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17 Places for Kids to Get Hands-On with Virginia History

by Casey | Posted on March 24th, 2014

Connect the dots with your children’s interest in history by allowing them to explore the Virginia sites that let them get their hands dirty and in the mix. Visits to the following 17 locations are perfect for spring break, weekends, and the summer season.

Jamestown Settlement. Photo by CameronDavidson@CameronDavidson.com.

Jamestown Settlement. Photo by CameronDavidson@CameronDavidson.com.

Located in Yorktown, the Yorktown Victory Center puts the struggle for America’s independence on display with exhibits pertaining to the Revolution and the Declaration of Independence, plus, there is also a Continental Army encampment and 1780s farm. Kids will enjoy their time here because they may be invited to join an artillery crew or drill with wooden muskets at the aforementioned encampment, help plant and water the garden, or ”break” and “comb” flax at the farm.

Jamestown Settlement invites you to explore America’s first permanent English colony. Literally step back in history as you and your children steer with a tiller or whipstaff aboard a re-creation of one of the three ships that brought the first English colonists to Virginia or try on 17th-century-style armor and play quoits at the re-created colonial fort. Want to get your hands dirty? Grind corn, weave plant fibers into cordage and use oyster shells to scrape out a dugout canoe at the Powhatan Indian village.

The Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton introduces you to life in West Africa (1700s), England (1600s), Ireland (1700s), and Germany (1700s) before these cultures settled in America, bringing their traditions, trades, customs and animals with them. Crops and animals representing each country live at each of the interpretive farms. A special upcoming event that allows you to get especially hands-on is Wool Days, when the sheep will be sheared. Take part in weaving on the Irish farm, carding and spinning wool on the 1820 American farm, sorting and scouring wool at the English farm, and processing flax on the German farm.

Nauticus is the home of Battleship Wisconsin in Norfolk, and is a maritime science museum. Among the things you can get involved with here are the shark and horseshoe crab touch tanks, experiencing a Category 1 hurricane (fee), exploring an historic World War II battleship, raising the signal flags, packing a sea bag,  and more.

Gunston Hall in Lorton was the home of George Mason, the author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights upon which the United States Bill of Rights was based. The home and expanse of land are fabulous to tour as the property backs up to and overlooks the Potomac River. Daily between July and August is a program called History’s Mysteries, an interactive, hands-on search of the grounds and mansion featuring a special clue book and a prize for solving the 18th-century mystery.

Virginia Sports Hall of  Fame & Museum.

Virginia Sports Hall of Fame & Museum.

See who the Virginia Hall of Famers are and then maybe try your hand at their sport when you visit the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in Portsmouth. Baseball, football, golf, and basketball areas are all waiting for your best shot. Also check out the Redskins Skybox and the Media Center for simulations of what it’s like to be on the other side of the sports.

The second Saturday of each month is Family Day at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle. Kids of all ages can explore the interactive museum, venturing through a gallery scavenger hunt and trying on period uniforms. The whole family can experience the weight of a pack as you each go through boot camp, or feel the ground shake as you land on Iwo-Jima in 1945. End the day with a meal in the Mess Hall.

Let your kids travel back in time and experience the life of a solider during the Civil War at the Brentsville Courthouse Historic Center in Bristow during special Civil War camp opportunities. Hands-on activities include “Enlist in Virginia’s Army” and “Civil War Medicine.” The camp also features a field trip to Manassas National Battlefield Park. Upcoming camp dates include April 14-18, July 21-25, and August 18-22.

The Rapidan Camp: President and Mrs. Hoover’s “Summer White House” in Shenandoah National Park has recently been restored to its 1929 appearance and is an excellent reflection of not only its era, but also of President Hoover. Kids can board the “Hoover Mover” at Byrd Visitor Center and start learning the history of Rapidan Camp, told by a Park Ranger. Upon arrival at the camp, children explore the restored “Brown House” and nearby Prime Minister’s House, which is a living museum. Visitors are encouraged to wander the camp, and discover why it was the perfect location for the President’s summer getaway.

Join in the living history aspects of Patrick Henry’s Red Hill in Brookneal. A variety of activities are available, from pottery making, tin punching and blacksmithing to spinning, weaving, and processing flax to linen. The children that attend the living history program spend the day immersed in what life would have been like in Patrick Henry’s day and time. They will get to try their hand at a multitude of activities that would have taken place years ago at Red Hill.

Touch Tank at Virginia Living Museum.

Touch Tank at Virginia Living Museum.

The Virginia Living Museum in Newport News depicts Virginia’s natural heritage from the mountains to the sea. Kids will especially enjoy the Touch Tank with its sea stars and horseshoe crabs, not to mention other opportunities to touch live spider crabs and fossilized dinosaur tracks!

Head to Hampton and the Virginia Air & Space Center where you can launch a rocket, pilot a shuttle and try on wings to feel the lift that makes things fly.

Kids will love the chance to experience their own “Night at the Museum” with the sleepovers offered at the Virginia Museum of Natural History in Martinsville. Special hands-on activities are offered on these themed nights. Pizza, an evening snack and breakfast are included as part of the fun!

If you have a little train lover in your midst who has never gotten to board one, head to the Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke and climb aboard a steam locomotive.  Summer camps are available if your child would like an immersive daytime experience.

Civil War Adventure Camp at Pamplin Historical Park.

Civil War Adventure Camp at Pamplin Historical Park.

Called “the new crown jewel of Civil War History destinations in America” by Pulitzer Prize historian James McPherson, Pamplin Historical Park in Petersburg has four world-class museums, four antebellum homes and is the site of the Breakthrough Battlefield of April 2, 1865, where Union forces broke through Petersburg’s defense lines. Here kids can get their hands on uniforms to try on (just their size!), and be prompted to perform other activities throughout the park. Go big or go home with the opportunity to participate in a Civil War Adventure Camp – perfect for all ages, so parents can attend, too.

The National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly welcomes you to check out their staff-led roving Discovery Stations. The stations may be different in topic each time you encounter one. For example, the Animation Station allows you to generate a stop motion animated film with toys while the Rats in Space Station demonstrates gravity. Flight simulators are also on site along with the hundreds of aircraft and space exploration vehicles.

Perhaps the quintessential hands-on history opportunity in Virginia is found at Colonial Williamsburg where the entire Revolutionary City is interprets 18th century life. Try brickmaking, try the daily chores on for size at the James Geddy House or the Powell House, and get caught in the stocks for a photo opportunity. There are opportunities to see how things were made and done during the 18th century and sometimes you’ll be invited to join in; watch for your chance!

At which Virginia attraction have you had an unexpected hands-on learning opportunity? Share your story with a comment!

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Family, History | 1 Comment

10 Spring Festivals You Don’t Want to Miss

by Casey | Posted on March 19th, 2014

Between spring and summer, Virginia has hundreds of festivals to choose from, each with its own unique atmosphere, tastes and vibe. Here are ten festivals that either have a storied history or are rising stars in their genre. Plan a spring weekend around one.

Daffodil Festival, Gloucester

Daffodil Festival, Gloucester

A true harbinger of spring, Gloucester’s Daffodil Festival is an annual two day extravaganza held in early April, just as the beautiful yellow blooms make their appearance. With floats akin to those of the Rose Parade, the festival kicks off with the Daffodil Festival Parade and the Daffodil Queen. The remainder of the festival is what you’d expect – magicians, face painting, artisans, live music, and tons of food. Saturday only, you’re invited to take a tour of Brent & Becky’s Bulbs to take place your order for genuine Gloucester Daffodil bulbs!

The Virginia Hot Glass Festival is held annually in Staunton and hosted by SunSpots Studio. Not afraid to share their spotlight, SunSpots invites other glass blowers from around the region to demonstrate and show off their talents for these two late April dates. Take home a piece of jewelry, art glass marbles, or other hand blown glass item just after the artist has put the finishing touches on it. For the kids, a fire-breathing dragon and ray gun demonstration will be key highlights, along with the challenge the kids can present to the artists: create a blown glass rendition of a kids’ drawing. The Virginia Hot Glass Festival is the only festival of its kind in Virginia.

A fairly new festival is the Rocktown Beer & Music Festival in Harrisonburg. Now in its fourth year, this festival celebrates craft beer from Virginia and beyond. Each brewery (30 so far) will have a representative on site serving their flagship beer as well as a rare or seasonal craft brew. Expect great food from the burgeoning restaurant scene of Harrisonburg, as well as fantastic live music to round out this spring day in late April. TICKETS

One of Virginia’s largest and oldest festivals is the annual Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival in Winchester, held over 10 days at the end of April and into early May. Entering its 87th year, the festival has grown to include a wine festival, midway rides, a golf tournament, apple pie baking contest, a fun run and 10K, the coronation of Queen Shenandoah, the Queen’s Ball, fireworks, the world’s largest firefighters’ parade, and the official Grand Feature Parade, among other events with live music and food involved. TICKETS

Chincoteague Seafood Festival

Chincoteague Seafood Festival

Salivating for fresh seafood? Wipe your mouth and head to the Chincoteague Seafood Festival in early May! Signature seafood dishes will be prepared for your consumption, including the famous Little Neck Clams that the festival is known for. Drinks are included with admission; beer is additional. Stay all day and graze while live beach music sets the vibe. TICKETS

The middle of May is the perfect time to treat yourself (or mom for Mother’s Day!) to a day overlooking the Potomac River with a glass of wine at the Spring Wine Festival & Sunset Tour at George Washington’s Mount Vernon. Sixteen Virginia wineries will be on hand for your tasting pleasure while the rarely opened wine storage of George Washington will be open for your viewing pleasure. This festival is very popular and often sells out in advance. Tickets available beginning April 1.

Southerners love their fried chicken and no community knows that better than Gordonsville! Dubbed the “Chicken Leg Center of the Universe,” Gordonsville offers to you its annual Famous Fried Chicken Festival. The story of their fried chicken goes way back to the 19th century women who would greet passengers on the train as it stopped in Gordonsville, all while carrying platters of chicken on their heads. The hospitality of serving great fried chicken has never stopped and you can enjoy the flavors or offer your own at the cook-off. Wineries and artisans will be on hand to complete the festival environment.

Rooster Walk Music and Arts Festival, Martinsville

Rooster Walk Music and Arts Festival, Martinsville

If you love multi-day music festivals, don’t wait until summer to get your groove on. Rooster Walk Music and Arts Festival is four days of live music over Memorial Day Weekend. At the time of this writing, there are 35 bands lined up, including Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, The Infamous Stringdusters and Yarn. Held at the Blue Mountain Festival Grounds in Martinsville, this festival will include delicious food, children’s activities, and arts and crafts. Camping is available. TICKETS

Portsmouth invites you to the Annual UMOJA Festival in late May. It’s the 24th year for this three day festival promoting cultural diversity and unity, and will open with a traditional African drum call and ceremonial processional. Great ethnic foods and artisans’ wares are a highlight along with a famed musical act. This year the UMOJA Festival welcomes Chaka Khan!

The three day Clinch River Days Festival is held annually in St. Paul and celebrates the river life, heritage and culture of Southwest Virginia. Whatever your outdoor pleasure, you can likely enjoy it during this weekend of fun. Taste the food and wine flavors of the region as you learn about the railroad and river influence on this area.

Find more fun festivals and events at Virginia.org/Events.

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17 Scenic Drives for Virginia Wine

by Casey | Posted on March 18th, 2014

Ever growing and pulling in the medals and accolades is Virginia’s wine industry. Take a drive to sample the latest uncorked vintage where it was first crafted and learn from the winemakers themselves exactly what you should taste, smell and feel as each sip crosses your lips. You’ll also be delighted with special food and wine pairings or casual live music events throughout the warmer months. For certain, if you love wine, you must grab a friend or two and take to one or more of these scenic drives for Virginia wine. Remember to designate a driver.

Afton Mountain Vineyards, part of the Monticello Wine Trail.

Afton Mountain Vineyards, part of the Monticello Wine Trail.

Shenandoah Valley to Blue Ridge Highlands

Wind your way through the Shenandoah Valley and encounter several wine trails at once. The larger trail, The Shenandoah Valley Wine Trail, includes 19 wineries between Berryville and Eagle Rock, a distance of 177 miles. Surely this is a weekend, or perhaps multi-weekend trip to take advantage of each trail, each winery, and every great bite of food along the way. Trail Map

Farther down the Valley into the Blue Ridge Highlands is the Mountain Road Wine Experience, a meandering trail that highlights the tastes along the Blue Ridge Parkway between Roanoke and Floyd. Five wineries, a meadery and a cidery await.

 

Northern Virginia to Central Virginia

What better way to think of a gigantic wine trail than in clusters? Branch off on one or two of the Loudoun: DC’s Wine Country clusters for a delicious couples weekend away. Each cluster is six to eight wineries strong and includes destination dining hot spots as well. Trail Map

South of the Loudoun trails is the Fauquier County Wine Trail featuring 24 wineries. This trail spreads from Delaplane off Route 17 to Sumerduck off Route 29. Route 55 is the main east to west corridor of this trail. Trail Map

Bluemont Vineyards, part of Loudoun: DC's Wine Country.

Bluemont Vineyards, part of Loudoun: DC’s Wine Country.

Picking up in Warrenton, the 211 Scenic Vino Wine Trail follows Route 211 to “Little” Washington. Along the way you can choose to stop and sip at seven wineries or a distillery, or continue past Washington to Luray and on up the mountain to pick up Skyline Drive through Shenandoah National Park. Trail Map

In the same neck of the woods, check out the Artisanal Wineries of Rappahannock (some of which are also included in the 211 Trail). Route 211 will intersect with Route 522 and it’s on this double route that you’ll find four wineries between Front Royal and Culpeper. Route 231 towards Charlottesville from Sperryville offers up one more winery to bring the total to five for this trail. Trail Map

The Blue Ridge Whiskey Wine Loop pretty much encompasses both the 211 and Artisanal Wineries trails as it does, in fact, loop from Front Royal on Route 522 to Warrenton, across Route 211 to Sperryville and continues on Route 34o through Luray to Front Royal again. With eight wineries and one distillery on this trail, you might opt to stretch it out over two days. Trail Map

Just south of the three aforementioned trails is the Foothills Scenic Wine Trail, an exclusive club of two wineries off Route 231 in Sperryville and Etlan, respectively. Trail Map

The Monticello Wine Trail is another large adventure that is broken up into five segments. Centered around the Charlottesville area, this trail of 30 wineries is meant to incorporate the goodness of Thomas Jefferson’s wine quests. Expect to experience history and great food as you branch off for a day or two. Trail Map

From its most eastern point, the Monticello Wine Trail easily leads into the Heart of Virginia Wine Trail northwest of Richmond. This trail includes six wineries from Louisa to Glen Allen and Gum Spring to Spotsylvania. Trail Map

Circling back to the west, and the area lovingly called the “sunrise side” of the Blue Ridge, Nelson County boasts the Nelson 151 Trail. The 151 stands for Route 151, a drive that includes seven wineries, three breweries, a cidery and a distillery. It’s the most diverse of the adult beverage trails in Virginia. Trail Map

 

Central Virginia to Southern Virginia

The Dog and Oyster, part of the Chesapeake Bay Wine Trail.

The Dog and Oyster, part of the Chesapeake Bay Wine Trail.

Along the Bedford Wine Trail aficionados will experience the tastes of five vineyards and wineries from the Blue Ridge Parkway to Smith Mountain Lake. Trail Map

The SoVA Wine Trail (SoVA means Southern Virginia) includes 12 wineries. A trail map will be available later in 2014.

 

Chesapeake Bay to Coastal Virginia – Eastern Shore

The 12 wineries of the Chesapeake Bay Wine Trail await your arrival. The scenery along the bay will steal your breath and the wines will tickle your taste buds. Check out their trail map: Page 1 | Page 2

The Eastern Shore Wine Trail has three wineries for you to visit. Just stay on Route 13 to hit Machipongo, Franktown (near Nassawaddox) and Bloxom to complete the trail.

 

While these trails are a great start to get you out enjoying the wine where it’s made, they do not incorporate every winery in Virginia. See our directory to locate one near you or where you’re headed.

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21 Influential Virginia Women

by Casey | Posted on March 12th, 2014

March is Women’s History Month and we’re proud to shine a light on some of the women who have made huge impressions, leaving their mark on Virginia.

Please note that this list is in no way comprehensive. How could it be? To give us a hand, please leave a comment to honor the Virginia women you find most influential.

Pocahontas 1994 by Mary Ellen Howe

Pocahontas 1994 by Mary Ellen Howe

Pocahontas (1595-1617) daughter of Indian Chief Powhatan; married John Rolfe.

Mary Elizabeth Bowser (1839-unknown) Richmond; Union spy working as a servant for Varina Davis, wife of the President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis. Inducted into the U.S. Army Military Intelligence Corps Hall of Fame (1995).

Maggie L. Walker (1864-1934) Richmond; First woman bank president in America, Advocate of black women’s rights.

Ellen Glasgow (1873-1945) Richmond; fiction writer in early 1900s, Pulitzer Prize winner (1942).

Nancy Langhorne Astor (1879-1964) Danville; first woman seated in the British House of Commons.

Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site. Image by Casey Higgins.

Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site

Ann Spencer (1882-1975) Henry County; African-American poet of the Harlem Renaissance.

Sara Carter (1898-1979) Copper Creek; country singer.

Maybelle Carter – (1909-1979) Nicklesville; country singer.

Ella Fitzgerald (1917-96) Newport News; “The First Lady of Song;” Grammy Award-winning Jazz singer (13 times).

Maybelle, A.P. and Sara Carter

Maybelle, A.P. and Sara Carter

Pearl Bailey (1918-90) Newport News; Actress, Singer and Author; Tony Award (1967); Medal of Freedom Award (1988).

June Carter Cash (1929-2003) Hiltons; country singer, married to Johnny Cash.

Patsy Cline (1932-1963) Winchester; country singer.

Shirley MacLaine (1934- ) Richmond; stage and screen actress, Academy Award winner.

Barbara Johns (1935-1991) New York City, but grew up in Farmville, Prince Edward County. Sixteen year old junior at Robert Russa Moton High School who organized a student strike for a new school building (1951). The NAACP advised the students to sue for integration. The Farmville case was one of the five eventually rolled into the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka case that declared segregation unconstitutional (1954).

Kylene Barker (1955 – ) Pipers Gap; 1979 Miss America – Virginia’s first Miss America.

Katie Couric (1957- ) Arlington; television news personality; host of “Katie,” ABC; global anchor, Yahoo News.

Wanda Sykes (1964- ) Portsmouth; Comedienne and actress. Film and television credits include “The Wanda Sykes Show,” “Evan Almighty,” “Monster-in-Law,” “Nutty Professor 2;” Emmy Award Winner (1999, 2002, 2004, 2005).

Missy Elliott (1971- ) Portsmouth; Songwriter, Producer, Arranger, Talent Scout, Record Mogul. Considered the top female hip-hop artist of all time. Four-time Grammy Award Winner (2001, 2002, 2003, 2005).

Whitney Hedgepeth (1971- ) Colonial Heights; Three-time NCAA Champion, Gold and Silver Olympic Medalist (Atlanta 1996).

Caressa Cameron (1987- ) – Fredericksburg; 2010 Miss America.

Gabrielle Douglas (1995- ) Virginia Beach; Gymnast. Olympic Gold Medalist (London 2012). First African-American all-around gymnastics champion.

 

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History | 1 Comment

14 Reasons to Experience Virginia’s Most Iconic Scenic Drives

by Casey | Posted on March 10th, 2014

The Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive are the hands-down, quintessential, most recognized scenic drives in Virginia. Have you driven either one? If not, they must be on your spring and summer to-do list, without question, and here’s why.

Rocky Knob Recreation Area on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Photo by CameronDavidson@CameronDavidson.com.

Rocky Knob Recreation Area on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Photo by CameronDavidson@CameronDavidson.com.

The Blue Ridge Parkway is widely and commonly referred to as “America’s Favorite Scenic Drive,” as it meanders 469 miles from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina.

7 Reasons to Go:

1. Elevation from 650 to 6,000 feet afford some of the world’s most spectacular views.

2. Mabry Mill is one of the most photographed sites in the nation and the restaurant has the best buckwheat pancakes you will ever get your hands on.

3. The summit of Sharp Top, part of Peaks of Otter, offers 360-degree views. On a clear day you can see for many miles.

4. Blue Ridge Music Center is home to a summer concert series with bands taking the amphitheater stage every Saturday from June until September.

5. History is captured through 19th century interpretive preservation sites like The Trail Cabin at milepost 154 and The Puckett Cabin at milepost 189.

6. If you want to hang out for a few days and enjoy the chill of spring’s air around a campfire, there are four campgrounds to choose from between mileposts 60 and 161.

7. Hiking is a no-brainer with trails leading to spectacular look-outs and waterfalls, too.

View from the Blue Ridge Parkway

View from the Blue Ridge Parkway

The 105-mile Skyline Drive is a National Scenic Byway and your access to Shenandoah National Park. The Drive runs the peak of the Blue Ridge Mountains from Front Royal to Waynesboro, where the Blue Ridge Parkway begins.

7 Reasons to Go:

1. Seventy-five overlooks put the Shenandoah Valley and Piedmont on display from on high.

2. The Appalachian Trail makes up 101 of the 518 miles of trails through Shenandoah National Park. If setting foot on the AT is on your bucket list, here you go.

Dark Hollow Falls, Shenandoah National Park
Dark Hollow Falls, Shenandoah National Park

 3. Four Shenandoah National Park trails are included as the most popular, according to Virginia is for Lovers’ Facebook and Twitter fans. You must lace up and see what all the fuss is about (hint: waterfalls).

4. Backcountry camping is welcome on nearly all of the Park’s 196,000 acres. Forty percent, or 79,579 acres of the Park, is Congressionally designated wilderness area, meaning Leave No Trace practices are expected by all who visit.

5. For those who would like to spend time in the mountains but would rather not camp, there are two comfortable lodging options (with on-site dining) for you – Big Meadows Lodge and Skyland Resort.

6. Seventy mountain streams offer great fishing of the vibrant native brook trout population. Fishing Regulations

7. If you’re into geocaching, try EarthCaching at Shenandoah National Park. Rather than finding physical caches, you’ll be searching for natural, geological treasures. Note that placing traditional physical caches is prohibited.

What would you add as your reason to visit either of these treasured drives? Leave a comment to let us and our readers know.

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