Fun things to do in Virginia

  • A great place to stop on the trail.
    A great place to stop on the trail.
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    Kids can frolic in the spouting frogs
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Most Viewed Things to Do in Virginia

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    Caledon State Park

    by blueskyjohn Updated Apr 3, 2015

    If you like to take a walk in a nice quiet forest and have access to views of the Potomac, you may consider a visit to Caledon. Especially if you are in or near Frederickburg, Virginia. Caledon in a 2,579-acre state park that used to be part of a plantation. The entire area was known for growing tobacco which was in demand back in England in the 1700's. The park area was used for access to the ships that would transport the tobacco back to England.

    More on this Park here: Caledon State Park

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    Essex County ~ Colonial History in Vauter's Church

    by starship Updated Nov 3, 2014

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    Sometimes driving the little back roads of a particular state may lengthen your travel time but often yield great rewards in the discovery of amazing sites of American history. Such was the case on our most recent travel to Virginia.

    Having several times traveled the Tidewater Trail, also known as Rt. 17, we have passed by a simple but beautiful Colonial church which we previously had no time to stop to see it closeup -- during this return trip home we made time! This church located in Loretto, Virginia in the county of Essex, is referred to as "Vauter's Church, and it is a piece of early Virginia's history. Vauter's Church, as it's known today, was originally the "Upper Church of St. Anne's Parish" in Essex County and had its own "glebe." It is considered the 11th oldest church in Virginia still in use. Its early members were prominent residents of the area and their diaries recount life in Colonial Virginia. Vauter's Church on the National Register of Historical Places in December, 1972.

    An original brick located next to the top right of the front door's pediment indicates that the church was constructed in 1731. However, the current church is thought to stand in the foot print of an earlier frame church, and also that it initially was thought to be constructed in 1719 with an addition added in 1731; however, a 1969 renovation revealed that the entire church most likely was built entirely in 1731.

    It became known as Vauter's at a later date most probably because the land the church occupies adjoins the Vauter family's land, a Vauter family member helped to construct the church, and a John Vauter was a vestryman of the church. The name Vauter has also been spelled "Vawter" and several of the early church members, including the Vauters, immigrated from Scotland, and of course, England...Virginia is filled with places named after their counterparts in England.

    The beautiful Flemish bond brickwork and nearly perfect symmetry are what initially attracted me to this church -- in the case of Vauter's the header brick are glazed & the stretcher bricks are deeper red. The church is built in cruciform layout, with steep gables, dentil molding, and topped with a wooden, shake roof although some vintage photos show a metal roof and chimney which has since been removed. The windows are quite high off the ground, appear to have been made of hand-blown, rolled glass original to the building, as do the wooden shutters.

    The small graveyard at the left and backside of the church certainly contains some very old, large, flat grave markers of early church members which are a genealogist's dream -- they reveal so much more information about a person & their family connections than stones do stones of today; however, one very recent grave here is topped with such a stone containing much information.

    NOTE: A legend persisted that St. Anne's Parish was presented with a silver communion service by Queen Anne of England some time in the very, very early 1700's. The service remained intact except for the communion cup which was "appropriated" by someone unknown. Apparently the cup was found in a New York antiques shop at some point and assumed to be genuine as it was engraved "St. Anne's Parish, Essex County, Virginia." Fact or fiction? Supposedly fact.

    To my regret, we were not able to enter the church even though we approached an elderly gentleman who was mowing the lawn that day -- he said he did not have keys to the church -- a shame but very understandable!

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    Hampton ~ Little England Chapel

    by starship Updated Nov 3, 2014

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    As a teenager, my friend and I used to love visiting Williamsburg, Virginia, frequently as it was only 30 minutes from our hometown. We loved the sights and the history of it. The drive to historic Yorktown along Colonial Parkway where we would walk/run the Battlefields was another favorite past time. Ironically, there were lots of places that had some historical significance right in my own hometown, but I walked by or rode by them daily without giving them much thought at all. The Little England Chapel was one of them.

    The Chapel is located very near Blackbeard's Point (the place where the head of notorious pirate, Edward Teach, aka "Blackbeard," was displayed on a pike) as well as Merrimac Shores -- the land-side area off which the Civil War Battle of Ironclads Monitor and Merrimac took place. The Little England Chapel was originally known as "the Ocean Cottage Sunday School" was exclusively for African-Americans. Built about 1878 - 1879, the school began very humbly -- really as just an open arbor was built with ten rows of seating for academic and Sunday School classes on the property of Daniel Cock. Just 5 years after the end of the Civil War in the States, Mr. Cock had set aside plots of land to be sold to African-Americans, and this area became known as "Cock's Newtown."

    Attendance at the Sunday School eventually grew to several hundred and far too many to be accommodated in just an arbor. Mr. Daniel Cock and/or Mr. William N. Armstrong offered the use of/gave a small piece of land along Ivy Home Road and Kecoughtan Road, if Cock's Newtown residents would contribute toward the support of a day school teacher. William Armstrong was the brother of Colonel Samuel Chapman Armstrong, a white Union officer, who is credited with the establishment of the somewhat famous "Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute," known locally as Hampton Institute for generations but now called Hampton University. Students from Hampton Institute designed but built the school house/chapel and the work was overseen by William Armstrong.

    My memories of this chapel are of the many African-American men & women who attended the chapel on Sundays in their Sunday-best clothes and "raised the roof" with their spirited singing of gospel music and African-American hymns. Sometimes a friend and I would linger just outside listening.

    This chapel/sunday school has been in continuous use since its opening in 1879. Little England Chapel is only 1 of 31 sites in the City of Hampton which have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places/National Historic Registry. Please see the accompanying photo of the marker recognizing the chapel's history.

    Little England Chapel ~ New Cultural Center

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    Middlesex County - Finding Historic Christ Church

    by starship Updated Sep 4, 2014

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    When we set out to find Lt. Gen. Lewis Burwell Puller's grave in Saluda, we had no idea that the hunt would take us to historic "Christ Church." The Flemish-Bond brick church is actually the second "Christ Church" on this spot being built in 1712. The original church which was destroyed, I believe, by fire was built in 1666.

    An online search about the further history of this particular church was made difficult by the fact that there are a number of historic "Christ Churches" in Virginia --- in Weems, in Alexandria, near Richmond, and I am sure there must be others as well!! The afternoon we visited Christ Church in Saluda, we were greeted by a friendly gentleman who was Choir Master of the church and who told us a little about it. For example, a fascinating aspect of the church is the fact that it has been used virtually continuously since it was built and the parish still maintains the use of the original vestry books containing the member register and announcements dating back to the church's founding.

    As is usual for the historic period, this church is surrounded by a little cemetery with headstones, some of which are quite old. Unlike many headstones today, old headstones from the 17th, 18th and 19th century were inscribed with much more information about the deceased person than you will find today. This is particularly helpful for those who are working on genealogy or writing on a specific person or historical period.

    Photo from Library of Congress LC-J7-VA-3185
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    Historic Williamsburg~Duke of Gloucester St.

    by starship Updated Jul 20, 2014

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    The first city we visited on our road trip to Virginia was Williamsburg, the restored former capital town of Virginia. Living relatively nearby, as a teenager I visited Williamsburg almost weekly. Many years have gone by since I visited the historic center of Williamsburg ---the "Duke of Gloucester Street."

    Arriving on a late Sunday afternoon, we tried to make use of the remaining daylight to walk as far as Bruton Parish Church though the sun's rays were waining fast. Restored or replicated historic buildings, gardens and shops line the greater length of Duke of Gloucester Street where over 300 years ago the street was no more than a Native American "trace", which later became a horse path, and by the late 17th century became a main street named in honor of William, Duke of Gloucester. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt once called it the "most historic avenue in all of America."

    Thousands come yearly to visit the original (there are also some replicas) historical buildings such as the Powder Magazine, Bruton Parish Church, the Capitol Building, the Governor's Palace, the Sir Christopher Wren Building and working craft shops that face or border on Duke of Gloucester Street. Due to it being a late Sunday afternoon, many buildings were no longer open, but I happily found that some of the trade shops were and so we stepped inside the Millinery Shop where costumed sales people presided over their specialty wares. Also remaining open were some of the historic taverns, including the "King's Arms" --- taverns being places to experience the ambiance of the colonial dining room as well as some authentic colonial dishes.

    Closer to the west end of Duke of Gloucester Street where it meets South Henry St. and near the edge of the William & Mary College campus is the area known as Merchant's Square. Here there are a number of small restaurants and charming shops with walkways dotted with flowering plants and welcoming benches. Even a young Thomas Jefferson makes an appearance here in the form of a bronze statue!

    The pages of history have been turned many times on the Duke of Gloucester Street ---colonists and famous patriots have tread its dusty path while livestock roamed freely along its shaded niches; wagons carrying wounded Civil War soldiers have rattled along its rutted surface toward makeshift hospitals. Early modernization once destroyed its historic origins but all has now given way to replicated or restored early American buildings, olde trade shops and new shops, gardens, with a few historic colonial dining taverns tucked in for good measure. The Duke of Gloucester Street is closed to automobile traffic along its length to help capture the illusion of its historic past.

    John D. Rockefeller, Jr. is due enormous credit as the individual whose major contribution restored the historic center of Williamsburg in the early 20th century. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, which oversees the historic properties and programs in place today, was a direct result of the generosity of Mr. Rockefeller and, celebrated its 75th Anniversary in 2001.

    Restored Building on Duke of Gloucester Street Duke of Gloucester Street, Williamsburg, VA Postcard of trade shop on Duke of Gloucester St. Original Powder Magazine & Replicated Barriers Merchant's Square on Duke of Gloucestor Street

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    Richmond

    by Jim_Eliason Written Aug 25, 2013

    Richmond, the capital of Virginia played a major role in the US Civil war, including being the Confederate capital until after Union victories forced the capital to move south. later it was the capture of Richmond that started the chain of events that lead to Robert lee's surrender to US Grant.

    Richmond Richmond Richmond Richmond Richmond
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    Norfolk

    by Jim_Eliason Written Aug 25, 2013

    Besides being a major US naval base, the tidewater region just north of Norfolk is one of the most historic in the country with a couple of major colonial sights (Jamestown & Wiliamsburg) and the last major battle of the US Revolutionary War (Yorktown).

    Norfolk Norfolk Norfolk Norfolk Norfolk
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    Manassas National Battlefield

    by Jim_Eliason Updated Aug 21, 2013

    Two seperate battles were fought here, both southern victories. However in both cases the south failed to exploit there position so close to the capital. The two battles were among the bloodiest and yet least decisive of the war.

    Manassas National Battlefield Manassas National Battlefield Manassas National Battlefield Manassas National Battlefield Manassas National Battlefield
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    Mount Vernon

    by Jim_Eliason Updated Aug 21, 2013

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    Geroge Washington's equally famous home sits on the banks of the Potomac River just south of Washington DC. The contrast with Monticello reflects the distinct personalities of the two great men, Jefferson the scientist and philsopher and Washington, business and statesman.

    Mount Vernon Mount Vernon Mount Vernon Mount Vernon Mount Vernon
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    Monticello

    by Jim_Eliason Updated Aug 21, 2013

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    The legendary home of Thomas Jefferson, this home more so than any other famous person's home I have every visited, really reflected the man. The interior is decorated with scientific artifacts, maps and most of all books that reflected Jefferson's curiosity and ambition

    Monticello Monticello Monticello Monticello Monticello
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    Middlesex County ~ History in Little Towns

    by starship Updated Oct 30, 2012

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    I was lucky to be born and raised in a state chock full of historical places, both large and small. I came across a small one recently while traveling to and from Virginia, in part, on Route 17. (The route runs roughly north, crossing the James River, and between the York and Rappahannock Rivers. Just about every place it runs through has an Old English name or American Indian name.)

    With quite a small population, Saluda, Virginia, is one of the smaller towns located in Middlesex County and is little known even to Virginians unless you're from the eastern part of the state. It barely deserves a dot on a map except for one major point of interest for some: it was the home of Lt. Gen. Lewis Burwell Puller, known widely as "Chesty Puller," and it is where he is buried. One of the most highly decorated Marines in U.S. history, Lt. Gen. Puller received 5 Navy Crosses for heroism in combat, a Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star Medal, Legion of Merit, Air Medal, Bronze Star Medal with Combat "V", Purple Heart Medal, and so many more. Although Lt. Gen. Puller passed away in 1971, in my hometown of Hampton, he is buried in Saluda.

    We stopped to find the grave of Lt. Gen. Puller and pay our respects and in doing so, came upon another interesting piece of Virginia history. Lt. Gen. Puller and his wife are buried in historic Christ Church Cemetery down the road apiece from the 4-corners of Saluda's "downtown." The cemetery surrounding Christ Church is full of very old graves and gravestones, but Lt. Gen. Puller and his wife's grave are some of the more recent and at the same time, are also quite different --- they are marked by full-length, horizontal granite slabs rather than verticle gravestone markers which are mostly what can be seen in the graveyard. Lt. Gen Puller's stone bears an engraved emblem of the U.S. Marine Corps and is marked by a Marine Flag. It was very moving to stand at the grave of someone who gave so much for his country.

    It is also interesting to note that Lt. Gen. Burwell's son, 1st Lt. Lewis Burwell Puller, Jr.,(known as Lewis) who is buried at Arlington National Cemetery, was also a Marine and War Hero. He was terribly wounded by a landmine in Vietnam. Against almost insurmountable odds, Lt. Burwell survived and went on to earn a law degree and win a Pulitzer Prize for authoring, "Fortunate Son." Ironically and unfortunately, he was not able to overcome his long battle with depression and took his own life.

    Some history of "Christ Church" which was established in 1666 will be covered in a separate tip.

    Grave of Lt. Gen Lewis Burwell Puller aka Lewis  B. Signpost donated by Marine Corps Portion of Christ Church cemetery Christ Church and cemetery in Middlesex County, VA
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    Charlottesville ~ "Academical Village" & The Lawn

    by starship Updated Oct 25, 2012

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    Having been educated at William & Mary College in Williamsburg at a time when university professors and students, lived, worked and studied in one building, Thomas Jefferson's view of what the college experience should be differed greatly from his own experience. He envisioned a complex of student residences, punctuated by, and connected to, larger "pavillions." The two-story pavillions functioned as professors' living quarters arranged above classroom space. Two linear colonnades of such connected buildings with covered walkways, joined at northern end by the particularly beautiful Rotunda, were arranged around "The Lawn." His design of having students and faculty living side-by-side, but with a measure of privacy, provided the perfect arrangement for a close community which engaged in intellectual and social activity, interchange and exploration of ideas, but with a more convenient living arrangement.

    Today, these 55 special, single-person room arrangements are awarded to 4th year students who have achieved superior success in academics in addition to outstanding service to the university community. Students are chosen for this high privilege through competitive application selections. "Being awarded a Lawn room is one of the University's highest honors" which can be awarded to a student.

    Although updated to some extent, this housing is much the same as it was when Jefferson walked the grounds himself. Of the 10 pavillions, 9 are occupied by senior faculty of which 2 still host formal classes. The remaining pavillion is reserved for the "Colonnade Club," a faculty organization. Ever the architect, Jefferson designed the facade of each pavillion with a unique, but classical architectural design.

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    Arlington National Cemetery

    by Africancrab Written Aug 16, 2012

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    Nothing speaks of the spirit of human sacrifice like Arlington National Cemetery. Nothing prepares you for what you see when you get to the Nation's largest military (all branches of the armed forces) burial ground. It is located across the Potomac river from Washington, at the west end of Memorial Bridge. The honor and respect in this place is without a doubt one of the most deserved. The cemetery first became a burial ground for Civil War Union soldiers beside Arlington House formerly the estate of Confederate general Robert E. Lee’s wife Mary Anna Lee, a great grand-daughter of Martha Washington. The house still stands but is under renovation.

    Self guided tours of the cemetery is Free however, we took a guided, well more like a narrated tour on the Martz, which made it easier to move around the huge grounds with a four month old baby. For $8.75 an adult, and $4 a child, we paid to be taken around the grounds, we made three stops; one at the eternal flame at the grave side of former president J.F. Kennedy, the second at the Grave of the Unknown Soldier where we saw the changing of the guards,and the third stop was at Arlington House. I highly recommend this tour as it gives you all you need to see without the stress of having to walk the distance between each. Remember that is is a huge site with over 330,000 graves, trust me if you have children, it is a challenge.

    All the graves maintained by the federal governement are in straight lines as if they were saluting a guard of honor, it is said they are put so to commemorate what they did in life. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is guarded as part of a time honored tradition began in 1920 by the United Kingdom when it first buried an unknown soldier on behalf of all World War I empire soldiers.

    I was humbled by the sacrifice made by those now resting in this place. May their souls RIP. And to those who maintain this enormous site,I mean down right to the ones who cut the grass and pick up after the inconsiderate people who leave trash around even though there are provisions for rubbish.

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    Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Display Room

    by Africancrab Written Aug 16, 2012

    When we were done with the change of guard ceremony at the Tomb of the unknown soldier, we went up to the display room which is located at the back of the Amphitheater. It is not so big, but enough to house the different medals of honor given to the veterans of the different wars fought by American soldiers.

    The medals and flags given to the unknown soldiers, Vietnam and Korean veterans, world war I and II, the Spanish and Mexican wars. You kind of get a feel for the loss of a nation,but mostly the pain of loved ones. If you find yourself at the Tomb of the Unknown soldier, do visit the display room, it is interesting to say the least.

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    Dulles Town Center

    by Africancrab Written Aug 15, 2012

    I have rated the Town Center coast as average because the coast of living in this area is generally high, but the residents are used to it. Now for a visitor like me, it is actually high because I come from a State where the cost of living is much lower than Virginia's. If you live in Washington, and areas of the East Coast, this is average pricing. If you are coming from the Southwest, this is going to be expensive. Well I like shopping and my daughter has picked up my bad habit.

    We decided to go to the mall after talking to Mark's colleague/ friend's wife Marlene who was excited about the big mall. We also needed to buy a few things for the Fourth of July celebrations, so it was not really a hard sell.
    Located at the intersection of Virginia Routes 7 and 28, it is about 20 minutes’ drive from Herndon, even with traffic. There was little traffic at 11:00 am when we went there. The parking lot was busy (most shopping malls across America are like this, all week), no surprise. We found parking in front of JCPennys and walked right in.

    The mall looks fairly new and well maintained; most major names like Sears, Nordstrom, Loyd & Taylor, JCPennys, Macys, H&M, Anne Taylor, Cache' and specialty stores like Gap, Abercrombie & Fitch and the Washington Redskins Official store, to mention but a few. It is a Premier Shopping complex with over 190 stores. For someone who likes shopping, this place is like a drug to an addict. So many stores to choose from; each seemed to have a sale going, and boy, do we love sales!

    By the way, there is a Cheese Cake Factory here too; I had to resist the urge to go order a Red Velvet Cheese Cake, next time perhaps.

    A huge food court at the center of the mall caters for the hunger needs of shoppers as well as store workers of the mall. Different cuisines to choose from, in fact we ate at the Master Wok Chinese (look at my review of Master Wok), while Mark dug his teeth in a Sandwich from Chic-fil-A.

    Once our bellies were no longer complaining, we took on the task of shopping and got some great outfits, and color for the Fourth of July.

    Dulles Center Mall Dulles Center Mall 2 Dulles Center Mall 3 Dulles Center Mall 4 Dulles Center Mall 5

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Virginia Things to Do

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