Civil War Trails: Wytheville, VA

Civil War Trails: Wytheville, VA

by Chris Brown

There are few places more remote and yet worthwhile to visit than Southwest Virginia. Tucked into the corner of Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina is one of the most beautiful parts of the Country. Hikers, bikers (and cyclists), and music fans all flock to area. While this region was not a hotbed for Civil War operations there are, of course, Civil War Trails signs to help guide you as you prepare to Visit Southwest Virginia.

One of our frequent stops is in Wytheville, located just off Interstate 81 and Interstate 77.

There are several Civil War Trails signs, covering Union approach into town. You can find the some of those sites on our new interactive map. If you follow the signs west from Wytheville, driving against Toland’s route into town you’ll immediately see why this region of Virginia is so acclaimed for its natural beauty. 

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We recommend you start your visit downtown at Skeeter’s World Famous Hot Dogs. As you know we take eats and drinks just as seriously as we take history. After a nibble, stroll down Tazewell Street and pop into the Haller-Gibboney Rock House museum. The stone building was reported to have sustained damage during the fighting and was also used as a hospital after the 1863 and 1864 raids.

 

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No battlefield trip is complete without a brewery as you stroll town you’ll likely pass Seven Sisters Brewing. If you stay longer in town than expected or if you are traveling with a partner consider spending the night in the beautiful Bolling Wilson Hotel.  Interesting in visiting Wytheville? There’s only one! Check out their website here for all the activities and amenities that will be sure to please the whole family. 

Let us help you travel like a local. Take a look at our maps, and don’t hesitate to ask for our recommendations for good eats, drinks, and lesser known spots along the way. Follow #civilwartrails and create some history of your own. 

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History is on Display in Wytheville, Virginia

History is on Display in Wytheville, Virginia

by Colette Boehm, Laurie Rowe Communications

      It’s a diverse and amazing history and it’s on display here. This was ground zero for the worst polio epidemic in U.S. history. It was home to a First Lady often dubbed the “first woman president.” These are just two pieces of the unique history of the Southwest town of Wytheville. Long before the Interstate system, Wytheville was already a favored spot along one of the region’s most popular routes, the Great Lakes to Florida Highway. Today, located at the crossroads of two major Interstates (I-77 and I-81), this is still a convenient stop for travelers. And the Great Lakes to Florida Highway Museum is just one in the collection of museums and historical attractions that gives those who stop and stay an understanding of the unique history and culture of this exceptional destination.

Wytheville’s past is on display at several area museums and the Thomas J. Boyd Museum (295 Tazewell Street) is the perfect place to start. The museum is named for the man considered to be the Father of Wytheville. Thomas Jefferson Boyd was an attorney and entrepreneur and also served as mayor and a member of the Virginia legislature. The museum depicts local history, including displays about the Civil War years and the severe polio epidemic that plagued the county in the summer of 1950. The Discovery Corner offers ten interactive stations where children can learn math and science, as well as local history.

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Nearby, the Haller-Gibboney Rock House (205 E. Tazewell Street) was the home of Wytheville’s first resident physician and has played a significant role here since its 1823 construction. Dr. John Haller served this community as a doctor, county coroner and delegate to the Virginia Legislature. The Hallers and their descendants, the Gibboneys and Campbells, lived in the home for 140 years. During that time, they allowed it to be used as an infirmary and a school during the Civil War and later as a boarding house. Now recognized as a historic landmark, the home contains more 1,400 original artifacts and period furnishings.

The Wytheville Training School Cultural Center (410 E. Franklin Street) is the region’s only African American heritage museum. This building was constructed in 1882 as a school for African American children and was in operation until 1952. A non-profit organization was established in 2000 to preserve the school and has now opened it as a public museum. Displays chronicle the achievements of local African Americans and photos, stories and memorabilia tell the history of African American education in Wythe County.

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Wytheville is also the birthplace of First Lady Edith Bolling Wilson, the second wife of Virginia-born President Woodrow Wilson. The Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace Museum (145 E. Main Street) is located in Wilson’s birthplace and childhood home. This first lady led an amazing life and was a strong and interesting character long before marrying a sitting U.S. president. This museum is one of only eight historic sites across the country dedicated to the interpretation of a first lady. It tells the story of the critical role Edith Bolling Wilson played in the White House at a pivotal moment during World War I. She has been called the “secret president” and the “first woman president” by historians.

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The Great Lakes to Florida Highway Museum (975 Tazewell Street) offers a look back to the era when Route 21, known as the Great Lakes to Florida Highway, was the primary route to Florida from the Midwest. As a gas station along the route, this building had direct access to the highway’s travelers. Memorabilia from the building’s opening in 1926 as a gas station through its evolution into a 1950s grocery store is on display. The museum is located near the E. Lee Trinkle Visitors Center, offering the perfect opportunity for visitors to find out more to see and do in Wytheville.

And these historic attractions are only the beginning of the Wytheville story. It has a historic downtown that is also home to a whole host of one-of-a-kind spots. Nearby, significant sites like the Historic Shot Tower (283 Pauley Flatwoods Road, Austinville, VA 24312) over the New River and the Mansion at Fort Chiswell (325 Factory Outlet Drive, Max Meadows, VA 24360) add to the area’s appeal for history buffs.

 

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Lazing and Grazing on Main in Downtown Wytheville

Lazing and Grazing on Main in Downtown Wytheville

by Su Clauson-Wicker

You’re up for a getaway. You’d love a look at the fall colors, but really what you crave is indoor relaxation – breakfast in bed, coffee at your command, dining downstairs, and shopping nearby.

Wytheville’s four-story Bolling Wilson Hotel on Main Street is your answer. Think mountain views from each window and a panorama of unfolding foliage from the rooftop terrace, Perch, accompanied by live music on Saturday nights.

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Off the Bolling Wilson’s glittering lobby — its namesake loved jewels and orchids – is a fine restaurant (Graze on Main) serving Virginia microbrews and Southern-inspired dishes such as bacon-wrapped meatloaf and fried green tomatoes topped with pimento cheese. Rooms come with a sumptuous breakfast basket delivered to the door each morning. And a peek into the bath reveals jeweled shower tiling.

You can entertain yourself by walking across the street. Farron and Bill Smith revived the birthplace of First Lady Edith Bolling Wilson as a museum in addition to saving the National Historic Register hotel that bears her name. For shopping, just saunter under Wytheville Office Supply’s giant pencil to explore nearby Main Street antique shops, boutiques, and craft outlets.

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Wytheville is also the birthplace of First Lady Edith Bolling Wilson, the second wife of Virginia-born President Woodrow Wilson. The Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace Museum (145 E. Main Street) is located in Wilson’s birthplace and childhood home. This first lady led an amazing life and was a strong and interesting character long before marrying a sitting U.S. president. This museum is one of only eight historic sites across the country dedicated to the interpretation of a first lady. It tells the story of the critical role Edith Bolling Wilson played in the White House at a pivotal moment during World War I. She has been called the “secret president” and the “first woman president” by historians.

5 Best Outdoor Adventure Destinations in Wytheville

5 Best Outdoor Adventure Destinations in Wytheville

5 OUTDOOR ADVENTURE DESTINATIONS IN WYTHEVILLE

You are going to have an unforgettable experience in Wytheville and we promise your trip won’t lack for adventure! Wytheville is fortunate to have a number of local, state, and national parks that offer wonderful outdoor experiences for everyone. Not surprisingly, there is also a wealth of camping, hiking, hunting, and picnicking opportunities.

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CRYSTAL SPRINGS RECREATION AREA

Just outside the town limits, you’ll find Crystal Springs Recreation Area, a scenic 1,800- acre area where you can truly get back to nature and camp, bike, hike or picnic. The trails offer a variety of lengths and difficulty, with farmland, forests, and a clear mountain stream serving as a picturesque background.

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BIG WALKER LOOKOUT

Wytheville offers many other incredible experiences, starting with a visit to the top of Big Walker Mountain. At an elevation of 3,405 feet, the lookout features an observation tower and a swinging bridge. The oldest and highest private scenic attraction in Virginia is the starting point of the Toland’s Raid Civil War trail that ends in Wytheville. Also of note: the lookout at the top of the mountain is a Virginia Birding trail and offers breathtakingly beautiful views.

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THE NEW RIVER

Outdoor recreational opportunities abound in the area which is home to the second oldest river in the world. The New River is a true recreation destination for outdoor enthusiasts who love spending time on or in the water. The dazzling river flows through spectacular mountain scenery and features some of the best fishing around, as well as whitewater rafting, canoeing, boating, camping and more.

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BEAGLE RIDGE HERB FARM

No outdoor excursion in Wytheville would be complete without a visit to Beagle Ridge Herb Farm. This 160-acre wooded retreat has more than four miles of nature trails, as well as display gardens and seasonal events. Relax in the gardens and enjoy a cup of herbal tea, learn about herbal crafts and natural lotions and creams or just take in the breathtaking views. You’ll also love Flying Flowers, the name given to the butterflies in the gardens. A walk-through butterfly house allows you to strolls among these gorgeous creatures before you enjoy some Butterfly tea and some delicious lunch.

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SHOT TOWER STATE PARK

Historic Shot Tower State Park should also be on your bucket list. The 57-mile trail follows an abandoned railroad bed along the New River and features hiking, biking, horseback riding, canoeing, tubing, kayaking, fishing, camping and picnicking. Visitors to the park can also ascend Shot Tower, which is on the National Register of Historic Places and was built more than 200 years ago.

Crystal Springs Recreation Area

Crystal Springs Recreation Area

There’s something for everyone at Crystal Springs Recreation Area (unless, of course, you don’t like trees, or gently flowing creeks, or listening to birds sing, or being outside).

Situated just a few miles off historic Rt. 21 in Wythe County, Crystal Springs is becoming a go-to place for locals and visitors alike who enjoy unplugging from the busyness of life, getting out in nature, and enjoying time as a family.  The park, located on 1,800 acres of land, boasts half a dozen hiking and biking trails, primitive campsites (which are free upon registration), an old reservoir, wooden footbridges, wildlife viewing, and more.       

The newest—and most challenging—trail opened in 2015 along the boundary of the park.  Fittingly named, the Boundary Trail follows the ridgeline of Lick Mountain at an elevation of approximately 3,300 feet.  At certain points along the trail, visitors are able to see both sides of the mountain, down into the valley and a large basin of rolling farmland.  On a clear day, they may be able to hear the church bells in Rural Retreat chime on the hour.    

At 8.5 miles from start to finish, the trek will take a solid half day, so hikers are encouraged to pack plenty of water, food, and other essentials.  At some rock ledges, mountain bikers may need to dismount and carry their bikes across.  Visitors seeking an even more demanding hiking experience can begin on the Boundary Trail and connect to High Rocks via the High Rocks Spur Trail.  This trail is a great option for avid hikers and mountain bikers and complements one of the park’s most unique features:  its kid-friendly trails. 

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The Woodpecker Run Trail (0.7 miles), Salamander Meander (0.14 miles), Waterline Trail (0.47 miles) and Shortcut Trail (0.5) are all perfect lengths for little legs.  What’s more is that these trails at Crystal Springs are part of a larger network of trails, the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation’s Kids in Parks program, better known as TRACK Trails.  The goal of TRACK Trails is to make nature a place children want to be, to encourage them to get outdoors and temporarily disconnect from technology.  The premise of the program is simple:  kids hike a trail, log it through the TRACK Trail website, and receive prizes for accumulating hikes.  Additionally, partnering trails are outfitted with interactive educational panels especially designed for young hikers and self-guided brochures that lead children on scavenger hunts or hide and seek adventures in the woods.  Of the 154 parks around the country participating in the TRACK Trail program, Crystal Springs was the fourth one in the country and the first in Virginia to be established. 

For casual hikers or mountain bikers, the Crystal Springs Loop Trail is the perfect fit.  At 2.1 miles and varying degrees of incline, this well-marked, well-traveled trail gives visitors a happy medium.  For visitors’ convenience, there are restrooms and storm shelters along the route.  This route will cross paths with several other trails at the historic reservoir.  The reservoir was built in the early 1900s with hopes that it would be the main supply of water for the town.  Unfortunately, there was not enough water volume, so the reservoir became a supplemental source of water for the town instead.  It is shallow enough to wade in or splash around to cool off on a hot day.

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Visitors interested spending the night at Crystal Springs have a few options.  There are two primitive campsites available at no cost towards the front of the park.  Additionally, there are five backcountry backpacking campsites near the Boundary Trail.  (Registration is required beforehand.  Contact the Town of Wytheville’s Parks and Recreation Department to do so.)

Even if hiking, biking, or walking in nature is not of interest, visitors can still enjoy the park.  There is a large open field at the entrance to the park where families can have a picnic, play a game of touch football, throw a Frisbee, or play fetch with their dog. 

All in all, Crystal Springs Recreation Area is a great place to relax, learn, and spend time together outdoors.  It is a true treasure in Wythe County. 

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