Photos by Lynn R. Mitchell
October 10, 2017
It’s autumn in western Virginia.
Voted as one of America’s Top 20 Main Streets by Travel and Leisure magazine, the central Shenandoah Valley city of Staunton was also recently named one of the 20 Best Small Towns in America by Smithsonian magazine. Known as the Queen City, Staunton was founded in 1747 and was named for Lady Rebecca Staunton, wife of Virginia’s Governor William Gooch.
With views east toward the Blue Ridge Mountains and west toward the Appalachians, Staunton is an historic slice of Virginia that offers restored Victorian homes, cozy downtown shops, and small-town atmosphere.
There are many things to do during leaf season that peaks in October so here are some places and events you may find interesting. Enjoy!
A great way to get around downtown, Staunton’s two trolleys are inexpensive — 25 cents — and pick up and discharge passengers at stops located throughout the city. Check here for parking around Staunton. More information can be found at the Visitors Center on New Street.
2. Frontier Culture Museum of Virginia
This unique hands-on outdoor museum in Staunton brings the past alive with costumed interpreters and farm animals that can be seen along a two-mile trail that connects the English, Irish, German, and African farms with the New World’s American homesteads. They tell the story of America’s settlement. Picnic tables on the grounds.
– Octoberfest – Oct. 7: Enjoy a traditional Oktoberfest celebration at the German farm with music, children’s activities, self-guided tours of this hands-on museum, and your favorite brew.
3. Staunton-Augusta Farmers Market
Voted one of the best farmers markets in Virginia, the Staunton-Augusta Farmers Market offers fresh, locally grown produce, flowers, herbs, eggs, fruits, meats, and more from the convenience of the Wharf parking lot in downtown Staunton. Free parking. Open Saturdays from 7 a.m.-noon.
4. King’s Gourmet Popcorn at Afton Mountain
It’s not just an October thing but if you have a snack attack while around Afton, be sure to stop by King’s Gourmet Popcorn and say hello to Ron King. He has kettle and caramel corn, and many other flavors along with pork rinds, hotdogs, cold beverages, coffee, and more. Umbrella-covered picnic tables provide a respite during a day of sightseeing. Located at the top of Afton Mountain on Rt. 250 where I-64, Skyline Drive, Blue Ridge Parkway, and the Appalachian Trail all cross. Look for the bright yellow food truck.
5. Hands & Harvest Festival in Highland County
October 6-8. While enjoying the spectacular autumn colors and crisp mountain air, drive an hour west of Staunton to Highland County for their Hands & Harvest Festival. This event grows bigger every year. Visit area sugar camps for apple butter and cider making, BBQ and other food, pumpkin carving, wagon rides, farmers market, and entertainment. A complete list of activities and locations throughout the county is available at the website.
6. Myers Pumpkin Farm
Myers Pumpkin Farm offers pumpkins, gourds, corn stalks, chrysanthemums, and other seasonal decorations at reasonable prices. There is a pick-your-own pumpkin patch and corn maze to round out the farm experience. Myers Farm is located east of Harrisonburg off Rt. 33.
7. Fall Foliage Festival Art Show
The weekend of October 14-15 will see the Virginia Fall Foliage Festival Art Show take over the streets of downtown Waynesboro as they are turned into an outdoor art gallery. More than 200 booths of fine arts and fine crafts will line Main Street and Wayne Avenue featuring artists from all over the country. It has been named one of the top shows in the East with paintings of all kinds, pottery, jewelry, sculpture, and more.
8. Shenandoah Fall Foliage Bike Festival
October 20-22. At the peak of fall leaf season for the Shenandoah Valley and surrounding mountains, the Fall Foliage Bike Festival based out of Staunton will be held the third weekend in October. Enjoy warm days and cool nights riding the back roads through scenic vistas of rural beauty.
9. Blackfriars Theater
The Blackfriars Theater was built in downtown Staunton in 2001, the world’s only exact replica of William Shakespeare’s indoor theater, and is home to the American Shakespeare Center. What a great place to catch a play, tour the facility, or get involved in their camps for young and old alike. Check their website for current plays and activities.
10. Staunton’s Ghostly Evening Tours
What better way to see the architecture of historic downtown Staunton than with the Ghosts of Staunton Tour? Spooky historical tours of the Depot train station, Mary Baldwin College, and other downtown buildings. If you are looking for something different and unusual, this is the tour for you. Reservations strongly recommended.
11. Shenandoah National Park
Nature’s calling! Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains east of Staunton, Shenandoah National Park offers 200,000 acres of wilderness, campgrounds, picnic areas, hiking trails, horseback riding, lodges, and visitor centers along the 100-mile-long Skyline Drive. Big Meadows Lodge and Skyland Resort and several campgrounds provide overnight accommodations. Escape to the quiet beauty of the mountains.
12. Humpback Rock Farm Visitor Center, Picnic, and Hike
A mountain homestead much like the ones from the nineteenth century, Humpback Rock Farm is located at Milepost 5.8 on the Blue Ridge Parkway south of Afton and I-64. Costumed interpreters and musicians are on hand weekends throughout the fall to answer questions and demonstrate crafts from a bygone era. Farm animals, a working garden, mountain music, and more round out the experience. Visitor Center and picnic tables are available on the site. Hike to the top of Humpback Rock, grill out in the picnic area, or go back in time at the farm.
13. Dayton Farmers Market
A favorite with visitors and locals alike, the Dayton Farmers Market is located on Rt. 42 about 30 minutes northwest of Staunton. Featuring the “best big soft pretzels on the East Coast,” it also has a restaurant as well as a variety of shops offering goods plus fresh produce with apples and pumpkins. Outside is a hitching post for the Old Order Mennonites to park their horse and buggies when they stop by to do a little shopping of their own.
14. Green Valley Book Fair
Open September 30-October 23, the Green Valley Book Fair offers hundreds of thousands of books at up to 90% off retail price that include classics, children’s, political, novels, fiction, history, health and self-help, religion, science, sports, cookbooks, home and garden, crafts, art, reference, computer, nature, and outdoors. Convenient free parking, no admission charge. Located in Mt. Crawford 20 minutes north of Staunton, it’s a bookworm’s paradise.
15. Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale
The Mennonite Relief Sale is September 29-30 at the Rockingham County Fairgrounds located on Rt. 11 south of Harrisonburg. Each year, thousands of volunteers come together to raise money at Relief Sales for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) for the relief of suffering in the world. Entertainment, quilts, crafts, food, baked goods, antiques, silent auction, live auction, farmers market.
16. Nichols Apple Barn
Located in Middleburg, Nichols Apple Barn offers a wide range of apples right at the orchard. Walk in the barn, get a bag or box, and start picking out your favorites straight from the wooden apple crates a few steps away from the orchard where Staymans and other juicy varities grow.
17. Paugh’s Orchard Roadside Stand
Located in a curve along Rt. 42 in Shenandoah County, Paugh’s Orchard offers an explosion of fall goodies including many varieties of apples, pumpkins, mums; mini pumpkins, gourds, and Indian corn for decorating; jars of jams and jellies and other goodies. See Autumn afternoon road trip to apple country and Apple season in Shenandoah County, Va. They are closed on Saturdays.
18. Massanutten Fall Festival
The annual Massanutten Fall Festival will be held on October 14 with chairlift rides, arts and crafts, food vendors, beer garden, wine tasting, kids activities, entertainment, and more. Takes place at the scenic Massanutten Ski Resort east of Harrisonburg.
19. Dayton Days Autumn Celebration
One of the largest craft and food festivals of the fall, this year will be the 38th annual Dayton Days Autumn Festival has celebrated the arrival of autumn since 1980 by closing the small historic downtown area to all but foot traffic. Thousands of visitors enjoy crafts, live music, entertainment, exhibits, arts, children’s games, and food food food. If you’ve never been, you’ve missed a fantastic day. Dayton is located smack in the middle of Old Order Mennonite country.
20. Lots of Eats
There are plenty of places to grab great eats in the Valley. Here are a few: Depot Grille, Byers Street Bistro, Split Banana, Shenandoah Pizza, Clock Tower, Kline’s, Green Leaf Grille, Wright’s Drive-In, Mill Street Grill, Emilio’s, and Sorrel’s in Staunton’s Stonewall Jackson Hotel.
Friend Barb and I took Tuesday to chase autumn and spend time together enjoying the beautiful Shenandoah Valley where we both live. Besides the fun of back roads and stunning mountain vistas that we both enjoy, we found all kinds of fall décor for our houses.
Our first stop was Myers Pumpkins just east of Harrisonburg, a family-run farm that provides already-picked pumpkins and gourds, chrysanthemums, pick-your-own pumpkin patch, corn maze, and corn stalks ready for decorating. This was a new place for me that Barb introduced to me, and they were well stocked.
Adèle Goodman Clark’s name is not well known but a monument honoring her as well as other groundbreaking women will be the recipient of a September fundraiser featuring Jenna Bush Hager as the keynote speaker.
Located in Capitol Square, the Virginia Women’s Monument, subtitled Voices from the Garden, is the first of its kind in the nation recognizing the full range of Virginia women’s achievements, from the first president of a bank, to the chief of the Pamunkeys, to women’s sufferage, to a 1700s newspaper publisher. The monument recognizes and honors their achievements.
Celebrate the night sky in Shenandoah National Park by attending the Second Annual Night Sky Festival. Join in the fun Friday, August 18, through Monday, August 21, at various locations along Skyline Drive:
– Guest presentations by astronomy experts
– Ranger programs
– Constellation tours
– Solar scope viewing
– Telescope viewing
– Junior Ranger programs
– Audio-visual presentations
– Hands-on activities
The weekend will culminate on Monday, August 21, with the 2017 solar eclipse that will cross the continental United States, the first since 1979. While Shenandoah National Park will only experience 80-85% coverage of the sun at approximately 2:40 pm, and will not experience a total eclipse, it is still a great place to join a Ranger to learn about why a solar eclipse happens, what to expect, and how to view it safely. Dickey Ridge Visitor Center (mile 4.6) AND Byrd Visitor Center (mile 51)
Below are workshops and events available throughout the weekend:
Voted as one of America’s Top 20 Main Streets by Travel and Leisure magazine, the central Shenandoah Valley city of Staunton was also named one of the 20 Best Small Towns in America by Smithsonian magazine as well as many others who have discovered this quaint corner of Virginia.
With views east toward the Blue Ridge Mountains and west toward the Appalachians, Staunton is an historic slice of Virginia that offers restored Victorian homes, cozy downtown shops, and small-town atmosphere. Patriotic holidays find Beverley Street, the main thoroughfare that is lined with restaurants, store fronts, the Dixie Theater, the city courthouse, and old-fashioned lamp posts, lined with American flags. Be sure and check the Staunton Convention and Visitor Center Calendar of Events for all the latest happenings including art exhibits and live entertainment.
There’s lots to do during the carefree summer months so here are some places and events, in no particular order, that may appeal to those visiting the area.
A great way to get around downtown, Staunton’s two trolleys pick up and discharge passengers at stops located throughout the city. It’s one of the best deals around, and offers a way to see the city without driving. Cost is $0.25 a ride or free to visitors with tokens from the Visitor Center. More information can be found at the Staunton Visitors Center on New Street.
2. Wright’s Dairy-Rite
Ever heard of the country group The Statler Brothers? They grew up hanging out at the 1950s-era Wright’s Dairy-Rite Drive-In, and it is very much the same today. Pull to the curb, order from the authentic call box, and have a carhop deliver your freshly-cooked meal while listening to 50s music — hamburgers, onion rings, ice cream goodies, fries, and lots more. Or go inside to the 1950s-decorated interior complete with tables, booths, and a historical display of those who have visited over the years including the Statler Brothers and Virginia Governor/U.S. Senator George Allen. It’s a local favorite.
3. Ox-Eye Vineyards Tasting Room
Ox-Eye Vineyards is owned by John and Susan Kiers who lovingly renovated an historic building in the Wharf area of downtown Staunton. The Tasting Room offers wine tastings of their varied selections of reds and whites. Ox-Eye Vineyards displayed at the 2012 Shenandoah Valley Wine and Jazz Festival at the Frontier Culture Museum, and in April 2013 the Washington Post named them one of the Top 10 Mid-Atlantic wineries to visit. Where did the name “Ox-Eye” come from? It’s the name of the common field daisy with a yellow center and white petals that grows all around Ox-Eye Farm. Hint: If you like white wines, try their Riesling and White Ox.
If you’ve not been to Humpback Rocks Farm’s concert series, you may want to plan a visit to western Virginia and get lost in the music of the mountains.
Wander the historic mountain farmstead, hike Humpback Rock trail to a rock outcropping with a view across the Shenandoah Valley to the Appalachians, picnic under the trees, and soak in the beauty of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains as you listen to talented musicians entertain guests in the shade of the big tree near the cabin.
This Sunday, July 16, the Bill Wellington String Band will be on stage at 2:00. All concerts are FREE in the series that continues through October 1.
July 16 – The Bill Wellington String Band
Aug 6 – Harmony Hill
Aug 20 – Grassy Ridge
Sep 3 – The Mutton Busters
Sep 17 – Blue Mountain Sunrise
Oct 1 – Uncle Henry’s Favorites
Humpback Rocks Farm is located at Milepost 5.8 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Entertainment for 2017 includes some favorite bands from the past, and several new ones. Power and sound equipment have been upgraded, thanks to Friends of the Blue Ride Parkway’s Humpback Rocks Chapter and the generous donations of friends. Volunteers are always welcomed to help with set-up, table attendants, clean-up, and parking attendants to help with overflow crowds.
Come prepared to have fun. Bring a chair, and don’t be surprised if clogging breaks out!
If you’ve not been to Humpback Rocks Farm’s concert series, plan to visit the Blue Ridge and get lost in the music of the mountains! Wander the historic farmstead, hike Humpback Rock trail, picnic, and soak in the beauty of Virginia while you kick back to listen while talented musicians entertain guests under the big old tree near the cabin.
And it’s all FREE on select Sunday afternoons at 2:00pm on the farm located at Milepost 5.8. Bands will include some old favorites and several new ones. Power and sound equipment has been upgraded, thanks to some generous donations, and there will be more concerts this summer than ever before.
June 18 – Farm Use String Band
July 2 – The Lovell Coleman Band
July 16 – The Bill Wellington String Band
Aug 6 – Harmony Hill
Aug 20 – Grassy Ridge
Sep 3 – The Mutton Busters
Sep 17 – Blue Mountain Sunrise
Oct 1 – Uncle Henry’s Favorites
This is possible through Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway — Humpback Rocks Chapter. Roles for volunteers are available: help with set-up, table attendant(s), clean-up, and parking attendants to help with the overflow crowds, all while enjoying fabulous mountain music! Follow the Humpback Rocks Chapter Friends on Facebook for the latest on participating bands.
Mark your calendars and then join in the fun! Bring a chair, lunch or snack, and be ready if clogging breaks out. Most of all, come prepared to have fun. See you on the mountain!
By Lynn R. Mitchell
[Editor’s Note: With the unofficial start of summer behind us, here’s a rerun column about the variety of events and activities available in the Shenandoah Valley.]
It’s summer with all the festivals and events that are available in the Shenandoah Valley and beyond so today we decided to spend the day just going where the wind took us. We plopped our straw hats on the back seat — I burst out laughing when I saw them and had to take a picture — and off we went. Our first stop was at our friends’ house near Crimora for a garage sale. After visiting a while and paying for our purchases, we headed to Waynesboro where the first day of the 2014 Extravaganza was going on.
We were fairly early to this annual event that features spectacular fireworks, ahead of the crowds that began showing up by the time we left. Crafters, artists, games, pony rides, carnival rides, food vendors, and live entertainment … there was plenty to do. We enjoyed talking with local photographer Brent McGuirt (www.brentmcguirtphotography.com) whose stunningly beautiful work showcasing the Shenandoah Valley and beyond was on display. (Check out his Facebook page for his latest works.)
It was great to run into Bill and Jean Ann Bolling who were spending the weekend nearby in the cool of the mountains.
What was blooming in the yard today? After two nights with 30-degree overnight temps which required covering tender plants and flowers with plastic, everything not only survived but seemed to thrive in today’s sunshine and temps in the mid-60s. Purple salvia continues to bloom into its second week while the pink and white peonies blossomed under the hothouse-like plastic.
May 2017 … green is creeping up the ridges in Shenandoah National Park. It was a road trip along Skyline Drive to see the shades of green, wildflowers, and even ridges where winter was still clinging in the form of leafless trees….
Swift Run Gap entrance station.
Blackened trees are a reminder of the April 2016 Rocky Mount forest fire that burned thousands of acres in the southern section of Skyline Drive.
Ox-Eye Vineyards Tasting Room is located in the Historic Wharf District of downtown Staunton in a 1904 building designed by noted architect T.J. Collins. After sitting vacant for years, it was carefully and tastefully renovated by the Kiers.
Originally published March 2014….
If you’re looking for personality, look no further than Pat Lowry who, with his wife Valerie (in the background talking with a customer) owns Back Creek Farms Sugar House. His quick smile and friendly conversation combined with an ease around newcomers make this fourth-generation farmer a natural salesman. Each year during the Highland Maple Festival they have a tent set up on Main Street in Monterey near the Courthouse where their pure maple syrup, crafted on the farm in the southern end of the county, is sold along with maple fudge and other products.
Pat noted that this year sugar water production was down 75 percent because of the cold winter. “Some days it might not start until 4:00,” he said, referring to sap rising in the sugar maple trees, “and then stop at 6:00 when the sun goes down.” That affects not only the amounts available but also the taste. This year it is exceptionally yummy.
We’ve been purchasing their syrup from the festival for a number of years but were pleasantly surprised to see it for sale last summer in the gift shop at Monticello. The Lowrys have found a number of other outlets as well.
David Rockefeller died Monday. He was 101 years old, the grandson of oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller Sr., last survivor of John D. Rockefeller Jr’s children, the youngest of his siblings. As heir to the Standard Oil fortune, David Rockefeller was a billionaire who made his way in the world as a banker, a philanthropist, and a patron of the arts with an art collection estimated to be worth $500 million.
John D. Rockefeller’s children and grandchildren were taught that with great wealth comes great responsibility, and over the years numerous projects have been the benefactors of the family’s generosity.
The citizens of Virginia and the nation benefitted greatly from the Rockefeller family’s generous philanthropy that made possible the restoration of a forgotten and run-down Colonial Williamsburg, a premiere living-history museum that is known around the world. The family’s financial support of Williamsburg exceeded $100 million over the years, beginning in the 1920s when David Rockefeller’s father became involved in the restoration and re-creation of this national treasure.
America owes a great deal of gratitude for this influential family’s part in preserving a very important part of our history.
The sun was just beginning to peek over the horizon Saturday morning when we left our house in western Augusta County on the annual trek to Highland County’s Maple Festival. The air was cold, and we had experienced a wintry mix of rain, sleet, and snow the previous night. Our destination had snow on the ground before more fell on Friday so we were hopeful there would be plenty of photo ops since the last time I had photographed the festival in snow was 2013. Road trip!
I clicked a photo of the sunrise from the road, and then we turned west onto Route 250, pointed toward the Appalachians. By the time we reached Deerfield in far western Augusta County, the ground was covered in snow and from that point on we were in snow until we returned home. The temperature was hovering just above freezing, and we still had to cross four mountains before reaching Monterey. Driving up Shenandoah Mountain, the fog set in, snow was deeper on the sides of the road, and snow plows passed going in the other direction. Mr. Mitchell, who had worked for VDOT while in high school, gave a wave to the drivers we passed. Thanks to them, we were about to make this trek on clear roads. The top of Shenandoah Mountain was socked in with fog and the historical overlook was empty — no view to be seen in all that fog.
At the bottom of Shenandoah Mountain we passed through the sleepy berg of Headwaters. The little general store, a popular stop for many over the years, is closed and for sale. Fog lifted for a bit at the lower elevation …
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