“There’s a real sense of community about Middleburg; it involves not just the town residents, but people who live all around here. It’s not a place, it’s a feeling.” – Carol Bowersock, former Mayor of Middleburg, The Middleburg Mystique: A Peek Inside the Gates of Middleburg, Virginia by Vicky Mason
Roberta and I spent a relaxed afternoon in Middleburg, Virginia this past Sunday. If every region has a “most overlooked place,” my vote for the Washington area goes to Middleburg. This small town of some 600, established in 1787 and located about an hour west of Washington, offers speciality shops, a slower pace and the chance to dream of what it would be like to live in the middle of horse and fox hunting country.
My interest in Middleburg began last month. My sister was planning her trip from North Carolina to visit us over the holidays. “Are there any quaint little towns along the way?” she asked.
My first thought was Leesburg, but that was too far from I-66.
Annapolis! They love nautical themes.
No, wrong direction.
Old Town! Right here.
Well, we would be showing them Old Town that night.
Swallowing my pride, I turned to google. Middleburg emerged as a great candidate, just 10 miles north of I-66. I recommended it to my sister but time became the enemy during their short stay. We ended up taking them to several other places closer to home.
About a week after they left, Roberta came across a stashed away Washingtonian magazine. We enjoy reading it, especially for its day trip recommendations. Looking at the cover, and wondering how I had missed that particular issue, I saw one of the highlighted articles.
Feeling guilty that our two visitors were not able to go with us, we decided to go, taking advantage of Sunday’s warmer weather. The article said traffic can be heavy during the summer so we benefited from going when we did. Coming in from the south, we were mostly the only ones winding our way past the stone walls, wineries and rolling piedmont hills.
Note: Mapquest directed us to take Hiway 50. We took I-66 to exit 31 and came up from the south. On the ride home, we took Hiway 50 back towards Washington, but turned south at Hiway 15 and took the Prince William Parkway, as a way to vary our route.
Whatever way you arrive, you’ll soon see the one stop light in Middleburg. It’s located at the corner of Washington Street (Hiway 50) and Madison. Once you find it, park on the street or a side street (meters, Sunday for free). Most of the restaurants and shops are within a short walk along Washington Street.
We wanted to eat at the French Hound but it was closed on Sundays. Some of the other shops were also closed, a throwback to a time when most merchants weren’t open.
We walked back to the stoplight and ate at the Red Fox Inn, on the northeast corner of Washington and Madison. The stone building dates back to the early 1700s and is filled with history. Confederate soldiers rested and ate there. President Kennedy held a press conference in one of its room. A handwritten letter from First Lady Jackie is preserved below the glass on the counter as you walk in. A sign outside proudly claims the place as the oldest original inn in the country.
The Washingtonian touted their crab cakes so we gave them a try. Roberta is a toughie to impress. We’ve had better but they were tasty and meaty. The service was excellent and the fireplace added to the ambience. The creaking floors were accepted as authentic.
The shops are fun to browse through. The merchants were friendly.
I wouldn’t make a huge effort to see Middleburg. You can find quaint shops, history, charm, and upper crust homes in Old Town Alexandria. Middleburg, however, does stand out in its own way and the nearby mountains make for a beautiful backdrop.
Just don’t wait too long. Washington’s western sprawl is creeping ever closer to this place. On the ride home we saw new subdivisions on Hiway 15, not that far from the outskirts of town.
Summing up this place, it seems the ex-mayor has it right.
Middleburg is more about a feeling.
The Middleburg Mystique: A Peek Inside the Gates of Middleburg Virginia by Vicky Mason