Friday, November 16, 2007

Staunton’s Historical Beauty

This month, TRR took a journey back in time while visiting Staunton, one of the best preserved Civil War era towns in Virginia. Located less than an hour north of campus, Staunton is an artistic haven, an architectural pleasure and an historical beauty that can easily be accomplished in a day’s activities.

Start your day at the Frontier Culture Museum, located just off of I-81 exit 222. This living history museum features five working farms that represent the daily lives and agricultural heritage of the people who immigrated to America.

After a stop at the desk of the visitor’s center inside the main building, be sure to see the movie that details how the buildings were dismantled in their native lands, shipped across the ocean or overland, and reconstructed here. In about two hours you can visit farms from Germany (1710), Northern Ireland (1730), England (1690), and two distant counties in Virginia (1773 & 1850).

After learning about the culture of early American farmers, head west to Staunton’s historical downtown. Don’t be fooled by the two miles of strip malls and other modern-day eyesores, just follow the signs to the historical downtown. After you cross under the railroad bridge, you’ll realize you have stepped back in time.

Park near the Visitor’s Center on New Street or in the adjacent garage. Everything you will want to see is within walking distance or available via the free trolley service that stops throughout downtown. If it is a nice day, take a walking tour of the city’s architecture after obtaining a copy of the “Self-Guided Tour of Staunton’s Historic Districts” which contains descriptions of 84 historical homes, buildings, and churches.

If its time for lunch, TRR recommends The Beverly Restaurant, just around the corner from the Visitor’s Center. It may seem like the d├ęcor has not changed since they opened in 1960, but the home-style menu and Southern hospitality at a terrific price cannot be matched.

While walking down Beverly Street, you will see one of the best preserved Civil War-era main streets in the South. Staunton was the gateway to the Shenandoah Valley, “the Breadbasket of the Confederacy,” because of its railroad link to eastern Virginia. Staunton was designated as a training center for troops and became a vital supply depot to the Confederate army. Amazingly, the city’s architecture was left largely intact by Union soldiers occupying the city in the summer of 1864.

Two blocks south you will find the historic train station where you can catch an Amtrak train to Washington, New York or Chicago three times a week. Be sure to climb the stairs and cross the iron pedestrian bridge over the tracks to take in the best view of the town. The station also houses two great restaurants - seafood and steaks at The Depot Grille or fine dining at The Pullman Restaurant. Other options can be found amongst the art galleries located in The Wharf buildings across the street.

Just west of the station, in a wonderfully preserved historic building, you will find Sunspots Studios, a perfect example of the many art studios and galleries in Staunton. At Sunspots, not only can you browse the one-of-a-kind pieces of art glass and copper, you can see them being created. In the back of the studio, you can watch the daily glass blowing demonstrations by artists who interact with the onlookers. We all agreed this stop was the highlight of our visit to Staunton.

Before returning to your vehicle, consider visiting one of the many other great attractions. On the same block as the Visitor’s Center you can find the Stonewall Jackson Hotel and Blackfriars Playhouse. The hotel is a recently restored historical wonder offering luxurious accommodations at reasonable prices. The Playhouse is home to the renowned American Shakespeare Center (see review by John Powers?? from last month’s issue), a perfect end to the evening.

Two blocks north and east of the Visitor’s Center is the birthplace and Presidential Library of native son Woodrow Wilson, the first southern-born U.S. President elected after the Civil War. Finally, if you choose to embark on the Trolley, be sure to get off and enjoy Gypsy Hill Park, with its 214 acres of recreational areas, creeks, picnic areas and playgrounds.

The next time you find yourself seeking a day of entertainment, jump in you car and head to Staunton. I guarantee an enjoyable day of history, architecture, and the arts in a charming southern town.
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The Frontier Culture Museum of Virginia; www.frontier.virginia.gov/; 1290 Richmond Ave; (540) 332-7850; Open daily; $10 adults.

Staunton Visitor's Center; www.staunton.va.us/; 35 South New Street; (540) 332-3971; 9:30-5:30 Nov-Mar, 9-6:30 Apr-Oct; Info on all Staunton attractions.

Self Guided Walking Tour; www.virginia.org/site/description.asp?attrID=31649; Obtain pamphlet/map from Visitor’s Center

The Beverley Restaurant; www.thebeverleyrestaurant.com/; 12 E. Beverley St; (540) 886-4317; Open Mon-Fri breakfast, lunch & early dinner and Sat breakfast & lunch

Sunspots Studios; www.sunspots.com/; 202 South Lewis Street; (540) 885-0678; Free to the public; Open daily, Glass Blowing Demonstrations most days.

Friday, October 26, 2007

DC’s B-list attractions

Welcome to the first installment of a new travel column entitled The Roaming Roan, which will spotlight interesting overnight and day trips near Lexington. The column’s title plays upon the name of one of General Robert E. Lee’s “otherCivil War horses. Unfortunately, Traveller was already taken by a transportation system that does not actually travel.

In the spirit of the horse who never became Lee’s first choice mount, this inaugural TRR focuses on second tier attractions for a follow-up visit to Washington, DC.

You have seen the monuments and museums on The Mall. You probably visited the Capitol, the National Archives, and Arlington Cemetery. Touring these sights is surely a patriotic duty, but what about your return visit? In my five years of living in and near DC, I often treated my visiting family and friends to these three lesser-known must-see sights.

Most people intend to visit the Library of Congress, only to scratch it off when they run out of time. Ashamedly, I had visited our nation’s capital a dozen times before I finally walked inside the most magnificent room in the entire city, the Great Hall of the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building.

Don’t be dismayed by the basement appearance as you come through the ground level entrance. Security concerns have closed the formal entrance to the first floor. Ask when the next guided tour begins and peruse the interesting exhibits while waiting.

Prepare to be awestruck when you climb to the Main Hall. The marble staircases, soaring painted arches, and mosaic ceiling pay tribute to mankind’s greatest thinkers and writers. The room forms a pseudo-temple in praise of knowledge.

Of course, internationally, the Library is known for its collection, not its architecture. Be sure to see the Gutenburg Bible, one of three copies in existence of the first book printed with movable metal type. The Visitors’ Gallery on the Third Floor provides an aerial view of the beautiful Reading Room and its collection. Keep in mind that this is a small portion of what is housed in the other buildings of the Library.

Two blocks west, on the other side of the Capitol building, is the U.S. Botanic Garden. In decades past, the Garden was often left off of tourist maps and could be found empty except for those seeking an air-conditioned retreat from the crowds. After a recent renovation and now that the line for Capitol tours passes nearby, this forgotten gem has recently become extremely popular.

In the gigantic greenhouse of the Conservatory, you will find a room for almost every climate on earth housing nearly 10,000 plant species. The jungle in the main conservatory is so tall that 24-feet high catwalks offer views of the branches of the trees while lower paths meander through plants and streams.

The Garden’s impressive array of flowers is capped by the world-renowned collection of orchids. The sweet scent of a blooming room can make one forget they are actually in the middle of our sprawling capital city.

The third of our bridesmaid attractions, the C&O Canal, is the most overlooked. If you have ever visited Georgetown to shop, eat, or drink in Georgetown, you have driven over the Canal quite frequently. You probably have never noticed the people dressed in 19th Century clothing guiding the mule-drawn canal boats into the locks less than a block from Barney's and Kate Spade.

The 184-mile long Canal begins in Georgetown and runs parallel and between M and K Streets. At the Georgetown Visitor Center run by the National Park Service, you can go back in time by embarking on an hour-long ride on a replica canal boat. The park ranger in period costume details the lifestyle of canalers as you pass along the old towpath and through a historic lift lock.

Inserted in the middle of your next shopping trip, the canal boats will offer an informative respite from the hectic life literally around the corner. This is one experience that leaves visitors amazed by the diversity of a day in Georgetown.

Next time you visit Washington, be sure to include these or another intriguing attraction that does not traditionally top out every tourist’s list. I guarantee that you will experience more than simply avoiding the crowds.
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The Library of Congress; www.loc.gov/visit/; 101 Independence Ave, SE; (202) 707-8000; 10 AM - 5:30 PM Mon - Sat; Free to the public; Hour-long tours offered multiple times daily. (Photo credit: Max Lyons, www.maxlyons.net)

U.S. Botanic Garden; www.usbg.gov; 245 First St., SW; (202) 225-8333; 10 AM - 5 PM everyday; Free to the public. (Photo Credit: G. Alexander, www.about.com)

C&O Canal National Historical Park; www.nps.gov/choh; 1057 Thomas Jefferson St. NW, Georgetown; (202) 653-5190; Canal boat rides ($7) Wed - Sun; Call visitor center for times. (Photo credit: Scott T. Smith, www.agpix.com)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Welcome to The Roaming Roan!

Welcome to The Roaming Roan blog. TRR is a new monthly column I write for The Law News which spotlights interesting overnight and day trips near Lexington. This blog provides a venue to include multiple pictures and weblinks with the column. I hope you enjoy it.

When I considered what to name a travel column for the school where Robert E. Lee served as President, naturally I thought of naming it after Lee's horse Traveller who happens to be buried in Lee Chapel on campus. However, that seemed too obvious, not to mention that the name was already taken by the campus transportation system that does not actually travel anywhere outside of Lexington.

Instead, the column’s title plays upon the name of one of General Robert E. Lee’s “other” Civil War horses. The Roan, also known as the Brown-Roan, was purchased by Lee in West Virginia during the first summer of the war (1861). When Lee went to the coast of Carolina and Georgia that winter, he took only 'The Roan' with him to the South. Lee would purchase Traveller in February 1962 and when he returned to Richmond in the Spring, he brought back with him 'The Roan' and 'Traveller.'

During the battles around Richmond, that summer, 'The Roan' who had been gradually going blind, became unserviceable, and was retired to a Virginian farmer. It was later that point that Lee began to ride 'Traveller' regularly.

When I read this, I pictured the retired war horse The Roan roaming the hills of Virginia. That is when I decided to name the column of my roaming the sights of southwestern Virginia after the The Roan.