A History Lover's Guide to the Shenandoah Valley

03/13/2014 11:11 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Written by Katherine Flynn

Old Town Winchester is home to the vibrant Loudoun Street Pedestrian Mall, which earned a place on the National Register of Historic Places Travel Itinerary for its combination of history, century-old buildings, museums, and a vibrant economy.

In our upcoming Spring 2014 issue of Preservation magazine, writer Logan Ward explores the wonders of the Shenandoah Valley's historic limestone caves in "Virginia Underground." The valley has plenty to offer aboveground, too -- you'll find a guide to some of the best eateries, lodging, and historic sites that the region has to offer below.


- There's no better way to start a day in the Shenandoah Valley than with the Papermill Big Breakfast (two eggs, two pancakes or biscuits topped with sausage gravy or chipped beef gravy, and home fries) at Papermill Place in Winchester, Va. If breakfast wraps, skillets, French toast, or eggs Benedict are more your speed, they've got you covered there as well. Papermill has been family-owned and operated since 1982, and owner Darin Hockman claims, "If it's not on our menu, you didn't want to eat it anyway." One thing is certain -- you won't leave hungry.

- From Winchester, drive 20 minutes south to Belle Grove Plantation (also a National Trust Historic Site) for a taste of 19th-century life. The mansion, which features Classical Revival elements, was built in 1797 by the descendants of German immigrants. Guided docent tours of the manor house typically last between 45 minutes and one hour, and admission is $12 for adults and $6 for children (free for Belle Grove members and reduced for students, National Trust members, senior citizens, the military, NPS members, and Frederick County Public School teachers). The mansion, a National Historic Landmark and a Virginia Historic Landmark, is the centerpiece of the Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historic Park, the site of an 1864 Union victory at the Battle of Cedar Creek.

Belle Grove Plantation, built in 1797 in Middletown, Va.

- Alternately, drive further south to the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District, the setting for some of the most pivotal campaigns of the Civil War. Featuring preserved battle sites, historic downtowns and plenty of incredible stories, the eight-county Shenandoah Valley Battlefields encompass 15 battlefields and numerous towns, villages, and farms. It's easy to get overwhelmed by so much great history, so here are some highlights:


- The Joshua Wilton House Inn and Restaurant in Harrisonburg, Va., is a bed-and-breakfast located in the historic home of wealthy English immigrant Joshua Wilton, a bank magnate and community pillar in the Shenandoah Valley in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The restaurant menu features "a creme brulee so ethereal it could steal a Frenchman's allegiance," according to Bon Appetit, and the original parquet floors, fireplaces, and mantles, as well as leaded glass surrounding the original front door, have all survived the ages.

The scenic Shenandoah Valley in the spring.

- The Georgian Revival-style George Washington Hotel in Winchester, Va., was built in 1924 and still features the original front desk in the lobby. Located within easy walking distance of Old Town Winchester and the Loudoun Street Pedestrian Mall, which features a mix of shops, art galleries, and restaurants, the hotel also contains a state-of-the-art spa and The Dancing Goat Restaurant.

- The historic 1740 Inn at Narrow Passage, in Woodstock, Va., offers a rustic alternative to the opulence of the George Washington Hotel. Nearby New Market and Cedar Creek battlefields provide visitors even more chances to experience Civil War history firsthand, and nearby canoeing and tubing on the Shenandoah River are easily accessible from the Inn.

A vintage postcard rendering of the Shenandoah's historic limestone caves.


- One Block West in Winchester, Va., specializes in "sensational seasonal cuisine." While the a la carte menu changes daily, recent fresh, locally sourced offerings include pork and grits with mustard greens, roasted apples, and chipotle honey; prosciutto-wrapped rabbit loin stuffed with goat cheese and greens; and bison under puff pastry. Dessert selections include chocolate bread pudding and caramelized orange upside down cake with coconut sorbet and toasted coconut.

- Local Chop and Grill House, housed in Harrisonburg, Va.'s former City Produce Exchange building -- once used as an ice-making and cold storage plant for the area's poultry industry -- serves upscale American fare, chop house entrees, creative cocktails, and craft brews in a historic exposed-brick setting. Try the tofu "steak," the duck breast, or the 8 oz. sirloin for an authentic taste of the Shenandoah Valley.

- The Hotel Strasburg, in Strasburg, Va., was built as a private hospital in 1902. The four-story structure was converted into a hotel a few years later and restored in 1987, and the dining room embodies the building's original Victorian Age elegance. Enjoy the Seafood Vermicelli Strasburg (with shrimp, scallops, and mussels) or go back to basics with the Homemade Meatloaf, smothered with tomato beef gravy and topped with Monterey Jack cheese. The restaurant also features a selection of wines from local vineyards, as well as a wide variety of beer.

Are you a fan of the Shenandoah Valley? Let us know in the comments what places you'd recommend!