A travel journal
to Staunton by Carmen
Quote: For me, Staunton is "home," even though I don't live there anymore. I was born and raised there, and visiting always gives me a sense of comfort - kind of like eating mac n cheese. To the untrained eye, it just seems like another small town, lining Interstate -81 at the I-64 junction. Don't be fooled, it holds a lot of southern charm and a surprising amount of tourist activities.
Staunton is very much a small town, with a small-town feel and many times small-town attitudes. But it makes a pretty decent attempt at culture and sophistication. History buffs can take a tour through Woodrow Wilson's birthplace (his home for a whole three weeks), museum fanatics can take a stroll through the Museum of American Frontier Culture. Here are some of my favorite things about Staunton:
1. Gypsy Hill Park -- This park, in the center of town, is named for the gypsies that used to roam there and the hills that Staunton is famous for. It features a golf course that my dad frequents quite often, a duck pond where you can feed the swans (make sure to bring your stale bread for them), and the Gypsy Express -- a train that takes the kids on a circular track and through a "tunnel" -- quite the thrill when you're 5.
2. Museum of American Frontier Culture -- I have a unique perspective on the museum, as I worked there for a summer. The museum represents all the cultures that settled the Shenandoah Valley as they passed through the mountains on their way west. The Germans, Scotch Irish and English. Farms from each country were brought to the museum, and the staff works them as if they lived there. There's also an early American farm that shows the blending of these cultures.
3. My mom and dad's house. It's not on the tourist trail, but it remains the highlight of every trip.
Just a note of caution -- the streets in downtown Staunton are almost all one way. Make sure to pay extra attention to the road signs, otherwise you may find yourself facing the wrong way in traffic. Not good.
Just push the button, and out pops one of the many area teenagers that are employed at Wrights Dairy Rite. (As a matter of fact, when I was growing up in Stauton, if you had to get a job, this was one of the more acceptable form of employment - as far as "coolness" factor goes.) Place your order, and about 10 minutes later your food arrives and is set up for you on the window of your car.
If curbside service makes you worry about your nice leather interior, no fear. Just park and go inside the diner. The dining room was redone in the early 1990s, but kept the 50s retro feel - jukebox and all. The walls are decorated with pictures of famous folks that have been in the establishment, including local heroes, The Statler Brothers. (see entry for Statler Brothers Museum ) Each summer, the nostalgia gets even stronger, as Wright's hosts Cruise Ins, where classic car owners (and modern hot-rod owners) can drive into the parking lot and show of their rides. There are contests, prizes, games, etc. It's quite the local draw.
But let's get to the heart of the matter. You want to know about food. If greasy spoons are your thing (as they are mine) you'll love it. My favorite thing is a burger (leave the pickles off please) and the thick crinkle fries. (Make sure to order them EXTRA crispy.) Top that off with a thick vanilla shake, and I'm in heartburn heaven. Other choices include foot-long hot dogs, chicken breast filet, pulled pork BBQ sandwich (topped with slaw), subs and more. There's a low-fat menu as well, but come on, you're in the south! If you want healthy, keep driving. :)
I'd say that a person could eat here for $5 or less, unless you go all out with the fried chicken dinners. The food is great, and it's just what you'd expect from a 50's dinner. So put a quarter in the jukebox, pick an Elvis song (or the Statler Brothers) and enjoy your trip back in time.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on July 7, 2000
Wright's Dairy Rite
346 Greenville Ave.
Staunton, Virginia 24401
Attraction | "Museum of American Frontier Culture"
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on July 7, 2000
Frontier Culture Museum
1290 Richmond Avenue
Massanutten, Virginia 24401
Attraction | "Statler Brother's Museum"
Statler Brothers Museum
Attraction | "Shenandoah Shakespeare's Blackfriars Playhouse"
The troupe believes, as Shakespeare said in Romeo and Juliet, that plays should consume only "two hours' traffic of our stage." Their stage adaptations keep audiences involved (the play goes on around you, and children can even sit on the stage itself).
I paid a visit to the theater during my Christmas visit to my parents' house, and my Mom and I had great pleasure seeing the Shenandoah Shakespeare troupe's version of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. It was a wonderful two hours, with some contemporary references woven into an old play. When Scrooge asks the Ghost of Christmas Present whether Tiny Tim will live, the ghost doesn't answer. When Scrooge asks again, the ghost replies, "it's intermission, Scrooge." Ha!
The tickets you get suggest that you arrive a half-hour early to enjoy some pre-show entertainment. Local musicians played Christmas music and costumed carolers sang to us.
Tips, the seats are wooden, as I mentioned, and pretty hard on the tooshie. For $2, you can rent a cushion to sit on and, for another $2, you can rent a back for your bench as well. I recommend at least the cushion, but the play itself should be so engaging that you're leaning forward the whole time anyway. :)
To purchase tickets, visit Shenandoah Shakespeare. Prices range from $10-$50. (FYI: The expensive seats have backs and cushions and sit on the first floor alongside the stage; the center stage seats are better for seeing the play.) You may also order over the phone at 540/885-5588 from 10am to 5pm (EST) Monday to Saturday. Tickets for orders made over a week in advance will be mailed to your home address; you can also opt to pick them up at the theater.
Some of the upcoming productions for 2003 are Twelfth Night, Richard III, Julius Ceasar, and one of my personal Shakespeare favorites--The Taming of the Shrew.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on December 30, 2002
10 East Market Street
Staunton, Virginia 24401
There's so much to do in the park that a visit here is almost overwhelming. One of the coolest things to visit is the duck pond. This fenced-in pond (though the ducks can come and go as they please) is home to all kinds of ducks and a pair of swans as well. We always bring our stale bread to feed them but you can put a nickel in the feed machine and get some duck food for them. (I think they like the bread better though.)
The park also features a mini train that kids and parents alike can ride. When I was a kid, we rode the train and loved to go through the 'tunnel'--we would always scream in the dark. The train seats are big enough for parents to ride with timid kids.
Once they're done with the train, kids can swing, slide, or just run around like crazy. Adults, meanwhile, can play volleyball, horseshoes, etc. There are always ball games going on somewhere in the park, whether it's high-school football games (go Leemen of R.E. Lee HS!) or little league baseball or tee-ball games on one of the several ball fields.
The 1.3-mile road that goes around the park is speed-controlled and lots of walkers/runners use it to get out of the gym in nice weather. There is stretching and warm-up equipment at the park entrance.
In the fall, the park is one of the best places to see the foliage. In the spring, flowers sprout everywhere. In the summer, there are picnic benches for family reunions and parties. There is also a golf course (Gypsy Hill Golf Course) and a swimming pool on site.
Gypsy Hill Park
Churchville Avenue and Thornrose Avenue
A young Confederate soldier separated from his troop knew that he had to hide from his Northern Army pursuers. But where? He ran into a white house atop a hill in Staunton to escape capture -- or death. He turned around just in time to see an enemy soldier in Northern blue standing in the doorway, where he had just entered. I'm sure he drew his gun to fire, but not quick enough. He was shot in front of the fireplace hearth. His wound fatal, he sunk down onto the hearth and took his final breath. His blood seeped onto the floor and the wall, staining where it touched.
Not long after the war, occupants of what is now known as Selma house began reporting that they saw a soldier in uniform walking down the stairs, or standing by the fireplace. or walking out the door. Through the years, more and more reports flowed out of the house about the "nice gentleman" that could be seen throughout the house. A friend of a friend that lived in the house (now converted into apartments) claims that the "ghost" even helped out around the house. She had set her laundry down at the top of the stairs, and gone back to shut her door. She came back to see her laundry at the bottom of the steps.
These stories made Selma house famous, at least in certain circles. When we were in the 4th grade, our teacher, who lived on Selma Blvd, two houses down, read the story of Selma House from a book on registered haunted houses.
I recently read a story, that said a group of parapsychologists managed to set the spirit free, and the house is no longer haunted. Now what fun is that? However, I'm sure the Confederate Soldier was tired after nearly 100 years of haunting the house.
Selma house is a residence, not a museum or a tourist attraction. However, you can easily find it sitting atop of Selma Blvd., near the park in the center of town. You can get most anyone to talk about it. And perhaps, if you ask nicely, a resident will allow you to see the blood stains on the floor and the wall that could never be covered -- the blood would seep through all rugs, coverings, etc.
Mostly, it's just a fun local story, and the house itself is a beautiful southern house -- fit with columns and all -- that has stood since before the Civil War.
Cary, North Carolina