Our exploratory journey of things to see and do in Shenandoah County continues with a visit to Woodstock. Not that Woodstock, the Other Woodstock!
Like Strasburg, some Pennsylvania Germans settled in what was then called Muellerstadt — the name was changed to Woodstock when it was chartered in 1761. When Shenandoah County was formed in 1772, Woodstock was named the county seat and a house was donated for use as the county’s first courthouse. Twenty-three years later the current structure at the corner of Main and Court streets, made of native limestone, was erected and is the oldest courthouse in continuous use west of the Blue Ridge. Let’s start our tour there.
Numerous additions and renovations were made over the years, but the newer section still conducts court business and the public area in front is still the site of social, political and cultural events. The Shenandoah County Historical Society partners with the county to host a Visitors Center on weekends from March through December when you can examine artifacts such as graffiti left by soldiers during the Civil War and tour the courthouse itself.
The Courthouse is at the center of the Historic District of Woodstock, so let’s stroll Main and Court streets while we’re in the area. Most of downtown was granted a historic district designation in 1995 and covers several side streets and about a mile of Main Street, originally called the Indian Road, then the Great Wagon Road, and now the Valley Turnpike/U.S. 11. Designated properties include private homes, commercial buildings, churches and even a cemetery.
From the front of the Courthouse turn north and walk past several historic buildings currently used as offices to Valley Flower Shop and Greenhouse at 127 N. Main Street. Established in 1950 the shop is family owned and operated. They offer a wide range of plants and flower arrangements and are famous for a variety of poinsettias they grow each year in their greenhouse.
Continue north past the Woodstock Town Office to Three French Hens, a shop chock full of vintage, antique and collectible items. Then cross the street and walk south past the Community Theater and two other buildings to Travelers Treasures at 118 N. Main. Owner Joy Nault’s first name describes her perfectly when she welcomes you into her shop full of just about everything imaginable, from jewelry to soap to coffee to walking sticks, most hand-made by local artisans.
Take a left on Court Street to the Woodstock Brewhouse, formerly a blue jean factory and a radio/TV station. Resurrected as a restaurant with onsite brewing in 2015, the owners restored the 1920s industrial building authentically, keeping the original 14’ ceiling and wood flooring while installing all of the brewing equipment on the lower level. You can sip up to eight seasonal beers by looking over the railing at the brewing tanks right below you.
Head back to Main Street and turn left. In the second building, across from the Circuit Court building, is the County Chamber of Commerce where you can find all sorts of information about things to do in the county. Next to the Chamber building is the now-closed Walton & Smoot Pharmacy, which was built in 1875 as Geary’s Hotel, then became Hotel Woodstock. Rumor has it that it may become a hotel again!
The next two buildings are home to The Woodstock Café and Happenings Event Planner. Corporate hospitality veterans Nikki Grant and husband José Arevalos bought the café five years ago, spruced up the place, expanded the menu and threw their hearts and souls into the community. Breakfast and lunch are served daily with dinner on Fridays and Saturdays and specials every day. José makes fresh pasta daily that you can buy to take home and get creative with your own sauces. Nikki knows wine and can recommend the perfect wine for you, whether to go with your meal or to take home, and the prices are very reasonable.
Heather Silvious, owner of Happenings Event Planner, started out as a wedding and event coordinator and has been catering small and large events since she opened her storefront in January of 2017. Her menu is extensive, the food delicious and inventive, and the presentation is gorgeous. And did I mention reasonably priced? You can stop in for lunch from 10-2 Tuesday through Friday; the menu changes monthly and every holiday has its own specials, such as King cakes and beignets for Mardi Gras.
At 123 S. Main you’ll find VECCA, the Valley Educational Center for the Creative Arts, a non-profit founded in 1984 to inspire and encourage creativity. Exhibits by members on the walls change every two months and each month features an artist of the month. VECCA awards annual student scholarships, hosts workshops and exhibitions, and partners with the town and other community organizations on projects such as a show at Shenandoah Memorial Hospital, ArtFest and the Community Build Mosaic Project. The Mosaic Project is three 4’ x 8’ panels made with glass, ceramics and river rocks depicting scenes of the Shenandoah River and constructed by VECCA and community members. Two have been completed and hang on the side outside wall of Woodstock Café and the third will be finished and hung during Light Up Woodstock on December 1.
Our next stop is a restored and updated log cabin circa 1797 that is home to Nate & Main, a curated selection of works by local artists along with antique and vintage home and garden décor. After a career in commercial real estate, owner Bill Grillo bought an old partial log home on Woodstock Tower Road and restored it and the grounds. Looking for something to keep him busy in retirement, he bought another historic property at 129 N. Main St., restored it, and opened Nate & Main.
If your kids (or you) are flagging by now, head a few doors down and across the street to Sugar Creek Snowy & Sweet at 150 S. Main for ice cream treats. Open Thursday thru Sunday afternoons Sugar Creek serves scoops, milkshakes, sundaes and more made with Pennsylvania Mennonite creamery ice cream.
Let’s head back toward the Courthouse and stop at Flour & Water Co., a European-style bakery and purveyor of all things baked and delicious. Open Wednesday through Saturday for breakfast and lunch with pizza on Wednesday evenings, Flour & Water offers Sunday teas spring through fall and fills take-home special orders for holidays.
Do you have an inner artist struggling to emerge? Then head back to Court Street and visit The Art Spot at 130 W. Court. The studio offers space and workshops for all ages to paint in canvas, screen and wood and play with clay and wool and is available for parties and events.
While walking in the historic district you may have noticed a lot of public art. In addition to being a Tree City for 17 years, the town is known for its support of the arts in a very public way. Several years ago, local artists competed for the honor of their designs wrapping traffic signals and a new call for artists will be issued soon for new wrap designs. Plans are also in the works for 15 2’ x 4’ banners by individual artists to be hung on light posts in the public parking lot behind the Woodstock Café.
The town also sponsors Woodstock ROCs (Riley Outdoor Concert Series) at W.O. Riley Park at 540 Park Avenue the second Friday of each summer month beginning this year on June 9. The park offers an innovative kids play area, tennis and basketball courts, picnic shelters, an outdoor pool and walking trails. And if your fur babies need some exercise, visit the Fairview Dog Park at 716 W. North St., about a mile away. Large and small dogs have their own spaces in the fenced area to keep the peace.
The town hosts community events throughout the year: Luau Pool Party at W.O. Riley Park on June 3; ArtFest on Court Square June 24; Fireworks at the Fairgrounds on July 4; WoodsTaco on Court Square on Sept. 23; Halloween on Court Square on Oct. 28; and Light Up Woodstock on Dec. 1, among others.
By now you’ve probably seen many references to the seven bends (there are actually more than seven) of the Shenandoah River that wind the river’s way through the county. Woodstock is right next door to Virginia’s newest state park. Seven Bends opened in 2020. Comprised of almost 1,100 acres, many of them donated, the park offers picnic shelters, river access, two hand-carry boat launches, restrooms and over eight miles of walking/hiking trails, from easy to difficult. There are two entrances — one from Lupton Road and the other from Hollingsworth and both require crossing a one-lane low-water bridge, which means the park is closed during high water events. Half of the easy Gokotta trail at the Lupton entrance parallels the river and is full of bluebells in April. At any time anywhere in the park you may see ducks, eagles, deer and even a bear.
If you enter via the Hollingsworth entrance, when you finish your hike, your efforts can be rewarded at Muse Vineyards on your left on the way back to the bridge. Muse’s 2009 Bordeaux blend Clio, its very first wine, won the Governor’s Cup in 2015 and owners Robert Muse and Sally Cowal, who had not planned to open a tasting room any time soon, were forced by customer demand to change plans. The tasting room opened in November of 2016 and is located at the highest point of the property, overlooking the 32 acres of vines. The vineyard is one of the most diverse in the state and the vines are mostly French and Italian varieties and include Nebbiolo, Rousanne, Marsanne, Gamay and Grenache along with the better-known Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.
In case you need to get a few more steps in, there is a 1.4 mile walking trail through the vines, some of which are planted close to the river. Muse offers a snack and lunch menu with Sunday brunch supplied by Flour & Water. You can even stay on the property in a restored and updated 1792 farmhouse with exposed log interior, a huge colonial fireplace and a swimming pool off the back patio.
There are a lot more things to see and do in Woodstock, and so much history. There’s even an automated dairy on Water Street. And Woodstock Tower. And Burnshire Dam. So we’ll have to return to Woodstock later this year. Next up: New Market!
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