Monday, January 31, 2011

Downtown Historic District

First settled in 1732, the city of Staunton (pronounced STAN-ton) is named for Lady Rebecca Staunton, who was the wife of Virginia’s Colonial Governor William Gooch. He named the town after his English wife.

Staunton is in the heart of Virginia’s storied Shenandoah Valley and at one time was the geographical center of the state, which once stretched westward all the way to the Mississippi River and encompassed parts of what is now West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Illinois and Pennsylvania. Given its central location and fertile setting, it quickly developed into an early center for trade and commerce, particularly for the export of agricultural products.

Its importance was cemented in 1854 with the arrival of the Virginia Central Railroad, and its heyday was as a railroad town. Staunton became a center of banking, manufacturing and retail trade in the mid-nineteenth century. In 1856, future President Woodrow Wilson was born to a local Presbyterian minister and his wife. Wilson's restored birthplace and Presidential Library and Museum attract thousands of tourists. The city was largely spared from destruction during the Civil War, a significant factor in the remarkable number of historic structures that have been preserved in the downtown area. Staunton, which has experienced a remarkable renaissance in recent years, is an intriguing, often quirky choice for tourists who are looking for attractions a bit more off the beaten path. This blog will introduce a few of them to you.

Illustration of Staunton, circa 1851 (click to enlarge).

Architect T.J. Collins came to Staunton from Washington, DC, in 1891 and in a mere twenty years designed or remodeled over two hundred buildings, most of which exist today. Collins designed the gatehouse (photo below), bridge, tower, tombs and other structures at Thornrose Cemetery, which contains more than 1,770 graves of Confederate soldiers.

Note: Photos on this blog from Staunton's web site and from links displayed on web site.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Woodrow Wilson Birthplace

The nation’s 28th president comes to life in a tour of the 12-room Greek Revival Presbyterian manse furnished with items appropriate to the time of his birth here in 1856. As president elect in 1912, Wilson returned to Staunton on his 56th birthday and spent the night in the house in which he was born. The museum next door houses the only presidential library in Virginia, even though eight presidents were born in the state. The museum offers much to learn about the president’s life as a lawyer, college professor, president of Princeton University, U.S. president and peacemaker following World War I, for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize as the Founder of the League of Nations (the predecessor of today’s United Nations). His controversial veto of prohibition legislation (congress overrode his veto) and enactment of a national income tax are also explored. On the plus side, his administration gave women the right to vote and established Mother's Day as a national holiday. The terraced boxwood gardens and Wilson’s restored Pierce-Arrow limousine are part of the tour. The automobile has been restored to full working order, and the car traveled to Washington DC for the dedication of the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge on May 15, 2008.

Hours: 9-5 Mon-Sat, noon-5 Sun Mar-Oct; 10-4 Mon-Sat, noon-4 Sun Nov-Feb. Adults $14, Senior/AAA/Active Military $12. 540-885-0897. 18 N. Coalter St.

Wilson was the first lay president of Princeton University.
He was the only president to retire to Washington, DC and is buried in Washington National Cathedral (Episcopal) alongside his second wife, an Episcopalian.
Himself the son of a Presbyterian minister, Wilson's mother and first wife were both daughters of Presbyterian ministers.

Below: Bow knot boxwood garden and gazebo at rear of house. The Wilson family never knew anything like it, because during the short time they were in residence, the rear yard was home to outbuildings, pigs and chickens. The local chapter of the Garden Club of Virginia installed these handsome boxwood gardens in the 1930s; they hired famed Richmond based landscape architect Charles Gillette to design them.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Silent film star William Haines

William Haines (shown at left with Joan Crawford) was the top grossing male film star of 1930. Mostly unknown today, he was born in Staunton on January 1, 1900, at the birth of a new century. He went to local schools and even sang in the choir of the Episcopal Church. Deciding early on that Staunton was too small a town for the likes of him, he ran away from home at age 14 and never looked back. With no training as an actor, he became an MGM contract player in 1922, and "Brown of Harvard" (1926) was his star-making movie role. The house he was born in still stands at 419 N. New Street.

BROWN OF HARVARD (1926) MGM silent film
86 minutes; Black & White; 8 reels

An early example of the “buddy film” genre. Starring William Haines, Jack Pickford (brother of Mary), Mary Brian, Francis X. Bushman Jr., Mary Alden, David Torrence. Adapted from the 1909 stage play by Rida Johnson Young, directed by Jack Conway. This is a silent film rendering of Young’s play, a drama about friendship, loyalty, compassion and growing up from a boy to a man.

Haines plays Tom Brown, a breezy youth with a Don Juan reputation who is a freshman at Harvard. He soon locks horns with Bob McAndrews, a studious, reserved boy who becomes his chief rival for the affections of Mary Abbott, a professor's daughter. Brown rooms with Jed Doolittle, an awkward but good-hearted youth who comes to idolize him. At a party, Brown forcibly kisses Mary, and a tussle with McAndrews follows. Brown challenges MacAndrews as stroker on the college rowing team but loses. When Brown replaces MacAndrews in a rowing match against Yale, Tom is disgraced and decides not to return to Harvard the next year. However, he is persuaded by his father to go back to fight for the girl. During the following semester Brown believes that he has been cut from the football team and leaves campus. Jed Doolittle, his "half-pint" roommate, learns that the coach wants Brown to play and gets out of bed to find him, even though he is sick with fever. In a deluge of rain, after riding on the outside of a train, he eventually finds Brown and gets him to report to the coach for the big Harvard-Yale game, which is the climax of the film. Doolittle, by this time in grave physical condition, checks himself into the hospital while the game is on. At a crucial moment in the game Brown gives his rival MacAndrews a chance to score. After injuring his ankle, Brown captures the honors of the game, is acclaimed a hero and is happily united with Mary. When he goes to tell Doolittle of the victory, Brown learns that his roommate has died.

This silent film is a pot-boiler of suspense, maudlin sentiment and comedy – and of lessons painfully learned. Haines reworked this winning buddy-film formula in several subsequent films: “Tell it to the Marines” with Lon Chaney and “West Point” with Joan Crawford, who became Haines’s best friend in Hollywood. In each he plays a brash smart aleck who takes nothing seriously until he is rejected, then wises up and becomes a man/hero and wins the girl.

Trivia: The football scenes and those of the boat race are real. The football game includes actual footage from a Harvard football match. In addition, we are treated to an uncredited cameo by John Wayne, which is widely regarded as Wayne's first-ever appearance on film, playing the part of a Yale football player (Wayne was a player for USC in real life).
Jack Pickford (half-pint Doolittle) was the established star of the cast (Haines had heretofore played only secondary roles). At only 29 years old when the film was made, Pickford's star was already in decline due to acute alcoholism; he was dead by the age of 37. Haines stole the movie from Pickford.
Some of the witty silent film titles (by famed humorist Donald Ogden Stewart) were inspired by Haines' own ad-libbing on the set, and the entire film was shot in just three weeks.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Shakespeare at Blackfriar’s Playhouse

The 300-seat Blackfriars Playhouse is the world's only re-creation of Shakespeare's original indoor theater. Opened in 2001, the playhouse offers the works of Shakespeare presented under original conditions, on a simple stage, without elaborate sets, and with the audience sharing the same lighting as the actors. Actors play multiple roles and interact with the audience. Home to the American Shakespeare Center, Blackfriars offers performances year round. Located at 10 S. Market Street, adjacent to the Stonewall Jackson Hotel. 540.851.1733.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Stonewall Jackson Hotel

Located in the historic Red Brick downtown quarter of Staunton, this 124-room hotel captures the spirit, history and charm of the old South. Originally built in 1924, the property underwent a complete top to bottom renovation in 2005 and has been painstakingly restored to its original grandeur. The hotel boasts an indoor swimming pool, hot tub, lobby bar, restaurant and fitness center.

The original Wurlitzer theatre organ on the mezzanine of the two story lobby was also restored to full playing condition, although the hotel staff says that the sound is too loud for live entertainment; instead, the hotel plays recordings of the organ during Christmas and other holiday occasions. The Georgian-style, red brick structure was designed by renowned architect H.L. Stevens, cost $440,000 to build in the 1920s and boasted every major technical innovation of the day. Today the property is a member of the Historic Hotels of America division of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Mary Baldwin College

Founded in 1842 as Augusta Female Seminary, Mary Baldwin College is one of the oldest institutions of higher education for women in the United States. The school was established as a Presbyterian seminary (teacher's college; at the time, only unmarried women could be school teachers) by Rufus Wm. Bailey, a minister and teacher from Maine. After plans for the school were approved by the ministers and members of the Presbyterian churches of Augusta County, the seminary opened with Bailey as principal, and the first charter was granted by the Virginia General Assembly in 1845. The school's first building, now the Administration Building, was built adjacent to the First Presbyterian Church of Staunton. In 1872 the church building and land were given to the school. Until it was demolished in 1962, the church building was known as Waddell Chapel, in which Thomas Woodrow Wilson, twenty-eighth President of the United States, was baptized in 1857. His father, Reverend Joseph Ruggles Wilson, was minister of the First Presbyterian Church at the time and also served as chaplain to the Augusta Female Seminary.

It is likely that the seminary would not have survived the Civil War period except for the efforts of Mary Julia Baldwin, who became principal in 1863. The courage and ingenuity of Baldwin and her assistant, Agnes McClung, enabled the school to remain open when nearly every other school in the Shenandoah Valley was forced to close because the area was a continual battlefield between Union and Confederate armies. The seminary became Mary Baldwin Junior College in 1916 and a four-year college in 1923, when the name was changed to Mary Baldwin College.

Associated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Mary Baldwin is today a private, independent four-year liberal arts women's college that also offers co-ed graduate and adult degree programs. It is unique for its Virginia Women's Institute for Leadership program for female cadets, affiliated with nearby Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, intended to satisfy non-discrimination laws that forced a legal challenge to all-male VMI. The state proposed that single-sex leadership programs, with opportunity for commissioning into the military, be offered at Mary Baldwin College and at VMI, while co-educational military opportunities be continued at Virginia Tech; funding to design the program was provided by VMI. Mary Baldwin also hosts the Program for the Exceptionally Gifted, a program designed for girls 12–16 years of age to earn a bachelor's degree from the college.

The college now incorporates the buildings and grounds of the Staunton Military Academy that closed in the mid-1970s. The Mary Baldwin College Main Building (photo below), built in 1844, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 along with Hilltop, another campus structure.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Willy Ferguson's Sculptures

Willy Ferguson, 61, is a welder and sculptor who operates a metal-fabrication shop, but is best known for his oversized metal sculptures of carbon steel: to wit, Staunton’s giant watering can and flower pots at the intersection of U.S. 250 and U.S. 11 and a huge book outside the town’s library.

The son of a Scottish father and a Sicilian mother, Ferguson was born in Edinburgh, Scotland. He came to the U.S. at age seven, when his family settled in Staunton. At the time they lived on the grounds of Western State Hospital, a facility for the mentally ill, where his father was a physician.

After his parents divorced, his father wanted him to go to college, but Ferguson decided on welding school in Richmond. He has built Ferguson Metal Fabrication into a successful operation. Sculptures are a small portion of his business, but by far the most recognizable. People tend to remember giant milk cans, plows and apples. Ten of his works are listed in the Inventory of American Sculpture as part of the Smithsonian's "Save Outdoor Sculpture!" program. These enormous works also represent the most enjoyable work for him and his only full-time employee, Jim Chestnut, who makes medieval armor in his spare time and whose great-grandfather was a blacksmith. They do it with no blueprints, no engineers, no computers. Ferguson doesn’t even own a cell phone.

Not everyone in Staunton had an appreciation for large pieces of metal art. When the watering can (18 ft. tall and 20 ft. wide) and flower pots, commissioned by the local garden club, were installed at a busy intersection in 1999, a mini-brouhaha ensued. Some thought the works an eyesore; others found them amusing and capricious. The controversy eventually passed, and the watering can and pots are still there, on either side of a railroad bridge, now considered iconic Staunton landmarks.

Below is Ferguson's own Big Foot sculpture, alongside the driveway to his workplace.

Trinity Church

The present red brick Gothic Revival church building, the third to occupy the site, was constructed in 1855, and twelve of the stained glass windows are made of opalescent glass from the studio of Louis Comfort Tiffany, dating from the first decades of the 20th century.

The historic churchyard contains the graves of 17 known Revolutionary War soldiers. Until 1853, when Thornrose Cemetery was opened, the Trinity churchyard was the town’s public burying ground, dating back to the 1750s. In July 1781, Virginia's general assembly fled to Staunton to escape the advancing British forces; while here they elected Thomas Nelson as governor in a session held at the original Trinity Church building (Nelson replaced Thomas Jefferson); present for this session were Patrick Henry and Daniel Boone. During the Civil War, Virginia Theological Seminary moved from Alexandria to Staunton, using Trinity Church as its base.

The church gallery contains a magnificent organ installed in 1999 by world renowned tracker action pipe organ builder Taylor & Boody, whose factory is located in a renovated school building three miles west of downtown Staunton. As well, a recently constructed open air labyrinth is available for use during daytime hours.

Trivia: Presbyterians played an important part in the history of Trinity Church. When Augusta County was founded (split from Orange County), Virginia's governor ordered that a parish of the Church of England be established in Staunton. Upon its founding in 1746, the first 12-member vestry included nine Presbyterians, because there were not enough members of the Church of England in the area; only one member of that first vestry was an official member of the Church of England, which was the mandated church of Virginia until the American Revolution (so long as citizens paid taxes to the Church of England, they could worship as other denominations, such as Baptists and Presbyterians). Trinity's first minister was local Presbyterian pastor John Hindman, who was shipped of to England to be ordained by the Bishop of London. Services were held in the Staunton courthouse for fourteen years, until the first brick church building was constructed on this site in 1760. Local Presbyterians did not build their first church until 1818, so they worshiped at Trinity up until that time.

Trinity Episcopal Church is located on Beverley St. at the corner of Lewis St. on the western edge of downtown's Red Brick District. 540-886-9132

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Frontier Culture Museum

This museum is an open air demonstration of living history, telling the story of the people who migrated from Europe to America and the life they created in the Shenandoah Valley. The museum is made up of original or reproduced examples of traditional buildings from the Old World and America. The Old World exhibits include a West African farm, an English farm, an Irish farm and forge and a German farm. On site interpreters help bring the sets to life in much the same way as is done at colonial Williamsburg. The American exhibits comprise a 1740s American settlement, an 1820s American farm, an 1850s American farm, and an early American schoolhouse. 540.332.7850. Located just 1/4 mile west of I-81 at exit 222.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Statler Brothers, Native Sons

The Statler Brothers, famed country and gospel singers, share Staunton as their home town. Only two were brothers (Don and Harold Reid), and none had the surname Statler. They named themselves after a brand of facial tissue. Their career began in 1955 and ended in retirement in 2002, during which time they released 40 albums. Phil Balsley sang baritone and Jimmy Fortune sang tenor from the early 1980s, due to the ill health of original Statler tenor Lew DeWitt. A heavy dose of humor was always incorporated into their live performances. The Statler Brothers were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2008 and the Gospel Hall of Fame in 2007.

Three of the singers still reside in Staunton, but Jimmy Fortune has relocated to Nashville to pursue a solo career. The group maintains a gift shop in Staunton at 1409 N. Augusta Street. Videos, recordings and memorabilia. Open Mon-Fri 11:00a to 3:00p. 540-885-7297.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Camera & Palette Museum

This privately owned enterprise includes daguerreotypes, view cameras, spy cameras, a large Leica collection and area historical photos. Highlights are a camera used by the Japanese during the Pearl Harbor attack and an official Nazi documentation camera.

Hours: 9:00 am-5:00 pm Mom-Fri; 9:00 am-2:00 pm Sat. Free. 540-886-7291. Located within a retail camera store at 1 W. Beverley Street.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Temple House of Israel

When they outgrew their meeting place on Kalaroma Street, the local Reform Jewish congregation (founded 1876) purchased a lot on North Market Street from Mary Baldwin College and engaged Sam Collins, nephew of T.J. Collins, to design a new house of worship. The cornerstone, dated 1925, was set by the local Masonic lodge. Since that time, this unique building has been in continuous use by the local Jewish community.

The building’s design is in Moorish style, rare among synagogues in the United States. The building itself, the treasured Connick stained glass windows, the Mercer ceramic tiles and other architectural details of the bima contribute to the structure’s historic and architectural significance. The stained glass windows, lights, and entry glass were designed and constructed by Charles Connick Associates of Boston. Connick, who was also responsible for the rose windows of St. Patrick's Cathedral and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, is considered second only to Tiffany in importance. Staunton’s Temple House of Israel is one of very few structures that still has the full complement of original glass as it was installed.

Rabbi Joe Blair, of Temple House of Israel, was appointed adjunct professor of religion at Mary Baldwin College in 2004. He also serves as Rabbi of Harrisonburg's Beth El Congregation.

Photo below: the architecturally distinctive ark that holds the Torah.

The former school (below) that served as home for Temple House of Israel's congregation from 1876 until 1925. It still stands, now somewhat derelict, diagonally across from the Stonewall Jackson Hotel, at the corner of Kalorama and South Market Streets.

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Saturday, January 1, 2011

Time Warp 1952: Wright's Dairy Rite

Wright’s Dairy Rite is among the last curb-service drive-in burger eateries in the state. F. A. Wright opened his Dairy Rite in 1952 and established high standards in his kitchen. He created a tradition in Staunton that has lasted for nearly sixty years. To this day Wright’s is still family-owned – these days by his son-in-law James E. Cash and his grandson, James R. Cash. This is where the Statler Brothers used to hang out in their youth.

On the menu is the popular Superburger – two patties of ground beef, melted cheese, shredded lettuce, and their own special sauce, served on the specially baked three-decker bun – BigMac, eat your heart out (Wright’s opened three years before Ray Croc started his McDonald’s empire). Other specialties are ice cream and dairy treats. Make a step back into time to 1952 with a visit to Wright’s Dairy Rite. Free WiFi. 346 Greenville Avenue (Rt. 11), just south of downtown Staunton. 540.886.0435

Note: For the past 23 years Wright’s has hosted two “Cruise-In” events on the Sunday afternoons before Memorial Day and Labor Day. On average 200 classic and antique car owners register to make an appearance. Winners receive special dash plaques.

Gypsy Hill Park

Painting of the bandstand in Gypsy Hill Park by Staunton resident Mary Ann Vessey

Gypsy Hill Park is a 214 acre recreational destination adjacent to the northwest edge of downtown. The park began as the site of Staunton's water supply in the mid 1800s, when several springs dispensed water to the city via a pumping station. In 1876 the city purchased 30 acres of land around the springs to protect the water supply; by 1890 the city had acquired 90 acres and established a recreational tract known as Gypsy Hill Park, named for the wandering gypsies who camped near the springs. Throughout the 20th century expansion of the park, residents and visitors have been able to experience much of its original Victorian character and charm. For 25 years the Statler Brothers gave Independence Day concerts here to an audience of 100,000 fans. Facilities include a bandstand, golf course, swimming pool, barbecue areas, baseball fields, basketball courts, bicycle paths, duck pond, fishing, fitness station, football and soccer fields, horseshoes, mini-train, picnic shelters, playgrounds, running tracks, action skate park, tennis and volleyball courts.

Trivia (swear I'm not making this stuff up!):

There is a German made medium field Howitzer 8.8 ton cannon aimed at a row of houses behind a line of trees near the duck pond. Hmmm. It seems this was WW II "booty" shipped home by our armed forces. Great! A 17,600 pound souvenir.

Hollywood comes to Shenandoah! Portions of Evan Almighty were filmed in Staunton and nearby Waynesboro in the spring of 2006. In this still, Evan Baxter (portrayed by Steve Carell) is on the campaign trail (in Gypsy Hill Park).

Free Trolley Service

"Lady Libby" stopped in front of the Amtrak station.

Staunton offers a free trolley service to assist visitors in getting around downtown. The green trolleys stop at the Staunton Visitors Center for pickup at 15 minutes and 45 minutes after every hour, making a continuous loop around downtown and out to Thornrose Cemetery and Gypsy Hill Park, once every 30 minutes. Daily except Sundays: 10:00a-10:00p May-Dec, until 6:00p Jan-Apr.

Sunspots Studios Glass Blowing

Sunspots glass blowing studio is housed in a historic c. 1899 building in downtown Staunton. Their studio, art glass showroom and gift shop are open seven days a week, with live glass blowing demonstrations nearly every day. Vases, bird feeders, garden art, oil candles, perfume bottles, decorative wine stoppers, gazing globes, glass bead jewelry and more. Visitors are welcome to stop by and feel the furnaces blazing!

Sunspots Studios
202 S. Lewis St; 540.885.0678
Glass blowing demonstrations until 4:00p
Mon-Sat 10:00a-6:00p; Sun 11:30a-5:00p

Firefighting Museum

The Staunton Fire and Rescue Department, founded in 1790, is the oldest continuously operated fire company in the state, with 220 years of tradition. All are welcome to come see "Jumbo", the oldest motorized fire engine in Virginia and the only extant 1911 Robinson chemical fire truck. It is housed in a museum (founded 1982) located inside the modern station at 500 N. Augusta Street. Billy Thompson’s White Post Restorations did the meticulous restoration work at a cost of over $140,000. The Robinson company, based in St. Louis, Missouri, manufactured firefighting equipment between 1908 and 1923, but the Staunton Fire Department’s “Jumbo” remained operational until 1971, nearly 50 years after Robinson closed up shop. Also on display are items relating to fire fighting, some going back to the Civil War. 540-332-3886. Free, 9:00a to 10:00p.

Dixie: Vaudeville & Silent Films

The Dixie Theater, designed in Italian Renaissance Revival style by architect T.J. Collins and sons, opened in June, 1913. Then called the "New Theatre", it offered vaudeville shows and silent movies and was renowned for its elaborate, effusive decor. It was here that the locals cheered on the hometown boy, William Haines, who became the nation’s biggest silent screen star in 1930. Haines, born just a few blocks away in 1900, had spent many a thrilling time as a teenager in this brand new entertainment venue, never dreaming that he would someday appear larger than life on that very screen. After filming "Brown of Harvard," Billy Haines returned to Staunton for a visit in 1926, and a large crowd attended a screening of two of his silent films. After a disastrous fire in 1936, the theater reopened solely as a movie house with a new name, the Dixie Theatre. The exterior was greatly simplified, and the pre-fire third story was not rebuilt. The Dixie continues to screen films today. 125 East Beverley St., at the corner of Market Street.

Architectural interest (photo above): looking at the exterior along Beverley St., in the center of the second floor are three arches inlaid with terra cotta mosaic tiles. Above and centered between the arches are four theatrical laughing faces. Click photos to enlarge.

A photo of the original building, prior to the rebuilding after the 1936 fire. The third story was not rebuilt, and the glass in the second story windows was replaced with Art-Deco tile work.

Augusta County Historical Society

Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, Cyrus McCormick, Woodrow Wilson, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson all played important roles in the history of Augusta County, but so did Grandma Moses and Kate Smith and the Statler Brothers. Frontiersman Daniel Boone visited kinfolk here and Charles Lindbergh landed here. Even history's great names like Eisenhower and Lincoln traced their ancestral homes to this county. And, truth be told – George Washington slept here.

Here you can learn more about the historic significance of August County. Located in the R.R. Smith Center for History and Art, housed in a restored 19th-century railroad hotel formerly known as the Eakleton Hotel, designed in 1893 by noted local architect T. J. Collins.
20 S. New Street, opposite the Tourist Office.

Western Lunatic Asylum

Opened in 1828, the Western Lunatic Asylum provided cutting-edge treatment for mentally ill patients. One of the earliest “healing” landscapes in the country, the tranquil and pastoral setting was an important part of the therapy. The stately grounds of the 80-acre campus were so picturesque that a wrought-iron fence (extant) was erected, not to keep patients in, but to keep the town’s local picnickers out.

Patients tended the hospital grounds and hundreds of acres of surrounding farmland, growing much of their own food. Architect Thomas Blackburn, who worked under Thomas Jefferson during the construction of the University of Virginia, designed many of the buildings on site in a distinct Jeffersonian style. In 1969, the five surviving antebellum buildings were listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In the early 1970s, the asylum (by then renamed Western State Hospital) relocated, and the campus became home to the Staunton Correctional Center, a medium-security prison. During this time, which lasted until 2003, many of the buildings fell into disrepair. The property sat vacant until recently, when its new owners began restoring the buildings. Now called the "Villages at Staunton," the campus offers a combination of retail establishments, offices and condominium residences.

A condominium interior:

Va. School for the Deaf and Blind

A state boarding school created by an act of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1838 for the purpose of educating deaf and blind children, it is the second oldest school of its type in the nation. The magnificent brick main building with Greek portico was completed in 1846 and is still in use (also shown below in a vintage engraving). Baltimore architect Robert Cary Long Jr. was hired as architect, and the grounds surrounding his structure became a park for the community of Staunton.

Deaf and blind children were housed and taught in separate wings, due to the differences in educating the two exceptionalities, and each school had its own principal until 1852, when Dr. Jean Merilatt, originally from Alsace, France, took over the entire facility. Students were taught a trade by which they could support themselves upon graduating.

The school’s buildings were taken for use as a Confederate hospital in 1861, the same year that the 52nd Virginia Infantry made camp and trained here before heading off to war. The school housed as many as 500 sick and wounded soldiers, many of whom had been engaged in the Battle of Gettysburg. During this time the students were removed to another local school to make room for the war patients.

In 2007 the School for the Deaf, Blind and Multi-disabled at Hampton, VA, was consolidated into the Staunton School for the Deaf and Blind. $75 million in new projects and renovations are currently underway.

Thornrose Cemetery

Bronze door of an elaborate mausoleum.

The graveyard surrounding Trinity Church had served as the town cemetery since 1760, even for those who were not Episcopalian. With the Trinity Church cemetery full a hundred years later, the town purchased acreage at the far western extreme of Beverley Street for use as a new community cemetery. The first burial took place in 1853. Tourist brochures will tell you that 1,700 civil war soldiers are buried there, that T.J. Collins designed magnificent tombs, a bridge, gatehouse --- blah, blah, blah.

None of that stuff is as interesting as the stories about the less than famous interred there. For years a circus band entered the cemetery and played at the grave of Eva Clark, a trapeze artist who was shot when caught up in a love triangle. Thornrose is also the final resting place of a female Confederate spy, a Charlottesville madam and a twice widowed woman recently buried between her two husbands; before her death in 1988 she would go to the cemetery each day and read the newspaper out loud to her husbands.

Museum of Bank History

Adjoining the handsome 1903 Beaux-Arts style banking hall of SunTrust Bank is a display of objects that were once used by the National Valley Bank as well as memorabilia associated with the banking industry. They showcase money printed in Staunton and even original spittoons that used to be placed throughout the bank. Prominent is a portrait of native son Woodrow Wilson signing the Federal Reserve Act of 1913.

National Valley Bank was started in 1856 by General John Echols as a local enterprise. The interior of the 1903 T. J. Collins building boasts a magnificent oval stained glass skylight, original teller stations and elaborate pilasters and stucco work. The Beaux-Arts exterior was inspired by the Roman Arch of Titus. His son Sam Collins designed the 1920s Art-Deco addition that extends to the corner of Beverley and S. Lewis Streets.

Museum open during banking hours: M-Th 9:00a-5:00p, F 9:00a-6:00p. 540-887-0174