Affectionately known as “The Center of the Universe” due to its location in the heart of Virginia, the town of Ashland and surrounding Hanover County offer a weekend of adventures that range from Civil War sites to theme parks to dinner theater and live music, topped by a little hobby winery that, 16 years on, has become a can’t-miss destination for Virginia wine lovers.
If you're looking for a very relaxed weekend, take the train to Ashland. The Henry Clay Inn is across the street from the Amtrak platform, and many of the venues below are within walking distance.
Arrive at lunchtime Friday and explore shops, galleries and cafes along Railroad Avenue. The Visitors Center, formerly the train station, features an abundance of rail memorabilia.
Get an official orientation at the Ashland Museum, a treasure trove of all things historical. Book a walking tour that includes many of the 200 buildings that make up the Historic District.
For lunch, hop in your car for the short drive (10 minutes) to the historic Hanover Tavern, one of the oldest in the U.S.. Or make it a pre-theater dinner and book a play at the Barksdale Theatre (now the Virginia Repertory Theatre), located in the same complex. The Barksdale was originally opened by a group of friends in 1953 as the country's first-ever dinner theater.
A full complement of mid-range chain hotels are available for overnight accomodations, and there are inns and b&b’s that reflect the charm and hospitality for which the South is known. The Henry Clay Inn has 13 guest rooms, flanked by a parlor, a drawing room, and a balcony overlooking Randolph-Macon College. Its roots trace back to 1858.
Start your Saturday at Caboose Market and Cafe and pick up picnic supplies as you head out to North Anna Battlefield Park, an intriguing site for Civil War buffs. Park signage provides extensive guidance as you follow the routes taken by both Grant’s and Lee’s forces in May 1864.
The rest of your day can be devoted to pure fun at Kings Dominion theme park. A magical place where you can see the Eiffel Tower from the Blue Ridge Tollway, Kings Dominion offers several parks-within-the-park. Soak City Water Park, Planet Snoopy, International Street and more all vie for your attention. A host of world-class roller coasters are a highlight. For the more down-to-earth visitor, arcade games provide entertainment.
Head back to downtown Ashland for dinner at Jake’s Place, home of “Southern Comfortable” food. Then pop over to Ashland Coffee and Tea for live music before retiring for the evening.
James River Cellars is a must-see on Sunday as you make your way back to real life. Convenient to Richmond, yet with a peaceful, charming ambience, the winery is run by founder Ray Lazarchic’s daughter Mitzi and her husband James Batterson. Enjoy a picnic on the patio or take in the view from the terrace. You’ll find an affordable selection of wines here, with favorites like Viognier and Cabernet Franc along with more unusual finds like Gewurtztraminer, Touriga and Petit Verdot.
Historical Fun Facts
* The town of Ashland was settled in 1834 in anticipation of the first Virginia railway which began operation in 1836.
* American patriot Patrick Henry, whose speech containing the famous line “Give me liberty, or give me death!” became a call to action for the Revolutionary War, hailed from Hanover County.
* The town was named “Ashland” after native son and Civil War-era Secretary of State Henry Clay’s estate in Kentucky.
* America’s first Dinner Theater performance was at the Barksdale Theatre, a part of the Hanover Tavern Foundation.