Although Joyce Wilburn is not technically a resident of the Old West End, she’s a neighbor nonetheless. Her contributions cannot be refuted. Creator and guide of three historic tours, Joyce is a familiar face to those of us who live here and a warm and welcoming host to those who come to visit.
Joyce’s love of history began while attending St Patrick’s Catholic High School in Richmond. Assigned a term paper, she thought she would do something different by writing about some of the nearby houses and the history behind them. The assignment led her to realize that she’d been surrounded by history all her life and had never paid it much attention.
As Joyce began to travel with her husband, a trip organizer for Averett Alumni and Friends, she made it a habit to attend as many walking tours as possible. Whether travelling domestically or abroad, it’s the walking tours that help you to really get to know a location, she has found. From these one can learn the tips and tricks of getting around and getting the most of the experience. Not all tours were alike, however, and she began to consider what a walking tour in Danville might be like, with its rich history and grand historic architecture. Upon returning home, she began writing the first script.
That first tour, Millionaires’ Row: The Secrets Inside, began in June of 2009. When the tour walked past the entrance to the Holbrook-Ross neighborhood, with only a brief mention of its historical significance, she realized that half of Danville’s story was yet untold. She enlisted the help of friends and life-long residents of the neighborhood, Paula Smith and Nannie Geary Armstrong, and one afternoon they took a drive down Holbrook Street, while Joyce, in the back seat, listened to her friends tell her about the neighborhood, the houses, and the African-American business men and women who had lived in them. From that drive, the second tour, The Holbrook Ross Historic District: There’s a Story Here, was born.
There is now a third tour, Tales of Tobacco, Textiles, and Trains, a guided walking tour of the Tobacco Warehouse District (aka River District) where much of Danville’s revitalization is taking place. As a fourth option, Joyce is collaborating with Berkeley and Lori Bidgood of Bright Leaf Segway Tours to offer each tour separately and also combine the Tobacco Warehouse District and Millionaires Row tours for the Highlights of History tour.
Joyce’s love of Danville is evident in her work. Besides the tours, she is also chief editor for Evince Magazine and a Destination Consultant for Dwellworks, where she helps people relocate to the area. But why choose Danville? “As beautiful as Danville is, it’s the people who make it where visitors want to stay,” she says. “Kind and thoughtful, it’s also a diverse group of people with a lot to share and a love of preserving history.” A history that Joyce so generously shares with all who come to visit Danville.