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Friday, October 12, 2007

Historic Lexington, Virginia

We ended our week on a great note. Today was a typical fall day; crisp air, alternately sunny & cloudy with a little breeze. It was perfect for taking a walking tour in Lexington, VA. Randy & I weren't sure what to expect in this town. We figured we'd stroll along its main street, maybe see a few historic places and that would be it. Suffice it to say, we were pleasantly surprised.

Lexington is just filled with history. It's home to Washington & Lee University and
Virginia Military Institute (VMI) as well as some beautiful, two and three hundred year old homes. It's also the birthplace of Sam Houston. That was a surprise, 'cause you always think of him as a Texan, not a Virginian.

Washington & Lee University began in 1749 as a private school, Liberty Hall Academy and later became Washington College because of a generous bequest from George Washington that kept the school from closing. Its name changed once more sometime after 1865 when General Robert E. Lee assumed the presidency and
brought the school national recognition.

On the grounds of the university, there is R.E. Lee Memorial Episcopal Church that was built in 1883. This church was founded in 1840 as Grace Episcopal Church by a friend and colleague of General Lee's, General Francis Smith. The current building's plans had been approved by General Lee in 1870, just a few days before his death.

Lee House sits just up the hill from the church and was built in 1869 for General Lee while he was president of the college. It has served as home for the college's presidents ever since. The beautiful porch on the house was made for Mrs. Lee who was wheelchair bound. General Lee actually died in this house.

In addition to the Episcopal Church that was named for General Lee, there is Lee Chapel on the grounds of the university. The chapel was built in 1867 at the general's request and under his supervision. Several famous portraits are housed here as is a statue of General Lee. His office has been preserved as he left it. The entire Lee family is buried in the chapel and just outside is the burial site of the general's famous horse, Traveller.

VMI was founded in 1839 at the behest of Lexington citizens who wanted to convert the local arsenal. Apparently, the
arsenal was home to some rowdy soldiers who caused more problems than they resolved. It is the nation's oldest state-supported military college. Stonewall Jackson taught physics and artillery tactics here for ten years prior to the Civil War.

Stonewall Jackson lived in town at the only home he ever owned. He lived there with his second wife, Mary Anna, from 1859 until 1861 when he left to fight in the
Civil War. The house remained in Jackson's family until 1906 when it was purchased and developed by the United Daughters of the Confederacy as the Jackson Memorial Hospital. This hospital was the only one in Rockbridge County for 47 years. It changed hands again in 1954 when it was purchased by Stonewall Jackson Memorial, Inc., and opened as a public museum. In 1979 the Historic Lexington Foundation acquired the property and completed an extensive restoration of the building. You can take a tour of the house and grounds.

On Main Street, you'll find all kinds of boutiques, shops, restaurants, churches, anything you can imagine. Also found are Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery and Lexington Presbyterian Church. The cemetery was built in 1789. Obviously, General Jackson's burial site is central to the cemetery, but there are also more than one hundred Revolutionary War and Confederate veterans and two Virginia governors buried there.

Lexington Presbyterian Church was founded in 1789 and its present home in the middle of town was built in 1845. General Jackson was an active member of this church, as was evident in his becoming a deacon there.

On the southwest end of town are some beautiful homes built as early as 1819. These were the first homes to built "away from town." A couple blocks over from these homes is the first housing development, built in 1884. It is a block of six homes that comprise various Victorian architectural details. We were amazed at how many of these homes are for sale. At least one home per block and,
in some cases, as many as three or four are for sale. I guess it's tough to keep these homes in good condition, especially if they are on an historic register. Several pictures of these homes are on our website. The names given indicate the most influential or famous owners.

We really enjoyed our day in Lexington. It's a town where you could spend a couple of days and not be bored at all. If you're in the area, be
sure to take time to stroll through it.

We have had a great couple of weeks exploring this area of Virginia. We've seen so much history and learned more than we thought we could. It's a gorgeous part of the state. We're looking forward to our next stop - it's going to be much more low key. Not a lot in the area so we'll be taking it easy next week. That will give you time to catch up on all the blog postings! :)

Take care of one another. Drop us a line once in awhile and let us know how you're doing. We love to hear from you. Until the next time . . .

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