Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Hanging in Culpeper

After graduation festivities in Charlottesville (see yesterday's post), we had a half day to kill. The friendly folks in Orange, Virginia, where we stayed at an excellent, reasonably priced Holiday Inn, recommended nearby Culpeper (That's the way it is spelled.)

Good call.

The small town has a restored main street of 18th and 19th Century buildings. Most businesses cater to the tourist trade, but there's one of those great old hardware stores chock-a-block with Alladin Lamps, shovels and nails sold by the pound. A nearby deli serves up a mean grilled chicken and jack cheese sandwich on a flat roll or, if you choose, a wood-oven baked pizza (On Mondays a 12 incher sells for an unbelievable $5). You eat on a shaded patio nestled between two vintage brick buildings.

Up the street is the still revered statue commemorating Culpeper County's fallen Confederate soldiers. The county was famously war-ravaged.

Times change, of course, and in an antique mall not a stone's throw from the statue, I scored a Thoreau anthology (introduction by Theodore Dreiser) for $2. Thoreau, an outspoken abolitionist, would have been strung up in Culpeper 150 years ago.

Between the mall and the Confederate statue is the childhood home of one A.P. Hill, a heroic Confederate cavalry general. Yankee-born and Civil War-ignorant, I'd never heard of Hill, but his memory is alive and well in Culpeper. A neat plaque marks the Hill house.

The town was a fall back position for several major Civil War battles, not the least of which was Gettysburg. Remnants of Lee's retreating army stumbled and staggered through Culpeper. Walt Whitman spent time here as a Union nurse as did Clara Barton, who went on to found the American Red Cross. General George Custer was wounded and had his horse shot out from underneath him on the streets of Culpeper.

So a whole lot more than kerosene lamps at the hardware and $5 pizzas on Mondays has put little Culpeper on the map.

And the future? Ever so slowing on those undulating green hills, where once the "grapes of wrath" were sown, new vines are being planted whose grapes are destined to bring only savory joy.

We had to leave to get to Dulles Airport before we even got to the Culpeper County Museum. I'm only half kidding when I say that I'll catch it next time through.


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