Cover Story

Best In Virginia 2006

Again this year, we asked our readers to choose their favorites around Virginia in 10 selected categories. The votes are in and as usual, the results are interesting and sometimes surprising. Here are the results ...

 by Jeb Hockman, Contributing Writer

 most admired virginian: thomas jefferson

In welcoming 49 Noble Prize winners in 1962, President John F. Kennedy said, “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge that has ever gathered at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”

Jefferson’s lifetime accomplishments have never been matched. He was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence and wrote the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. He served as the second governor of Virginia, and as the second vice president and third president of the United States. 

His legacy lives on in the buildings he designed —from his beloved home, Monticello, to the State Capitol in Richmond to the Rotunda at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, which he founded in 1819. Jefferson was also an inventor, an archaeologist, a paleontologist, a surveyor, a violinist, a lawyer, and a horticulturalist who introduced new crops and farming methods to the Commonwealth.

Today, 180 years after his death on July 4, 1826, Thomas Jefferson still holds a special place in the hearts of his fellow Virginians.

favorite nascar driver: Elliott Sadler

Stock-car racing has been a Virginia tradition since the dirt-track days of the 1950s. So it’s no surprise that the Old Dominion has produced some of NASCAR’s greatest drivers, including 31-year-old Elliott Sadler of Emporia.

With his movie-star good looks, Southern gentleman manners and fierce competitive spirit, Sadler is not only the favorite driver of many of his fellow Virginians, but also one of the most popular NASCAR personalities among his fellow drivers and fans everywhere.

Tutored by his Uncle Bud and his dad, Herman, both of whom were well-known racers on Virginia’s short-track circuit before he was born, Elliott climbed behind the wheel of a go-kart at age 7 and has never looked back. It’s fitting that he drives the Roush Racing No. 38 bright-yellow Ford sponsored by M&M Candies because when you ask anyone around his hometown, they’ll tell you Elliott is one of the nicest and sweetest guys around.

In fact, friends from home and fans from around the country converge in Emporia each year to eat bologna burgers and get up-close-and-personal with Elliott and his whole family at the Sadler Barn. The next barn party is Sept. 7 and complete details are posted at his fan club Web site:

Best Hiking/Biking Trail: virginia creeper trail

Stretching over 33 miles from Abingdon to the North Carolina state line through some of the most rugged and picturesque country in the Eastern United States, the Virginia Creeper Trail is a favorite for hikers, bikers and horseback riders.

The trail began as a Native American footpath. Later, European pioneers, including Daniel Boone, followed the trail heading west. In the early 1900s a railroad was built to haul lumber, iron ore, supplies and passengers. Because the steam locomotives struggled up the steep mountain grades, the train was nicknamed “the Virginia Creeper.”

The last train ran in 1977 and the tracks were removed. Today, the old roadbeds, trestles and bridges are again a quiet trail where no motorized vehicles are allowed. Along the way, there are numerous bike-rental and shuttle services, food, lodging and specialty shops that make a visit to the Virginia Creeper Trail an enjoyable experience for anyone who loves the outdoors.

For more info on the trail, write to Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, Rt. 1, Box 303, Marion, VA 24354 or visit

best pick-your-own produce: Puryear’s Farms

Nothing tastes sweeter than a red, ripe strawberry picked fresh off the vine. Folks around Halifax County anxiously await those few weeks in June when the berries blush red and Patsy Puryear Harris and her family open up their fields for picking.

Puryear’s Farm is just two miles south of South Boston at 3199 Heuell Matthews Highway. Three generations have farmed the land. Ms. Harris’ grandfather ran a dairy and grew tobacco. Today, she, her mother Rebecca and her brothers Sammy and Grayson devote around 40 acres to a wide variety of vegetables, including an acre-and-a-half to strawberries.

People from miles around travel to Puryear’s Farm Market to take home delicious sweet corn, tomatoes, squash, cantaloupes, watermelons and other produce fresh from the fields. The market is open seven days a week — Monday through Saturdays from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. and 1 to 6 p.m. on Sundays from mid-May through the Christmas holidays. Puryear’s Farms sells not only in-season fruits and vegetables, but also jams and jellies, hand-stitched aprons, stained glass and unique gifts.

Best musician or band: the statler brothers

The Statler Brothers of Staunton were the premier country-music group for nearly 40 years. They began their careers singing backup for Johnny Cash. During that time, they recorded their first hit record, “Flowers on the Wall.” Other hits followed, including “Class of ‘57” and “I’ll Go to My Grave Loving You.” The Statlers not only won numerous Grammies, CMAs and other awards, their concerts always played to packed houses and they even starred in their own TV variety series.

For many years, thousands of fans gathered at Staunton’s Gypsy Hill Park for the Statlers’ annual July 4th celebration and free concert, “Happy Birthday, USA!” The Statlers formally retired as performers in 2002. Today, the three original Statlers — real brothers Harold and Don Reid, and Phil Balsey — still call Augusta County home. The fourth member of the group, Jimmy Fortune, moved to Nashville to pursue a solo career.

Fans can still visit the Statler Brothers Gift Shop in downtown Staunton. If they’re lucky, Phil, Harold or Don may be there to say hello. It’s open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays. For more info, see

Best antique store: Culpeper Antique & Market place

With over 14,000 square feet, Culpeper Antique & Market Place is not your typical antique shop. It might be better described as an “antique supermarket.”

Opened in June 2004 by partners Sam Miller and Natasha Mat-an in an old furniture store downtown, Culpeper Antique and Market Place is home to over 60 individual dealers offering a huge variety of antiques and collectibles.

The store is filled with everything from art to quilts, books to Oriental rugs, vintage clothing, tools, jewelry, glass and pottery, clocks, silver, and much more.

As co-owner Mat-an says, “We offer everything for everybody.”

Culpeper Antique & Marketplace is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Friday and Sundays, noon to 5 p.m. at 137 South Main Street in the heart of Culpeper’s historic and quaint business district.

For more information, directions or to check out some of the great collectibles on sale, visit their Web site:

best high school spirit: Fort Defiance high school

How do you define school spirit? It’s the pride you feel when your football team runs onto the field on a Friday night. It’s the energy of leaping cheerleaders and the passion of roaring fans. It’s the sound of the marching band and the smiles on the faces of the students, parents and teachers.

School spirit is hard to define, but when you visit a school that has it, you feel it. Whatever it is, our readers say the school with the best is Fort Defiance High School. Located just off Route 11, north of Verona and south of Mt. Crawford, Fort Defiance is home to over 900 Augusta County students.

Dr. Chip Hill, principal, was excited and pleased to learn that Fort Defiance was chosen the high school with the best spirit and said the recognition is a great way to begin the 2006-2007 school year.

“Fort Defiance is a wonderful reflection of the old and new, tradition and new-wave,” Hill noted, “and it is reflected positively in our student body. We are extremely proud of our students. They are a great group of young people.”

This fall, when the Fort Defiance cheerleaders yell, “We are the best!” they’ll have the Cooperative Living Best in Virginia award to prove it.

favorite virginia author: ann mullen

“The best thing about writing is that you can let your imagination run wild … and I most certainly do,” says Ann Mullen.

In 1999, this mother of two grown children and grandmother left her job in machine technology and moved with her husband to rural Greene County.  There, she gathered up the courage to do something she had always wanted to do — write mystery novels.

Since then she has written three books, What You See, South River Incident, and A Crying Shame. All take place in and around Central Virginia and feature her main character, Jesse Watson, a spunky single woman who works for Charlottesville private detective Billy Blackhawk, a Cherokee Indian. Mullen’s fourth book in the series, Middle River Murders, will be published this year.

Even though her tales often involve murders, Mullen tries to keep blood and gore to a minimum. “When people read my books, I want them to be able to sleep at night,” she says.

Mullen’s books are available in many bookstores throughout Virginia, on her Web site at, or by calling (434) 985-1957.

favorite lake: smith Mountain lake

Created in the 1960s by the damming of the Roanoke River at Smith Mountain Gap, Smith Mountain Lake is a favorite vacation spot for thousands of Virginians.

The 40-mile-long lake covers over 20,000 acres and boasts 500 miles of shoreline. Swimming, boating, fishing and golf are just some of the many recreational activities to enjoy.

Much of the shoreline has been developed with houses, town homes and condominiums — many available for rental. In fact, Smith Mountain Lake has become one of the Eastern United States’ most popular retirement communities. 

Smith Mountain Lake State Park, near Huddleston, is a great place to enjoy the amenities of the area on a budget. It offers rental cabins and campsites, picnic areas, boat ramps and the lake’s only public swimming beach.

For more information on Smith Mountain Lake, go online to Web site or call toll-free (800) 676-8203.  If you are interested in Smith Mountain Lake State Park, call (800) 933-PARK or check the park Web site:

best crab cake: T&T Restaurant & seafood deli

Crab cakes are on the menu at many of Virginia’s most famous and fanciest restaurants, so it may be a surprise that our readers by a wide margin agree that none can compare with the crab cakes served at a tiny roadside eatery, T&T Restaurant & Seafood Deli in Burgess.

Located just a few miles from the Chesapeake Bay, owner Tina Jett McCarter bought the restaurant three years ago to serve the fresh seafood she had grown up enjoying in her native Northumberland County. Her menu includes scallops, oysters, soft-shell crabs in season and the award-winning crab cakes.

McCarter makes every crab cake by hand and won’t reveal her secret recipe — except to say that there are no fillers used, only sweet, succulent crabmeat. “Mine are the best anywhere,” McCarter says confidently.

T&T Restaurant is a favorite of not only locals, but also the many “come heres” who have built vacation and retirement homes on the Northern Neck.  It’s located at 15017 Northumberland Highway. If you plan to try one of McCarter’s crab cakes, don’t come around suppertime. The restaurant is open only for breakfast and lunch seven days a week from 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. 


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