Founded in 1778, and named for the then-recent Revolutionary War battleground, photogenic Lexington (pop. 7,042) is home to an estimable pair of Virginia institutions, the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) and Washington and Lee University, which meld into one another at the center of town. Numerous old brick buildings, including a typically southern lawyer’s row around Courthouse Square, still stand around the town, which you can tour on foot or in one of the horse-drawn carriages that leave from the downtown visitors center.
Animated by an unusually crew-cut version of typical college-town energy, Lexington is redolent with, and intensely proud of, its military heritage. Generals, in fact, have become the town’s stock-in-trade: From 1851 until 1861 when he rode off to fight in the Civil War, Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson lived at 8 East Washington Street, now a small museum (540/464-7704, daily, $8 adults). He is buried in the small but well-tended cemetery on the south edge of town. Gen. Robert E. Lee spent his post-Civil War years teaching at Washington and Lee, which was named after him (and his wife’s ancestor, George). Lee is entombed in a crypt below the chapel, under a famous statue of his recumbent self, with his trusty horse, Traveller, buried just outside. Another influential old warhorse, Gen. George C. Marshall, is honored in a large eponymous museum (Tues.-Sat. 11am-4pm, $5 adults) on the VMI campus. The museum traces General Marshall’s role in planning the D-Day invasions in World War II and salutes his Nobel Peace Prize-winning Marshall Plan for the successful reconstruction of postwar Europe.
Spend a summer night in Lexington at the community-run Hull’s Drive-In (2367 N. US-11, 540/463-2621, $7 adults), a much-loved local Ozoner drive-in theater still showing Hollywood hits. Before a movie, grab a burger at Kenney’s, off US-11. Or check out the many good bistros and soup-and-sandwich places along Main Street, such as the unusually healthy menu at the Blue Sky Café (125 W. Nelson St., 540/463-6546).
There are a number of comfortable and captivating places to stay in and around Lexington, like the Llewellyn Lodge (603 S. Main St., 540/463-3235 or 800/882-1145, $110-239). Comfortable, convenient, welcoming, helpful, and within easy walking distance of the campuses and the historic town center, the Llewellyn is everything a B&B should be.
Stonewall Jackson House (8 E. Washington St.)
Hull’s Drive-In (2367 N. US-11)
Kenney’s (635 Waddell St.)
Llewellyn Lodge (603 S. Main St.)
Blue Sky Café (125 W. Nelson St.)