This where I’m from.
Copyright The Richmond TIMES-DISPATCH
BARBOURSVILLE At first appearance, this little farming community about 70 miles west of Richmond looks like a standard crossroads country town planted in the middle of nowhere.
But Barboursville — at its core a community of only a few hundred people — is a surprisingly eclectic place, full of rich history, culture and fine arts. You just have to look for it.
The village — as some residents call Barboursville — is at the crossroads of U.S. 33 and state Route 20 in Orange County, about a 75-minute drive from downtown Richmond.
A newcomer traveling west from Richmond or north from Charlottesville might first spy D’s Market right at the intersection of those roads. D’s is kind of a modern landmark. Every day a few hundred people pull into D’s to gas up and try store owner Joseph Valade’s deli sandwiches and ice cream.
“It’s a good location. It’s easy to see,” he said of the store, which he named after his wife.
But that’s not the case with Barboursville’s fine arts and reputation as a wine-making center for Virginia.
“If you just drive by here, you won’t see anything. But if you stop and ask, you’ll be impressed,” Valade said.
In fact, there are three wineries within a 2-mile radius of Barboursville — Burnley Vineyards & Daniel Cellars, Barboursville Vineyards and Horton Vineyards. Barboursville Vineyards offers fine dining at its Palladio Restaurant and, for the historically inclined, the ruins of a famous house.
All three vineyards offer wine tasting and beautiful vistas.
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The Barboursville ruins are the community’s most famous landmark.
The house, designed by Thomas Jefferson for his friend James Barbour, took eight years to build, starting in 1814. It was gutted by fire on Christmas Day 1884. Debi Stubbs, who trained as a historian and now works at Barboursville Vineyards, said it’s believed that candles on a Christmas tree caught some curtains on fire, leading to the destruction of the house, whose brick ruins and stone columns still stand.
James Barbour was a governor of and a U.S. senator from Virginia. His legacy included sponsoring laws against imprisonment for debt as well as a state anti-dueling law. He is buried nearby at the brick-enclosed family graveyard with his wife and children.
Barbour is probably Barboursville’s second-most-famous historical personage. Zachary Taylor, the country’s 12th president, was born near Barboursville in 1784.
Stubbs, who has lived in Barboursville for 16 years, said: “It’s a lovely little community. It’s just a unique place to live. You have all this art and quality you usually find in larger cities.”
Some of the art can be found a stone’s throw from D’s Market, on what used to be Main Street. This is the real old heart of Barboursville — a tiny downtown where once stood two hotels, a couple of livery stations, two general stores and a train depot.
Though freight trains rumble by frequently even now, the depot was knocked down in the 1970s after passenger service for Barboursville stopped.
“Barboursville grew up in the 1880s with the railroad,” said Fred Nichols, an artist who with his wife, Beth, runs the Frederick Nichols Studio and the Nichols Gallery Annex. The gallery has dozens of Nichols’ silk-screen prints, watercolors and oil paintings.
The Annex — housed in the old Barboursville hotel — features exhibitions by Southern artists and is curated by Beth Nichols. “Its heyday was the 1920s and 1930s. Barboursville sort of died here with the end of the depot,” Fred Nichols said.
A sign on the front door of Nichols Studio says something about the pace of life here now. It reads: “Barboursville is a quiet, sleepy village. So sometimes we forget to open the gallery.”
His studio is in what used to be Williams’ General Store. When the general store was in business, it had a butcher shop in the back. Beth Nichols said people reputedly “came all the way from Richmond to buy sausage here,” or sometimes to stay at the hotels to breathe in the fresh country air.
It was here at the railroad that farmers loaded up goods to be taken to Richmond, or residents hired horse-drawn carriages from one of the two livery stables to voyage west over to Ruckersville or even the Shenandoah Valley.
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There’s more than just the Nichols Gallery. Sun’s Traces Gallery, which features pottery and other crafts, is right up the street from them.
The Four County Players, billed as central Virginia’s longest-running community theater, has its headquarters at a large building adjacent to the tiny Barboursville Community Park.
It’s bucolic and quiet here.
“This is the last unspoiled spot,” said Fred Nichols, who has lived here with his wife for about 30 years.
But some of the older residents might disagree.
Eighty-year-old E.C. Mundy was born in Barboursville and attended what used to be James Barbour High School.
He remembers back to the’30s and’40s when there was a feed store, a drugstore, hotels and even an ice plant. Everybody farmed.
“We had a whole lot of stuff here when all the trains used to stop,” said Mundy, who thinks too many outsiders have moved into the area. “I hate the way it is right now. People migrating in here changed it so much. You used to know everybody.
“It’s not Barboursville like it used to be, not at all,” he said. “Nothing will ever be as good as it had been.” Contact Carlos Santos at (804) 295-9542 or firstname.lastname@example.org.