by Su Clauson-Wicker
A trip to Blacksburg for a football game or reunion could also become a culinary tour of a gourmet potato chip plant, a Shenandoah winery, and an herb farm. Or you could participate in history at an early American harvest dinner at the Museum of American Frontier Culture, in Native American foraging activities at Explore Park, or in a 19th-century corn shucking at Booker T. Washington National Monument. Or you can route part of your trip along Skyline Drive and take a break by hiking on a trail that passes six (count 'em) waterfalls.
Hokies have no reason to succumb to highway hypnosis on a road trip to their alma mater.
THROUGH THE SHENANDOAH VALLEY
Almost 50 percent of Tech's alumni live somewhere "up north" of Blacksburg, many in the Washington metropolitan area, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, or New York. You're likely to travel south on Interstate 81, and the first Virginia city you hit will be Winchester.
Winchester used to be the apple capital and was almost certainly the most fought-over town in the state. (Winchester changed hands more than 70 times in the Civil War.) You can pick apples in a dwarf orchard owned by the Rincker family -- a busload of Congressmen recently felt it was worth their while to do this -- or visit Civil War General Stonewall Jackson's 1862 headquarters in a house that belonged to actress Mary Tyler Moore's great-grandfather. Or you can go further back in history to George Washington's former log office downtown and view a replica of the Indian fort he commanded. Washington was elected to his first state office from Winchester, although his chief accomplishment was passing a law to keep hogs from running wild within cities.
Winchester's newest attraction is the 1794 Glen Burnie mansion and its acres of ponds and statuary gardens, which were opened to the public in June. Abraham's Delight, a historic home just off Interstate 81 next to the Visitor's Center, is 40 years older and certainly worth a peek, especially if director Sherry Brumback Jenkins (history '83) is giving the tour.
If you have any gustatory inclinations, head south a few miles to Middletown's Route 11 Chips factory, where you can watch kettle-style potato chips being made on Fridays and Saturdays. Route 11 Chips, which sells both to pricey William Sonoma outlets and to mom-and-pop groceries, makes about 60 pounds of chips each hour in front of the showroom window. If you're lucky, they'll be chipping tasty beets, taro, or sweet potatoes. According to owner Sarah Cohen, a good helping of the sweet potato chips gives you all the vitamin A you need in a day. The property is an old feed store, decorated in potato sacks.
The nearby 1794 Belle Grove Plantation is a mecca for history buffs, antique aficionados, and quilters. Built by the brother-in-law of James Madison, the limestone mansion shows the pavilion style architecture and many other architectural influences of Madison's good friend, Thomas Jefferson. The prominently displayed silverware case, Belgian carpet, and chandeliers give you insight into the way people of that period liked to flaunt their wealth.
The Belle Grove Quilters Guild meets regularly at the plantation, holds quilting conferences, and operates western Virginia's largest quilting supply shop out of the basement. The docents of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, who run Belle Grove, host several imaginative public events, including a microbrewery festival, an antique show, a crafts festival, and "My Favorite Chair Exhibit." The most popular chair in the last show was the Wayside Inn's accordion chair, used to teach ladies how to handle themselves while bouncing up and down in a carriage.
A few minutes south is Strasburg's Stonewall Jackson Museum and the President's Museum -- a great place to take your school-aged child or to pick up trivia for Election Day parties. You can find out who the shortest president was, how many had red hair, how often an assassination attempt was made, and which ones died in debt. Handwriting samples of each president (including Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy) have been analyzed by an expert.
Special events include monthly first ladies' teas and parties on Constitution Day (Sept. 17), Election Day, and President's Day. Children can have fun every day, dressing up in colonial costumes, playing Revolutionary War board games, and entertaining themselves with 20 other activity packages in the replica one-room school.
The Victorian Hotel Strasburg nearby is a place to pamper yourself with a meal. Scott Rutherford (hotel restaurant management '98) has been getting professional experience here under the watchful eye of his parents. If you like the antiques in this former 1900-era hospital, make an offer. They're all for sale.
The most imposing edifice in historic New Market, half an hour down I-81, is the Hall of Valor, designed by William Moseley (architecture '51) to commemorate the Virginia Military Institute cadets who died in the Battle of New Market in 1863. You can also tour the battlefields and hear the stories of some of these very young men.
SHENANDOAH NATIONAL PARK
From New Market, you can make a detour on U.S. 33 to Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park. If you want to shore up on sweeping vistas and beautiful images to carry you through your next stressful situation, this is the place to come. Many of Virginia's remaining "wild" trout streams flow down the park's mountain sides. Tie a fly and try to catch Virginia's state fish, the brook trout.
Dozens of hikes originate on the parkway, from one-and-a-half mile Dark Hollow Falls to seven-mile White Oak Canyon with its six waterfalls. Or you can practice what park ranger Barb Newman calls "Zen hiking" and imagine your way all the way down to the valley.
At Staunton's Museum of Frontier Culture, it's not too difficult to imagine yourself in another century, despite the not-too-distant sounds of Interstate 81 traffic. To show the influences on the Shenandoah Valley's first settlers, the museum has painstakingly imported and reconstructed three farms from Europe and reconstructed a 19th century Virginia homestead. Staff dressed in period costumes demonstrate daily activities, such as making sauerkraut, harvesting crops, creating corn-husk beds, and blacksmithing. The European homesteads include an 18th century German farm, a 17th century Sussex, England farm, and a mid-19th century Scots-Irish farm from Northern Ireland.
In town, you can browse through five historic districts, the Statler Brothers' office complex, and the Woodrow Wilson Birthplace and Museum.
For a taste of the home-grown, take Exit 205 and go west through Raphine about four miles on Route 606 to the Buffalo Springs Herb Farm and neighboring Wade's Mill, a working flour mill and cookery shop. Whether you want fresh herbs, dried herbs, an herbal lunch, buckwheat flour, or home-ground grits, you'll find them here. Nearby, Rockbridge Vineyard offers some of 12 local wines on tasting tours held Friday and Saturday afternoons.
If you take Exit 205 and go east two miles, you come to the Virginia Tech-owned McCormick Farm, where Cyrus McCormick invented the mechanical reaper in 1831. Visitors are welcome to tour the blacksmith shop, the gristmill, and the farm-equipment museum, all National Historic Landmarks. The farm is part of Tech's Shenandoah Valley Agricultural Research and Extension Center.
Lexington, less than two hours north of Blacksburg on I-81, may especially appeal to older alumni because the Virginia Military Institute Museum depicts a cadet life like that of Virginia Tech's earlier years. You can also observe the first female cadets in the Friday drill parades. You can see a stuffed Little Sorrell in the museum, although the bones of Stonewall Jackson's trusty steed were recently buried on campus in a military ceremony.
Besides the VMI Museum, you can tour the Lee Chapel and Museum, George Marshall Museum (which features a lighted map outlining the progression of World War II), and the Stonewall Jackson House. Guided tours of the 1801 townhouse have been especially popular since the release of Tech professor James Robertson's biography of the brilliant Confederate War general. Stonewall, Lee, and their famous horses also figure prominently in the ghost tours of Lexington offered weekend evenings May through October. After leading you past several haunted houses and a garage frequented by Robert E. Lee's horse-ghost, Traveler, the tour concludes in the cemetery in front of Stonewall's monument. Carriage tours are also offered.
According to Catherine Fox (hotel, restaurant and institution management '88), who runs the Roanoke Valley Visitors Bureau at Market Place Center in Roanoke, you can entertain children all day in Roanoke. First of all, there's the Mill Mountain Zoo, where you are immediately greeted by a pettable llama. The 10-acre park is home to 40 species, including a town of prairie dogs, red pandas, Asian reptiles, snow leopards, and a special tiger breeding area.
Nearby is the new Explore Park, where you can stroll through four re-created periods of Roanoke Valley history, from a 1000 B.C. Woodland Indian village to a 1740 frontiersman's cabin to German homesteads in the early and middle 1800s. Costumed interpreters demonstrate crafts and host special events, including a fall harvest festival, All Saints' Day celebrations, and a Halloween storytelling. Explore is located off the Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 115.
Booker T. Washington National Monument, a half-hour south on Rt. 116, is the site of the cabin where the famous African American educator was born in slavery in 1856. The re-created farm hints at the lifestyle on a small farm of the period. Special events this fall include: a children's archeology program on Oct. 11, a folklore program on Oct. 26, a corn shucking party on Nov. 1-2, and a commemoration of Washington's death on Nov. 14-15.
Back in downtown Roanoke, there's the six-day-a-week Farmer's Market, the oldest in Western Virginia. Railroad buffs will be in heaven among the 65 railroad cars (including the J-611 steam locomotive) and O gauge model train layout at the Transportation Museum on Campbell Avenue.
The heart of culture in downtown Roanoke is Center in the Square, where your family will be entertained for hours at the Art Museum of Western Virginia, Mill Mountain Theatre, the Roanoke Valley History Museum, the Science Museum of Western Virginia, and Hopkins Planetarium. The hands-on exhibits at the Science Museum include a fiber optics area, a demonstration of the human body's circulatory system, the opportunity to do a weather show, a Chesapeake Bay touch tank, and talking computers.
Abingdon, two hours south of Blacksburg on I-81, features Virginia's state theater, the Barter Theatre, where you can catch "Rite of Survivorship: A Mystery Thriller" (Oct. 2-26), "Hamlet" (Oct. 30 - Nov. 3), and "A Christmas Carol" (Nov. 28 - Dec. 28). After having undergone a $1.7-million renovation, Barter Theatre doesn't have a bad seat in the house. The four-star Martha Washington Inn, across the street, offers fine dining, and a stroll up the street will take you to the Cave House craft shop, an outlet for a 140-member craft guild. The Virginia Creeper National Recreation Trail that runs from Pecan Alley behind the Martha Washington to Whitetop is a good place to stretch your legs and dip a fishing line into Whitetop Laurel, one of Virginia's better-known trout streams.
If you're coming north on I-77, the Shot Tower Historic Park, near Austinville, offers you the opportunity to see a National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark and a good view of the surrounding countryside. Built in 1807, the tower was used to form bullets by dropping molten lead through a sieve in the tower's top 150 feet into cold water at the river edge.
Shot Tower is located along New River Trail State Park, Virginia's longest, skinniest, state park that follows the curves of the New River from Galax to Pulaski. The park headquarters and a bike rental shop are located on the trail a few miles north of Shot Tower.
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