When it comes to road trips, my favorite way out is to the west. The first part of the drive isn't much fun, but it all melts away when the Blue Ridge Mountains come into sight. And once you get past the sprawl zone, a nice drive through the Piedmont puts you in a more relaxed mood.
Yesterday, we indulged in such pleasures with a trip to Sperryville. This small town is a gem on the footsteps of the mountains in Rappahannock County. Our drive from Alexandria took an hour and 40 minutes. The leg along 211 after Warrenton featured the great views of the mountains and very light traffic.
Francis Thornton Jr. laid the town out around 1820.
John B. Kiger, a wheelwright whose house his marked with a commemorative plaque on Main Street, built Conestoga wagons.
The Civil War impacted the crossroads village. In the summer of 1862, the Army of Virginia camped here, filling their canteens and hoping to savor some local sweets. General Pope then led the Union forces to Second Manassas/Bull Run. A year later, about half of Lee’s Army rested in town.
Caroline Terry (1833-1941) was a rich source of oral history, a slave who cooked meals at the Sperryville Hotel on Main Street.
Colonel John Moseby paraded captured Union soldiers through the town in November 1863. One of his prisoners was Private Robert Sneden, who earned respect and fame as a mapmaker and sketch artist for the Federals.
Located alongside the Thornton River, the village expanded in 1867. The Smoot family, who operated a tannery on Washington Street in Alexandria, built a second operation in Sperrysville. After it closed in 1911, further expansion of the town did not occur.
That number is perhaps too small for some, but Sperryville packs enough of a punch with over seventy historic structures, mostly wood frame. Some contain stone chimneys and double entrances.
Technically an unincorporated community, the town itself is located east of the intersection of 211 and 522.
A set of shops can be found about a mile south (Warning: Tourists Slowing Down to Find Stores…). Standing out are the Glasswood Gallery and Beech Spring Gift Shop. The latter is some kind of comfort item heaven, selling quilts and sweet goodness in Mason jars.
A can’t miss stop there is Central Coffee Roasters, where Maggie Rogers has built a delightful place with great coffee. My second cup of the day was their Guatemalan Finca Ceylan Y Anexos. Translation: “Nearer my God to Thee.”
Back in town, take a walk along Main Street. Dining options are somewhat limited in Sperryville, especially so with the closing of the Indigo Café. While they wait for the right chef, a good BBQ platter and crab cakes can be had at “High on the Hog” BBQ on Main Street. Dining in the rear puts you close to the river.
Hop back in the car and drive along Water Street. The one-land bridge will lead you to the River District Arts at Rappahannock Central. The converted apple-packing house features nine art studios and galleries, a food co-op, and wine tasting room (Café Indigo will hopefully re-open).
The art of making something wonderful by hand extends to the slow process of making whiskey and spirits. The artist is Rick Wasmund, owner of Copper Fox Distillery (photo is the tour guide). Wasmund and his small team make hand-malted single whiskey, the only distillery in the U.S. to do so. The barley is specially grown at Virginia Tech. A guided tour is free and you’ll get to see what “floor malting” is all about.
Our only regret for this trip was not having enough time for Washington, the county seat. A quick drive through the town revealed arguably the most famous restaurant in the region, the Little Inn at Washington.
What, you went there and didn’t visit Sperryville?
A big thanks to “Roaming the Planet” for their write-up on Sperryville.