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Category: History

Staunton’s Happy Birthday America

For the past two years, Staunton has been quiet over the Fourth of July holiday. But this year, all the fun returns with the annual Happy Birthday America celebration in Gypsy Hill Park. Get ready for live music, a parade, fireworks, games, concessions, and more. Grab your lawn chairs and your sunscreen and dress in your sharpest red, white, and blue for a fun, patriotic day celebrating America’s independence!

History

Starting in 1970, the Statler Brothers brought free summer concerts to their native Staunton each July 4th for Happy Birthday U.S.A. Regularly drawing well over 50,000 guests (and sometimes as many as 100,000), the concerts were massive hits. Some Staunton residents remember years that it rained and the crowds still packed onto the outfield at John Moxie Stadium, unwilling to miss the music. The concerts continued for 25 years and brought in guest stars like Johnny Cash, Tammy Wynette, Reba McIntyre, Charley Pride and Neal McCoy, Conway Twitty, and many more.

After the Statler Brothers stopped performing, Staunton continued to host yearly celebrations at the bandstand. In recent years, cousins (and sons of two Statler Brothers) Wil Reid and Langdon Reid have headed up a relaunched celebration intended to emulate those hosted by their fathers. The event emphasizes patriotic family fun and live music, headlined by their group, Wilson Fairchild.

2022 Schedule

This year’s schedule includes two days of fun. Along with events, there are vendors selling food and merchandise, a carnival area, games for kids, and more. Here’s the 2022 schedule:

Sunday, July 3

6:30 p.m.: Entertainment and Vester Service at John Moxie Stadium. This event will feature keynote speaker Chaplain Col. Joel P. Jenkins, scripture readings, and music by Allison Fitzgerald, Greg Culpen, Amy & Sam Lessley, and Heaven’s Mountain Band.

Monday, July 4

7:30 a.m.: Firecracker 5K Run/Walk around the Gypsy Hill Park loop. Wear your patriotic gear and register here.

10 a.m.: Set up your lawn chair and watch community groups, businesses, athletic teams, and more show their patriotic spirit and decorating skills as they loop through Gypsy Hill Park for the 4th of July parade. After the parade ends, head down to the baseball fields to participate in the parent-child games. Kids should be between 8 and 12 and come with a willing parent.

2 p.m.: Stonewall Brigade Band performance at the Gypsy Hill Park Bandstand. Staunton’s historic 70-member Stonewall Brigade Band is the oldest continuous community band in the U.S. and has been playing in Gypsy Hill Park since 1889. Expect to hear lots of marching music!

2 p.m.: Jack and Davis Reid at John Moxie Stadium (Sons of Wilson Fairchild and the Grandsons of the Statler Brothers!)

3:30 p.m.: Prime at John Moxie Stadium

4 p.m.: Opening Ceremony and Posting of Colors

5:15 p.m.: Spencer Hatcher & the Ol’ Son Gang at John Moxie Stadium

7:30 p.m.: Feature performance by Wilson Fairchild (country, bluegrass and gospel) with special guests, Grammy-winning Rhonda Vincent and the Rage playing bluegrass

9:30 p.m.: Veteran’s Salute / Retiring of Colors / Taps

10 p.m. Fireworks in Gypsy Hill Park

Must-See and Do in the Beverley Historic District

Downtown Staunton contains many examples of Virginia’s finest Victorian architecture. Most of the buildings in the Beverley Historic District date from the 1870s to the 1920s. In fact, this small, walkable district was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1981. Besides history, this bustling section of Staunton boasts much in the way of shopping, dining, and culture. Here’s how to spend an afternoon or a weekend exploring the Beverley Historic District. 

Where to Stay

  • Hotel 24 South (formerly the Stonewall Jackson Hotel) was built in 1924 and remains the city’s tallest building. The renovated rooms and suites are luxurious and modernized, but the hotel retains its historic charm. On-site amenities include a business center, fitness center, and heated indoor pool. 
  • The Frederick House combines the extravagance of a fancy hotel in a more personal setting. They offer a menu of signature breakfasts as well as plenty of privacy and personality. The 20 guest rooms are spread between five historic homes.
  • The Storefront once served as a tea shop and is now a two-level accommodation. The ground floor boasts a unique bar/lounge area with a television, bathroom, and full-size futon. Upstairs, you’ll find a bedroom, bathroom, and full kitchen. 

Where to Have a Drink

  • Grab some flights or pints at Shenandoah Valley Brewing Company, a small craft brewery right on Beverley Street. They don’t serve food, but you can have carryout delivered or walk a few steps to a delicious nearby restaurant. 
  • The Green Room is a hip gathering spot in Staunton run by Blackfriars Playhouse actors. Sip wine, craft beer, cider, specialty non-alcoholic cocktails, and savor light fare like charcuterie boards and sandwiches. 
  • Yelping Dog Wine stocks hundreds of types of wine, from bottles produced locally to those made around the world. Stop in for a glass and a cheese plate or gourmet grilled cheese sandwich.

Where to Eat 

  • Start your day with coffee and a healthy and delicious breakfast at The By & By. Nearby Vic’s Eats is a veteran-owned cafe serving mouth-watering breakfast items as well as salads, sandwiches, and French press coffee. Réunion Bakery & Espresso brews delicious coffee drinks as well as mouthwatering French-inspired pastries. Cranberry’s Grocery & Eatery focuses on vegetables, fruits, and organic grains and is a convenient way to grab a quick, fresh bite for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. The Pampered Palate feeds hungry diners fresh quiche, sandwiches, and wraps.
  • Are you craving the freshest sustainable seafood available? BLU Point Seafood Co. is where “the Chesapeake Bay meets the New England shore.” The bar delivers a big menu of cocktails, beer, wine, and cider, including many local options. Zynodoa will inspire your tastebuds with southern cuisine in a stylish, metropolitan setting. Aioli shines for its Mediterranean cuisine and tapas. Don’t skip dessert: The Split Banana will refresh you with 18 fresh flavors of gelato.

Where to Shop

  • Adults and children can find their next great read on the shelves at The Book Dragon. Fans of rare books should check out Barrister Books. Words Matter’s collection of word art and poetry is perfect for home decor or memorable occasions. Blair Made designs beautiful custom handmade wooden signs.
  • Peek in at Ware House Miniatures to pick out a dollhouse and all the furnishings. Next door, find a variety of model kits at J C General Merchandise. The Heifetz Music Shop delights with music-themed gifts. 
  • Tap into the positive energy we need so badly at Little Shoppe of Crystals. Browse the selection of crystals, jewelry, aromatherapy, and more.
  • The Foundry Pop-Ups promotes the work of local artists and craftspeople who make clothing, jewelry, bath products, candles, and decor. Known best for handmade swords, armor, and Welsh items, Medieval Fantasies Company also sells jewelry, candles, and bath and body products that smell like magic. 
  • Design at Nine is your source for distinctive women’s clothing, shoes, and boots as well as the accessories you need to tie your look together. Latitudes Fair Trade Store has unique and trendy clothing, bags, scarves, and jewelry. Men will look sharp after shopping at CFO Trading Company for clothing, outerwear, scarves, hats, and seasonal accessories. 
  • Taste and purchase ultra-premium extra virgin olive oils, infused and fused olive oils, and balsamic vinegar at Staunton Olive Oil Company. Sweeten your day with a selection of chocolates from Cocoa Mill. Beverley Cigar Store sells cigars, pipes, pipe tobacco, smoking accessories, lighters, and clothing.

What to Do

  • Built to resemble Shakespeare’s Blackfriars Theatre, the American Shakespeare Center stages high-quality productions of Shakespeare’s plays as well as contemporary works. Visulite Cinemas brings the latest popular and artistic movies to the big screen and you can sip a glass of wine or beer while you watch. Enjoy live entertainment like DJs, music, and karaoke at the Tempest Bar and Lounge

Take a self-guided or seasonal guided walking tour with the Historic Staunton Foundation and download our Architectural Walking Tour of Historic Staunton map before you go. Access even more of downtown Staunton by taking a Traipse Tour unique to the Queen City.

Wool Week 2022 at the Frontier Culture Museum

Have you ever wondered what people from the past did when they wanted to update their wardrobes? Today, we go to the store or even order our outfits online, but the process was much more involved for our ancestors and the early settlers of the Shenandoah Valley. Not only did they have to obtain the raw materials, but they also had to clean them, and transform them into cloth. Finally, they had to turn the fabric into wearable clothing or other textiles. Each year during Wool Week, the Frontier Culture Museum invites visitors to celebrate spring as well as the process of creating useful products from raw materials.

How can I visit?

Wool Week 2022 is April 25 – May 1

There is no extra cost beyond regular admission to the museum.

Museum visitors will see:

  • Demonstrations focusing on wool and flax processing
  • Sheep shearing
  • New baby lambs
  • Regular museum exhibits

How long will the lambs be little?

Lambs are born in the spring when there’s plenty of grass to eat and the weather has lost its winter chill. Ewes give birth to one to three lambs at a time, but twins are most common. Lambs usually weigh about the same as human babies. They can walk within a few hours of being born!

What is wool, anyway? How did people on the frontier harvest it?

Wool is the heavy winter coat of the sheep that’s harvested each year in the spring. While we typically use mechanical clippers now, people from the frontier would use sharpened blades like scissors with the pivot point at the end. Skilled shearers can remove the wool quickly and keep it in one piece.

Do sheep like getting shorn?

Sheep shearing is very much like getting a haircut, but nervous sheep may struggle during the shearing process. It takes a lot of strength to hold them still and clip the wool at the same time. Sheep shearers should take their time to prevent injuries. Shorn sheep feel cooler for the upcoming hot weather and are probably relieved to be rid of their heavy, dirty coats. 

How do they clean the wool?

Contrary to what we see in picture books, sheep are pretty dirty. Museum interpreters use their hands to pull and tease the wool fibers apart to get rid of dirt and parasites. Next, they wash and card the wool. Carding untangles the fibers and stretches them out so that they can be spun. The museum staff will teach you how to perform each of these steps.

How did settlers color the wool?

We didn’t have the synthetic dyes we use now until the middle of the 19th century. Before that, people colored their fabrics with plants, lichens, and even insects. They used fixatives like salt and vinegar to help the dyes stay in place. Professional dyers were very protective about their recipes since some worked better than others. Many colors weren’t readily available, especially in the materials for the dyes that came from far away. Wool can be dyed before or after spinning.

How did they turn that pile of wool into my favorite sweater?

Spinners wind stretched-out wool fibers into yarn. Next, the yarn is formed into a fabric by knitting or by weaving on a loom. Both the German and the Irish farms have looms and visitors can watch the intricate, time-consuming process of working one.

What else can I see at the museum?

The Frontier Culture Museum is a living history museum that will connect present-day people with the lives and histories of those who lived in the past. The walkable museum offers a chance to explore the homesteads of the various people who settled in the region from other places. They include farms from West AfricaEnglandIreland, and Germany. The museum also offers a Native American village and American farms from various time periods.

Have more questions? Head to Wool Week to get answers!

Check out more events on Staunton on Tap.

Staunton is a Southern Living Best Mountain Town

Did you know that Southern Living Magazine recently showcased Staunton as a top mountain town in its The South’s Best 2022? The list of the best southern destinations celebrates “the people, places, and communities that make [the South] more vibrant than ever.” Mountain towns were chosen for their local shops and restaurants, cozy lodging, and welcoming downtowns as well as their beauty and access to the mountains. Southern Living praises Staunton’s charming downtown, varied dining scene, notable lodging selection, and proximity to Shenandoah National Park. Read on for more reasons why Staunton is such a hot travel destination.

Ogle Staunton’s Beauty

Find a high spot in Staunton and kick back to admire the views. Try Cannon Hill at Mary Baldwin University or cross the historic footbridge to Woodrow Park on Sears Hill. You’ll even find something postcard-worthy when you pause on the Wal-Mart parking lot! From walks through historic downtown, country bike rides, or drives along the Blue Ridge Parkway, you’ll never be far from a million-dollar view.

Eat Like a King

For a small city, Staunton has a wealth of independent restaurants. You’ll find everything from sophisticated Southern gourmet meals at Zynodoa and Table 44 to French pastry at Réunion. Get your fill of steak and seafood at Mill Street Grill and Blu Point Seafood, or opt for global fare at Gloria’s Pupuseria and Gonzo’s Pollo.

Find a Festival

Staunton is a wonderful home base for festivals throughout the year. 

  • Join us for the initial BaroqueFest, a three-day immersion in the very best music from the 17th and early 18th centuries. This festival takes place April 8-10.
  • Friday nights from Memorial Day to Labor Day come enjoy an outdoor concert series on the grounds of the Blackburn Inn and Conference Center. SummerStage kicks off May 27 with Hootenanny.
  • Jam out to The Steel Wheels, The Jayhawks, Langhorne Slim, and other notable names in roots music at the Red Wing Roots Festival at nearby Natural Chimneys State Park. June 24-26.
  • Enjoy selections from hundreds of years of classical music at the 10-day Staunton Music Festival. This festival welcomes over 70 acclaimed professionals from around the world to perform in 30 events and opens on August 12.
  • Browse the juried work of local and regional artists at the Staunton Augusta Art Center’s annual Art in the Park. The 54th annual event will occur in Gypsy Hill Park on September 4-5. 
  • The Queen City Mischief and Magic Festival will return in person this year on the weekend of September 24-25. Head downtown for lots of magical fun as businesses and citizens 

Learn Something New

Learn the history of the presidency and early 20th-century life at the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum. Get a hands-on education at the Frontier Culture Museum, where costumed interpreters work historically accurate farms. Make time to view the exhibits at the Beverley Street Studio School Gallery and the Staunton Augusta Art Center.

Access the Outdoors

We dare you to visit the Shenandoah Valley and not take one of the best hikes of your life. Staunton is close to the Appalachian Trail and dozens of beautiful hikes in Shenandoah National Park and along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Venture west into George Washington and Jefferson National Forest for more exciting hiking opportunities. Hikers can also stretch their legs on miles of trails in Montgomery Hall Park and Betsy Bell & Mary Gray Wilderness.

Visit Southern Living to see more parks, businesses, and towns that made this years list. Look forward to casting your vote for the South’s Best 2023.

Women’s History in Staunton

March is Women’s History Month, and it’s time to celebrate the contributions women have made toward history and society, especially close to home. From leaders in education and government to the namesakes of our town and landmarks, here’s what you should know about the notable women with connections to Staunton. 

Rita Wilson

Rita Wilson was Staunton’s first Black councilwoman and vice mayor. She served the community for 16 years before retiring in 2008 and passing away in 2016. Citizens remember her fondly for her work toward solving community problems.  Wilson strove to be a community leader and “represent people that she felt were underrepresented.” Staunton City Council named its chambers after her to honor her legacy. The Community Foundation’s Rita Wilson Scholarship benefits high school graduates and adult learners who hope to continue their educations and grow as individuals.

Lady Rebecca Staunton

Staunton was originally called “Augusta Courthouse.” Its current name came from Lady Rebecca Staunton, wife of William Gooch, the first colonial governor of Virginia (1727-1749). Gooch encouraged colonists to settle in the Shenandoah Valley. Interestingly, Staunton’s name was actually pronounced “STAWN-ton,” and there’s no clear consensus as to why the sounds shifted. 

Mary Baldwin

Mary Baldwin graduated as valedictorian from Augusta Female Seminary in 1846. She took over leadership of the school in 1863. Not only did she save it from financial difficulties, she revamped the curriculum to elevate it to the level of a university. Baldwin was an excellent businesswoman and administrator, and the school thrived during her 34-year tenure. Many considered it “one of the most distinguished for young women in the southern states.” Baldwin died in 1897; she rests in Staunton’s Thornrose Cemetery. The university now carries her name.

Stuart Hall

Stuart Hall, which dates to the 1840s, is Virginia’s oldest college prep school for girls, though it went co-ed in 1999. Maria Sheffey was a wealthy widow who started a school for girls at her home, Kalorama, in the 1830s. Though Staunton had many schools, this was the first to offer education to girls past elementary school. Later, Ms. Sheffey’s school merged with an Episcopal seminary to form The Virginia Female Institute. Ms. Sheffey served as a joint principal alongside Reverend James McElroy. The school eventually became Stuart Hall, which still exists today. Stuart Hall helps students develop “character and personal honor.” It prepares boarding and day students for college curriculums.

Edith Bolling Wilson

In 1915, Edith Bolin Wilson married for the second time, becoming Woodrow Wilson’s second wife. When Wilson became bedridden after a stroke, she managed his office and determined what matters of state were important enough to bring to his attention. People also remember her for saving manpower during WWI by letting sheep graze on the White House lawn. After Wilson died, the former first lady worked to preserve her husband’s birthplace, which is now the Woodrow Wilson Birthplace and Presidential Library. 

YuLee Larner

The YuLee Trail through Staunton’s Montgomery Hall Park is a wonderful place to walk, mountain bike, and look for wildlife. The trail honors YuLee Larner, who, for 32 years, wrote weekly “Random Ramblings” and “Larner Lines,” columns for the Newsleader about birds and nature. Larner also wrote Birds of Augusta County, Virginia and Virginia’s Birdlife: An Annotated Checklist. A founding member of the Augusta Bird Club and a president of the Virginia Society of Ornithology, Larner was widely considered one of “the most respected self-taught ornithologist[s] in Virginia.” 

Betsy Bell and Mary Gray

There’s some mystery shrouding the origins of the namesakes of Staunton’s Betsy Bell and Mary Gray Wilderness Park. Some stories claim that the mountains were named after two local young women who were kidnapped and never seen again. The likeliest story, however, is that the name came from similarly named twin peaks in Scotland. Those names came from the story of two beautiful young women – best friends – who died from the plague in 1645. They fell ill after they were visited by a young man who was in love with both of them and couldn’t make up his mind which to pursue. Afterward, a popular ballad preserved the tale, and their names and sad story came to the Valley with the early settlers.

Your Guide to Things to Do On Presidents’ Day

Whether you know it as Presidents’ Day or George Washington’s Birthday, the holiday celebrated on the third Monday in February is designed to let us think about the founding and safeguarding of our democracy. You might mark the occasion by exploring history or hitting the Presidents’ Day sales, but you don’t have to travel all the way to Washington D.C. Here are some Staunton-area things to do.

Learn About a President at the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum

Woodrow Wilson was born in Staunton, and though he only lived here a short time, you should visit the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum complex. You’ll learn about Wilson’s life and times as well as the history of Staunton and what it was like to endure a WWI trench. Exhibits also examine prohibition and suffrage. Explore gallery space in the Presbyterian manse where Wilson was born, the Pierce-Arrow Presidential limousine, the surrounding gardens, the research library, and the gift shop.

Register for one of the upcoming programs in the Reckoning: U.S. Presidents and Racial Inequality series. The series concerns the struggle for racial equality in our nation with the hopes that discussion and reflection will help us advance as a just society. It “explores the views and the political policies of individual presidents toward minority populations, with an in-depth focus on how each of these minority groups was affected by presidential policies directed toward them.” The programs feature conversations between historians and opportunities for the public to ask questions. Past programs have been recorded and are available on the website.

Learn About Other Virginia Presidents

Virginia is sometimes called the Mother of Presidents because it has produced more presidents than any other state. The eight are George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor, and Woodrow Wilson.

You can also travel over Afton Mountain to Monticello to learn about the life and legacy of Thomas Jefferson. Explore Jefferson’s house and gardens. On-site tours, virtual events, and other resources examine Jefferson’s own complex history as both an enlightened thinker and an owner of enslaved persons. James Madison lived at Orange County’s Montpelier for 76 years. Visitors can learn about the house, grounds, and his role as “Father of the Constitution.” Travel a little farther to D.C. to tour George Washington’s Mount Vernon, or explore the house and grounds virtually

Check out the Smithsonian National Museum of American History’s exhibit, The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden, which “grants visitors an insight into the lives and contributions of the men who led our nation since its founding through 900 historical objects and artifacts.” This permanent collection can be viewed in person or online. It will answer all your burning questions like, “what creature was featured on James Monroe’s dessert service,” and “did Grace Coolidge really keep her pet raccoon at the White House?”

Take a Virtual Field Trip

Other online exhibits that deserve a timely visit are the Lincoln Home and the Museum of the American Revolution. Head to South Dakota where The National Park Service has put together a Mount Rushmore site with a lot of valuable educational plans for kids of various ages. 

Other History Near Staunton

There’s nothing about the lives of presidents at the Frontier Culture Museum, but you can connect with the past lives of ordinary citizens through costumed interpreters working on traditional farms. 

Write a Letter to President Biden

Finally, whether you agree or disagree with the current administration, you have the right to make your opinion known. Why not put your valuable ideas into a letter, and send it to the President? You might even get a letter in return!

The President of the USA 

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW

Washington, DC 20500

For more events in Staunton, please check out Staunton on Tap!

Black-History Month in Staunton

The Black experience is essential to understanding Staunton and the surrounding areas. Read on to learn about how to celebrate Black History Month and other events in Staunton. We’ve also noted important places and citizens and gathered resources for gaining a broader understanding of our city’s Black history, culture, and contributions. We’ve also included a list of area Black-owned businesses.

Festivals and Events 

Black History Month at Mary Baldwin

Join the Mary Baldwin University community this February to celebrate Black History Month. The school will host a full lineup of events including lectures, research presentations, concerts and other performances, readings, open houses, trivia, and much more. Here’s the full schedule.

For more Black History Month events around the state, check out the schedule on the Virginia Tourism Corporation website.

Juneteenth Celebration at the Frontier Culture Museum

In recent years, Montgomery Hall Park has hosted an annual Juneteenth celebration as a way to celebrate the end of slavery. Last year the celebration moved to the Frontier Culture Museum. The celebration has included food, live entertainment, children’s activities, information booths, voter registration, health screenings, and more.

African American Heritage Festival

In recent years, Staunton’s African American Heritage Festival has been canceled due to Covid. Hopefully, it will return in the near future! Expect plenty of music and entertainment to keep you busy. Visitors will also find presentations by historians, art by regional artists, vendors, and community outreach and resources. Area churches gather for an “under the tent” worship service on Sunday morning, and everyone can enjoy an afternoon of gospel music. This free, annual two-day festival in September is the largest and oldest in the Shenandoah Valley. The event is open to the public and everyone, regardless of heritage, is welcome.

Area History

Before the Civil War, many farms throughout the Shenandoah Valley relied upon the labor of enslaved African Americans. In 1830, only about one-sixth of Staunton’s African American population was free to work as blacksmiths, shoemakers, laborers, domestics, and barbers. After the Emancipation Proclamation, opportunities grew. By the end of the century, Staunton had 26 Black-owned businesses including grocery stores, cabinet-making shops, cobblers, restaurants, barbershops, laundries, and more. Within 10 years, there were nearly 50 Black-owned businesses in Staunton. These included a newspaper, hotel, restaurants, a meat market, an insurance company, a jewelry store, and professionals such as doctors and a lawyer.

Black-Owned Businesses Today

According to WHSV, while many businesses struggled, area Black-owned businesses were “nearly twice as likely to fail during the COVID-19 pandemic.” Want to support a local Black-owned business? Check out a regularly updated list of Black-owned businesses in the Shenandoah Valley compiled by the Black and Brown Owned Businesses-Shenandoah Valley Facebook page. The Newsleader identified some in Staunton.

Museums and Research

Booker T. Washington Museum and Library

The Booker T. Washington Museum and Library contains photographs, articles, books, yearbooks, and memorabilia like sports trophies and letterman jackets. It is housed in the Booker T. Washington Community Center, Staunton’s former segregated high school. The school educated Black students for 30 years before Staunton’s schools were finally integrated in 1966. The school served as both an educational space and a public meeting place for the African American community. It hosted social events, voter registration, and adult night classes. The building has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 2014.

Frontier Culture Museum’s West African Farm Exhibit

The Frontier Culture Museum’s living history farms educate today’s visitors by recreating the past. The West African Farm exhibit “explores the cultural contributions of African captives who were brought to Virginia in the 1700s.” Captives from many ethnic groups came from all over Africa, but many were Igbo from the West African Coast. The West African Farm demonstrates how free Igbo people lived in Africa in the 1700s. Visitors can learn about history, architecture, farming, cooking, folklore, pottery, weaving, and more.

The museum maintains an archive of lectures developed during the Covid shutdown. They explore various topics, but several relate to the area’s Black experience. Visit YouTube to see Unfree Labor in Early Virginia, Black Lives at Natural Bridge, West Africa and the Slave Trade, and Igbo/West African Masquerade Culture and the Dynamics of the African Diaspora Carnivals.

Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum

Woodrow Wilson and a number of other presidents have been criticized for their attitudes on race and the history of slavery that surrounds them. The Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum is tackling the topic of U.S. Presidents and racial inequality with a free lecture series. Register for the February 10 discussion about Abraham Lincoln with Edna Greene Medford, Ph.D., a historian and author of Lincoln and Emancipation, and Christina Shutt, the executive director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois. The museum further explores the topic of Wilson and race with several resources on their webpage.

Staunton/Augusta County African American Research Society

Want to learn more about the general and family history of Black people in this area? Visit the Staunton/Augusta County African American Research Society’s website for resources. The society’s mission “is to research, develop and maintain an ongoing written, pictorial and multimedia archive of the African American experience in Staunton and Augusta County from its early settlement in 1738 to the present by focusing on education, business, politics, religion, military service, and cultural experience.” The society has worked to gather genealogical records from the library as well as oral histories from older citizens.

Laten Ervin Bechtel’s In Their Words: Growing Up In Segregated Staunton and Augusta County, Virginia

Laten Ervin Becktel has delved into the area’s history of segregation by conducting interviews with 30 African Americans who grew up in segregated times. In this 300-page oral history, Bechtel records an important, and often overlooked, side of local history and shows racial discrimination through the eyes of those who lived it. Available in the Staunton Public Library.

Notable Staunton Addresses

  • In 1946, Montgomery Hall Park became one of only two Virginia parks dedicated to African American use, and people traveled long distances to visit. The park remained segregated until 1969. Learn about the park’s history by watching the Woodrow Wilson Birthplace and Presidential Library’s 2008 Montgomery Hall Park Project.
  • The congregation of Allen Chapel A.M.E (African Methodist Episcopal) worshipped in various places before the original church was built at 921 West Beverley Street. The first Black church west of the Blue Ridge is also the sight of the city’s first Black choir and first Black school for adults.
  • Fairview Cemetery is a predominantly African American cemetery located in northern Staunton that was founded in 1869. The Lambert Street location was outside city limits at the time and part of a Black community called Sandy Hollow. 
  • The masonic lodge on East Beverley and Market Streets was incorporated in 1882. Staunton’s “Colored Masonic Mount Zion Lodge, no.18” is one of the oldest African-American masonic lodges in the U.S. The nearby Cabell House (654 E. Beverley Street) is the last exposed-log structure in Staunton. It was built in 1869 by Edmund Cabell, a “free man of color,” and owned by three generations of his family. 

Notable Black Stauntonians

  • Robert Campbell was born free in 1794. After serving in the War of 1812, he moved to Staunton and opened a barbershop on Beverley Street. His successful business allowed him to buy five downtown buildings and he was considered wealthy by the standards of the times. 
  • Willis McGlascoe Carter was an NAACP leader who was born into slavery in 1852. He became a principal in Augusta County’s segregated public schools. He led the Augusta County Teachers’ Association and edited the Southern Tribune, an African-American newspaper. Carter helped create the Negro Industrial and Educational Association of Virginia. He’s buried in Fairview Cemetery.
  • Born in 1898, Dr. Charles J. Waller served as regional vice-president of the National Medical Association. He practiced medicine in Staunton for many years without hospital privileges. Later, he became a member of the King’s Daughters’ staff and was elected president. He was also the first African-American to run for Staunton’s city council.
  • Captain William Green Jr. was born in 1920 and graduated from Booker T. Washington High School in 1939. He joined the U.S. Army Air Corps and became one of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, one of our country’s first Black aviators. He flew 123 wartime missions in Europe and earned a Distinguished Flying Cross, an Air Medal with six oak leaf clusters, E.T.O. ribbons with three battle stars, and the Purple Heart.
  • Born in 1940, Rita Wilson was Staunton’s first Black councilwoman. She served 16 years as a member and vice mayor of city council. She also served on the school board and the board of the Frontier Culture Museum.

For more information, take a look at the Staunton African American Heritage Brochure.

10 Things We Are Thankful For In Staunton This Year

Thanksgiving is almost here. Take some time between raking leaves, planning side dishes, and agonizing over table settings to reflect on the many things we’re thankful for in Staunton.

Our Great Outdoors

Staunton’s location in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley provides incredible views of mountains on both sides. Were just a few minutes from Shenandoah National Park with its many trails and Skyline Drive. We’re also right in the middle of George Washington and Jefferson National Forest, a wonderful place to hike, bike, paddle, and explore. Even downtown Staunton offers a robust park system featuring trails, views, pools, wilderness areas, playgrounds, ballfields, and a dog park.

Independent Small Businesses

Staunton boasts a diverse mix of indie shops. Our small business owners are following their passions, and creating one of the best independent shopping districts in the state. Hurrah for Staunton Olive Oil Company, Essentially Zen Artisan Bath and Body Shop, Latitudes, Made; By the People, For the People, Medieval Fantasies Company, Refill Renew, Pufferbellies Toys and Books, and more

Foodie Scene

For a small town, Staunton has a lot of good food and this list only scratches the surface. Enjoy fresh coffee and out-of-this-world pastries at Reunion Bakery & Espresso, Crucible Coffee Roasters, or Newtown Baking. Sit down to a tasty lunch emphasizing local ingredients at Serendipity Java Bar and Eatery, Table 44, the Pampered Palate, or Cranberry’s Grocery & Eatery. Savor a dinner at Chicano Boy Taco, Zynodoa, the Mill Street Grill, or Aioli. Make sure to leave room for something sweet from The Split Banana, the Clocktower Eats and Sweets, or Wright’s Dairy Rite

Craft Beer, Wine, and Cider

Virginia is making quite a name for itself in the craft beer and wine scene, and our local area is no exception. In fact, Staunton was just named one of the “20 Best Beer Towns in the United States.” Hop on the Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail to sip at 19 breweries, all within an hour’s drive. Queen City Brewing, Redbeard Brewing Company, and Shenandoah Valley Brewing Co. are all within city limits. Baja Bean Co. sells a wide selection of craft beers by the bottle or on tap. Wine lovers can taste the local varietals and more at Ox-Eye Vineyards Tasting Room, Yelping Dog Wine, the Green Room, or the new Seed to Tail Kitchen & Market. Barren Ridge Vineyards is just a short drive away. If you prefer cider, grab a seat and a flight at Staunton’s new cidery, Ciders from Mars.

Artists, Artisans, and the Performing Arts

There are many ways to explore Staunton’s flourishing arts community. Walk around and visit Staunton’s collection of murals and public art. Drop in at a gallery. Take a class at Beverley Street Studio School. Visit Sunspots Studios, where you can watch glass art being created in front of your eyes. Catch a virtual performance by The American Shakespeare Center or a live show at ShenanArts where local performers put on high-energy performances. Got dramatic kids? Sign them up for a theater class with Silver Line Theatre Exchange.

Live Music 

From the world-renowned performers who perform at the Heifetz International Music Institute, to the wonderful local musicians enlivening the scene at our favorite breweries and restaurants, Staunton is home to the very best in music–making. We’ve got live, free music almost every night of the week at Gypsy Hill Park during the summer. We have music festivals that entertain all year long. These include Red Wing Roots Music Festival, the classical Staunton Music Festival, as well as rock, blues, jazz, and folk festivals.

Local Farmers and Producers

We are fortunate to be able to enjoy some of the freshest, most delicious locally grown food available anywhere in the USA.  We have a seasonal farmer’s market (and new winter market,) farm-fresh roadside stands, and pick-your-own farms.  We’re the envy of many communities in the “buy fresh, buy local” movement. Plus, many of our restaurants prioritize using this seasonal and healthy food in their recipes.

Museums and Historic Sites

Staunton’s in touch with its history. Take a walking tour and admire downtown’s amazing Victorian architecture. See the past come to life at the Frontier Culture Museum and Woodrow Wilson’s Birthplace Museum. Check out the Camera Heritage Museum, explore Thornrose Cemetery, or even book a private ghost tour

Our Fun Community

Though Covid has put a damper on a some of the live community events, we hope to soon be able to take advantage of all our favorites. We’re thankful for the Staunton Christmas Parade, Caroling in the Park, Happy Birthday America Celebration, Celebration of Holiday Lights in the Park, Queen City Mischief and Magic, Art in the Park, Concerts at Trinity Church and many more.

The People

We are thankful for YOU!  You, as a visitor or local, all come together to make Staunton exactly what it is!  It wouldn’t be the same without you. We’re also thankful for our teachers, our police officers, and our Public Works department. We’re thankful for the servers and bartenders in the cafes who know our faces and orders by heart, the doctors who keep us healthy, and many more. We are grateful for all of the incredible people who live and work in Staunton that contribute every day to help make our small city so amazing. 

We hope you’ll enjoy and share this list.  But most of all – we hope you’ll add to this list with all the things you are grateful for in Staunton. Happy Thanksgiving!

Staunton Ghost Tours

Staunton grew from a sleepy town to a bustling center of commerce when the railroad came to town in the 1850s. It’s now known for its beautiful Victorian architecture spread across a number of historic districts. Visitors love to take historical and garden walking tours, but buildings that old come steeped in history…and possibly ghosts. Are you hoping for a helping of goosebumps this October? Read on to get your haunt on this Halloween.

The American Hotel

Ghosts of Staunton Tours

If you’d like to learn about Staunton’s spooks and apparitions, the logical place to start is with a professional ghost tour by Black Raven Paranormal. Ghosts of Staunton Tours has been educating the community for 14 years.  Not only will you learn the best places for sightings in this “hub for paranormal activity,” you’ll get a healthy dose of history as well. This should please even skeptical audience members! If you’d like to see Black Raven Paranormal in action, check out their Amazon Prime series: The Black Raven Chronicles. Episodes include investigations of the Clocktower and Montgomery Hall.

Tour Dates

Tours run through the end of October and include several different options:

  • Fridays at 7:30: Staunton’s Haunted History Ghost Tour
    • 90-minute tour by lantern light. Learn about notable Staunton natives and why they might spend their afterlives in the Queen City. This tour “strive[s] to educate, enlighten, and entertain you with our own unique blend of the paranormal, science, history, and local legend.”
  • Fridays at 8: Dark Tales and Haunts Ghost Tour
    • 90-minute exploration of the darker side of Staunton: “legends, lore, history, mystery, ghosts, and murder are all rolled into one.”
  • Saturdays at 7 and 8: Haunted American Hotel Tour
    • Used as a home base for travelers and a hospital during the Civil War, the American Hotel has had plenty of opportunities to acquire spectral presences. Learn the history and the results of Black Raven Paranormal’s investigations. You’ll even get to participate in a live audio session as investigators attempt to contact the departed. Make sure to stop in at the onsite Serendipity Java Bar and Eatery for a special, spooky menu.
  • Sundays at 6 and 7:30: Civil War Hospital Tour
  • Friday/Saturday, October 22, 23, 29, 30 at 7:30, Sunday October 31 at 7: Haunted Depot Spirit Box Tour
  • You can also schedule a private ghost tour for a party of five or more.

Historic Cemeteries

There are probably a few spirits on the loose in Thornrose Cemetery. This large, park-like resting ground has been Staunton’s biggest burial ground since the 1840s. One of the highest points is marked by a 22-foot marble Confederate infantryman. This is the mass grave of 1,700 fallen Civil War soldiers killed on area battlefields. Wander the winding drives and rest on one of the many benches to admire the cemetery architecture, which includes an arching footbridge and a tower. For more background and highlights, check out our walking tour.

Where Else Might I See a Staunton Ghost or Two?

Check out the train station in the Wharf. In 1890, brakes failed on a runaway train, which flew off the tracks destroying part of the train station, killing a promising young singer, and injuring many more. The rebuilt version of the station was destroyed by fire (as was a large portion of the historic district). Have any ghosts survived this gruesome history?

The Blackburn Inn, now a boutique hotel, was once the main administration building for Western State Hospital. Built in the 1820s, it specialized in the “moral treatment” and emotional wellbeing of psychiatric patients. Later, the structure was a medium-security prison before being renovated into luxury accommodations. Plan a weekend stay or enjoy drinks or dinner at the Second Draft Bistro and imagine history coming to life.

Cemetery enthusiasts will also enjoy the quiet burial ground surrounding downtown’s Trinity Episcopal Church. This was Staunton’s original graveyard, used until Thornrose Cemetery opened to provide more space. The lovely church contains a number of Tiffany windows, and the historic graves and monuments provide interesting viewing. 

 

 

Is the most haunted space in Staunton across the street from Lowes? Look to your right as you drive down the driveway to the  Frontier Culture Museum. Looming high above brush and overgrown grounds, the decaying former DeJarnette Sanitarium certainly looks like it could be haunted. Built in 1932, the building has a troubling past and is currently unsafe for visitors. Snap some photos from the road and continue on to the museum where you can take a tour and learn about the Halloween traditions of early Valley settlers.

Former DeJarnette Sanitarium

Celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month in Staunton

In 1968, Lyndon Johnson designated a week in September as National Hispanic Heritage Week. This date is important because September 15-18 is when a number of Latin American countries (Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, Mexico, and Chile) celebrate their independence from Spain. Later, in 1988, Ronald Regan expanded the observation to an entire month (September 15 to October 15 each year). Help us pay tribute to the history, culture, and positive contributions that have made our nation and our city richer and more diverse places. Check out a few of our Hispanic-owned restaurants and businesses!

Pamper Yourself

You know you need some pampering, so why not head to Bonita’s Salon, which has been helping downtown Staunton look its best since 2010. Whether you’re seeking a new hairstyle, artistic nails, a special-occasion look, or hair and makeup services for your wedding party, you’ll find it here! 

Try Something New

A farmer’s market and food truck favorite since 2019, Magdalena Bake is opening a brick and mortar store on West Beverley September 18, 2021. This store specializes in pastries, cookies, wedding, birthday, and custom cakes, as well as special-ordered items. If you’re looking for something savory, try the empanadas.

Los Marquez Mexican Restaurant opened less than a year ago in 2020, but it already has a stellar reputation for its authentic Mexican food, cozy atmosphere, and friendly service. It’s close to Gypsy Hill Park, so you can stop in after a ball game or a round of golf. You’ll find reasonable prices and a big menu of all your favorites in platter and combination forms. There’s even a vegetarian menu that has tasty dishes like fajitas stuffed with squash, mushrooms, green and yellow peppers, onions, tomatoes, beans, and guacamole. Wash it down with a big margarita! There’s even a drive-thru if you’re in a hurry.

Grab a Quick Lunch

The Gonzo’s Pollo food truck opened in 2018 and has delighted Staunton since then with the best Peruvean charbroiled chicken in the Valley. Pollo a la brasa is a juicy, healthy alternative to fried food. Its amazing flavor comes from Peruvian spices and wood charcoal. You can order whole, half, and quarter chickens, butifarra sandwiches, nachos, and sides like fried plantains and yuca fries, and black beans and rice.

Gloria’s Pupuseria emphasizes authentic Salvadoran cuisine and locally sourced ingredients. For the past year, Gloria’s has been serving food from their popular food truck as they rebuild the restaurant after Staunton’s 2020 flooding. If you try only one thing from the menu, order the pupusas, tortillas packed with flavor and fillings like chicken, blended pork, vegetables and cheese. You can also enjoy tamales steamed in plantain leaves, fried plantains, or Salvadoran enchiladas. Refresh yourself with an mango and pineapple juice ensalada. 

Sit Down to Dinner

Since 2015, Mexican-American taquería Chicano Boy Taco has been making our mouths water with handmade tacos and enormous mission-style burritos. This bustling joint has some of the best tortillas you’ve ever eaten. Order from the simple menu of burritos, tacos, or burrito bowls plus your choice of fillings and salsa, and choose a seat inside or on the patio. You can get a Mexican beer or a “cheap beer” and eat here for lunch or dinner. 

El Puerto Mexican Restaurant is a family-owned business that opened its Staunton location in 2003. Featuring fresh tortillas and the only Mexican all-you-can-eat lunch buffet in town, El Puerto will tempt your taste buds for lunch and dinner. Try the burrito tropical, which combines the flavors of marinated chicken with onions, spinach cheese and pineapple. Save room for flan or sopapillas for dessert. There’s a separate kids’ menu.

Mi Rancho has two locations near Staunton, including one on West Beverley and one in Verona. Mi Ranch III has been serving Staunton with fresh Mexican favorites and a menu of wine, beer, and icy margaritas since 2012. Don’t miss the Tuesday/Thursday happy hour! The extensive menu is flavored with hometown spices from Jalisco, Mexico. It includes appetizers, a la carte favorites, combo platters, specials, vegetarian selections, a kids’ menu and more. If you’re starving, try the molcajete mixto. The flavorful meal features sizzling steak, chicken, shrimp, chorizo, and veggies piled in a molcajete and mounded with a combination of cheeses.