Newbern is a well preserved nineteenth-century turnpike and courthouse town. The original dominant house types – the two-story, rectangular log house and the long, compounded two-story log or frame house – are the result of a strong log-house tradition in the building standards set up by the founders of the town. Today, some of the log houses are covered with weatherboarding or siding and one log house has been completely re-built utilizing the original logs and stone.
Newbern does not represent any sort of “pioneer” life town, rather the mature life of a provincial southwest Virginia town of the mid-nineteenth century. It has survived essentially in its original form due to the failure to be included in the route of the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad and the loss of the courthouse and county seat status.
Adam Hance, the founder of Newbern, appeared in the area in 1770 at the age of twenty-three. In the 1780’s he started accumulating land and in a short time accumulated a considerable holding. In 1809 he conceived the idea of a town and tentatively laid out one about one-half mile from the present town. He petitioned for the rerouting of the Wilderness Road or the Great Road (the Baltimore to Nashville Turnpike) but a law suit initiated by an angry neighbor convinced Adam Hance and his associates to locate the town on the existing road.
In 1810 twenty nine lots were laid out in a line on either side of the road along the top of the ridge, with a right-of-way in the center running down the hill on either side to springs. Purchasers of the lots were guaranteed access to these springs, but were required to build within two years ,constructing a house “at least 16 feet square, 1 ½ stories high of hewn logs with a stone or brick chimney, seams filled with lime and sand, two glass windows of 12 lights each, shingles roof, and complete ranged on both sides of the street.”
Newbern prospered as a turnpike town. Stores were opened by James Hoge in 1811, Henry Hance, and Reazen Vermillion. Adam Hance’s inn (which his son-in-law James Tiffany took over in 1824) was supplemented by the Haney Tavern, at which Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay, and Winfield Scott are reported to have lodged. Another tavern now known simply as the “Old Inn” also operated at this time. A Methodist Church was organized in 1830 and a Christian Church in 1837. The Christian Church is still in operation and is one of the treasured historic buildings of Newbern.
When the County of Pulaski was created in March of 1839, a committee of impartial observers from other counties selected Newbern as the county seat. The first county court was held at James Tiffany’s house in May of 1839; a few weeks earlier the first circuit court session in Pulaski County had been held at the same home. A courthouse was built in the years 1840-42 and a cupola added to it in 1853. A sturdy brick jail was erected behind the courthouse, and lawyers’ and judges’ houses and offices clustered around the county buildings.
Newbern grew and other services appeared. A water system was created in 1848 and expanded in 1870. A Presbyterian Church was founded in 1867. Blacksmiths, tailors, carriage makers, doctors, cobblers, millers, and tanners all did business in Newbern. The village even had a newspaper.
The courthouse burned in 1893, and a county-wide referendum the following year selected Pulaski as the new county set. However, Newbern’s destiny had been determined years earlier by the refusal of James B. Alexander to allow the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad to be routed through his land. Depots were build in Pulaski and Dublin instead, and frequent suggestions to move the county seat to one of these towns had circulated before the courthouse burned. The destruction of the courthouse provided the opportunity to move the county seat and in 1895 Pulaski became the new county seat.
Newbern retained its vitality for a few more years as it enjoyed brief popularity as a summer resort, but the Newbern of today is a quiet residential community. It was designated a Registered Historic Place in 1975. The original Adam Hance tavern and adjacent buildings in the center of the village now house the Wilderness Road Regional Museum. The Old Jail is being slowly restored. Both properties are owned by the New River Historical Society. Several homes in the center of Newbern have been either restored or re-built and Newbern is again undergoing re-vitalization.