Again in the year 2002, were making our way around Virginia, each
issue visiting a small town and meeting some of the folks who make up the heart of
electric co-op country. On this years fifth stop, well be...
Down Home in Culpeper By Allison Brophy, Contributing Writer
Surrounded on all sides by the bluest of Blue Ridge
Mountains and a patchwork of fertile fields, the town of Culpeper,
established in 1759, has successfully achieved a rich mix of the old and
the new. Located on the fringes of the bustling Northern Virginia sector,
the town (population 10,000) quietly maintains its heritage and high
quality of life while embracing a constantly expanding downtown and a
wealth of natural attractions.
The Culpeper County Courthouse on West Davis Street was the site of
much Civil War action.
Home to another 25,000 citizens, the county of
Culpeper provides a lush agricultural setting steeped in history. In 1749,
a 17-year-old George Washington was commissioned as surveyor for the new
county, a position he would hold for three years. Enabling legislation,
founding the county in 1749, described Culpeper as having a “high and
pleasant situation.” The hills of the Piedmont lend a rolling feel to
the expansive acreage, rising from an elevation of 300 feet in the east
and 600 feet in the west.The
town and the county were named after Lord Thomas Culpeper, colonial
governor of Virginia from 1680 to 1683.
The Past Is Important
As evidenced by the professional look and feel of the
Museum of Culpeper History, the past is important to Culpeper. Museum
Director Zann Miner pointed to
the significance of Culpeper’s Civil War heritage, its Native American
history, and footprints left behind by dinosaurs, discovered in a quarry
in the region of Stevensburg.
“The museum has one set of more than 4,000 dinosaur
tracks that was unearthed in the late 1980s,” Miner said. “It is
considered a world-class find because it is the largest number of tracks
found at any site in the world.”
interactive topographical map found in the Museum of Culpeper History
tells visitors all about the town’s Civil War battles.
Besides a lively indoor gallery chronicling the life
of Virginia’s Monacan Indians, the museum also features an evolving
Native American village on its grounds, complete with a wigwam and a log
canoe. A local family of Monacans work the village May through October on
the first and third Saturday of each month.
The museum’s Civil War gallery weaves a detailed
story of Culpeper’s battles along with civilian life during the
tumultuous time. Miner described Culpeper as “fraught with turmoil”
during the war, a town desired by both sides.
“More than 160 battles were fought on Culpeper soil
and it was also the site of the largest encampment of the war. About
120,000 Union soldiers spent the winter here from late 1863 to spring of
1864,” Miner said.
The museum offers a variety of guided tours, a
well-stocked gift shop, and several interactive displays spanning
Culpeper’s story from prehistoric times to modern day.
Street in downtown Culpeper is chock full of cool shops and eateries.
“Culpeper history is sort of a microcosm of
American history. You can come in here and get a glimpse of what life was
like for most rural Americans during the first 250 years of our
country’s growth,” she said. “Local people are proud of this museum
that they can say belongs to them. Visitors are astounded that such a
small community produced such a remarkable institution.”
After visiting the museum, take a stroll up Main
Street and meander onto Davis Street and adjoining avenues in Culpeper’s
downtown district, to explore a variety of specialty shops, antiques
stores, art galleries and restaurants. At each end of Davis Street are the
town’s two anchors: the renovated train depot, that houses the Chamber
of Commerce and Visitors Center to the east; and the Culpeper County
Courthouse to the west. Questions about what to do and where to go can be
answered at the Visitors Center, making it the prime place to start a
Aboriginal wares, scrumptious sweets, wines, silver,
Middle-Eastern gifts, a variety of cuisine, original art and antiques
galore await those who come to downtown Culpeper. The side streets are
lined by immaculately restored homes encompassing 14 architectural “high
styles,” including Federal, Greek Revival and Victorian.
Speaking From Experience
Town of Culpeper Mayor Waller
Jones knows first-hand the strides made downtown in recent years, as
he was proprietor of Lerner’s Department Store, located on Davis Street,
from the early 1950s until its closing in 1985.
“When I moved here in 1951, the downtown was made
up of local merchants who prided themselves in the daily lives of
Culpeper’s families,” Jones said.
He said the arrival of the shopping mall forced many
of these merchants to abandon downtown businesses, but formation of
Culpeper as a Virginia Main Street Community in 1987 brought new life to a
The recently built movie theater, located on Main Street, maintains
the integrity of the downtown area.
“We are vibrant right now and with all the
improvements made, it has become a beautiful downtown once again,” Jones
said. “It is certainly worth a day trip and I think people are beginning
to find this out.”
The efforts of the Culpeper Department of Tourism,
along with Culpeper Renaissance Inc., have made Culpeper a popular
destination for those seeking escape from the metropolitan Washington, DC,
area. Tourism Director Susan Pakies
affirmed Culpeper’s top three attractions as the museum, the downtown
and its scenic beauty.
“We have a lot of scenic highways and byways and
gorgeous vistas of the Blue Ridge Mountains. On a clear day, the views are
just breathtaking,” Pakies said. “Our quality of air, the fall foliage
attracts people who just want to get away.”
Katy and Steve Walker, owners of Rappahannock River Campground, show
off the many canoes their facility offers for rent.
For those seeking to relish this serene natural
beauty, take a winding ride to the Rappahannock River Campground in
Richardsville. Owned and operated by Steve
and Katy Walker, the 52-acre campground offers tubing, canoeing,
kayaking, swimming, fishing and camping on the Rappahannock and Rapidan
rivers. Set in an untouched wilderness setting, a variety of water trips
are available spanning four miles to 50 miles.
“You can ride on the river for a few hours or four
days,” said Steve. “There are more white-water rapids on the
Rappahannock River than any other river in the state.”
Open for business from April to November, canoe trips
conclude at the end of the summer as the river recedes. There are 45
primitive campsites set in a peaceful setting of pine trees, which produce
a soft bed of pine needles. No electricity or RV hook-ups are present at
these sites that are intended for tent camping only. Hot showers are
available and a camp store sells items that may have been forgotten and
left at home.
“When I first visited this place in 1997, I just
fell in love with it. One of the first things I noticed was that it was so
clean,” Katy remarked.
The main house
at the Inn at Kelly’s Ford, built in 1779, now houses lodging, a pub and
a quality restaurant.
Just a short jaunt up the road, the Inn at Kelly’s
Ford offers elegant lodging and dining for those who aren’t feeling up
to an evening in a tent. Proprietors
Bill and Linda Willoughby decided to open an inn on the lush property
after learning of the area’s extensive history. The inn’s main house
was built in 1779 and was the original home of the Kelly family, who
settled in the area soon after the American Revolution. The family
established Kellysville, a town on the Rappahannock River that boasted a
mill, woolen factory and blacksmith shop.
The Kelly home was one of the few structures in the
area that survived the Civil War. It was used by Union forces as a
headquarters, a hospital and even a pub. The house eventually received a
brick facade and adjoining land was farmed. When the Willoughbys purchased
the property in 1999, the brick was removed from the 18th-century
homestead and they were astounded at the “beautiful old house”
underneath. Original fireplaces, made of stones from the nearby river, are
still in working order. Preservation of original features was top
A major Civil
War battle was fought on the grounds of the Inn at Kelly’s Ford.
Featuring French Continental cuisine with a local
flair, the inn’s restaurant specializes in Angus beef and seafood
dishes. Pelham’s Pub occupies the basement and there are two lavish
suites on the second floor. Additional lodging includes six cottage suites
as well as a two-level honeymoon suite in a renovated silo.
The inn is well known for its recreational
facilities, including an expansive equestrian center with an outside
riding ring 180 feet by 300 feet, and an indoor arena. A series of open
horse shows are held in the center each year, and visitors to the inn can
take riding lessons, venture on a guided trail ride via horseback, and
there are even ponies for the kids. Canoeing, fishing and mountain biking
are also offered.
“Come enjoy the casual elegance of Virginia hunt
country,” encouraged Inn Events Coordinator Nicolle
Old and new, natural and historical: Discover all
that Culpeper has to offer. It may take more than a day.
Spanning 389 square miles and
located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the county of
Culpeper with the town of the same name at its center is easily accessible
to and from four major interstates: I-66, I-95, I-81 and I-64. Just 60
miles southwest of Washington, DC, and 45 miles north of Charlottesville,
a trip to the town of Culpeper fits into any itinerary. A smart first stop
would be the Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center located downtown.
Here you can find a complete list of Culpeper’s enchanting bed and
breakfasts, as well as commercial hotels and motels. For more information
on accommodations and services, check out www.visitculpeperva.com.
Town of Culpeper
Mayor Waller Jones
County Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center. Stocked full of
brochures featuring local, state and national attractions, the renovated
depot (circa 1904) also serves as the headquarters for the local chamber
of commerce. Learn all about Culpeper’s finest eateries and wineries
here, as well as local golfing opportunities. The necessary steps to open
a new downtown business can also be found here. A bright red caboose
outside ensures that you’re at the right place. Hours: Monday-Friday,
8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and weekends 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Contact: (540) 825-8628.
National Cemetery. Located downtown and open 365 days a year from
sunrise to sunset, this regal burial ground dates back to 1867. Special
ceremonies are held on Memorial Day and Veterans Day and are sponsored by
the local VFW or American Legion. The site has six monuments and 912
unknown soldiers, most likely Civil War veterans. The cemetery’s office
is open Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Contact: (540) 825-0027.
Minimall. Hailed by the Culpeper County Chamber of Commerce as its
biggest tourist attraction, this 18,000-square-foot business is an
antiques, crafts and collectibles heaven. People from all 50 states and
20-plus foreign countries have visited this minimall, where reasonably
priced treasures are in such abundance that there’s something for
everyone. A family-run operation, 200 vendors offer their wares,
specializing in Virginia-made products. Open Monday-Saturday 9 a.m. to 6
p.m. and Sunday noon to 5 p.m. Contact: (540) 825-3133.
War Walking Tour of Downtown Culpeper. This two-hour tour is narrated
by Virginia Morton, local author of Marching Through Culpeper, a popular
Civil War novel in its fifth printing and under consideration as a
Hollywood movie. Her tour chronicles Culpeper’s fighting during the
Civil War, interwoven with real stories of its people. Stops along the way
include the train depot, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, the Culpeper
County Courthouse, and the Hill Mansion. Tours are held at 10:30 a.m., the
first and third Saturdays from June-October. Contact: (540) 825-9147.
Baby Jim’s Snack Bar
Jim’s Snack Bar. A downtown tradition since 1947, Baby Jim’s
purposely hasn’t changed much through the years. Family owned and
operated for more than five decades, this hamburger joint continues to
thrive despite being surrounded by commercial fast-food establishments.
Walk up to the window for a tasty selection of favorites, like steak
sandwiches, fried shrimp or chicken, BLTs, or bacon and eggs for
breakfast. A neon sign outside lends 1950s charm to an all-American eatery
that prides itself in staying the same. Limited seating. Open
Monday-Saturday 4:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Museum of Culpeper History. Interactive, educational and entertaining.
Open Monday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. May-October, Sundays 12:30 p.m. to
4 p.m. Contact: (540) 829-1749.
The Burgandine House
Burgandine House. Right next door to the museum on Main Street, this
quaint structure is Culpeper’s oldest home, built around 1749.
Historical stories swirl around the Burgandine House, including the fact
that General Grant used it as his headquarters in 1863. Many Union troops
camped out here, crowding the house, while even more slept on the porch
and in the yard. Guided tours are conducted by appointment; open the same
hours as the museum.