The overnighter: Farmville—surprises await in the rural college town

What to do in Farmville: shop (for rugs and much more) at Green Front Furniture, traverse the High Bridge Trail, and in warmer weather, nest and enjoy an oyster and some wine at the Catbird Rooftop Lounge. What to do in Farmville: shop (for rugs and much more) at Green Front Furniture, traverse the High Bridge Trail, and in warmer weather, nest and enjoy an oyster and some wine at the Catbird Rooftop Lounge.

Farmville is not a likely spot for a getaway, unless you’re shopping in the massive Green Front Furniture warehouses or dropping students off at Longwood or Hampden-Sydney colleges. But we’d been hearing from friends who’d been to the quaint, historic town to check out its new High Bridge Trail. And with the opening of a recently renovated historic hotel promising luxury accommodations at a fraction of big-city prices, we couldn’t resist. Luxury—in Farmville?

From Charlottesville, Farmville is an easy hour-and-15-minute, two-lane drive down Route 20 through Scottsville. Approaching town, we switched off the GPS and then cruised the streets casually, taking our time to find the hotel and getting the lay of the land in the compact historic downtown.

The Hotel Weyanoke sits across from Longwood University. Built in 1925, the hotel recently expanded to 70 rooms. The least expensive have a queen bed and go for $99 a night, bumping up to $109 a night on weekends (plus taxes and other fees). We chose a room with two queens and a balcony, which came to $140 all in for a Sunday stay. The accommodations were spacious and deluxe, with mid-century–style furnishings and decorations of small sculptures and stylish vases. Oddly, these items were all glued down (to prevent theft, we guess). In any case, we were thrilled with the oversized shower, the low light, and the sensor that illuminates the bathroom when you walk in (especially helpful in the dark of night). We also appreciated the fridge, wooden tray for breakfast in bed, and the Hamilton Beach coffee maker with refillable filters.

The hotel’s location is perfect for walking to explore downtown. The first diversion to catch our eye was a series of vintage-styled women’s costumes in the window of the Longwood Center for the Visual Arts. Admission is free to the 33,000-square-foot center, a former Rose’s department store. Author and illustrator Victoria Kahn’s “Pinkalicious” exhibition was just ending, and Christopher Reporter’s exhibit of death masks, including Lee Harvey Oswald, was a serious contrast to the pinkaliciousness. The costumes in the window, we learned, were designed for Longwood theater productions like Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Also on Main Street, Green Front Furniture offers almost a million square feet of high-end wares at discount prices. The furniture mecca encompasses 12 buildings—many of them former tobacco warehouses—and has long been a destination for design-minded Charlottesvillians. But if furniture shopping isn’t your thing, the historic district offers other options. Mainly Clay has handcrafted gifts, pottery supplies, and classes. Gladiola Girls lifestyle boutique boasts “urban chic wear,” something else we wouldn’t have expected in a former tobacco town.

The 32-mile-long High Bridge Trail access point is also on Main Street, about a quarter mile from the Hotel Weyanoke. The former rail bed with finely crushed limestone has been a draw for Charlottesville bicyclists, who rave about how level it is and amenities like picnic tables and toilets along the trail. The actual High Bridge spans 2,400 feet, about 125 feet above the Appomattox River. If you don’t BYOBike, the Outdoor Adventure Store at the access point rents trail cruisers for two hours for $19.95—enough time to get to the High Bridge 4.5 miles away.

After you explore the trail, a glass of wine or a beer awaits at Charley’s Waterfront Café & Wine Bar, just a block from the trailhead. Charley’s has a deck that overlooks the river, and its railing was posted with signs asking people to not feed the goats below, which were busy chomping on the overgrowth along the river bank.

Suitably refreshed after imbibing at Charley’s, we headed back to the hotel for a bite at Effingham’s, a brightly lit restaurant where everything—pizza, calamari, mussels—is coal-fired. Frankly, we weren’t super-impressed with the food, but we were intrigued by the hotel’s seasonal Catbird Rooftop Lounge. It offers birds-eye views of downtown Farmville and oysters on the weekends. We vowed to come back to hang out there in nicer weather.

Ultimately, we satisfied our hunger at the North Street Press Club, which is less than a block from the hotel and across from the Farmville Herald building. Opened this summer, the restaurant, in a renovated brick building, had the most innovative menu we saw in Farmville, with a number of Asian-fusion selections. Chicken tikka tacos and the Venice Beach tuna tacos use naan instead of tortillas, and naan figures in its version of the classic Vietnamese banh mi sandwich, called Naanh Mi (get it?). Most menu items are in the $10 range, so even underpaid reporters—and students—can eat there occasionally.

As cool as the revitalized town feels, Farmville, like many Southern towns, still grapples with its racist past and Prince Edward County’s dubious distinction of closing its public schools for five years rather than integrate. That’s why a visit to the Moton Museum is a must.

The museum is in the former Robert Russa Moton High School, a National Historic Landmark where in 1951 black students went on strike to demand learning conditions equal to those at the white high school. The students convinced the state NAACP to take their case, which became one of five the U.S. Supreme Court considered in its 1954 landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling that segregated education was unconstitutional.

The free exhibit takes visitors through the conditions at the overcrowded school and its auxiliary tar-paper shacks, the student strike, and Virginia’s response: “massive resistance,” where schools throughout Virginia, including in Charlottesville, elected to close rather than integrate. Upon exiting, we ran into Cainan Townsend, the museum’s director of education and a Farmville native. His father was 11 years old when he started the first grade, and 22 when he graduated from Moton. Today, Townsend says, “You still have that legacy of a generation that was disenfranchised.”

The museum was a sobering conclusion to our visit. But it also confirmed that yeah, Farmville is a worthwhile destination.

Farmville: The list

Hotel Weyanoke: 202 High St., 658-7500, hotelweyanoke.com

Green Front Furniture: 316 N. Main St., 392-5943, greenfront.com

High Bride Trail: visitfarmville.com/high-bridge

Longwood Center for the Visual Arts: 129 N. Main St., 395-2206, lcva.longwood.edu

Mainly Clay: 217 N. Main St., 315-5715, mainlyclay.com

Gladiola Girls: 235 N. Main St., 392-4912, gladiolagirls.com

The Outdoor Adventure Store: 318 N. Main St., 315-5736, theoutdoor adventurestore.com

Charley’s Waterfront Café & Wine Bar: 201 Mill St., 392-1566

Effingham’s: see Hotel Weyanoke

Catbird Rooftop Terrace: see Hotel Weyanoke

North Street Press Club: 127 North St., 392-9444

Moton Museum: 900 Griffin Blvd., 315-8775, motonmuseum.com

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Jeanne Strunk

Add the Sandy River Adventure park with ropes course, go glamping in their amazing Teepees, Visit the 3rd Rd Brewery ( a short walk on the high bridge trail from Charley’s, it’s on the trail and around the corner from the North Street Press Club) for some great local beer!