If you’re looking for out-of-the-way places to visit in the southern Appalachian Mountains, you’ve come to the right place. This series from Simply Appalachian highlights interesting and off-beat destinations for you and your whole family to enjoy. The region is rich with diverse places to explore, so return month after month to learn about something, and somewhere, new!
Lewisburg, West Virginia
Lewisburg, West Virginia, is an unassuming little town stuck in time in the Greenbrier Valley of the Allegheny Mountains. Founded in 1782 by General Andrew Lewis (who fought in the Revolutionary War), Lewisburg today has been named one of the “coolest small towns in America.” Its charm lies in its obvious history and the natural beauty of the surrounding mountains. You can expect to enjoy both when you visit.
With a year-round population under 4,000, Lewisburg truly is a small town. It sits at the intersection of WV Routes 60 and 219, just off Interstate 64. It’s about 90 miles by highway from Roanoke, Virginia, but about half that distance as the crow flies — because the crow can fly over the mountains.
But anyone who’s made the trip has never complained. In fact, there’s a saying, attributed to a former city leader: “Only two kinds of people ever leave Lewisburg: those who will return and those who wish they could.” Despite its size, the town offers a rich diversity of options of things for you to see, share and savor, as well as places to shop and stay.
Lewisburg hits a balance between the past and the present. Unlike many small towns, the area preserved its older buildings, creating a picturesque historic downtown, now a National Register Historic District. Modern businesses inhabit downtown storefronts originally built in the 18th to 20th centuries. As you wander down the streets, you’ll notice plaques on the older buildings that explain their original use.
· To get your bearings, stop in at the Greenbrier County Convention & Visitors Bureau. You can get a rundown on what’s happening in Lewisburg and the surrounding area in one quick conversation.
· Some of the town’s original buildings — such as The Barracks, a three-story stone and log structure constructed around 1789 — survive to this day. Now owned by the Greenbrier Historical Society, its exterior is uniquely distinctive.
· The North House Museum offers free and moderately priced tours of the museum and beyond. Explore the way people used to live with curated exhibits that will delight the whole family.
· Lewisburg has the last Carnegie Hall built by the Andrew Carnegie (in 1902). The building has been in continuous use ever since — just like the Carnegie Halls in New York, Pittsburgh and Scotland. This Carnegie Hall, like the others, hosts intimate concerts and art shows.
· The Old Stone Presbyterian Church, built in 1796 with a later addition, is an excellent example of the architecture of the time, with walls that are 22 inches thick. After your tour, stroll into the past in the adjacent cemetery.
While history lives in downtown Lewisburg, the surrounding hills hide caverns that can excite your senses. And of course, you’ll find a full assortment of nature-loving adventures: hiking trails, bicycling trips, water sports (including canoeing, kayaking and white-water rafting) and more:
· Lost World Caverns offers cave tours for the whole family that promise to show you amazing rock formations up to 235 feet below the surface. If you’re feeling especially daring, try a four-hour wild cave tour. You will never forget it!
· If you love bicycling, the Greenbier River Trail runs 78 miles along the river. You don’t have to ride the whole length to find breathtaking views, and you can even rent bikes in downtown Lewisburg.
· For something completely different, on August 7–8, 2015, the Lewisburg Literary Festival kicks off with workshops, panel discussions, films and music. Headlining this year is Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help.
· The rolling hills and mountains surrounding Lewisburg feature winding roads, stately homes, unbeatable views and even an old covered bridge, the Locust Creek Bridge. Summertime is a terrific time to explore the scenery. Bring your camera!
Downtown Lewisburg has been reborn with shops and restaurants. From fine dining experiences to casual cafés, you can find all sorts of food choices, including:
· Stardust Café may be the most eclectic choice for lunch or dinner in Lewisburg. While the lunch menu offers just sandwiches and salads, the dinner menu mixes it up with meat dishes, vegetarian choices, and pasta options, all made a bit differently, such as the Ginger Garlic Tuna and the Curried Chicken.
· Meanwhile, The Asylum offers an escape from the world with upscale pub food and a full bar. They have a long wine list, too. You might be tempted to stay and linger, but don’t worry, this is one asylum you can check out of.
· The Livery Tavern offers a full menu of farm-to-table treats in an old livery stable. This upscale restaurant serves up delectable favorites such as Trout Almandine and Bourbon-Glazed Pork Chop.
· The aptly named Food & Friends began in 1985 as a sandwich shop. But its local popularity helped it grow into a full-fledged, full-service restaurant with a full menu. It remains a local favorite.
Just because little Lewisburg caters to tourists doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have some cool and unusual places to shop. While you’re in the area, have a look around, and you’re bound to find something tempting, from the art galleries to the antique shops:
· Hill & Holler Bicycle Works is a complete service bicycle shop, owned and operated by local bicycle fanatic Merrick Tracy. Ever since 2012, he’s been supplying locals and visitors with top-notch bikes and gear. Oh, and he rents bicycles, too!
· For something different, check out Bella The Corner Gourmet. A great stop to pick up gifts for your friends back home, Bella’s also sells gourmet foods and artisan cheeses. Yum!
· The Front Porch sells home décor, furnishings, jewelry and clothing — everything you didn’t know you wanted but now you can’t leave without. You won’t be able to leave until you complete a sweep of the store.
· About three miles outside of town lies Watts Roost Vineyard, where you can taste and buy local wine. A visit is fun for the whole family, as they keep lambs, a donkey, a llama, and three great big dogs.
Given its focus on the outdoors, it’s not surprising that the Lewisburg area has many campgrounds, but you certainly don’t have to rough it to enjoy a visit. Here are several options for you and the family:
· Historic General Lewis Inn was built in the early 1800s, but offers modern amenities and comforts. They’ve filled their rooms with antiques, as well as the modern appliances you expect from a fine hotel. The Inn is located right downtown.
· The Lewisburg Hotel, also in the downtown district, has been restored to elegance so it’s even better than it was when it opened in 1834. The current building also includes a motel that captures the early 1960’s essence. Two in one!
· For a homey experience, try Church Street Bed & Breakfast. On the outskirts of downtown, you get the quiet comfort of plush rooms while you still have easy access to downtown’s shops.
· A short drive away in White Sulphur Springs is The Greenbrier, a full-on resort that deserves a report of its own. Fortunately, we covered it here.
If you’ve not yet visited Lewisburg, West Virginia, August is a great time to go. The weather is wonderful, the experience is sure to please the whole family, and you won’t run out of things to see, share and savor. We couldn’t list everything worthwhile in and around the town, so do your homework, and then be sure to stop in at the Visitors Bureau. And thanks for stopping in at Simply Appalachian.