Situated between the Appalachian Mountains and the Atlantic Coastline, Virginia is a south-eastern American state and is the first English colonial possession in the country. Home to eight out of the total 43 presidents (44 if we counted Grover Cleveland twice) of the United States, Virginia is popularly known as the ‘Mother of Presidents’.
With over 8.4 million residents, the state’s geography and the weather are primarily accredited to the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Chesapeake Bay, both of which contribute heavily to Virginia’s existing flora and fauna.
An intense combination of perfect landscapes and an even better history, the state’s tourism motto, ‘Virginia is for lovers’, says it all. Beaches, national parks, forests, historic sites from the Civil Wars – you name it, and you shall find it.
Let us now shed some light on some of the hidden gems in Virginia which you perhaps won’t find unless you knew.
1. Abandoned Virginia Renaissance Faire, Fredericksburg
Fredericksburg? But, the Faire takes place in Spotsylvania every weekend, right? Right, but also wrong.
What you know as the Virginia Renaissance Faire today is the new version of what used to be a grand replica medieval square and an opportunity for artists to showcase their talent by putting up various theatrical performances.
Only operational between 1996 to 1999, the original Faire allowed dads to act like bards without the fear of being laughed at. The Faire was set up inside deep wilderness and disconnected it from the usual, ignorant world who either didn’t understand the charm behind the plays or didn’t appreciate it.
Unfortunately, the location and climate of the Faire weren’t as favourable as the people expected, and after only two years of operation, the site had to be closed.
Though much of the props and decoration were moved, what stands is an abandoned, unfulfilled attempt at feudal nerdery.
2. The Great Stalacpipe Organ, Luray
Built in 1954 by mathematician and electronic scientist, Leland Sprinkle, the Great Stalacpipe Organ may seem like just another electrically actuated lithophone, but the one hiding peacefully in the caverns of Luray is the largest musical instrument of any kind in the whole universe!
Unlike a normal organ that used pipes, the Great Stalacpipe Organ was constructed by shaving stalactites of various shapes and sizes to make the perfect notes. Every stalactite in the organ is wired to a mallet which is activated by pressing the connecting key on the keyboard.
Here is the most interesting part – the stalactites used by the organ are spread over 3.5 acres, and due to the enclosed nature of the location, the music can be heard all around the caves – all 64 acres of it.
3. The Raven Room, Charlottesville
Edgar Allan Poe, the famous American writer, editor, and critic, studied at the University of Virginia for one year in 1826. Though he only studied and lived here for a year, his dorm at the University is a shrine dedicated to his legacy which is preserved and maintained by a selected group of students who take inspiration from the author’s life and work.
The portentously numbered dorm 13, commonly known as ‘The Raven Room’ now, was first restored in 1924 to meet the Poe-era condition. While the room was first established by an architecture professor, a distinguished member of the élite Raven Society, the Raven Room is now preserved by a society which was formed in 1904. The society not only maintains the special room but also honors exceptional students, faculty, and scholarly pursuits.
The interiors of the room include a writing desk, a sofa from the original Poe home, and of course a stuffed ‘raven’ on the window sill.
Visitors can view the room from a glass door and listen to audio display about the eminent writer’s life.
4. Foamhenge, Centreville
Know of the prehistoric monument named ‘Stonehenge’ in Wiltshire, England? Of course, you do. But, if you haven’t had a chance to visit there yet, Virginia gives you a golden chance to do so – with a slight twist.
Foamhenge, in Centerville, Virginia, is an exact, full-fledged replica of Stonehenge with just one difference – it is made of FOAM!
The sculptor, Mark Cline of Enchanted Castle Studio, calls Foamhenge his greatest achievement, and rightly so. Some visitors to the replica claim that it may even be better and more photogenic than the original monument.
Located at Cox Farms, Foamhenge is as worthwhile as a visit to its master – the Stonehenge.
5. Bunny Man Bridge, Fairfax Station
Who thought bunnies could be creepy? Well, the Colchester Overpass, now popular as the ‘Bunny Man Bridge’, is an unpretentious, one-lane concrete tunnel that served as a railway overpass.
Come moonlight, the otherwise-simple tunnel looks right out of a horror movie, so, it only makes sense that there is an urban legend attached to it.
As the story goes, once upon a time, a van full of dangerous criminals were passing through the tunnels when the bus crashed and freed the criminals. While most were recovered or found dead, two escaped. After a while, the body of one of those two convicts was found hanging from the bridge with a note, ‘The Bunny Man’.
Search for the second convict revealed several half-eaten rabbits hanging from the surrounding trees. Finally, the killer was found, but he was hit by a passing train at the spot before he could be arrested.
It is now believed that if anybody is caught trespassing the bridge at midnight, they would be murdered and hung on the overpass by the Bunny Man.
6. Crozet Tunnel, Afton
Originally called the Blue Ridge Tunnel, Crozet Tunnel was renamed after the chief engineer, Claudius Crozet, a French-born engineer who served Napoleon’s army before moving to the United States. The tunnel was constructed to pass through the Blue Ridge Mountains and connect to the Shenandoah Valley.
Crozet was hired to work on Blue Ridge Mountain railroad project which involved erecting four tunnels, the last of which was the longest and the most challenging.
The Tunnel, completed in 1858, is 4,273 feet long, and, at the time, it was the only one of its kind in the country. The passageway was used until 1944 after which a parallel one was built and named the Blue Ridge Tunnel.
Though currently under renovation, the tunnel is set to reopen in Fall of 2017 as a trail for hikers and cyclists.
7. Kiptopeke’s Concrete Fleet, Cape Charles
Come night at the fishing pier by the Kiptopeke State Park, the waters look almost haunted by ghost ships like they are about to dock on the shore and let eerie creatures of all kinds, pirates, ghosts, and zombies, out in the open.
The Kiptopeke Breakwater, popularly known as the Concrete Fleet, is a convoy of 9 out of the 24 concrete ships that were contracted by the U.S. Maritime Commission for World War II.
The vessels were brought to the beach in 1948 to secure the terminal from bad weather. Once lined perfectly, the bilge-cocks were opened so water could pour in and the ships could settle at the bottom of the cove.
The former Chesapeake Bay ferry terminal was closed in 1964, but, the ships, in their ruined, abandoned state, still line the shore.
You could take a small boat or a kayak to some of the holes in the ships and explore the interiors.
8. Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond
Not so much hidden as it is peculiar, Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia is the final resting place of two U.S. Presidents, John Tyler and James Monroe, one Confederate President, Jefferson Davis, 18,000 Confederate soldiers whose names are listed on a 90-foot stone memorial, and Richmond’s very own VAMPIRE – W.W. Pool!
Wait, did you think Damon and Stephan Salvatores are the only vampires?
Overlooking the beautiful James River, the Cemetery opened in 1849, 12 years before the Civil War, the perfect timing for the graveyard to have plenty residents.
Rumors have it that in 1929, following a railroad tunnel collapse under Church Hill, a man-like being soaked in blood with flesh falling off his body and pointy teeth was spotted heading into the cemetery.
Though the stories were never proven, they were never dismissed either. So, how about a visit to the Vampire’s grave?
9. Barboursville Ruins, Barboursville
The Barboursville Mansion belonged to James Barbour, a wealthy lawyer and notable political personality, who designed and constructed the structure based on the designs of his friend and political ally, Thomas Jefferson, around 1822.
With workmen from Jefferson’s Monticello home, the good-looking mansion had eight rooms, an octagonal living room, and a portico similar to Jefferson’s residence. The surrounding gardens were more impressive than the building itself.
Located on the grounds of one of the oldest and most prestigious wineries in Virginia, the Barboursville Winery, the mansion is now just an imposing, abandoned ruin which was destroyed in 1884 after a Christmas Fire destroyed the whole compound except for the brick walls.
10. Grave of Stonewall Jackson’s Arm, Locust Grave
You may have visited or heard of a great many cemeteries that serve as resting places to several notable personalities from the history of mankind, but, ever heard of a grave dedicated to an ARM?
Thomas Jonathan Jackson, a Civil War hero, and popularly known as “Stonewall” Jackson, lost his arm to two mistaken bullets during the American Civil War of 1863. The soldier was reverentially moved from the site and treated, however, the arm could not be saved. A few days later, the war hero died due to Pneumonia.
While Jackson’s corpse was respectfully carried to Lexington for the burial ceremony, his unofficial company chaplain thought of the severed arm as too precious to be thrown away in a body pile, and hence, took it to his family cemetery. The arm received a proper Christian burial ceremony and a marker was placed on the site.
11. Mount Rogers, Mouth of Wilson
Named after Virginia’s first State Geologist, William Barton Rogers, Mount Rogers is the highest point in the state of Virginia. But, that’s not all there is to it.
The route to the top of Mount Rogers begins at the Massie Gap parking lot in Grayson Highlands State Park through the Appalachian Trail. During the first section of the trail, you have a fair chance of spotting the renowned Shetland Ponies.
The ponies at the park are limited to 120, and every year in September, to avoid extra growth, excessive ponies are cut and auctioned at the Grayson Highland Fall Fest.
The trail that goes to the summit also passes through Rhododendron Gap and offer amazing views of the surrounding greenery and colorful flowers. The summit itself is enclosed by a dense spruce-fir jungle.
12. The Grand Kugel, Richmond
Close your eyes, hold your breath, chant ‘abra-ka-dabra’, and voila!
Whether you are 14 or 41, weak or strong, believe that you can spin or stop this enormous granite ball – the largest of its kind across the globe.
Located in Richmond, Virginia, the 29-ton Grand Kugel Ball is a scientific wonder created out of granite with carvings depicting the continents of the world. The giant sphere rests on a thin layer of water which results in the ball to spin on spot with even the slightest touch.
Though not the only one of its kind, the Grand Kugel, installed in 2003 is the largest among all and has a diameter of almost nine feet. The original structure was set outside the Science Museum of Virginia and was made from South African granite. However, over a period, the ball developed a crack which made it unstable and defied its purpose.
The scientific wonder has since been replaced and so has its miraculous effect.
13. Eastern State Hospital, Williamsburg
Known simply as ‘Public Hospital’ on the map of Williamsburg, Eastern State Hospital was the first public mental health institution in the United States of America. The hospital was established in 1773 with a noble aim but brutal practices.
Originally called “The Public Hospital for Persons of Insane and Disordered Minds”, Eastern State Hospital was known to resort to severe practices such as bullying, electrocution, and other kind of tortures.
However, the fate of the institution changed when Dr. John Galt came to supervise the operations. He believed that even the mentally unfit were deserving of respect and dignity in the society.
Starting in 1965, the College of William And Mary started acquiring parts of the hospital which were collectively known as the ‘Dillard Complex’. The complex was closed in 2006 and has been renovated since then, but, the original structure still stands.
14. Jefferson Pools, Warm Springs
Built in 1761, the Jefferson Pools was originally a ‘gentlemen’s bathhouse’ with a unique octagonal shaped structure and a roof with a large hole to let the steam out.
Established around the year-round-98-degrees natural pools, the site was reportedly first discovered by an American Indian, who, after traveling long-term around the world, stumbled upon the warm waters at the location and felt instantly rejuvenated after taking a bath in them.
The waters at the Jefferson Pools were most famous for their healing properties, so much so that the word traveled to Thomas Jefferson, who visited the bathhouse regularly for three weeks in an attempt to cure his rheumatism.
Several years later, a women’s bathhouse was established next door.
Even though the original structure has decayed over the period of years and doesn’t look as striking as they did once, it is still worth paying $19 for an hour in America’s oldest spa. Care to take a dip?
15. Dinosaur Kingdom II, Natural Bridge
Ever wondered about the fate of the Yankees if they lost the Civil War to the Union Army? Well, in the imagination of the prominent sculptor, Mark Cline, they did!
Not to be mistaken for Dinosaur Land, the Dinosaur Kingdom, the brainchild of Cline, the man behind Foamhenge and Haunted Monster Museum, is an alternative universe where the Union Army won the Civil War with Dinosaurs as their soldiers.
The story behind the fiction world of Cline states that a family of Southern paleontologists discovered the creatures in 1863 while studying fossils when the Union Army found out their secret and used the giant beasts to defeat the Yankees.
The original kingdom exhibits involved a big snake swallowing Yankee soldiers, creatures tarnishing the army, and even dinosaurs with speakers and motors who moved their jaws and wagged their tongues while cinematic sound effects and music blared off in the back.
However, in 2012, the Dinosaur Kingdom was damaged in a fire, and, despite the creator’s initial plan to not reopen it, Dinosaur Kingdom II came back to life in 2016 with all its past glory and splendor, plus a cyborg Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson.
16. Stoney Point Railroad, Jefferson
Referred to as the “Midgetville”, the Stoney Point Railroad, the innovation of Sam Johnson, a retired coal miner, is a miniature town built entirely out of scrap material and is located in his backyard. The construction of the town began in 1996 and hasn’t stopped ever since.
Today, the little townhouses a library, a post office, a jail, a salt pump, and a functional train car. Also built out of junk, the train uses a ’67 Chevy truck engine and Chevy rotors acting as wheels.
Aside from the usual components of a town, Midgetville features a few unusual attractions as well – odd sculptors, spinning bicycle wheels, and a camel standing on a pedestal.
You could walk around the tiny town, or, if you are lucky and the owners are home, they will gladly take you on a train tour of the area and educate you about the history of Midgetville as well as their family tree.
17. The Witch of Pungo Statue, Virginia Beach
Grace Sherwood, the last known witch of Virginia, has an entire statue dedicated to her.
In 1698, Sherwood, who was born around 1660 and known as Grace White before marrying James Sherwood, was accused of practicing witchcraft when her neighbours claimed that she put a spell of death on their pigs and their cotton. They also reported that Grace rode her neighbour and went out of a keyhole or a crack in the door.
After James passed away, Grace kept her battles up with the neighbours and won. Although she was accused several times, Grace was charged with witchcraft in 1706, when she was suspected of casting a spell on Elizabeth Hill causing her to miscarry twice. She was put to ‘trial by water’ – if she sank, she would be proven innocent, otherwise, she would be charged. She floated!
Grace was sent to prison for a while, but, she returned home in 1740.
In 2006, after 300 years of the ‘trial by water’ incident, Grace Sherwood was awarded an informal pardon by Governor Tim Kaine.
18. Miniature Graceland, Roanoke
Did you think you are the greatest Elvis fan of all times? Think again.
Unlike the devoted fans of Elvis Presley who come to Graceland every year from remote corners of the world, Don and Kim Epperly of Roanoke, Virginia, dedicated their life and the land surrounding their home to creating a tiny Elvis city!
The initial construction Miniature Graceland began with the construction of a mini Graceland and slowly added other related landmarks to the property. Adding one building a year, the couple created replicas of distinguished concert halls where The King had performed and even a tiny version of Elvis Pelvis Car Museum.
Once a popular site among local bus tours, the site soon fell apart when Don stopped working on his creations due to his health.
Thanks to Salem Garden Club, the rustic buildings were refurbished as best as possible, and today, a golden statue of The King himself stands in the front yard.
19. Patsy Cline’s Childhood Home and Grave, Winchester
If you are a fan of country music, then you probably know the legend of Patsy Cline, a famous singer from the little town of Winchester, who, unfortunately, lost her life in a plane crash in 1963, at a tender age of 30.
Growing up in Winchester, Patsy lived on South Kent Street, studied at Handley High School, and worked at Gaunt’s Drugstore. Much of her life, before her music career in Nashville, revolved around the town.
The childhood home of Patsy has now been transformed into a museum, and, the curators of the museum are glad to direct you to other sites in the town that are associated with Patsy and her life, including her graveyard at Shenandoah Memorial Park.
Bring a penny to the grave and Patsy will send you good luck from wherever her soul rests.
20. Mole Hill, Dayton
One of the newest and perhaps the last operational volcano on the Eastern Seaboard, Mole Hill is one of the only two volcanoes in Virginia and was last active 47 million years ago.
Composed of basalt, Mole Hill is dated back to the Eocene epoch of the Paleogene era. It is a rounded, isolated mountain covered in trees which lays in an otherwise boring, flat valley.
Though 47 million years is a long time and you won’t know if it will ever explode again until it does, Mole Hill is still scientifically active, and is a great place to spend the day – you may even have the volcano all to yourself because of its unpopularity among tourists.
21. The Ghost Church, Mechanicsville
Erected on the grounds of the historic Polegreen Church, the ‘Ghost Church’ is more of an outline of a building rather than a building itself. Looking like the skeleton of an open-air cathedral, the grounds of the Ghost Church has a rich history.
A local brick mason in Hanover, Samuel Morris, offered his home to his family and neighbours as a hideout to read the Bible and to follow the teachings and practices of the Holy Book. This marked the creation of Hanover dissenters.
Built in 1764, the Polegreen Church was used by the dissenters as their Holy Ground which played a crucial role in the pre-Revolutionary movement, and so did Samuel Davies, the state’s first licensed non-Anglican minister.
In 1864, the Church was burnt to the ground during the Civil War but the remnants of the sacred structure are listed on National Register of Historic Places.
22. The Grave of the Female Stranger, Alexandria
Found in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church cemetery lays the grave of a Jane Doe whose identity is lost in the history of mankind.
According to several claims, a young couple arrived in Alexandria in 1816 and stayed at Gadsby’s Tavern. The woman was seriously ill, and, despite her husband endless efforts, she passed away on October 14th, 1816.
The local doctor who was hired by the husband to treat his wife without questioning the reasons behind her health condition was also advised not to ask a thing about their identities.
The couple’s secluded nature instigated the town residents to create rumors, one of which claimed that the woman was the daughter of former Vice President, Aaron Burr, who was lost at sea three years before the couple appeared in the town.
23. The Tombstone House, Petersburg
Would you spend a night at a house made of 2.200 tombstones that once stood on the graves of listed Confederate soldiers? What if you were offered a million dollars?
At first, the house looks like just another stone house. But, that is only until you know that the structure, erected in 1934, has been built out of the bottom halves of tombstones which are government issued and are from the soldiers’ burial ground at the Poplar Lawn Cemetery.
All the 2,200 soldiers were victims of the siege of Petersburg, a dreadful event that went on for nine months towards the end of the Historic American Civil War.
The cemetery suffered preservation during the Great Depression because of which the city decided to cut the gravestones in half, and use only the first half for the crypts. The bottom halves, however, were bought by Oswald Young, for a whopping amount of $45 (huh!), and used to build his residence, walkway, and chimney.
Next Halloween, think before you knock ‘Trick or Treat’ at his door!
24. World’s Oldest Edible Ham, Smithfield
Reportedly the oldest of its kind in the world, the 115-year-old ham, currently on display in the Isle of Wight County Museum, was originally cured by the Gwaltney Foods meat company in 1902.
After being found nearly two decades later from when it was lost, Pembroke D. Gwaltney Jr. declared the piece of pork as his “pet ham” and put a brass collar that says “Gwaltney’s Pet Ham”.
Microbiologists claim that the chunk of ham is still in an edible state, thanks to its dry curing process.
The Museum where the ham rests now is also home to the world’s oldest peanut!