In the shadow of Robert E. Lee

Lex­ing­ton a small Vir­ginia town steeped in his­tory 40%

Winnipeg Free Press - Section F - - TRAVEL - By Melanie D.G. Ka­plan

LEX­ING­TON, Va. — Ev­ery time I go to Lex­ing­ton, in Vir­ginia’s Shenan­doah Val­ley, I pick up a his­tor­i­cal tid­bit or two. After all, the town is rich in his­tory: It’s home to Wash­ing­ton and Lee Univer­sity, founded in 1749, and Vir­ginia Mil­i­tary In­sti­tute, founded 1839. It’s also the fi­nal rest­ing spot of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jack­son.

But I wasn’t pre­pared, when I pulled into town one Fri­day in De­cem­ber, for the trivia of­fered by my friend, Cyn­thia, a Lex­ing­ton na­tive. Bun­dled up for a driz­zly, raw day, we met in the small park­ing lot be­hind the Ge­orges bou­tique ho­tel, hug­ging as we said hello. Then she said, point­ing across the way, “This is where Richard Gere was hung.”

“Oh!” I ex­claimed. I had no idea what she was talk­ing about.

She quickly clar­i­fied: In the early ’90s, Gere and Jodie Foster starred in Som­mersby, a Civil War film, and a few scenes were shot in town. I made a note to rent the movie when I got home.

Sit­u­ated three hours south­west of Wash­ing­ton and sur­rounded by the Blue Ridge and Al­legheny moun­tains, Lex­ing­ton is a town of 7,000 — a mix of re­tirees, stu­dents and fam­i­lies that keeps the his­toric down­town bustling. It’s a des­ti­na­tion known for its farmto-ta­ble restau­rants, where hard-core kayak­ers pad­dle on the Maury River year-round and the Christ­mas pa­rade fea­tures trac­tors and goats. Lex­ing­ton at­tracts its share of Civil War buffs ev­ery year, but even though war tourism is not my cup of tea, the town has enough ap­peal to draw me back time and again.

Dur­ing my pre­vi­ous vis­its, I’ve gone on a llama trek at nearby Ap­ple­wood Inn; taken a his­toric walk­ing tour of Stonewall Jack­son Memo­rial Ceme­tery and an­te­bel­lum homes; and overnighted at a re­fur­bished ca­boose just south of town. But I set off for this week­end get­away with an ul­te­rior mo­tive. Cyn­thia and her hus­band, Dave, are con­sid­er­ing leav­ing town for an idyl­lic moun­tain spot out West. I thought if I re­minded them of all of Lex­ing­ton’s virtues, they could be per­suaded to stay on this side of the coun­try.

After Cyn­thia set me straight on the hang­ing scene, we walked into the Ge­orges, a newly ren­o­vated inn. Since I was stay­ing down the street with Dave and Cyn­thia, I had asked the innkeeper for a tour. The ho­tel oc­cu­pies two his­toric build­ings, on op­po­site sides of Main Street, which had sat va­cant for years. The open­ing of this prop­erty and the his­toric Robert E. Lee Ho­tel — both of which oc­curred in 2014 — rep­re­sent sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment in the heart of down­town and have cre­ated some buzz, not to men­tion much-needed lodg­ing op­tions. (The Robert E. Lee orig­i­nally opened as a ho­tel in 1926 but had fallen into dis­re­pair; it was used most re­cently by the city as sub­si­dized hous­ing.)

Cyn­thia and I saw sev­eral of the 18 rooms in the Ge­orges build­ings—- one of which is among the old­est sur­viv­ing struc­tures in Lex­ing­ton. We saw crisp, clean, sim­ply dec­o­rated rooms with orig­i­nal wood floor­ing, doors and win­dows, and ever-so-slightly crooked stairs that at­tested to the build­ing’s age. We ad­mired wide porches I wanted to re­turn to in the spring, towel warm­ers and Frette robes in the bath­rooms and views of House Moun­tain. Notic­ing all the at­ten­tion to de­tail in the ren­o­va­tion, Cyn­thia re­peat­edly said she was de­lighted the new own­ers had given such love and care to the old build­ings.

Down­stairs, the innkeeper ex­plained the price of each night in­cludes full break­fast with chef-made ev­ery­thing, from gra­nola to ketchup. On the way out, she pointed to the hot choco­late sit­ting out for guests and of­fered us some, with home­made marsh­mal­lows

a that proved so heav­enly, I thought for a mo­ment they alone could per­suade Cyn­thia to stay.

That night, we split four small plates at Hay­wood’s, on the ground level of one of the Ge­orges build­ings. The restau­rant sources its food from lo­cal places such as Poly­face Farms and Buf­falo Creek Beef, and we savoured our dishes — cheese grits, salad with pick­led ap­ples, braised greens and sautéed mush­rooms so hearty they tasted like meat. For both of us, the bill came to less than $25.

We ran into Cyn­thia’s high school class­mate, a bar­tender at the restau­rant, who ex­plained how she cre­ated the Trav­eller cock­tail, named after Robert E. Lee’s horse. It’s a mix­ture of Lex­ing­ton (Ken­tucky) bour­bon, ginger liqueur and orange bit­ters, poured over ice. I added this to my list of things to try when it’s warmer. Nat­u­rally, the beloved horse is buried next to Lee’s crypt on the Wash­ing­ton & Lee cam­pus. The hide of Stonewall Jack­son’s horse, Lit­tle Sor­rel, is dis­played at the VMI Mu­seum. One thing you need to know be­fore vis­it­ing Lex­ing­ton is that folk here take their horses se­ri­ously.

The rain con­tin­ued through Satur­day, so I spent hours in the town’s two book­stores, the Book­ery (where you can find new and used books along with Stonewall Jack­son, Robert E. Lee and Trav­eller post­cards, three for $1) and Books & Co. (new books, toys, puz­zles and mar­bles). Then I walked up to the li­brary, which was hold­ing its monthly


Just north of Lex­ing­ton, Vir­ginia, Wade’s Mill is a work­ing wa­ter-pow­ered flour mill that was built in 1750.

The Maury River is an en­tic­ing spot for kayak­ing, even at near freez­ing tem­per­a­tures.

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