“The real Virginia stops at Roanoke.” “That’s what people around here say.” I was talking to the friendly ladies at the Abingdon, Virginia Visitor Center. I had to giggle as I had never heard that said in all my 15 years of living in Northern Virginia!
This was our first trip to Southwest Virginia and its small towns amid rolling green hills. We loved the surprises around each corner!
It was high time we visited this corner of Virginia that shares state lines with Kentucky and Tennessee and is a stone’s throw from North Carolina. We cannot wait to go back!
Abingdon, Virginia is the most picturesque town in southwest Virginia and exploring it can keep you enthralled for days!
The Visitor Center should be your first stop. The staff was full of useful information and one entire wall is filled with brochures about things to see and do in and near Abingdon.
Founded in 1778, Abingdon was first called, “Black’s Fort,” after the small fort there.
Daniel Boone came through the area in 1760 on his way to explore Kentucky and is said to have camped on the current Courthouse Hill. *
Martha Washington’s ancestral home was Abingdon Parish, England. It is thought that, to honor her, the town was called Abingdon and incorporated as the county seat of Washington County, Virginia in 1778.**
Our first stop in Abingdon further venerates our very first First Lady: The Martha Washington Inn & Spa (150 West Main). Originally built in 1832 as a private residence, the Inn sold in 1858 and became Martha Washington College in 1860. The Inn, since 1935, has seen such guests as Eleanor Roosevelt, Elizabeth Taylor, Gregory Peck and Jimmy Carter.*** This Inn is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen, including the Scottish Castle where Pierce Brosnan married his current wife!
The exterior details of the Martha Washington Inn & Spa are exquisite.
With such a start to our day, we knew, as lovers of architecture, we were in for a scenic stroll! We took the walking tour of the 20-block Historic District and saw gems from multiple centuries!
Just look at some of our favorites:
We saw so many architectural gems!!
WHITE’S GRIST MILL
We drove approximately 3 miles from town to visit the 150-year-old historic White’s Mill, built circa 1790. Even though the Mill (12291 Whites Mill Road) is closed in winter, we found sunset at the Mill almost magical. The Mill is one of the only water-powered mills still in working condition in the southeastern U.S. The Mill produced flour until 1989.*****
The setting of White’s Mill is among rolling green hills and is a peaceful and photogenic spot.
SINKING SPRING CEMETERY
The next morning we were back in Abingdon at the Sinking Spring Cemetery which was established in 1773. On the opposite side of Russell Road is an African American cemetery, with more than 300 gravesites; some marked and some unmarked. The very first grave in the Sinking Spring Cemetery was that of Henry Creswell, who died in July of 1776. He was killed by Native Americans on his way to Black’s Fort as he sought protection.******
The Sinking Spring Cemetery is fascinating in many ways. An ivy-covered mound shelters the stone tomb of a couple who died in 1899. Before them, General John Hunt Morgan, a Confederate raider who was killed in 1864, was interred there.******
If you appreciate the art on headstones and the artisans who crafted them, you will have much to admire in Sinking Spring Cemetery. One of the more poignant graves is the fenced area containing about 30 unknown soldiers from the Confederacy. In 1861, a train wreck occured which involved two separate troop trains. Some of the dead were buried here as well as many who died while the Martha Washington Inn & Spa served as a Confederate Hospital during the Civil War.******
On the cemetery grounds is the Cummings Cabin, built in 1774 by a man of the cloth. It was moved to the cemetery to preserve it.******
THE OVERMOUNTAIN TRAIL & MUSTER GROUNDS AT ABINGDON
The Revolutionary War Overmountain Trail is now a 330-mile-long car route with its northern branch beginning in Abingdon, Virginia. We hope to drive the entire route soon! Rain had moved in on our second day in Abingdon and made photography impossible. Even so, do NOT miss the Muster Grounds at Abingdon (1780 Muster Place). The grounds served a crucial purpose in the Kings Mountain campaign of the Revolutionary War.
During the summer of 1780, the Revolutionary War was moving south and the American colonies feared the invading British armies. A Virginia militia was formed with about 400 volunteers who met at the Abingdon Muster Grounds. These men were given the name, The Overmountain Men. Joined by more volunteers as they marched south, The Overmountain Men killed or captured the entire command of British Major Patrick Ferguson on Kings Mountain in South Carolina in one hour!*******
To review the route of the Overmountain Victory Trail and points of interest along the way, go to: https://npplan.com/national-historic-trails/overmountain-victory-national-historic-trail/commemorative-auto-route-overmountain-victory-national-historic-trail/
THE VIRGINIA CREEPER TRAIL
The popular National Recreational Virginia Creeper Trail connects Abingdon with the Virginia-North Carolina border and runs almost 35 miles. The Trail was originally used as a Native American footpath and served settlers and even Daniel Boone in the latter part of the 1700s. No motorized vehicles are allowed but camping off the trail is allowed and bicyclists and walkers love the trail. For more information, contact the Abingdon Visitors’ Bureau at 800-435-3440 or click www.visitabingdonvirginia.com.
Very near the Virginia Creeper Trail, you can find the Abingdon Vineyards (20530 Alvarado Road). The wonderful staff at the Visitors’ Center guided us to the Vineyard for some of the most beautiful scenery in the area. The Vineyard is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11-6.
Great outdoor adventures await you too. You can hike, camp, raft, check out forest lookout towers and more in the surrounding countryside.
Plan to spend at least 3 days in Abingdon and more time in the surrounding region. Southwest Virginia may, indeed, be the “real” Virginia!
*Abingdon, Virginia Self-Guided Walking Tour of Main Street Historic District brochure. Historical Society of Washington County and Abingdon Visitor Center.
****Abingdon, Virginia Self-Guided Walking Tour of Main Street Historic District brochure. Historical Society of Washington County and Abingdon Visitor Center.
******Brochure on Sinking Spring Cemetery, courtesy of the Town of Abingdon and the Historical Society of Washington County, Va
*******Information card on Muster Grounds at Abingdon by the Town of Abingdon and brochure entitled, “Overmountain Victory,” National Historic Trail. U.S. Corps of Engineers, U.S. Forest Service and U.S. National Park Service. (See: https://www.nps.gov/ovvi/index.htm)