If you think of small town main streets as a bit on the sleepy side, you haven’t been to Lexington, Va., lately. The town in the southern Shenandoah Valley celebrates is distinctive heritage in some intriguing ways.
In 2014, two new lodging options opened in historic Main Street structures and also added imaginative dining to the already exciting local restaurant scene. Our recent visit included the Robert E. Lee Hotel and its Rocca Restaurant, as well as the various options at The Georges, including its restaurant and piano bar, Haywood’s. Outside of town, we took a behind-the-scenes look at another recently renovated historic hostelry, Maple Hall Inn. In each case, caring renovations were made to well-loved local landmarks, producing exciting results.
The stately Robert E. Lee opened as a six-story hotel in 1926, but was renovated and reopened in September 2014 after years of serving as long-term housing. Our room included a separate sitting room and large bath with two-person jetted tub and separate marble rain shower. The Rocca Restaurant featured an Italian menu under the direction of chef Michael Hinrichs, as well as a second-floor terrace with outside dining.
The hotel began a periodic dinner theater show the weekend of our stay that drew an appreciative crowd.
“This all chalks up to what we envision as the captivating Lexington experience,” said general manager Sean Taylor. (roberteleehotel.com)
Another historic renovation dates back much farther. The Georges occupies two structures on Main Street and is named for two “Georges” with Lexington connections: George Washington, for whom Washington & Lee University is named, and George Marshall, the Virginia Military Institute graduate who led America’s military in WWII and later served as secretary of state.
“The Washington building is one of the two oldest in Lexington and dates to 1789, when Washington was president,” said general manager Bob Moulder.
Inside are five individually decorated 21st-century suites, complete with the latest luxuries and amenities. Just as impressive is the ground floor restaurant and piano bar, Haywood’s, which was doing a brisk business on a Sunday evening in January. Chef Chris Jack provides imaginative small plates, as well as meals, in a convivial atmosphere that Lexington is adopting as its own.
Across the street is the Marshall building, which dates to 1809 and where the 13 guest rooms and suites echo the individuality and luxury of the Washington building and porches invite guests outside. On the ground floor is TAPS, the inn’s bar and dining area where an included gourmet breakfast is served. A cozy double fireplace joins the two spaces. (thegeorges.com)
A host of interesting shops and fine and casual dining establishments line Main Street, including the venerable Southern Inn, which reopened in its familiar location in 2011 after a disastrous fire. All make Lexington’s Main Street anything but sleepy.
More off Main Street
A third renovation outside of Lexington reopened the Maple Hall Inn, an 1850 Antebellum brick mansion with two additional structures, pool, tennis courts, pond, and walking trail on 7 acres. The original home on the property dates to 1828 and now houses suites. A 20th-century structure, built to look like the others, faces the pond and is ideal for families. There are two pet-friendly suites, as well.
The stately white-columned front of the inn leads into the second floor. The 1850 Restaurant is on the ground floor along with accessible guestrooms.
“The same family owned the property until 1984, so the houses are well documented and include the amazing original mantels and moldings,” said general manager Heidi Weimer, who has five-star resort experience. “Guests have a full breakfast in our beautiful 1850 dining room or on the terrace and the full restaurant will again offer dinner beginning in the spring.”
When retired Air Force and American Airlines pilot Philip Clayton and his wife purchased Maple Hall in 2013, all antique furnishings and original artwork were included, lending an even more authentic feel to the experience. (maplehalllex.com)
Also outside of town, just west of the scenic Goshen Pass, the Hummingbird House Bed and Breakfast welcomes visitors with sweeping wraparound porches and views. The home was first built in 1780 as a one-room structure that is now the rustic den. It was expanded in 1853 by the Teeter family to the Carpenter Gothic style house you see today. Mr. Teeter had invented the roller window shade and reaped the financial rewards of his invention.
The Hummingbird House boasts five guestrooms, including one where Eleanor Roosevelt stayed while on an inspection trip for her husband. The inn offers a variety of packages and specials, including a discount for active duty military personnel. (hummingbirdinn.com)
Back in Lexington’s historic district, though not on Main Street, the Hampton Inn Col Alto includes the 10 Manor House rooms in the 1827 Col Alto mansion and a 76-room contemporary Hampton Inn on 7 acres. The centerpiece is the stately Col Alto mansion, where former Virginia Gov. James McDowell entertained dignitaries.
Stay in one of the 10 period guest rooms, each with its own personality and terry cloth robes, wine service, and in-room breakfast. The rooms are named for local heroes such as Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, both of whom are buried in Lexington. Or, choose a modern hotel room, perhaps overlooking the pool. Both include HDTV and free high-speed Internet access. Perched on a knoll, the property is within walking distance of shops, restaurants, galleries, colleges, and museums. (hampton-inn.com/hi/lexington-historic)
Southeast of Lexington is Virginia’s famous Natural Bridge, where an inn or hotel has been located since 1833. Renovations to much of the current hotel, built after a 1963 fire destroyed its predecessor, are complete. The Virginia-made furniture continues to be refinished and returned to the rooms. The hotel offers special military discounts. (naturalbridgeva.com)
More to do
Lexington’s great attractions are just steps from Main Street, including the Stonewall Jackson House, VMI Museum, George Marshall Foundation, and the cemetery where Stonewall Jackson is buried. The Lee Chapel on the campus of Washington & Lee University reopens this spring after renovations and includes the burial place of Robert E. Lee and members of the Lee and Washington families, as well as a museum that explores the ties of the two great leaders to the institution.
New to the scene is The Reeves Center, which houses the fourth largest ceramics collection in the United States, and the Watson Pavilion which hosts portraits from the Washington-Custis-Lee collection, exhibits, and a Japanese tea room.
Lexington Tourism: lexingtonvirginia.com
Devils Backbone Brewery chugs along
Since opening its brewpub in Nelson County in 2008, Devils Backbone has established itself as a leader in the Virginia craft-brewing industry. Some of its spreading fame undoubtedly comes from through-hikers along the Appalachian Trail that runs not far from the Nelson County location.
“We get about 1,000 through-hikers coming in for a meal and drink each year,” said Heidi Crandall, who promotes the brewery.
From its beginnings as brew pub, Devils Backbone has grown into the largest brewery in Virginia, thanks to an expansive brewery and taproom that opened in Lexington in 2011. The “Outpost,” as the facility is called, continues to expand and expects to produce 75,000 barrels of product in 2015 according to brewer Cory Maggard, who showed us the computer-controlled process with its gleaming stainless steel tanks as well as the bottling, canning, and keg lines.
The various Devils Backbone brews are distributed in Virginia, Washington, and Maryland, but that, too, is expected to expand this year.
The taproom at the Lexington brewery is open until 8:00pm most nights and is a good place to try a sample flight of available beers or a glass of a particular favorite. The beer is also available to carry home.
Back in Nelson County, Devils Backbone plans to open a distillery this summer.