Visitors to Abingdon, Virginia can choose the American era they want to experience.
Folks who want to dial the clock way back can dine at a tavern that has been serving customers since 1779.
A stroll through the town’s historic district, or a stay in one of the several beautifully restored inns will sweep visitors into the glory days of the antebellum South.
Theater fans can enjoy an evening or afternoon of entertainment in the official State Theater of Virginia, where thespians have been honing their skills since the early days of the Great Depression.
And, outdoor enthusiasts will love engaging the timeless scenery from one of the superb trails in the area.
Let’s start out with a visit to The Tavern, which is the oldest building in Abingdon and one of the oldest buildings west of the Blue Ridge. Even in its early days it served as a tavern and overnight stop for stagecoach travelers. Among the notables who broke bread there are senator and statesman Henry Clay, President Andrew Jackson, Washington D.C. designer Pierre Charles L’Enfant, and King Louise Philippe of France.
The building has been lovingly maintained and visitors today enjoy an atmosphere that sweeps them back to the nascent days of the nation. Entrees start at about $25 dollars and reservations are recommended, although not always necessary. If you go, make sure you catch a glimpse of the original mail slot.
Visitors who want to spend a few nights in the area have a lot of choices. There are several beautiful bed and breakfast inns, but the crowning jewel in the historic district has to be The Martha Washington Hotel and Spa.
This brick masterpiece started out in 1832 as the private home of Virginia General Francis Preston, his wife Sarah and their nine children. Over the years it has been a young ladies finishing school and during the Civil War, it served as a hospital for wounded soldiers.
Today guests can get the full spa treatment-facial, massage, nails, and more-by reservation as well as enjoy the complimentary fitness center, pool and jacuzzi. Others might find relaxing in the perfectly restored library the best way to unwind.
It may seem a little anti-intuitive, but a lot of people travel to Abingdon to enjoy its vibrant theater life. The historic Barter Theatre and its newer spinoff, Barter Stage II, present a wide variety of theatrical productions all through the year.
While the Barter Theatre has been staging plays full time since 1933, the building dates back to 1831 when it housed the Sinking Springs Presbyterian Church. It’s been the town hall, firehouse and public meeting place as well over the years.
Leave any notion of seeing a second rate production behind when you order your tickets for any of the productions at the Barter Theatre. Some of the country’s most talented and famous actors have appeared on the Barter stage, including Gregory Peck, Patricia Neal, Ernest Borgnine, Hume Cronyn, Ned Beatty, Gary Collins, Wayne Knight and Larry Linville.
Many visitors balance out their dose of culture with a beautiful walk through the countryside and into the Appalachian Mountains. Abingdon marks one end of the Virginia Creeper Trail, which winds it way for 35 miles through Damascus, Virginia, beside creeks and rivers on its way to its other terminus near Whitetop, Virginia.
The trail is an abandoned railroad right-of-way so its grade is gentle and perfect for mountain bikes. For visitors who don’t want to drag their own bikes along, there are several businesses which rent bikes and provide a shuttle service as well. They will drop riders off at the top end of the trail so they can easily make their way down to the lower level.
Trout fishermen enjoy the special regulation area of Whitetop Laurel Creek which parallels the Virginia Creeper Trail above Damascus. Catching wild rainbow, brown and brook trout is both challenging and fulfilling.
Finally, no trip to the area would be complete without spending a little time shopping. In and around the historic district of Abingdon, visitors will find a great lineup of little shops and boutiques featuring a wide variety of hard-to-find and handmade items.