|What’s in a name? In the case of Wytheville, Virginia, the answer is a lot.|
Contrary to many a first impression, it’s pronounced “withville.” No “why” sound here. But contrary is not the word for this Southwest Virginia town. It is unique. It is the only town in the world with that name. And as visitors have found for decades, it is just a little quirky. Situated at the crossroads of two major Interstates (I-77 and I-81), it’s more than the average stopover destination. Its personality shines in one-of-a-kind ways. Check out these not-to-be-missed experiences in one-of-a-kind Wytheville.
In the early 20th century, as northerners found their way to Florida and Interstate travel blossomed, Wytheville became a convenient stopping point for travelers. The Great Lakes to Florida Highway Museum (975 Tazewell Street, Wytheville, Virginia 24382) offers a look back to a time when Route 21 was the primary route to Florida from the Midwest.
Big and Bright, Small and Sacred
Some photo ops here come in extremes. When visitors see the water tower (Cove Road, Wytheville, Virginia 24382) that looks like a hot air balloon, they know they’re in the right place. The brightly painted tower is visible from I-81 and located in a neighborhood near the historic downtown district. Many also make a stop nearby at Wytheville’s smallest church (1090 Nye Road, Wytheville, Virginia 24382). This is the smallest church in Virginia, which has become a true roadside attraction.
First Lady Fame
This is the hometown of First Lady Edith Bolling Wilson. Often called the “secret president” and the “first woman president” by historians, Wilson’s amazing story is told at the Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace Museum (145 East Main Street, Wytheville, Virginia 24382). It’s one of only eight historic sites across the country dedicated to the interpretation of a first lady. There’s also a boutique hotel downtown named and themed in her honor. The Bolling Wilson Hotel (170 East Main Street, Wytheville, Virginia 24382) has 30 luxurious guest rooms themed after three of the first lady’s favorite things: canaries, orchids and bourbon.
Summer Without Children
This was the center of the 1950 polio outbreak, with Wythe County considered ground zero. The details of the dire “summer without children” polio epidemic, along with much more, are on display at the Thomas J. Boyd Museum (295 Tazewell Street, Wytheville, Virginia 24382). It is one of Wytheville’s five museums, each with its own stories to tell.
A Big Pencil
In such a classic downtown, of course, there is shopping. But nowhere else can you take a selfie with the largest pencil in Virginia! The Wytheville Office Supply (146 West Main Street, Wytheville, Virginia 24382) is home to that pencil! In addition, there is an impressive array of local retailers offering one of a kind finds. Those looking for antiques, crafts and unique gift ideas will find it all here. Specialty stores range from fine jewelry to local crafts to handmade furniture.
Light Meals and Lavish Settings
Quirky can be tasty, too! Skeeter’s World Famous Hotdogs (165 East Main Street, Wytheville, Virginia 24382), established in 1925, is one of Virginia’s oldest continuously operating restaurants. Classic dogs, glass-bottled colas and an old school lunch counter make for a delightful experience. On the other end of the spectrum, is The 1776 Log House Restaurant (520 East Main Street, Wytheville, Virginia 24382) is delightful in its own way. Here, fine dining–with an extensive menu of options–is offered in an 18th century, two-story log cabin. Christopher’s Lounge and a sprawling country garden add to the cabin’s grand experience.
Dinner and a Musical
Not the Alps, not on Broadway, but in Wytheville! The Wohlfahrt Haus Dinner Theatre (170 Malin Drive, Wytheville, Virginia 24382) is a 200-seat German-themed venue that presents outstanding Broadway-style professional musical productions. Before each performance a four-course, themed, plated meal is served.
Big Walker Lookout (8711 Stoney Fork Road, Wytheville, Virginia 24382) is the oldest and highest private attraction in Virginia and family-owned and -operated. At an elevation of 3,405 feet, the lookout offers a spectacular view of the Appalachian Mountains and Virginia farmlands. The Big Walker Country Store is a craft haven, featuring the work of more than 25 artisans from the region. There are locally made jams, jellies, fudge, ice cream and more for sale.
When a local carpenter fulfilled his dream of having a zoo, the Fort Chiswell Animal Park (569 Red Hollow Road, Max Meadows, Virginia 24360) was born. From a mobile petting zoo to a full-blown safari park, the attraction now offers an interactive experience amid a 45-acre setting. The largest zoo in Southwest Virginia, it is home to more than 200 animals from six continents, including camels, zebra, antelope and buffalo.
Beagle Ridge Herb Farm (1934 Matney Flats Road, Wytheville, Virginia 24382) is Southwest Virginia’s premier lavender farm and actually offers a two-day Lavender Academy for those who want to delve into the details of choosing, growing, pruning and harvesting. The farm features 14 themed display gardens as well as the Flying Flowers butterfly house to showcase its herb and perennial collections. It’s the only one of its kind in Southwest Virginia.
Trail or Park? Yes
Whatever you call it, it’s beautiful any time of the year! The New River Trail is nearly 58 miles long and is one of America’s premier rails-to-trails routes. The trail is designated an official National Recreation Trail by the U.S. Department of the Interior and is also a Virginia State Park which runs through Wythe and three other Southwest Virginia counties. Foster Falls, the New River State Park headquarters (116 Orphanage Drive, Max Meadows, Virginia 24360), is located about midway along the trail and is a popular starting point.
Photo by Mike Soto.
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