History, Horses, Haunts and More can All be Found in This Beautiful Shenandoah Valley Destination
It’s a summer Saturday night in Lexington, and Mark Cline is putting on a spooky show. Yet, Cline confesses, what you’re about to see is just as much “street theater” as who-haunts-who.
Cline carries a lantern while conducting his popular ghost walk, tracing about 1 mile—and more than 200 years—through this Rockbridge County town. From stop to stop, Cline attempts to hang himself, ascends a flight of stairs in a back alley, preaches on church steps and plays dead in a field.
“I love doing this tour,” he says.
Turns out, the comical Cline is also a comic book artist. Why, he even brought a comic book to life a few miles south of Lexington. At an attraction called Dinosaur Kingdom II, Civil War soldiers battle dinosaurs—about a mile from Natural Bridge State Park along US-11.
Running north to south in Virginia, and paralleling I-81, US-11 provides the Main Street for Lexington. The historic highway is also the corridor to explore many museums, including the Miller’s House, which details transportation along roads, rivers and the railroads of Rockbridge County and Lexington.
Cline’s ghost tour serves as the perfect introduction to the history, culture, architecture and beauty of Lexington, the home of both Washington and Lee University and the Virginia Military Institute (VMI).
This town contains the final resting places for two of the South’s most famous generals: Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. Here, you’ll also find their beloved horses from the Civil War.
Lee’s horse, Traveller, is buried just outside the Lee Chapel Museum, where Lee is interred on the Washington and Lee campus. Jackson’s horse, Little Sorrel, has been stuffed and is now on display at the VMI Museum—about a 10-minute walk from the Lee Chapel Museum door.
Lexington loves horses. It is the home of the Virginia Horse Center. What’s more, a great way to see the town is to take the Lexington Carriage Tour, with its rhythmic click of horse’s hooves.
Compared to Cline’s ghost talk, the carriage tour is more relaxing than riveting, yet just as educational and entertaining.
“Lexington and the Rockbridge County area, like most of the Shenandoah Valley, was settled in the 1730s,” says horse-and-carriage tour guide Angel McCreery. “This sprang up just as a crossroads town.”
The horse-and-carriage tour allows you to literally trot through time.
Two handsome horses, Weepy and Woody, pull a wagon with about a half-dozen passengers. The tour passes the home belonging to Stonewall Jackson—before he went off to war. And it comes close to the garage that Traveller called home at Lee’s house.
Near the Virginia Horse Center in Lexington, you can spend weekend nights under the stars while watching the stars on the big screen of the Hull’s Drive-In movie theater. You can also tap into the nearby Devils Backbone Outpost Brewery to sample some suds, just off US-11.
For two nights, I make camp along US-11 at Lexington’s Llewellyn Lodge, a 1940s-era tourist home. Each morning, big omelets are served by husband-and-wife John and Ellen Roberts, along with plates of fresh fruit, piping-hot coffee and casual conversation.
“People come here studying history,” says John Roberts.
The Llewellyn Lodge is an easy walk to the downtown lounge called TAPS, where I spend a Saturday evening feasting on a colossal Cobb Salad, packed with pickled red onions, avocado, chicken, bacon and boiled egg. Then I opt for oysters, a Virginia variety, fried and lined diagonally atop a bed of pickled red cabbage.
“TAPS is a good gathering point,” says assistant general manager Richard Mandy. “It’s a little bit smaller, more intimate.”
For lunch on Sunday, I try the crab cake sandwich at the Southern Inn, a long-running restaurant that happily maintains its neon sign—now a curiosity among the stately steeples and chimneys of Main Street. Then I take a short stroll to consume a coffee crunch milkshake at the Sweet Things Ice Cream Shoppe—a popular point which gets a shout-out by carriage driver Angel McCreery as she passes.
Later, I dine at Rocca on an upper deck. And, while sampling steak and salmon, I watch dusk bathe its relaxing rays on lovely Lexington, as a fine weekend comes to a close.
Extending Your Stay
Devils Backbone Outpost Brewery
Haunting Tales Ghost Tour
Lexington Carriage Company
Rocca Bar and Ristorante