Market Square and City Hall at night, in Old Town, Alexandria, Virginia.

9 Towns in Virginia With Rich History

As one of the original Thirteen Colonies, Virginia has always been at the heart of American history. Also known as the "birthplace of a nation," the state played a pivotal role in shaping the identity of the United States we know today. From the first English settlement on American soil to Thomas Jefferson's famous plantation, the following towns showcase a wealth of American history, rich cultural beginnings, and influence on the nation. 


The Bristol Virginia-Tennessee Slogan sign, a landmark in the twin cities.
The Bristol Virginia-Tennessee Slogan sign, a landmark in the twin cities.

Formally designated as the “Birthplace of Country Music” in 1998 by the US Congress, Bristol is a must-see destination for any country music aficionado. Artists such as Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family participated in the infamous Bristol Session Recordings in 1988, along with 17 other artists, producing 76 songs. Visitors can learn more by stopping at The Birthplace of Country Music Museum. Honoring Bristol’s musical roots, many exhibits and galleries, along with educational programs, films, and a theatre with year-round performances, emphasize this. One of the most memorable locations within Bristol is the Bristol Train Station, locally known as Union Station. Once used as an active train hub from 1902 to 1971 after the last train cart pulled away, it was used for shopping and dining until 1999. Since then, it has been restored and continues to be open to the public, hosting conferences, special events, and banquets.


City of Charlottesville, Virginia.
City of Charlottesville, Virginia. 

The location of former home of the third president and founding father Thomas Jefferson is located within a few miles from Charlottesville’s downtown. Now considered a World Heritage Site as well as a museum and educational center, Monticello was designed by Thomas in 1757 after he inherited the land from his father when he was only 14. Built in 1777 and the primary plantation of Thomas Jefferson until, upon his death in 1826, he was buried on the grounds of Monticello in the Monticello Cemetery. Located half a mile from the aforementioned Monticello, one will find the Michie Tavern, which has catered to travelers for more than 200 years. Established in 1784 in its former location in Earlville it stayed in operation by the Michie family until 1910 when it came to be owned by the Commonwealth of Virginia. Then in 1927, it was purchased and moved to its current location near Monticello, allowing patrons to get a taste of the 18th century upon their visit. 


The skyline of Norfolk.
The skyline of Norfolk.

Norfolk is the oldest city in the state of Virginia. Founded in 1682, history is well and alive here. For starters, visitors can hop aboard the Nautilus, built in 1994, which is a maritime-themed science center and museum. Through interactive exhibits and STEM to STERN programming, Nautilus tells the story of the maritime environment, industry, and the military. Norfolk houses one of the oldest custom houses in the US, the Owen B. Pickett US custom house completed in 1858; the three-story low-rise building is one of the last examples of a federal building using the designs of classic Roman architecture. Today, it stands on Main Street in Norfolk as a reminder of the city of Norfolk's vital history in the pursuit of world trade.  


Aerial view of Fredericksburg, Virginia.
Aerial view of Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Fredericksburg was the location of the Battle of Fredericksburg and the Second Battle of Fredericksburg. Both battles are preserved in the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, which pays homage to the four major battles of the Civil War era. Historical spots are sprinkled throughout the park, most notably the farm office of the Chandler Plantation, where his men mistakenly shot Lieutenant General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson during the battle of Chancellorsville. George Washington's youngest brother, Charles Washington, once lived in what is now the Rising Sun Tavern. First constructed in the early 1760s as a private residence for Charles, who was involved in the war effort during the American Revolution as well as Fredericksburg politics, in the 1790s, the former home became a tavern called “Golden Eagle.” However, today it is known as the Rising Sun: a museum where patrons can get a guided tour of the first floor, while guests are welcome to visit the second floor as well as the gardens at their own pace.


Richmond, Virginia, downtown skyline on the James River.
Richmond, Virginia, downtown skyline on the James River. 

History buffs will feel right at home in Richmond, as there is so much history to unearth here. The oldest church in the city, St. John's, was built in 1741. Since its erection, it has been the site of two important conventions leading to the American Revolutionary War, it is also the famous location where Father Patrick Henry, one of the Founding Fathers, gave his speech that ended with the infamous quote “Give me liberty or give me death!” Literary enthusiasts will also enjoy Richmond, featuring a museum that honors the legendary American writer Edgar Allan Poe, which opened in 1922. the Poe Museum is located inside the “Old Stone House” built in 1740. It commemorates the time when he lived in Richmond, holding one of the world's largest collections of original manuscripts, letters, first editions, memorabilia, and personal belongings of Poe. 


The field where the Battle of Yorktown was fought in the American Revolution is now part of the Colonial National Historic Park.
The field where the Battle of Yorktown was fought in the American Revolution.

The site of the last major battle of the Revolutionary War, which is now marked by The Victory Monument that was built in1885 and stands at 84ft (25.6 m) in remembrance of British General Cornwallis’s surrender to the French and American alliances in Yorktown in October 1781. The Nelson House was occupied during the Revolutionary War by Thomas Nelson, who signed the Declaration of Independence. One of Nelson's ancestors had built the mansion in the early 1700s after migrating to Virginia in 1620. The home is open to visitors seeking to expand their knowledge of a vital structure that assured America's independence. 


Fountains and City Hall, at Market Square, Alexandria.
Fountains and City Hall, at Market Square, Alexandria.

The location of the Gadsby Tavern consists of two buildings, named after the Englishman John Gadsby, who operated both taverns from 1796 until 1808. Both businesses were a big part of Alexandria's port-based economy. Today, one building stands as a museum showcasing how early American life was in Virginia, the second is a restaurant that still operates in the original City Tavern dining room. Gerald  R. Ford Jr, the 38th president's house is located in Alexandria, and he lived there from 1955 until his presidency in 1974. His home has since been turned into a museum, allowing visitors to catch a glimpse into the life of a historical figure.


The Red Fox Inn and Tavern in Middleburg, Virginia
The Red Fox Inn and Tavern in Middleburg, Virginia. Image credit Nigel Jarvis via Shutterstock.

Middleburg contains one of the oldest operating inns in the United States; the Red Fox Inn has been serving patrons for more than 275 years, being established in 1728 and has seen some very famous guests within that time, most notable of which is Elizabeth Taylor who frequented the inn during fox hunting holidays. Now housing 22 rooms, The Red Fox Inn and Tavern always welcomes new guests. Dive into a part of Northern Virginia's industrial heritage at the Aldie Gristmill, built between 1807 and 1809. This mill was once the largest factory in London County. The metal water wheels are surprisingly still fully operational and visitors can watch live grinding demonstrations.


Horse drawn carriage tours in British Colony in Williamsburg, Virginia, USA.
Horse-drawn carriage tours in the British Colony in Williamsburg, Virginia. Image credit: Daniel Reiner via Shutterstock.

The first mental hospital in North America, The Public Hospital of Williamsburg, was opened in Williamsburg. Its first patient was admitted in 1773 and was more of a part-jail, part-infirmary, with the infirmary healing the mentally ill. Today, visitors can tour the public Hospital museum that showcases the history of the site and the practices of medicine in the 18th century. Seven royal governors and the first two elected governors once lived in the Governor's Palace in Williamsburg. It was also home to post-colonial governors Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry. After the man's house burned down in 1780, it was reconstructed in the 1930s on the original site. Now standing is a museum where visitors can tour the palace at their leisure.

Virginia has many locations that pay homage to the state's legacy and heritage. These towns are worth exploring for anyone wanting to expand their knowledge of American history, indulge in a quaint day trip, or embark on a Virginian getaway. 

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