Small Town Virginia: Getting Real in Farmville

 

Chances are that you’ve heard of Farmville. No, I’m not talking about a game that you play on your smart phone. I’m not talking about virtual reality. I’m talking about reality, itself, which is somewhat novel these days. I’m talking about what may be one of the most charming and interesting small towns in all of Virginia. My only regret is that I didn’t know that about Farmville until very recently.

Since it’s only a little over an hour from Richmond, I’m surprised that I have never been. I guess the word “farm” threw me off. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love farms, but, honestly, I’m more into seeing the “villes.” I want the charm that one has come to expect in so many of the state’s small towns. For some reason, I didn’t expect to find that in Farmville.

Lately, however, several folks have told me how much they love this small town of about 8,000 that sits in both Prince Edward and Cumberland counties in the heart of South Central Virginia. They made it sound so inviting, I decided to pay a visit on a recent Saturday. I only wish I’d planned an entire weekend getaway, or more. There’s so much to see and do.

One place that I had heard many good things about is a furniture store — Green Front Furniture. “You just have to go to Green Front,” I was told. “You can’t miss Green Front.” I was so psyched that the first place I went when I got into town was Green Front.

As I approached Main Street, there was a sign instructing me to turn right to get to Green Front Furniture. As soon as I turned the corner, there it was…a store…with furniture.

This is just a furniture store, I was thinking. It was fine, but I’ve seen furniture stores before. So, after looking around for a few minutes, I left. As I walked down the street, I began to see other Green Front storefronts, some offering really cool, eclectic furnishings.

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My eyes were opened. Green Front is everywhere in downtown Farmville. I turned the corner at Mill Street and there, sitting along the sidewalk was more furniture and more Green Front buildings. There are actually 12 different buildings housing nearly a million square feet of furniture. For those of you who’ve lived around Central Virginia for a while, think an upscale version of the old Williamsburg Pottery. If you’re in the market for furniture or if you’re just into visiting what amounts to a furniture museum, plan a weekend getaway to Green Front.

Of course, there’s much more to Farmville. As home to both Longwood University and Hampden-Sydney college, the town comes replete with all that you’d hope to find in a small college town. In fact, whether you’re looking for history, recreation or dining and entertainment, Farmville offers it all. You can even go glamping just outside of town.

The History

Prince Edward County has never completely lived down a dark period in its history. In 1959, when ordered to integrate its public school system, county administrators chose, instead, to shut down their schools. For five years, most black and many white students, who couldn’t afford private schooling, went without an education.

Regarding that story and its retelling at the Robert Russa Moton Museum (900 Griffin Blvd.), Magi Van Eps, tourism coordinator for Prince Edward County, says, “We don’t proudly tell the story but this is history and the story needs to be told.”

The museum is housed in what was once the Robert Russa Moton High School. In 1951, a group of students at the all-black school, led by 16-year-old Barbara Rose Johns, staged a walkout to protest the deplorable conditions of the overcrowded schoolhouse, which had no cafeteria and no bathrooms for the teachers.

That action was a motivating factor in what eventually resulted in the Brown v. Board of Education lawsuit in 1954. The result of the lawsuit was the Supreme Court’s ruling that segregation of public school systems was unconstitutional.

Today, the museum’s permanent exhibit — “The Moton School Story, Children Of Courage,” tells the story of those eventful years in the nation’s and in Prince Edward County’s history. “The Moton story is an important story for our country, because it shows that change can happen when you use the tools of constitutional democracy to bring about change,” says Cameron Patterson, managing director at the museum. “We were doing this prior to Montgomery,” Patterson says. “Martin Luther King was still in school.” It’s no wonder that Moton High School is considered to be “the student birthplace of the America’s Civil Rights Movement.”  Learn more about the museum at MotonMuseum.org.

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Recreation

Rather than playing Farmville on your electronic device. You can play in Farmville and its surrounds. Hiking, biking and kayaking await along the High Bridge Trail. This state park, with an entrance right in the heart of downtown Farmville, offers a 31-mile trail along what was once a rail bed. The wide, level and generally flat trail is ideal for hiking, bicycling and horseback riding. The centerpiece to the park is the High Bridge. This 2,400 foot-long bridge, which sits 125 feet above the Appomattox River is the state’s longest recreational bridge and one of the longest in the nation.

Watersports such as canoeing, kayaking and fishing are available on the Appomattox. The state park system’s website provides the details that you may desire in planning your visit.

One of the coolest recreational facilities in the state is located just minutes outside of Farmville at Sandy River Outdoor Adventures. Your excitement will reach new heights as you zipline through the sky in a 3-hour session at the Adventure Park, featuring more than 60 obstacles and 20 zip lines.

After a full day of fun and frolicking atop the trees, it’s time to enjoy the great indoors. Perhaps you’ve heard the term “glamping.” For the uninitiated, it refers to camping in something a bit more glamorous than a pup tent. Sandy River doesn’t have tents. They have tipis. These are luxury tipis with the emphasis on luxury. The tipis come with radiant heated floors, air conditioning, a full bathroom, kitchenette and an outdoor fire-pit/grill. You even have Wi-Fi, internet TV and Netflix. The facility offers furnished log cabins, as well. Check their website for more details.

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Dining

After all the action, whether it be ziplining or shopping, you’re going to have worked up an appetite. Fortunately, you’ll have excellent dining options in Farmville.

On my visit, we had lunch at Charley’s Waterfront Café & Wine Bar at 201 B Mill St.. I was quite impressed both with the quality of the food as well as the casual atmosphere and the  friendly, customer-oriented staff. Because it was a sweltering, muggy early June afternoon, we chose to dine inside, but if you prefer, there’s a spacious patio overlooking the Appomattox River. My Smithfield ham and pimento grilled cheese sandwich was perfection. The sourdough panini was stuffed with ham, gouda pimento and slices of heirloom tomatoes. I also sampled their eight-ounce Waterfront burger, which was cooked just the way I like it. The extensive menu offers a variety of salads, appetizers, sandwiches and entrees such as filet mignon, Charley’s crabcakes and shrimp and grits.

Other local dining options include:

The Fishin’ Pig (5169 Farmville Rd.) Smoked meats and fresh seafood top the menu at this fun, family dining spot. The menu says, “Dine in or Pig out.”

Mill Street /Sweets (218 N. Main St.) Satisfy your sweet tooth with homemade doughnuts, cupcakes and other specialty pastry items. They do customized cakes, too.

Pino’s Italian Restaurant (404 S. Main St.) This family-friendly spot serves pizzas and subs.

Walker’s Diner (307 N. Main St.) Enjoy hearty, tasty breakfast and lunch in a true diner setting. Open from 7a.m. weekdays (closed on Mondays), 8 a.m. on the weekends and closes at 2:30 p.m. (4 p.m. on Saturday).

If you’re looking to accumulate experience points, stick with the electronic game. But if you’re looking for a true, real-life experience that allows you and your family to enjoy all the adventure, amenities and welcoming atmosphere that typify today’s really cool small towns, I predict that you’re going to be very happy with the real town of Farmville.

Steve Cook
Author: Steve Cook