You can read about history all that you like, but the facts never come to life quite as much as when you walk through a historical setting, be it a restoration, a re-creation, or preservation. There isn’t a place in Virginia that is without a rich history, and the Shenandoah Valley area is no exception.
Did you know that Virginia is called the Birthplace of Presidents? Out of the eight past presidents who were born in Virginia, four of them left behind birthplaces and museums only a short drive from the our inn. Monticello in Charlottesville was the home of Thomas Jefferson, third U.S. president and author of the Declaration of Independence. The estate now offers tours of the house and the historic gardens, as well as numerous festivals and celebrations throughout the year—the Annual Wine Festival, Historic Garden Week, July 4th, and an Annual Naturalization Ceremony. Furthermore, if you’d like to taste a bit of Jefferson history, you can mosey down the road from Monticello to Jefferson Vineyards and sip a bit of the wine from vines that Thomas Jefferson first planted.
Ash-Lawn Highland in Charlottesville was the home of James Monroe, fifth president of the United States, and it lies only a little ways down the road from Monticello. James Monroe and Thomas Jefferson were close friends, and Jefferson not only encouraged Monroe’s purchase of the property, but he also helped with some of the architectural design of Ash-Lawn Highland. The estate occupies 535 acres and is currently a farm, a museum, and a performance site for the College of William and Mary. Ash-Lawn offers numerous annual events like the Field Day and James Monroe 5k Run, the Commemoration of James Monroe’s Birthday, Opera on the Lawn, and a partnership with the Virginia Festival of the Book.
Montpelier in Orange was the home of James Madison, fourth U.S. president, Father of the Constitution, and principle architect of the Bill of Rights. James and his wife Dolley were known for their hospitality at Monteplier, and they would be pleased to know that their home still welcomes in travelers. Explore the mansion with its Presidential Library, Drawing Room, and furnishings chosen by Dolley herself. Walk the Annie DuPont Garden and the James Madison Landmark Forest, and take in the artifacts in the Archeology Lab. Montpelier also offers annual events like the Montpelier Wine Festival, the Montpelier Hunt Races, and the Fiber Festival. Don’t miss all of the tours and activities at this National Historic Landmark.
The Woodrow Wilson Library and Museum in Staunton is a tribute to the twenty-eighth president of the United States, who was born in the Presbyterian Manse in Staunton, VA in 1856. Browse through the library’s archival collection, which includes treasures like documents and letters from Wilson’s service in France during World War I, political cartoons from Wilson’s presidency, and a good number of letters and newspaper clippings from all throughout Wilson’s life. After you’ve explored the library, move on to the museum, where you’ll be taken through the physical representations of the life and times of this former president. Examine a number of the 2,400 photos, walk through the peaceful Victorian-style gardens, browse the new World War I trench exhibit, and admire President Wilson’s restored Pierce-Arrow limousine. Be sure to check the museum website for a list of current and upcoming events.
The Frontier Culture Museum is a time machine in and of itself. From the moment you arrive, you will feel not only as though you have set foot on foreign ground, but also that you have been taken back to years gone by. Observe the hard labor of our ancestors as they struggled through daily living in a new land. Step into the shoes of the citizens and immigrants of Africa, Germany, England, Ireland, and America in the 17th, 18th, and 19th century. Explore the lives of these first pioneers, farmers and craftsman, who came to American in search of opportunity, as well as those who were brought as unwilling captives. At the Frontier Culture Museum, history comes alive with experience.
If you’re interested in experiencing the history of the Elizabethan Era, take in a show at the only recreation of Shakespeare’s Blackfriars Playhouse. Watching an American Shakespeare Center production is partaking in the traditions of Elizabethan England. The lights remain on during the entire performance, adding an intimacy between audience and actor. Each show has only the basic props, costumes, and acoustic instruments, meaning that you are able to fully appreciate the enthrallment of the story. After all, without flashy special effects, the strength of the performances are rooted in Shakespearean tradition. Watch the tragic unraveling of the relationship of Othello and Desdemona or the “merry war” of Benedick and Beatrice. Chuckle at the wit and humor of the Merry Wives or Windsor or Crumpet the Elf in The Santaland Diaries. Whether you prefer comedy or tragedy, you’ll find quality at the Blackfriars Playhouse.
Waynesboro’s Plumb House Museum is another portrait of history, having been built from 1802 to 1804. This historic house, the oldest frame dwelling in Waynesboro, housed five generations of the Plumb family before, during, and after the Civil War “Battle of Waynesborough” on March 2, 1865. (Plumb House also hosts an annual re-enactment of this battle, so mark your calendars to watch a historic event come to life right before your eyes.) Though the town burned at the end of the war, Plumb House survived, scarred with little more than a 69 caliber shot lodged in the kitchen door. Now you can tour the historic garden, the summer kitchen, the various outbuildings, and the Presbyterian Cemetery next door, which is the burial ground of 25 Confederate soldiers. Inside the museum, you can investigate various Civil War and Native American artifacts, as well as a collection of butterflies from around the world.