By Celeste M. Smucker –
Imagine a quaint little town where you can browse interesting shops, view historic treasures, enjoy special events, and eat award-winning barbeque. Imagine a place where ghosts of people long dead make occasional appearances to delight visitors.
If all of that intrigues, come for a visit to Gordonsville, a small town north of Zion Crossroads on Route 15 that overlaps the three counties of Albemarle, Louisa and Orange, where you can enjoy a fun and delightful weekend getaway.
Prepare for your trip by reserving a spot at one of Gordonsville’s bed and breakfasts. Then start thinking about whether to tour local breweries and cideries, Civil War sites or local vineyards where you can sample the wine and enjoy a picnic on the grounds. Information about suggested self-guided tours is available at the Town of Gordonsville’s website.
During your Gordonsville visit why not investigate the local real estate market as well? Maybe you’ll decide you like the friendly small town atmosphere and local home prices so much you decide to stay permanently, or at the very least, invest in a second home so you can enjoy Gordonsville and surrounding areas more often.
The town of Gordonsville is known for its sense of community and small town atmosphere. Residents describe it as a caring place where people know their neighbors, and depend on each other.
Sharon Merrick, with Roy Wheeler Realty Co., explains that Gordonsville’s small town atmosphere is very attractive to home buyers. “You get a great quality of life,” she said, “but you don’t give up a lot in the way of amenities because Charlottesville is so close by.” She notes that when you do have to get on the road traffic is minimal and you can enjoy a beautiful, “idyllic” country drive.
The area also boasts its share of local shopping, banks and restaurants so residents can purchase much of what they need, or even enjoy a night out, without leaving the immediate area.
Agents point out it is not uncommon for individuals who work in Charlottesville to live in Gordonsville because of the rural setting, the small town atmosphere, and the favorable home prices. In dual income households where one spouse works in Charlottesville the other in Richmond Gordonsville can be a nice compromise thanks to its easy access to the Interstate.
Of course, many families find this friendly town to be a safe place to raise children. And since it straddles the three counties of Albemarle, Louisa and Orange, they can choose from three public school systems to find the one that best suits their needs.
There are also nearby private schools. Grymes Memorial is a day school for kindergarten (starting at age three) through grade eight, and Woodberry Forest is a boarding school for high school-aged boys. Woodberry Forest has a long history and was originally owned by the brother of President James Madison.
It’s not unusual for people from Northern Virginia to chose Gordonsville when they decide to relocate, Merrick said. She added that they love how their money buys a house on a good-sized piece of land with lots of space to spread out. They are also intrigued by the natural beauty and appreciate being able to walk a property so much bigger than what they were accustomed to in Northern Virginia..
Merrick often hears from horse owners who end up buying property in the Gordonsville area. There are “amazing vets here,” she said and hay is readily available, both amenities that horse lovers require. A good example is a recent client from the Midwest who bought a 30-acre property featuring a horse barn and a separate apartment.
Gordonsville’s Real Estate Market
“Homes are selling quickly and inventory is low,” said Missy Garrison with Montague Miller & Co. REALTORS® . Of course that kind of activity “tends to drive prices up,” she added. Still prices are favorable compared to homes closer to Charlottesville where similar houses may be two to three times higher in price than in the Gordonsville area she added.
She emphasized that when you live in Gordonsville, Charlottesville’s many amenities are not that far away, 20 to 25 minutes at the most.
Homes in the first time buyer range are available Merrick said describing a recent sale to some of her first timer clients. The home listed for $233 thousand and sold for $222 thousand.
Garrison has seen prices as low as $144 thousand. However she cautioned that often the very lowest priced homes are also in the worst condition. If it needs a lot of work chances are good it would not qualify for an FHA or one of the other types of loans popular with first time buyers.
The Gordonsville market is a bit of a “mixed bag,” Merrick said given that it includes three counties and a range of properties from homes on small lots to 5, 50 or even 500 acre parcels in all price ranges. She is seeing a lot of interest from hobby farmers, people who have always dreamed of raising a few cattle, have some horses or a big garden.
Agri-business is popular these days as well, and includes everything from wedding venues to vineyards to farms that allow buyers to pick their own fruits and vegetables. Merrick suggests people need to check county regulations carefully before deciding they’ve found the perfect place for their business.
Another type of rural business is a solar panel farm such as one recently approved by Albemarle County on a 100 acre property, Merrick said. These entrepreneurs generate energy via the panels and sell it to companies like Dominion Virginia Power.
Still other local buyers are people wanting second homes for weekend use. Gordonsville’s location to the north makes it a shorter drive from DC and Northern Virginia than some other Charlottesville area possibilities, Merrick said. Often the buyers have plans to retire there eventually.
Gordonsville was named for Nathaniel Gordon who arrived in 1787 and purchased a plantation in Orange County. In 1794 he started a tavern at a location where today’s Gordonsville has a traffic circle.
The tavern became a favorite of important guests such as Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Major General Marquis de Lafayette, the French military officer who served with George Washington during the Revolutionary War.
In 1813, the town officially became Gordonsville, and five years ago, on its 200th birthday, there was a big celebration to mark the event.
In the 19th century Gordonsville became a significant economic center and served as both a rail and road hub for key supplies during the Civil War.
In that time Gordonsville’s Exchange Hotel (once an elegant stopping place for travelers) became the Gordonsville Receiving Hospital. Over 70,000 sick and wounded soldiers from both sides of the conflict were treated there. Today it is “Virginia’s only standing Civil War receiving hospital.” according to its website.
After the war and during reconstruction, from 1865 to 1877, the hotel became the Freedman’s Bureau a place that provided care and education to newly freed slaves. Subsequently it was once again a hotel until 1971 when Historic Gordonsville, Inc restored it and made it a Civil War museum with three floors of displays.
Today visitors can browse period medical equipment, uniforms and weapons. In 1973 it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and recognized again in 2002 as an African American Memorial Site.
A special plaque at the Exchange Hotel Museum honors “Gordonsville’s Legendary Chicken Vendors.” These African American women carried trays of fried chicken on their heads and sold it to passengers who passed through town on trains, a practice that continued until the mid-1900s. The town was called “the chicken center of the universe,” by a Baltimore journalist who wrote about these early entrepreneurs.
In honor of these women and their unique contribution to Gordonsville’s heritage the town now hosts an annual Fried Chicken Festival at the Gordonsville Fire Company Fair Grounds. Come join the fun on Saturday May 18, 2019 from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. rain or shine. The event will feature fried chicken and pie contests plus a wine garden, and craft and artisan vendors.
Shopping, Food, Fun, and Spooky Visitors
One of Gordonsville’s attractions is its walkable downtown featuring quaint shops and restaurants.
Recently, to enhance the downtown experience, Gordonsville completed improvements to its streetscape thanks to local funding and grant support from VDOT. The upgrades updated the town’s look with brick paver sidewalks, ornamental benches, trash receptacles and landscaping. It also improved safety with additional lighting and pedestrian crosswalks.
If you are a barbeque fan be sure to stop in a the Barbeque Exchange, Merrick said adding that “they are knocking it out of the park.” Lots of barbeque lovers agree. This nearly 40-year-old restaurant gets high marks on Yelp—4.5 based on 365 reviews—and was the only BBQ restaurant in Virginia to appear on the Thrillist website’s The Best BBQ in Every State list in 2015.
Good times to visit Gordonsville, are during some of the growing number of annual activities that attract people to the area. One of these is the Annual Gordonsville Fall Festival every year on the first Saturday of October that benefits the local Volunteer Fire Company. This year’s date is October 6. Held at the Gordonsville Volunteer Fire Company Fairgrounds it features food, crafts and live entertainment.
Gordonsville is also known for its beautiful holiday lights, Garrison said. The annual display brings people in from all over the area, some from many miles away.
Visitors intrigued by ghosts and other paranormal events, can reserve space at a “Public Investigation.” This experience, for eight or more people, is a candlelight tour of the Museum and chance to learn about its connections to what many have described as spirits still haunting the building. According to hauntedplaces.org one of these is a Union soldier, the last to leave when the hospital closed. Another is an African American cook who sometimes speaks to visitors.
The Museum website challenges you to ” Join us and find out if you can maintain your skepticism after a night’s visit.”
The Museum may not be the only place where ghosts appear. Merrick’s former dress shop was located in what was a furniture store in the late 1800s. One night, while she was unpacking new inventory, she was hit by one of her clothing racks that unexpectedly rolled across the floor. Since there was no breeze and the floor was not uneven it crossed her mind that a ghost had come to pay her a visit.
If you like the idea of living in a friendly place with a quaint, walkable downtown less than half an hour from Charlottesville, come experience Gordonsville.
You will find interesting activities year round, and a real estate market that features great prices with options to meet the needs of buyers from first timers to those ready to start an agribusiness or solar panel farm. Call one of Gordonsville’s knowledgeable REALTORS® today for more info.
Celeste Smucker is a writer and blogger who lives near Charlottesville.