Virginia tourism draws emphasize state’s multifaceted heritage
Virginia’s tourism industry has long banked on its history — but this time there’s more context and acknowledgement of different facets of the commonwealth’s heritage.
Last year, the commonwealth held observances marking the 400th anniversaries of the first elected legislative body in the New World and the arrival of the first enslaved people from Africa. Native Americans and enslaved Africans’ role in the early days of the Jamestown Colony were a prominent part of the 1619 remembrance events.
And the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts closed the year by welcoming hundreds of visitors to the December unveiling of acclaimed artist Kehinde Wiley’s “Rumors of War” monument, depicting a modern, androgynous African American figure on horseback in a pose echoing the equestrian statue of Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart a little over a mile away, on Richmond’s Monument Avenue.
More than a billion dollars has been invested in Virginia’s hotel industry in the past year. Among the projects are large hotels with convention space, such as the $125 million Marriott Oceanfront Hotel Virginia Beach, set to open this month, and two new hotels under development in Chesterfield County that will offer conference space and hundreds of guest rooms.
And scattered among these big projects are smaller new hotels dedicated to local history and culture.
In other Virginia localities — including Danville, South Boston and Bristol — developers are transforming historic buildings into boutique hotels that honor historic architecture and industries. Lynchburg’s Craddock Terry Hotel and St. Paul’s Western Front Hotel are among Virginia’s earliest adopters of the boutique hotel trend. Craddock Terry, housed in a former shoe factory, opened as a hotel in 2007 and recalls its original purpose with a large, red high-heeled pump on its exterior. Last year, the hotel added a private rooftop bar.
Western Front opened in 2018 in the tiny town on the border of Wise and Russell counties. The town’s colorful background — tied in with the coal trade and accompanying bordellos and bars — isn’t all pretty, and the hotel exemplifies Virginians’ new way of considering history.
The 70-room, $20 million Sessions Hotel in downtown Bristol is set to open in late March. Housed in three, renovated, century-old buildings, the hotel is named for the legendary 1927 Bristol recording sessions of the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers that are widely considered to be the “big bang” of country music.
Also opening in March, Charlottesville’s Quirk Hotel — a sister hotel to Richmond’s Quirk — has gallery space for local and regional artists. Norfolk’s Glass Light Hotel and Gallery, a Marriott property that opened in January, displays glass objets d’art and sculptures created by world-class artists Dale Chihuly and Peter Bremers, plus a restaurant opened by a Michelin-starred French chef, set in a 1912 building.
Virginia’s natural beauty also remains a tourism draw. In Abingdon, a former railroad line has become the Virginia Creeper Trail, featuring 34 miles of Appalachian scenery and foliage. And in bucolic Bath County, the Omni Homestead is restoring its 1700s-era Jefferson Pools; they’re expected to reopen this summer with historical markers describing “the waters’ reputed curative powers.”
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