Saturday, August 15, 2009

Road Trip to Harrisonburg

My youngest moved out of the house on August 8. For the first time in my life, I am retired with no dependent children. Go, me! To celebrate this rite of passage, my husband and I decided to take a little road trip to Harrisonburg, Virginia, in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley. It’s the home of James Madison University and the seat of Rockingham County (known as the Turkey Capital, with the largest production of poultry in the state and Tyson signs everywhere), although the main point of interest to us is that it’s the home to the historic Joshua Wilton Inn, where we had booked a room and had dinner reservations awaiting.

With our new GPS guiding us west, our first stop was Stanardsville (pop. 476, and the Greene County seat) in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. We took a quick look at the town, which seems like it could be a little jewel if the recession ever ends and some serious restoration work could be completed. They do have a prominent courthouse building, a beautiful new county library (where we used the bathroom and the internet), and a quaint inn under renovation.

After a lunch stop at Hank’s Smokehouse in McGaheysville (hometown of one of my longtime F’burg friends), we headed to the White Oak Lavender Farm, just south of Harrisonburg. Rows of sprouting lavender...

farm animals to greet, including miniature horses, goats, sheep, one fat rabbit, and ducks in a beautifully landscaped pond...

and lavender scented gifts to buy.

The owner mentioned the CrossKeys Vineyard a few miles down the road, so we headed that way. CrossKeys is the kind of winery that really doesn’t appeal to me. The minute we parked, I could tell it was as much a wedding venue as a winery. Huge, brand new building with a big courtyard with fountain, indoor seating for a large crowd, and a bar with fireplace just right for the cocktail hour. All in that pseudo-European villa style, but lacking any of the warmth or charm of an actual historic villa.

The wine was fine...I really am not much of a judge of wine. I like drinking it, and I like what I like. My taste in wine is decidedly unsophisticated. But I always love a trip to the country, and wineries are always in such lovely, pastoral settings. The only thing that saved this winery for me was the beautiful views of the Blue Ridge Mountains:

From there we drove into Harrisonburg, where we checked into the inn, and headed back out on foot to check out the downtown area. We stopped at the Visitor Center, which doubles as the Valley Turnpike Museum. Here’s a museum I could sink my teeth into: just one room on just one topic, the evolution of the Valley Turnpike (otherwise known as US Rt. 11), from Indian path to important transportation route to country byway following the construction of I-81. Rt. 11 stretches from the Canadian border in NY all the way to New Orleans. We’ve taken several trips over the years to explore the Shenandoah Valley via Rt. 11, from Winchester in the north to Waynesboro in the south, and it’s one of Virginia’s most scenic areas.

In the Visitor Center lobby, we encountered this glass-encased giant hornet's nest. Just a little oddity on display:

We left the Visitor Center, and took a walk around town. There are interesting shops, restaurants and taverns all along Main Street, with Court Square at the center. Not as scenic or charming as Fredericksburg, but probably better suited to college students. Here's the historic county courthouse:

The gazebo next to the courthouse is actually a springhouse. Unlike the springs of Saratoga Springs, NY, this aqua esta mala:

This is the original stone cottage of Thomas Harrison, the first settler in the area, who deeded the land to create the town. It's privately owned by the church across the street, not open to the public, and you can see that another commercial building is stuck right up against it. Not the best example of historic preservation, is it?

We returned to the Joshua Wilton House for a wonderful dinner and overnight stay. More about that, and day 2 in Harrisonburg, to come!


Nicole said...

No kids. I am so jealous. We have a 6 year old, 9 year old and 14 year old. They're never going to leave. ever. I am not even really sure they'll ever go back to school. It doesn't feel like it.

Merry N said...

You certainly have a long way to go to the empty nest. But I do remember when my oldest was first able to babysit for her younger brother, and we were actually able to go out at night by ourselves for a little while. It felt so freeing! So you're probably at that point. Baby steps!