By Ken Wilson –
There is peace in the valley if that’s what you want—and plenty to keep you occupied when you don’t.
Just “over the mountain” from Albemarle County is the storied Shenandoah Valley with all that lush countryside, and all those country places. Once so richly farmed it was dubbed “the breadbasket of the Confederacy,” Augusta County today holds three treasured slices of Mother Nature: portions of Shenandoah National Park, George Washington National Forest, and the Blue Ridge Parkway.
But the manmade part is something too. The little independent city of Staunton is known for its lively cultural life and the charm of its architecture, and the still smaller burg of Waynesboro has its own quaintly picturesque downtown and a growing bedroom-community-no-more reputation.
Want an evening of jazz in the park? Head to the Valley. Admire the paintings of P. Buckley Moss? Take your pick in the Valley. Looking, not just to visit, but for more affordable housing and to stay put? You’ve found the right valley, alright. Music and theater, collector’s item art and railroad history—it’s all here and you’re just getting started.
Saddles, Rails and Running Boards
You can see the countryside from the backseat of a car, but you can feel it from backside of a horse. The folks at Staunton’s Star B Stables provide the more immersive experience, with hour-long guided horse trail rides. Stable guides provide any needed assistance; prior riding experience is unnecessary.
Over at the free Augusta County Railroad Museum in the Staunton Mall the focus is on railroad history and railroad miniatures. In addition to its collection of operating model train layouts, the Museum shows a large selection of railroad art depicting railroad scenes and steam, diesel, and electric locomotives, many of which no longer exist. Shelves display antique model trains that have become collector’s items, and artifacts like lanterns and railroad signs.
At the Bruce A. Elder Antique and Classic Automobile Museum situated in downtown Staunton’s Beverley Garage Building (built in 1911 as “The Finest Garage In The South”), the attraction is more than just Bruce’s jaw-dropping collection of historic vehicles—it’s hearing Bruce tell stories about them.
His frequently changing collection of rare and exciting vehicles spans nearly 100 years, from the nation’s earliest to classic Detroit “muscle cars.” The museum is open on Fridays and Saturdays for tours at 10:30 a.m., and 1:30, 3:00 and 5:00 p.m.; tickets are $5 for persons 16 and over. Children accompanied by adults get in free.
Gypsy Hill Park
Everyone loves a city green space. Staunton’s Gypsy Hill Park has a 1.3-mile circular roadway called Constitution Drive running through its center, designated as a “play street suitable for walking, jogging, cycling and rollerblading.”
With 214 acres, the park has room for plenty more: a gymnasium, football field, skate park, golf course, community pool, garden center, duck pond, dog park and recycling center. Also playgrounds, picnic shelters with grills and picnic tables, baseball fields, basketball courts, running tracks, soccer fields, tennis courts, volleyball courts, horseshoes, and historical monuments.
A 2.5 acre storm water retention pond is stocked with trout and is the site of two big annual fishing derbies (boating is not permitted). Kids and their grownups can ride around a particularly scenic part of the park on the Gypsy Express mini train (Saturdays and Sundays, May through October, from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m., $1 per ride).
On summer evenings, people gather around an old-fashioned bandstand for entertainment. The Stonewall Brigade Band, playing Sundays, is the oldest continuous community band in the country, dating to 1855. Initially a brass band, it’s now a full concert band with 70 or more musicians each night.
Mondays are devoted to Gospel—Southern, bluegrass, and contemporary. Tuesdays are for “old-time country music”—classic bluegrass. Wednesdays brings jazz—Big Band, Latin, Prohibition era, organ trio and blues. Friday night is for movies, some kid-friendly, some for more mature audiences. In season the park is patrolled by the Staunton police.
The painter P. Buckley Moss fell in love with the life and culture of the Amish and Mennonite people of the Shenandoah Valley over 50 years ago, seeing there “an important message for modern society: live simply and enjoy every moment.” The idea has inspired her wildly popular and award-winning art.
Buckley declines to paint “the dark side of contemporary existence. My art states in a forthright manner the ancient proposition of the triumph of beauty and truth over injustice.”
The P. Buckley Moss Gallery in downtown Waynesboro, only a 10-minute drive from her Barn studio, offers an extensive collection of her paintings, ornaments and other collectibles for sale. Moss signs her work at the Barn on weekends.
Experienced and aspiring artists find classes, exhibition opportunities and fellowship at the nearby Shenandoah Valley Art Center.
Vaudeville and silent movies were the bill of fare when Waynesboro’s Wayne Theater opened in 1926. Enlarged to double capacity in 1949, the Wayne burned in 1980, after which it was divided into two separate theaters.
In 2000 plans were laid to restore the handsome theater and its neo-classical facade to their former glory. Valley residents and Prairie Home Companion veterans Robin and Linda Williams were the first to play it when it reopened in 2016.
Today the Wayne is the local spot for a summer musical theatre camp, classic movies, benefits and live performances and lectures. An exhibition gallery within the theater currently features an Augusta County Historical Society exhibit on Augusta County and World War l.