss Pittsylvania County Pageant, a
preliminary to Miss Virginia, for 15 years before taking a break from
pageant planning in 2001. Also, a real holiday crowd pleaser is the PACE
Club’s annual Country Christmas Show.
Gretna Lions Club was chartered in 1953 and has been an active part of
community life since. In addition to participating in service projects of
Lions International such as assisting with sight- and hearing-related
problems and providing exams, glasses or hearing aids to those who cannot
afford them, Gretna Lions Club also gives scholarships to local students.
Last year Lions International gave the Gretna Club a $30,000 grant to
assist in constructing a home built through Habitat for Humanity.
Gretna Junction Lions Club organized in 1984 as the ladies’
counterpart to Gretna Lions. Junction Lions conduct similar Lions projects
and sponsor the “Tree of Lights” at Christmas, which illuminates bulbs
in honor or memory and funds scholarships for high school seniors.
Special guest at Gretna’s 100th birthday party in February 2001
was 5th District Congressman Virgil Goode, who presented a flag that
had flown over the nation’s capitol to Gretna Mayor Glenna
Gretna Ruritan Club was chartered in 1999 and conducts activities to
better the town and community through various projects.
Gretna American Legion Post 232 became active following World War II.
The post home, located on Leftwich Street, was built in 1950 and is
available to family businesses and civic groups. The post conducts service
projects and makes donations.
Adding to the beauty of the town are projects of Weed and Weep Garden
Club, organized in 1959, and Gretna Garden Club, organized in 1949. The
clubs alternate sponsorship of the Christmas door decorating contest held
Anderson Masonic Lodge No. 258 A.F. & A.M. received its charter in
1894. The lodge maintains a clothes closet in Gretna that provides
clothing and other necessities to families who lose their homes to fire
and to others in need. The lodge also provides scholarships and donates to
Grand Lodge charities.
Gretna has an active youth sports program that organizes teams for
softball, baseball and football.
The face of the town has changed over the years. Some businesses or
industries have closed, new ones have located, and others have renovated
and remodeled. Some residents have lived in Gretna all their lives, raised
children and grandchildren and are content to spend retirement here.
Others are new families moving in, eager to enjoy the quality of
Residents Enjoy Simple Pleasures
“Gretna folk tend to enjoy the simple things of life — a Little
League ball game, a country music band complete with harmonica player, a
good book from the new library, a computer class, a school sports event, a
Veteran’s Day program, Old Timer’s Jubilee and the great train
robbery, an antique car show, rescue squad and fire department stews, a
musical benefit, horse show, a leisurely walk around town, chatting at the
post office, a cup of coffee with friends, an outdoor symphony, a band of
former high school students and teachers, area school activities and band
concerts, and people who make you feel at home,” says Mayor Lingafelt.
“Gretna is a place of caring, imperfect, hard-working people who
volunteer for all kinds of needs (or things). And, when you go away for a
while, you tell everyone who will listen where you are from, and you just
can’t wait to get back home to Gretna,” she adds.
The town may not be so big, but the heart of its people is huge. The
friendly, caring atmosphere exudes welcome and southern hospitality.
Travelers entering town are greeted by a sign proclaiming “Gretna,
Virginia: Ain’t No Big Thing, But It’s Growing.”
Susan Worley is a Pittsylvania County native and writer for the
Star-Tribune, the county’s only newspaper, which was started in 1869.
She is also on the board of directors and secretary of The Merchants
Association of Gretna.