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Did You Know…?
- One-third of all Civil War battles occurred in Virginia, for 122 in the state.
- All or part of eight other states were carved out of territory once claimed by Virginia.
- Eight U.S. presidents were born in Virginia.
- Mount Vernon’s displays include the key to the Bastille, a Lafayette gift to Washington.
- At the Pentagon, the world’s largest building, no office is more than seven minutes from any other.
One state’s endowment
Virginia is richly endowed with sites associated with U.S. history, beginning with its earliest days at the Jamestown settlement in 1607. Today’s Virginia is a mixture of undulating hills and horse properties, bustling industrial cities, the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, the storied Shenandoah River Valley and the marine life of the Tidewater region. Besides, the nation’s capital across the Potomac ensures that politics and history continue to influence life in Virginia to a greater degree than in most places.
The best of times for the Old Dominion came in the 18th century when its broad rolling hills were populated by country gentlemen who surveyed their acres, hunted foxes and planned the future of the republic. (Residents of the slave quarters and poor whites did not participate in the best of times, but they were there, too.)
Virginia produced four of the five earliest presidents (Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe) and vied with New England for preeminence in the colonial and post-Revolutionary War years. History buffs find much of interest covering the colonial era through the Civil War (when Richmond served as the Confederate capital) to the present day.
The famous Blue Ridge Mountains are in the west as are the Cumberland Gap National Historic Park and Shenandoah National Park. Charlottesville, Richmond and President Jefferson’s home Monticello are in the central areas.
Places associated with Washington, D.C. — Alexandria, Arlington, President Washington’s Mount Vernon home — are in the northern areas, along with the Fredericksburg National Military Park.
Finally, the Tidewater, or coastal region, is home to Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown, Newport News, Norfolk, Virginia Beach as well as Yorktown, where the Revolutionary War ended. Also, because Virginia borders Chesapeake Bay, visitors can take advantage of water sports and the opportunity to observe the ecosystem of this remarkable district.
Venturesome types, who like becoming involved with a place’s culture, will enjoy staying at small inns and meeting the people who own the shops and run the fishing boats. Other travelers are more likely to take guided tours to Williamsburg and enjoy the shops and restaurants in the tourist centers. Regardless, there is enough variety for every taste.
Things to do for Venturers
- Snatch up one of Virginia’s Capt. John Smith’s Trail maps and chart a kayak tour along the James River on a route that includes 40 parks, historic sites and museums between Richmond and Newport News. Sites include Historic Jamestowne, the recreated ships at Jamestown Settlement and 17th century plantations.
- Attend the Pony Penning and Auction in July on Chincoteague Island. Wild ponies, owned by the local fire department, graze on nearby Assateague Island, and when it is time to sell a few, so-called “saltwater cowboys” drive the herd in a swim from one island to the other. The auction begins soon after. Some ponies (in reality, undersized horses) are available for rides year-round at the Chincoteague Pony Center.
- Sample the skiing at any of these resorts: Bryce, the Homestead, Massanutten or Wintergreen. In March, ski and golf on the same day at Wintergreen.
- Arrange for a deep-sea fishing excursion, or take time for some fly-fishing.
- Attend one of the many Civil War or other historical reenactments that occur each year in Virginia. In some cases, you can participate and experience something of the camp life of the 19th century soldiers and their families.
- Contact one of the several trail clubs in the state, groups devoted to the care of the Appalachian Trail. If possible, arrange to hike with them and perhaps participate with them in some voluntary trail tending. One-quarter (550 miles) of the nation’s 2,175-mile trail is in Virginia.
Things to do for Centrics
- Attend events in the style of an “old Virginian.” Try the Middleburg Hunt Point-to-Point steeplechase in spring, the Alexandria Association Old Home Interiors Tour in April or one of the yacht regattas in summer (in any of several towns).
- Take a walk — with Appalachian Ghostwalks, an Abingdon company that promises “lantern-led” tours of historic haunted sites led by guides who are “certified ghost hunters.”
- Attend the Oyster Festival on Chincoteague Island.
- Attend one of the state’s Juneteenth celebrations, events that recall the day in June 1865 when slaves in Texas finally received word of their freedom, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation. One of the top events is staged at the Booker T. Washington National Monument in Hardy; it’s a day for reenactments, music and good food, at the Virginia birthplace of this African American leader.
- Plan a fall foliage drive in Virginia.
- In Norfolk, board the Carrie B., a replica of a 19th century Mississippi River paddle wheeler, for narrated tours of the Elizabeth River. Alternatively, cruise Norfolk’s historic waterways by taking a lunch or dinner cruise on the Spirit of Norfolk.
Things to do for Authentics
- Williamsburg is a showplace of colonial restoration, appearing today much as it did before the American Revolution. Overnight on site at the Williamsburg Inn.
- In the way Benjamin Franklin dominates Philadelphia, Thomas Jefferson dominates Virginia. See his home at Monticello, and tour the University of Virginia which he founded.
- Take advantage of Virginia’s natural springs at any of several spas in Warm Springs Valley and elsewhere. Depending on the spa, your choices could include a caviar facial or body wrap, a goat’s milk bath or treatments based on the dogwood flower.
- Tour in the state with your pet. More than 500 Virginia accommodations accept cats and dogs as guests.
- Take in a performance at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts in Vienna, a former Virginia farmstead and now the only national park dedicated to the performing arts. You often can see Wolf Trap events showcased on your local PBS station.
- Norfolk is home to the world’s largest naval installation. Take one of the bus tours of the naval station, with navy personnel as your guides. Also, see the USS Wisconsin, the last battleship ever built, at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum.
For more information, consult the Virginia Tourism Corporation at www.virginia.org