Small Town Virginia: Beautiful and Historic Leesburg

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One thing I love about Richmond is that it sits in the center of so much of the state’s beauty and history. I can go two hours or so in any direction and be in some place that is completely different. That’s exactly what I did recently when I escaped the city. Once outside the concrete jungle we all know and love, I found myself out in the country, traveling north on U.S. Route 15. My destination: historic Leesburg in Loudoun County.

U.S. 15 is very much the same route that settlers and visitors have traveled for thousands of years. The Colonists called it the “Carolina Road,” as its terminus was an Indian trading post along the Virginia-North Carolina border. Numerous springs along the route and relatively safe fords across major rivers and streams made it a favorite with both the early settlers as well as the Native Americans, who had lived, hunted and traded there long before the Europeans arrived. Some archaeologists point to evidence of prehistoric Native American sites in this area that date back several thousand years.

Not totally unlike those who had traveled the route centuries before me, I wanted to explore the many treasures that Leesburg has to offer. I had heard that its downtown-shopping district was filled with unique wonders offered by local retailers and restaurateurs.

I began my day, perhaps as would many a true “Loudouner,” by having breakfast at the Georgetown Café (21 South King St). Leesburg had originally been named George Town in honor of England’s King George, II. In 1858, when the town was selected as the county seat for the newly formed Loudoun County, the name was changed to Leesburg.

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Despite my intentions of ordering a heart-healthy meal, such as an egg white omelet with twelve-grain toast, I was seduced by the Farmer’s Omelet featuring cheddar cheese, bacon and mashed potatoes. My taste buds reached a pivotal climax at first bite. I also decided to try one of their “Eye Openers” off the menu, which, in this case, was a Bloody Mary made with the restaurant’s own mix. Both the cocktail and the omelet were delish.

After breakfast, I meandered along King Street, which is the main artery in this beautiful town nestled at the base of Catoctin Mountain. I ducked into the Very Virginia Shop (16 South King St.), and I must say if you’re looking for a gift for out-of-town friends or history enthusiasts, this charming little shop is worth a visit. I walked out with honey-kissed peanuts, Virginia Gentlemen barbecue sauce and a jar of local honey. I definitely plan on returning for more gifts.

Next on my list was a neat little place called The Other Kind of Jewelry Store (14 South King St.). This quaint store offers rare, antique jewelry including, but not limited to, earrings, pendants, watches and rings. I fell in love with the Lapis Collection, but I had to leave it behind, perhaps for another visit.

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There is a plethora of tiny boutiques and specialty stores offering something for just about everyone — from home décor to high-end fashion, as well as numerous spas and salons.

After spending the better part of the day visiting various and totally unique shops, it was time to try another restaurant. I perused the lunch menu at The Wine Kitchen (7 South King St.). I was intrigued by the website’s description of the place: “Seasonal American bistro menu takes advantage of the great variety of local and organic ingredients raised by farmers of the region.” Since I’d already eaten an unhealthy breakfast I decided I would make up for my gluttonous ways at lunch. Just kidding, I ordered the sweet tea-brined fried chicken. The dish was a recommendation from general manager Erich Bluefeld. “The brine is literally sweet tea,’’ he explained. “The chicken is soaked overnight in sweet tea and then deep fried in a buttermilk batter, served with mac and cheese in a cast iron skillet and seasonal greens.” I don’t eat a lot of chicken, but The Wine Kitchen changed my yard-bird-hatin’ eating habits for life.

After spending much of the day eating and shopping and eating, it was time to add a little culture to my visit, so I walked around the corner and into the Loudoun Museum, located at 16 Loudoun St., SW. The museum offers more than 8,000 items, documenting the history of the town and the county. While there, I had the chance to speak with Elizabeth Whiting, president of the museum’s board of trustees. Whiting recommended that visitors to Leesburg take advantage of the many walking tours offered throughout the town as well as other towns within the county. The museum conducts The Leesburg History Tour from late spring through late summer. This tour takes visitors by historic homes and buildings that span the town’s 200-year history —  from 18th century log cabins to elegant Victorian mansions — and tells the stories of some of Loudoun’s most famous residents.

When asked about recommendations for weekend visitors, Whiting said, “Loudoun is rich in B&Bs.” She recommended the Loudoun Bed & Breakfast Guild that offers more than two dozen unique venues from the banks of the Potomac to the slopes of the Blue Ridge.

Whiting gave me one more idea for a final stop on my way home when she mentioned that Loudoun County has more than 40 wineries.I asked around and the winery that was most recommended, based on my route back to Richmond, was Stone Tower. What a wonderful recommendation. Sitting on more than 306 acres atop Hogback Mountain, Stone Tower offers an exceptional tasting experience that is only exceeded by the exquisite beauty of its locale. Chalk this up as just one more reason that I’m longing to return to what may be one of the nation’s most beautiful and historic small towns — Leesburg, Virginia.