The Virginia Main Street Program is a preservation-based economic and community development program. Virginia has 29 historically important – and thriving – Main Street communities. Many of the most towns most celebrated for their revitalization success and walkability are located right here in the Shenandoah Valley. Here’s a brief look at where they are and what you can find there:
Old Town Winchester has thrived as a marketplace for more than 250 years. It’s the centerpiece of a 45-block National Register Historic District and features a vibrant walking mall with outdoor cafes, specialty retail shops, historic attractions, art galleries and various entertainment options. Must-see attractions in or near Old Town include the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley, the Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum, the Shenandoah Summer Music Theater and the Violina Ristorante Italiano. Need lodging? The George Washington, a Wyndham Grand hotel has its own Health Spa and an indoor pool modeled after a Roman bathhouse, plus a fitness center and a business center. Of particular note this month is the 92nd Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival, April 26- May 5, probably the most-attended festival in the Shenandoah Valley.
Key spots for visitors toLuray ’s Main Street include the Hotel Laurance and the Mimslyn Inn/Manor House and Cottage Collection for lodging; Gathering Grounds, West Main Market, and The Speakeasy and Circa 31 (both in the Mimslyn) for dining. Performing Arts Luray and Trackside Theater provide plays and other performance art. Two alluring festivals coming soon include the Page Valley Arts Council’s Festival of the Arts, April 12-14 and Luray’s 15th Annual Festival of Spring on May 11. Just off Main Street are the Warehouse Art Gallery and the Visitor Center of Luray-Page County Chamber of Commerce. Luray Caverns and Luray Caverns Motel are just moments from Downtown. From almost any point on Main, one can look up and see either Shenandoah National Park to the east or Massanutten Mountain to the west. (Note: Ongoing bridge construction on Main Street causes some slight detours in Luray, but everything on the street is still open.)
Harrisonburg‘s historic downtown is 40 blocks of diverse culinary choices, small shops of all kinds, preserved/restored architecture, and unique museums like the Virginia Quilt Museum. Harrisonburg takes food, art, culture and good times very seriously. Events like the Rocktown Beer and Music Festival, April 20, will prove how lively the city can be. Harrisonburg was Virginia’s first Culinary District, so designated in 2014, and restaurant options include everything from satisfying pizza and burgers to Indian, Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Indonesian. Several stops along the Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail are in or near Harrisonburg; take part in the Trail’s Passport Program by visiting any six of 14 breweries. There is no more fun way to win a t-shirt.
Start your day in Harrisonburg at the Visitor Center, located in the Hardesty-Higgins House at 212 S. Main St. It was the home of Harrisonburg’s first mayor, Isaac Hardesty, in the mid-1800s. Inside are the Rocktown Gift Shoppe, The Valley Turnpike Museum, The Harrisonburg-Rockingham Civil War Orientation Center and Heritage Bakery and Café. The orientation center displays a large map pinpointing major battle sites the region, a timeline of the Civil War in the Valley, as well as photos, videos and other information. Brand new in the Visitor Center is the Virginia Craftsmen Showroom.
Staunton was founded in 1747, and the city’s respect for history is reflected in its six nationally registered Historic Preservation Districts (Gospel Hill, Beverley, The Wharf, Stuart Addition, Newtown, and Villages.) Staunton’s thriving downtown is located in the Beverley District, where one can see buildings as old as 1830, or the 1896 Masonic Temple hovering over the skyline. A Holiday House Tour, usually held in December, provides visitors a close look at the city’s well-preserved Victorian homes.
Staunton’s combination of arts, culture, outdoor recreation, dining, shopping, etc. is impressive. Some highlights for visitors: Blackfriars Playhouse at the American Shakespeare Center, the Frontier Culture Museum, the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum. For fine dining, locals swear by Zynodoa’s on Beverly Street, and for lodging try the Stonewall Jackson Hotel and Conference Center in the heart of downtown. Originally built in 1924 and a member of Historic Hotels of America, this Virginia landmark was completely renovated in 2005 to recapture much of its original grandeur.
Bedford, considered a gateway to the Shenandoah Valley, is about 30 miles east of Roanoke. Its historic Centertown is bustling with shops offering antiques, art, jewelry, gifts, collectibles, and more. Restaurants serve a wide variety of American and international cuisine. Explore the National Historic District while staying at one of several Bed & Breakfasts. Points of interest include the Bedford City/County Museum, Historic Avenue, Farmers Market, Historic Meeting House, and the Wharton House and Gardens.
One exceptional spot to visit in Centertown is the Bower Center for the Arts. Open Tuesday – Saturday, 11 to 4, the center conducts programs, exhibits, events, workshops, performances, etc. It is a multi-faceted operation with a strong emphasis on community engagement. Admission to the gallery is always free. A number of Virginia “trails” are located in Bedford, too—a Civil War Trail, a Wine Trail and an Artisan Trail. Learn more about them all at the Bedford Welcome Center, at 816 Burks Hill Rd. (I-81, Exit 150 A, follow Route 22 Alt. to 460 East.)
Lexington is very high on any history lover’s list of destinations. Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson are buried there. Historic tours—either by horse-drawn carriage or on foot—lead visitors to important sites like the Stonewall Jackson House, Lee Chapel & Museum, the Lee House, and Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery. A marker at Old Courthouse Square–part of the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail—honors the return of Lewis & Clark from their exploration of the west, 1804-1806. Military displays from Civil War onward may be seen at the VMI Museum, and the George C. Marshall Museum and Library chronicles the life and legacy of the Nobel Peace Prize winner.
Lodging options start with The Georges Inn and Robert E. Lee Hotel, both on Main Street. Popular restaurants include the Southern Inn and Pure Eats, but there are many more to consider. Visit Lexington Visitor Center at 106 E. Washington Street.
Of course, many other main street/downtown areas exist in the Valley even though they might not have the DHCD designation. These include Strasburg, Front Royal, New Market, Edinburg, and Waynesboro, among others.