It’s mid-morning at Katbird’s Wine and Gourmet on historic Main Street in Abingdon, Virginia. Along with two other actors, Eugene Wolf is holding court at the small coffee bar at the back of the store. He graciously accepts a compliment for his performance the previous night in one of two plays he’s performing simultaneously at the Barter Theatre, the anchor of this small, picturesque tourist town.[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he Barter Theatre (also the Virginia State Theatre) has an annual draw of over 150,000 patrons. That, along with nearby popular biking and hiking activity on the Virginia Creeper Trail, allows this Southwest Virginia town of just more than 8,000 people to offer entertainment, shopping, and dining experiences that could be considered on par with Old Town Alexandria and Williamsburg. Originally home to the Chisca and Xualae American tribes, the Abingdon area was occupied by the Cherokee in the late 17th century. In 1760 the famed frontiersman Daniel Boone named the area Wolf Hills, after his dogs were attacked by a pack of wolves during a hunting expedition. In 1778 it was incorporated as the town of Abingdon, said to be named for the ancestral home of Martha Washington in Oxfordshire, England. Abingdon used to be a difficult drive from Western North Carolina, but since the construction of I-26 to Johnson City in 2003 it has become an easy two hour drive from Asheville, opening it up to day trips and great weekend stays.
Things to Do
Abingdon sits in the center of the Southwest Virginia tourist area that covers 54 towns, 4 cities, and 19 counties. Heartwood is one exit south of downtown off the interstate. Branding itself as “Southwest Virginia’s Artisan Gateway,” Heartwood is a one-stop information, shopping, dining, and entertainment complex. Interactive displays in the lobby along with their friendly front desk staff can help you plan your activities during your stay. Heartwood’s four galleries offer jewelry, pottery, quilts, and hand turned creations from local artists. The store also offers local food and wine products. A guide is available to the Artisan Trails of Southwest Virginia featuring 15 different and unique drives to visit artist studios, shops, gardens, and farms across the region. Another area showcases “The Crooked Road,” a 333-mile route though the area that promotes its music heritage and music venues. An extensive collection of old time, gospel, and bluegrass music is for sale along handmade instruments crafted by master artisans. Heartwood offers meeting rooms and is a great venue for weddings and other special events. The facility also hosts a full service lunch and brunch restaurant, as well as a coffee and wine bar. Enjoy live music every Thursday night with a BBQ dinner. Heartwood will also feature a Friday night seafood buffet on September 12th. The latest initiative is the inaugural Southwest Virginia Outdoor Expo featuring exhibitors representing the diverse outdoor recreational opportunities in the region. It will be held at Heartwood from 10am until 4pm on Saturday, September 13th.
Visit: One Heartwood Circle, Exit 14 off I-81, Abingdon
More Info: heartwoodvirginia.org
In 1933 in the midst of the Great Depression, Robert Portfield, an unemployed actor, founded the Barter Theatre. Given the economic hardship of the times, he allowed patrons to either pay 35 cents per ticket or barter their seat for the equivalent in goods, hence the name. Today it is one of the longest running professional theater companies in the country and the only one outside of a major metropolitan area to be a member of LORT (The League of Resident Theatres). And, three days each year they still allow their patrons to barter for seats collecting canned food for Feeding America Southwest Virginia. Barter’s impressive Main Stage anchors Main Street. Built in 1831, it had been used as a Presbyterian Church, meeting hall for the Sons of Temperance, opera house for touring opera companies, Town Hall, and even a dentist office in part of the upstairs. Stage II, across the street, was built in 1830 as a Methodist Church. A series of renovations in 1984 and 1995 turned it in to a true public venue, adding a lobby, seating, and air conditioning. A major expansion in 2002 created the café that in 2014 was upgraded to become Bob’s at Barter. Many well known stars of stage, screen, and television have performed early in their careers at Barter, including Gregory Peck, Ernest Borgnine, Patricia Neal, Ned Beatty, Hume Cronyn, Gary Collins, Frances Fisher, Kevin Spacey, Larry Linville, John Glover, Jim Varney, and Wayne Knight. Current shows include Ring of Fire: the Music of Johnny Cash, Driving Miss Daisy, and My Fair Lady. The full lineup for the rest of the season can be found at bartertheatre.com.
Visit: Barter Theatre. 127 W Main St., Abingdon
More Info: bartertheatre.com
The Virginia Creeper Trail
The Virginia Carolina Railroad was constructed in the late 19th and early 20th century running from Abingdon, Virginia to Todd, North Carolina. After an easy run from Abingdon, old steam engines carrying heavy loads of lumber, iron ore, and passengers labored slowly up the grade from Damascus to the eastern terminus on White Top Mountain, hence the name “Virginia Creeper.” With 100 trestles and bridges, sharp curves, and steep grades, it was a typical mountain railroad. Plagued by flooding and economic difficulties the railroad struggled for many years finally closing in March 1977. Today the 34-mile long old railroad bed is a haven for walkers, runners, horseback riders, and scores of bikers. Damascus, which is also a major provision point for hikers on the Appalachian Trail which runs through the town, is the center of biking activity. For a modest fee, seven different bike rental facilities will shuttle riders to the top of the trail in White Top nearly 2,000 feet and 18 all downhill miles to Damascus…a ride anyone can easily accomplish. More adventurous riders continue the full 34 miles to Abingdon, with extreme riders tackling the Virginia Creeper Trail uphill the other way. There is also one bike rental shop in Abingdon, and The Martha Washington Inn will shuttle its guests in an air-conditioned Mercedes coach. A full list of bike rental companies can be found at vacreepertrail.us/rentals.
Other Things to Do: [twocol_one]Abingdon Convention & Visitors Bureau
Extensive travel and attraction information.
335 Cummings St, Abingdon
Abingdon Vineyard & Winery
Wine tastings and tours. Picnic along the South Holston River. Easy access from the Creeper Trail.
20530 Alvardo Rd, Abingdon
The Arts Depot
Resident artist studios, exhibit galleries, classes, and art sales in the old Abingdon rail road freight station.
314 Depot Sq, Abingdon
Creeper Trail Zipline
See all the mountains you will be traveling down on the bike path. Open daily through October.
1667 Old Park Rd, Whitetop
Food and crafts at a covered open air market downtown. Tues 3pm-6pm, Sat 7am-12pm.
100 Remsburg Dr, Abingdon
Fields-Penn 1860 House Museum
A glimpse into a prominent family home from the 19th century. Period furniture, art, and pottery. Tues-Sat 10am-4pm, Sun 1pm-4pm.
208 W. Main St, Abingdon
[/twocol_one][twocol_one_last]Historical Society of Washington County
The leading center in the region for genealogical and historical research. Headquartered in the old Norfolk&Western Passenger Depot.
306 Depot Sq, Abingdon
Muster Grounds of Abingdon
The Overmountain Men Militia left here in 1780 for the battle of Kings Mountain in South Carolina during the American War of Independence. Keller Interpretive Center is open daily.
702 Colonial Rd, Abingdon
There is an abundance of camping, hiking, biking, boating, fishing, horseback riding, and mountain climbing in the area.
Working grist mill and adjacent Community Store outside of Abingdon. Free.
12291 White’s Mill Rd, Abingdon
William King Museum
Exhibit halls, artist studios, and museum store in a renovated 1913 school. Permanent exhibits plus “An American Turning Point: The Civil War in Virginia.”
415 Academy Dr, Abingdon
Wolf Hills Brewing Company
Abingdon’s only local craft beer. Open with live music on Tues, Thurs-Sat 5pm-8pm.
350 Park St, Abingdon
Where to Stay
The Martha: Martha Washington Hotel & Spa
Directly across the street from the Barter Theatre you’ll find a historical hotel known locally as “The Martha.” Originally built in 1832 as a private home for General Francis Preston and his large family, The Martha has also been an upscale college for young woman, a military barracks, and a residence for Barter Theatre actors. In 1935 The Martha Washington Inn opened as a hotel and throughout the years has hosted many illustrious guests. Eleanor Roosevelt, President Harry Truman, Lady Bird Johnson, Jimmy Carter, and Elizabeth Taylor are counted among the many famous guests who have frequented the hotel. Fortunately, much of the inn’s historic charm, antiques, and architectural detail were preserved, even though its future was at times uncertain. The present owner bought the hotel in 1995. Twelve-year veteran general manager Christopher Lowe has presided over many upgrades to The Martha while maintaining its historic character. While Barter Theatre patrons and packages are still a very important part of the clientele, The Martha has expanded its offerings with a covered pool, workout facilities, and a world class spa. The Creeper Trail Express can provide bikes and equipment and whisk you up to Whitetop Mountain in air conditioned comfort. The latest renovation has been the transformation of the formal dining room into the comfortable, but still elegant Sister’s American Grille, with an expanded bar area and more relaxed dress code.
Visit: 150 W. Main St, Abingdon
More Info: marthawashingtoninn.com
Other Places to Stay:
Crooked Cabin Properties
A variety of unique lodging experiences in the Historic District. The properties have been lovingly restored and furnished with the guests’ comforts in mind.
469 Walden Road, Abingdon
The Mary Connally Penn House
Main Street one bedroom, one bath cottage in the Historic District with front porch for evening cocktails. Walk across the street to great restaurants or prepare your own in a gourmet kitchen.
227 East Main St, Abingdon
Park Street Guest House
In the center of town two blocks from The Barter Theatre. Two suites with queen beds and full baths. Full kitchen, living room, dining room, and guest half bath. Open and screened porch.
134 Park Street, Abingdon
Brand name hotels, bed and breakfast inns, historic homes, and quaint cabins round out the lodging options in the area. For a full listing go to visitabingdonvirginia.com/where-to-stay
In a tiny kitchen on the second floor of Abingdon’s oldest historic building, German immigrant Max Hermann produces some of the finest food in town. The building was built in 1779 as a tavern and lodgings for stagecoach travelers. During the past two centuries, The Tavern has served as a tavern, bank, bakery, general store, cabinet shop, barber shop, private residence, post office, antique shop, and restaurant. It even served as a hospital for wounded Confederate and Union soldiers during the Civil War. Max Hermann was sent to America as a Black and Decker tool and die maker to set up some machinery. He liked the country so much he never left. After a 20 year spell in the U.S. Air Force, he “retired” and purchased The Tavern over 20 years ago in 1994 with no restaurant experience. He has thrived by hiring good people and delivering top notch food and customer service. Diners can choose from three upstairs dining rooms, one downstairs, a balcony, or the patio. As Max sees it: “Our customers write the menu.” His original six item menu has grown to eighteen items based on specials that his customers liked enough that they became regular items. The menu is Continental and German along with exceptionally fresh tuna flown in regularly from the Honolulu Fish Company in Hawaii. On September 13th, Max will host his 19th annual Oktoberfest with a special German menu and the band from the Old Heidelberg Restaurant in Gatlinburg.
Visit: 22 E. Main St, Abingdon
More Info: abingdontavern.com
Tastes of the Town
If you are looking for an evening of variety and camaraderie you should consider the Abingdon Food Tour. The food tour on the Abingdon Trolley takes you to establishments that get creative with the finest local food from area farmers. Each tour will feature four to five stops where you get an opportunity to meet the chefs and hear how they are incorporating local food into their menus. It is a truly VIP experience, with a great opportunity to sit down and enjoy the company of interesting people while enjoying fantastic food and drink. The next scheduled tour, limited to 25 people, is on September 30th from 5:30-8:30pm. They will also arrange private tours for 15 or more people.
More Info: tastesofthetowntours.com
Other Places to Stay: [twocol_one]128 Pecan
A small, downtown, casual restaurant offering highly rated simple good food. Open Tues-Sat for lunch and dinner.
128 Pecan St, Abingdon
Bone Fire Smokehouse at The Hardware
Extensive BBQ and great selection of Southern side dishes in an old hardware store. Their cornbread fritters are famous.
260 W. Main St, Abingdon
Damascus Old Mill Inn
Grist mill waterfall dining on Laurel Creek at a charming 12-room historic inn. Lunch and dinner Tues-Sat.
215 W. Imboden St, Damascus
Homemade Italian cuisine, pasta, fresh salads, brick oven pizza, and calzones. Lunch and dinner Tues-Sat.
190 E. Main St, Abingdon
Parks Mill Barbecue
The Restaurant and General Store are adjacent to a water powered grist mill built in 1870. They serve the best BBQ in the region from Fri-Sun only.
21405 Parks Mill Rd, Abingdon
283 E. Main St, Abingdon
New American fresh food in a great atmosphere. Lunch and dinner Tues-Sat.
283 E. Main St, Abingdon
rainabingdon.com[/twocol_one][twocol_one_last]Sister’s at the Martha Washington Inn
An American Grille with a dash of Continental Cuisine. Right across the street from the Barter Theatre. Dinner Tues-Sun.
150 W. Main St, Abingdon
Innovative cuisine in a 100 year old house. Customers must try their curried mushroom with orange marmalade soup. Daily lunch and dinner. Closed Sunday.
231 W. Main St, Abingdon
German and Continental fare served in Abingdon’s oldest historic building dating back to 1779. Dinner daily. Closed Sunday.
222 E. Main St, Abingdon
Wild Flower Bakery
Breakfast and lunch daily, Sunday brunch, dinner Wed-Sat. Located just off the Interstate in the Campbell House built in 1896.
24443 Lee Hwy, Abingdon
Zazzy’Z Coffee House & Bistro Café
Fresh roasted coffee, baked goods and bagels, soups, sandwiches, Panini’s, wraps, quiche, salads, and the lasagna of the day. Open every day.
380 E. Main St, Abingdon
A stroll down the cobblestone sidewalks of Historic Abingdon will reveal a wide selection of antique, apparel, music, art, gift, and specialty shops. Here are just a few interesting examples. A full list can be found at visitabingdonvirginia.com/shopping.
Abingdon Olive Oil Company
If you step through the doors of the Abingdon Olive Oil Company, there is a good chance that Penny Arrington will greet you enthusiastically. Her business card refers to herself as a “Culinary Artist,” and she lives up to the part as she guides you through tasting up to 52 varieties of the freshest organic, extra virgin, and naturally fused and infused olive oils from around the world. She will awaken your taste buds as she helps you pair olive oils with balsamic vinegars, or their 18-year aged balsamic condimento from Modena, Italy. The store also offers mountain crafts by local artists, pottery serving ware, and French linens. Business has been kind enough to owner K.C. St Louis that she has just opened a second store in Bristol, Virginia. In addition to the two physical locations, you can also purchase oils and accessories online.
Visit: 152 E. Main St, Abingdon & 511 State St, Bristol
More Info: abingdonoliveoilcompany.com
Katbird’s Wine and Gourmet
Katbird’s Wine and Gourmet features wines from around the world at every price point. Their beer selection includes over 140 different beers from pilsners to imperial stouts. They offer a great selection of cheeses, salami, and prosciutto sliced to order. Their gourmet food section includes a wide variety of savories and sweets. Their coffee bar is also a hangout for off duty actors from the Barter Theatre and other Abingdon characters. They also have a good selection of handcrafted Italian pottery, collections of tabletop ceramics, and decorative candles.
Visit: 230 East Main Street, Abingdon
More Info: katbirds.com
Regina Mahan Green of Abingdon describes Necessities as: “The most unique collection of food treasures I’ve ever seen! Gift and treat heaven!” Robin Ferrell, with help from Tavern owner Max Hermann, has greatly expanded the specialty food and gift choices in town with this welcome new addition to Main Street. Of particular note is an eclectic selection of international foods normally not readily available in a town the size of Abingdon. A selection of local art is also available for sale.
Visit: 266 West Main St, Abingdon
More Info: facebook.com/pages/Necessities/741230489229789
Virginia Creeper Fly Shop
The lakes and rivers around Abingdon offer some of the best fly fishing opportunities in the Southeast. The Virginia Creeper Fly Shop has an extensive collection of fly fishing equipment, apparel, patterns, and tying supplies. Fly fishing lessons and personally guided trips and excursions are also offered.
Visit: 16501 J.E.B. Stuart Hwy, Abingdon More Info: vcflyshop.com