Out and About: Blackstone Virginia
It was a spring-like June morning as we turned onto 460 West leading to the small town of Blackstone, Virginia. After a week-long heat wave the cool breeze augured well for our trip; my husband heading to a business meeting and I was along to enjoy the ride. I had never been to Blackstone . To me it was just a quaint name on the map so I was curious to learn more about areas of this state in which my ancestors had settled four hundred years earlier.
Blackstone is an hour from Richmond and along the 460 Highway. We drove onto Main Street a little before nine in the morning and that meant many of the businesses had not yet opened for the day. Main Street is everything a Main Street in every American town should be: well-swept sidewalks and baskets spilling over with flowers under American flags hanging from every lamp post, friendly shop owners and clerks taking the time to answer questions or recommend a good place for lunch. Blackstone is a charming example of small town America that dates back to Revolutionary War times. Originally called "Blacks and Whites" after two rival tavern owners Mr. White and Mr. Swartz, (a German name meaning black) the village was built around an intersection of stagecoach routes. The town's name changed to Blackstone in 1885 and was incorporated in 1888. The Swartz Tavern still stands today as a museum. The Swartz property also contains the Robert Thomas Carriage Museum boasting one of the country's finest collections of horse-drawn coaches and carriages.
Blackstone is home to some four thousand people making up 900 or so families. It is a close-knit town and its citizens have worked hard to revitalize the four block downtown area . They are proud of their town's place in American history and the contributions that are still being made today from the nearby Fort Pickett, built by the US Army during World War II and still bustling as a training center for all branches of the military service. It is also headquarters of the Virginia National Guard.
At one end of Main and just around the corner is the former Blackstone College for Girls that later became the Blackstone Female Institute (BFI). The school opened in 1894 to prepare girls to attend Randolph Macon Women's College. The Rev. James Cannon, Jr., a controversial Methodist Bishop and prohibitionist. was its first principal and led the school twice during its operation. In 1906 steel magnate Andrew Carnigie donated money for the College's expansion but fires later destoyed the classroom and dormitory buildings. BFI was rebuilt on a smaller scale and operated until 1950. The late actress Bea Arthur was an alumnus. The site reopened in 1955 as the Virginia Methodist Assembly Center with more than 19,000 visitors a year.
If you are a Civil War buff you will want to check out the historic Nottoway County Courthouse famous for its role in that war. This area is also part of the region known as “Lee's Retreat” the route which Confederate General Robert E Lee's army took as it retreated from General Ulysses S. Grant's federal troops in the last days and hours of the War.
Back in the present I strode by an impressive selections of restaurants that line Main Street from the “Blackstone Herb Cottage” which specializes in organic foods to Alcaplco's Mexican Grill and Farmer's Cafe among several others.
As the stores opened for the day I was able to do a little shopping but I only got a peek at the 20,000 square foot Antique and Crafts Mall when alas my husband's business concluded and it was time to head out. I vowed to come back and stay long enough to enjoy the attractions of the nearby Grey Swan Inn Bed and Breakfast or maybe the Hidden Treasures at Green Meadows Farm. There's also the Wedgewood Motor Inn right on Main. And of course, any future trip must include time at the Famous Greenfront Furniture, a massive home furnishings retail center that encompasses nearly all of downtown Farmville and just a mere 45 minutes away.
Directions from Richmond - follow 360 West. Turn left onto Highway 153 (Old Military Road). Turn right on 460 West. Take the first Blackstone exit (business 460) which becomes Main Street.
Lodging: The Grey Swan Inn Bed and Breakfast www.greyswaninn.com . Hidden Treasure at Green Meadows Farm www.hiddentreasure.greenmeadowsfarm.org .
Info on Civil War and Lee's Retreat: www.varetreat.com
Blackstone Chamber of Commerce: www.blackstoneva.com
Greenfront Furniture/Farmville: www.greenfront.com