John Stewart Walker: 120 Years

About a hundred years after John Lynch founded Lynchburg, John Stewart Walker established his real estate firm. Today it offers a residential and commercial sales service plus appraisal, auction and relocation divisions. The year 2010 marks their one hundred and twentieth year as a family-owned business in central Virginia. Little did John Stewart Walker realize in 1890 the effect that his firm would have on Lynchburg and the surrounding community.

After the Civil War, Lynchburg enjoyed the distinction of being one of the wealthiest communities in the nation. Business was bustling, real estate was booming, and Lynchburg was growing. In 1891 with the completion of the Rivermont Bridge, the population began to migrate into the country. Now citizens could easily commute from the Rivermont area to downtown Lynchburg. In the early 1900s Walker helped found the Oakwood Gun and Hunt Club on Rivermont. Today it is the Oakwood Country Club; back then it was a gentlemen’s club where dashing young bachelors fresh out of college with good jobs (and money to spend) could rent rooms.

Organizations within the community began to look to John Stewart Walker for guidance. The firm helped The Order of the Elks find the perfect site in Bedford for the Elks National Home. They also successfully negotiated the sale of Natural Bridge, thus insuring that this historic site would not be developed. And when Reverend Jerry Falwell went to his friend George (John Stewart’s son) looking for a building where he could preach and establish his church, George offered him the Donald Duck Bottling Plant which had recently gone bankrupt. The site met Falwell’s needs, and Thomas Road Baptist Church was born.

In the forties and fifties Lynchburg grew exponentially. With the expansion of Babcock and Wilcox and General Electric, engineers and mid-level managers arrived in droves. Walker recognized the need for middle-class housing. The firm embarked on the development of entire neighborhoods including Manton Drive, Southland Acres, Fairview Heights and College Park. Sleepy little Lynchburg was fast becoming a city.

By the mid-fifties both of George Walker’s sons, William M. (Billy) and George C. (Buster) had become licensed brokers. Three generations of entrepreneurs were now involved in the business.

When John Stewart Walker was alive and doing business in Lynchburg, he believed that your word was your bond. Today Billy and Buster still believe and follow this principle in their code of ethics.

“The real estate business has been a focus of my life as long as I can remember,” said Billy. “I’m part of a family that stands for integrity, fairness and trust. Helping people sell their homes and find new ones is a responsibility I take seriously.”

In 1970, when the firm was celebrating its eightieth year, they moved their offices “out” of downtown Lynchburg to Old Forest Road. According to Billy, his father said “You are making a big mistake!” Despite the warning, the firm moved and proceeded to develop much of what Old Forest Road is today.

When other firms were joining forces and becoming a part of national chains, John Stewart Walker chose to remain independent. According to Billy Walker’s wife, Misty, “The firm believed that they knew the community better than anyone.” They could recognize trends. “At some level they envisioned what Lynchburg was to become.” By keeping a step ahead and also looking at what was happening in other places, the business has remained successful, innovative and independent.

Both Billy and Buster are committed to their community. “I think that the two brothers have really made a difference in Lynchburg,” said Misty. They are both models for their profession. Their involvement in the community and the integrity with which they conduct their business serves as an example for others to follow. Today, Billy’s daughter, Kensie Walker Johnson and Buster’s son Bo work for the firm. John Stewart Walker still remains in the family.

Thanks to the commitment of four generations, neighborhoods of every economic level have evolved into safe places to raise families, and Lynchburg has taken shape and become a diverse, well-developed city.

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