There are places in the Shenandoah Valley that stand at a crossroads—not of direction—but of time and history. You can stand at the border of a national park, next to a dirt road once traversed by Civil War soldiers, and still be in a nearby town for a gourmet dinner the same evening. You can walk battlefields and see Indian relics in local museums, but take in contemporary theater before bedtime.
Lexington in Rockbridge County is one such place, where progressive thought merges with Virginia’s–and America’s past.
Of course, the area is famous for its military presence. The Stonewall Jackson House (and Jackson’s gravesite), the Virginia Military Institute and its museum, the George C. Marshall Museum and Library and Washington Lee University (including Robert E. Lee’s preserved office at the Lee Chapel and Museum) leave no doubt as to the area’s respect for the military.
Yet one of the area’s most popular historic attractions goes back eons farther than any war. “The Natural Bridge of Virginia, now owned by the Virginia State Park system, is truly awe-inspiring,” said Jean Clark, Director of Tourism at Lexington and the Rockbridge Area Tourism. “The Goshen Pass and the Blue Ridge Parkway are beautiful spots, but the sheer size – and the history – of the Natural Bridge is breathtaking. Rockbridge County is truly blessed to have this icon as our identification.” (While you’re there, don’t miss the Caverns at Natural Bridge, either!)
Other popular attractions Clark mentioned include: the Virginia Safari Park, the Virginia Horse Center, and the Lee Chapel and Museum. “The Stonewall Jackson House has been expanding its interpretive program and will open a new interpretive center in early 2020,” Clark added.
Yet despite the area’s reverence for history, a contemporary feel is very evident. The Downtown area has all the boutiques, antiques, restaurants, shops and performance art needed to satisfy modern tastes. Specialty food shops like the Cocoa Mill Chocolatier are plentiful, along with representatives of the popular Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail. This enjoyable network of 15 Valley breweries, all within about an hour’s drive of each other, includes the Devils Backbone Outpost Tap Room and Kitchen in Lexington.
And like most locales in the Shenandoah Valley, Lexington, neighboring Buena Vista and Rockbridge County as a whole offer a diverse package of outdoor challenges. (In fact at post time, Lexington was one of 20 finalists in the Small Town category of Blue Ridge Outdoors’ “Top Adventure Town Contest.”) National Forest lands abound nearby. Kayak, tube or fish the scenic Maury River. Hike as far as you can on the Appalachian Trail or get in a rewarding day hike up to Horse Mountain. Or just take a beautiful drive along historic Route 11 or the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Fall and early winter are busy times in the Shenandoah Valley, and Lexington is no exception. Clark pointed out, “The national Christmas tree will be making a stop in late November at White’s Travel Plaza. Coming from New Mexico, it will be accompanied by Smokey the Bear and a team from the National Park Service. A fun event is planned for that afternoon, November 23.” A few more of Lexington’s coming events are listed below. (More information on these and other events may be found here. )
November 7-10: Virginia Horse Show Association Championships
November 23: National Christmas Tree @ White’s Travel Plaza
November 28: January 1: Festival of Trees at Natural Bridge State Park
November 29: Candlelight Processional and Lexington Tree Lighting, downtown Lexington
December 3: Holiday Pops Concert @ the Lenfest Center
December 6: Annual Christmas Parade
December 7: Jingle Bell Run
December 14-15: Luminary Nights & horse-drawn carriage rides @ Natural Bridge State Park
December 21-22: Luminary Nights & horse-drawn carriage rides @ Natural Bridge State Park
Asked what surprises tourists most about the Lexington/Rockbridge County area, Clark said, “We pack a lot of scenic beauty, history, and natural wonders into a small space. We are really two very small cities, two even smaller towns, and one agricultural county. AND visitors always comment on our friendliness. Don’t be freaked out when everyone speaks to you on the street – or waves to you!”
Photo courtesy Lexington and the Rockbridge Area Tourism