Living in Lewisburg
Nestled in the Greenbrier Valley, this historic town is thriving with charming shops, delightful restaurants, and a vibrant arts community.
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There’s something special about Lewisburg,” says Monica Maxwell, who moved to Lewisburg five years ago from Florida. “It is an incredibly historic town surrounded by amazing recreational opportunities and some of the most breathtaking scenery in the country. Combine that with its vibrant creative community and you come close to having the perfect small town.”
Many who visit Lewisburg agree that it is the epitome of a “perfect” small town. It is one of the oldest towns in West Virginia, and its main street, Washington Street, is lined with charming historic buildings that have been carefully maintained and preserved. Lewisburg beckons visitors to meander into its many gift shops, boutiques, and galleries; stop at a sidewalk café for a cup of coffee or tea; and enjoy lunch at one of the many restaurants, and another for dinner. Visitors are often so enchanted that they return again and again.
Lewisburg has been undergoing a renaissance since the late 1980s, when a group of residents came together and created a vision plan for Lewisburg’s future. “We have an interesting combination of people who’ve moved here from out of state and families that have been here for several generations,” says Amy Kaczynski, the public relations manager for the Greenbrier County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Our residents and merchants have come together to help transform the town.”
Two such people are Monica and Aaron Maxwell. When they decided to relocate to Lewisburg, they purchased and remodeled the original Hanna Chevrolet Building on Washington Street to house their Harmony Ridge Gallery, an eclectic shop that showcases a diverse selection of American-made products at every price point, as well as the Birdhouse Café, a specialty coffee bar with Wi-Fi access. Monica and Aaron quickly joined the ranks of a progressive association of merchants called the Lewisburg Downtown Business Association (LDBA).
“There are many different groups, like the Lewis Foundation, the Convention and Visitors Bureau, Carnegie Hall, the North House Museum, and the LDBA, who have worked together with a common vision, and that has helped propel Lewisburg forward,” says Monica. “It is because of this united front that we’ve been able to accomplish so much.”
One successful free event that was created a few years ago is “First Fridays After Five,” a time when the downtown shops stay open on the first Friday of every month until 9 p.m., serve complimentary refreshments, and provide free entertainment. “We began First Fridays as an attempt to promote the town to local folks that normally shied away from downtown because they viewed it as a tourist town,” explains Monica. “It has proven to be very effective. Our locals have reacquainted themselves with our downtown shops, restaurants, and theaters. We are also finding that regional tourists have gotten wind of the special evening and are now scheduling trips to Lewisburg around the first Friday of the month.”
Their efforts are paying off, and Lewisburg continues to grow. In 2008, two new hotels were built, and the town’s close proximity to the Greenbrier brings in a steady supply of tourists. It is also becoming a popular place for retirees.
“My husband and I chose to retire in Lewisburg because we loved the atmosphere. We kept visiting and we got to the point that we didn’t want to go home,” says Linda Babcock, who moved from Teays Valley nine years ago and serves as a part-time docent and gift shop manager at the North House Museum. “This is one of the most beautiful spots in West Virginia. I love being surrounded by all of this magnificent history, cultural advantages, and low crime rate. As a retiree, you can still have an active life with many opportunities to volunteer.”
Lewisburg was called Fort Savannah and Camp Union before being renamed Lewisburg in 1782 in honor of General Andrew Lewis, a soldier and surveyor in the Greenbrier Valley. General Lewis is best known for assembling a militia in 1774 for Lord Dunmore against the united tribes led by Chief Cornstalk. His army marched over 160 miles and defeated the Indians at the epic battle of Point Pleasant.
Another important historical event occurred on the morning of May 23, 1862, when residents awoke to find that the town had become the site of a Civil War battle between Union troops, led by Colonel George Crook, and General Henry Heth’s Confederate forces. Remnants of cannonballs and artillery can still be seen in some buildings. The battle lasted a little over an hour, leaving 80 Confederate and 13 Union soldiers dead and over 150 wounded. Each spring, hundreds of people gather in Lewisburg to reenact the battle.
Perched on a hillside with commanding views of downtown Lewisburg is North House Museum. Built in 1820, the North House Museum contains the collections of the Greenbrier Historical Society, including many of the finest examples of early Virginia furnishings and military artifacts. Guided tours take you through the house, which has served as a private residence, the Star Tavern and Hotel, and the president’s home for the Greenbrier College. During the Battle of Lewisburg, guests of the Star Tavern and Hotel watched the battle unfold from its second-story porch.
“One of our most popular stories is that of the Greenbrier Ghost, the woman who was murdered by her husband and whose “testimony” was accepted at the trial,” says Linda Babcock. “And we have a drawing that Edward Shue, who was convicted of his wife’s murder, made in prison after being found guilty, illustrating the seven women he had hoped to marry.”
Located near North House Museum is Carnegie Hall, built in 1902 by steel baron and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie as a classroom building for the Lewisburg Female Institute, which later became the Greenbrier College for Women. It is one of only four Carnegie Halls in the world. In the 1980s it was condemned and scheduled to be demolished, but a group of citizens saved the historic building. It now serves as a performing arts and cultural center. In addition to its Mainstage Series that has brought the likes of Gillian Welch and Isaac Stern, live outdoor evening concerts are held on its lawn. It also provides award-winning arts-in-education programs, classes and workshops, fine art exhibits, and an independent film series.
Lewisburg is a town made for festivals. For the past 24 years during the second week of October, Carnegie Hall holds one of its popular fundraisers—The Taste of Our Town Festival. During the festival, Washington Street is closed off, and all the restaurants and civic organizations offer samples of different types of food. In the spring, the Chocolate Festival brings thousands of people to town to sample chocolate from West Virginian and national chocolatiers.
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