Small Town Charmin found in Farmville

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Fantastic furniture is just the beginning of your visit to Farmville.

I didn’t plan to buy a rug. I have a house full of rugs. It was my sister, Theresa, who needed a rug—three to be exact—for the hallway of an old church she’s renovating into a house. It was she who’d said, “Let’s go to Farmville and look at rugs.”

And by “Farmville,” she really meant Green Front Furniture, the family-owned company that, by all appearances, owns most of the old tobacco warehouses and former department stores in downtown Farmville.

In addition to furniture and accessories from all over the world, Green Front sells rugs. Lots of rugs. Indian, Turkish, Persian, Chinese, cowhides. Rugs of all descriptions and price points. While I didn’t need a rug that day in early May, when we drove the hour or so from Lynchburg to Farmville, I should’ve known I’d be coming home with one.

I’ve been to Farmville many times. I’ve perused the antique shops. I’ve perched on a stool at Walker’s Diner. On my most-recent visit, I had my first “cronut”—a croissant/doughnut hybrid—at Uptown Coffee Cafe.

I’ve ridden my bike on the High Bridge Trail, a 31-mile-long, walking, biking and horseback path that gets its name from a 125-foot-tall bridge spanning the Appomattox River.

After returning home from my recent Farmville trip—toting a red Persian rug, no surprise—I was already thinking about my next visit. Here are some of the things I’d like to check out:

Arts
Longwood Center for the Visual Arts, part of Longwood University, hosts exhibits and events throughout the year. From August 25 through mid-October, the gallery will exhibit work by John Parra, illustrator of “Waiting for the Biblioburro,” “Round is a Tortilla: A Book of Shapes” and other children’s books.

And a plus: There’s an Art-o-mat in the lobby of the LCVA. For those unfamiliar with the Art-o-mat, it’s a converted, vintage cigarette machine from which, for five bucks, one can purchase tiny, original artwork.

There are Art-o-mats all over the U.S. and beyond. On my recent visit to the LCVA, I purchased a landscape painting by a California artist.

For theater buffs, Waterworks Players, Farmville’s community theater, has been performing shows for more than 40 years. Its next production, the Agatha Christie murder mystery “And Then There Were None,” opens August 4.

The 2017-18 season opens in October with “Shrek, the Musical.”

Adventure
The High Bridge Trail isn’t the only game in town for outdoorsy people, but it might be the most popular. According to the folks at The Outdoor Adventure Store, which rents bikes for use on the trail, on some weekends bikes are rented out again as quickly as they’re returned.

“Our mainstay is bike rentals,” said Erica Venter, whose daughter and son-in-law own the store. “During the week, people can just arrive, but certainly on weekends—Saturdays for sure—reservations are encouraged.”

A few miles out of town in the community of Rice, Sandy River Outdoor Adventures offers a variety of outdoor activities for people ages 7 and up. Sandy River has 17 zip lines, 60 high-ropes obstacles, canoe and kayaking trips, and boat rentals.
For those who would like to do some “glamping,” there are rental cabins and what park manager Maddie Corwin described as “luxurious tipis” on site.

Eating, Drinking, Shopping
Farmville has a variety of restaurants, everything from the popular Charley’s Waterfront Cafe, where you can dine with a view of the Appomattox River, to Walker’s Diner, where you can sit, shoulder-to-shoulder with locals, for a bacon-and-eggs breakfast, a burger and fries or other casual fare.

Farmville’s first brewery and taproom, Third Street Brewing Company, opens its doors in August. “We’re just excited to bring this to Farmville,” John Dudley, one of Third Street’s founding partners, said, adding that he’s seen “how craft breweries have become a destination in communities.

“We’re right on the High Bridge Trail [and]hope to get a lot of bicyclists, horseback riders and runners. We hope to get lots of people who utilize that trail. … There’s a lot going on in Farmville and we’re happy to be part of it.”

Farmville also has a wine tasting room, The Virginia Tasting Cellar. It opened last year and features wineries from across Virginia—as many as 12 at a time—along with Buskey Hard Cider, out of Richmond.

The tasting room is located in a building once used to house mules during Farmville’s tobacco trading days. This fact is reflected in the way The Virginia Tasting Cellar calls its individual tasting areas “stables.”

“Mules brought the tobacco on bateaux down the Appomattox River,” general manager Megan Martin said. “They were kept [where]we are now. We’re trying to stay historically true to our area.”

In addition to the one million square feet of retail space that makes up the aforementioned Green Front Furniture, Farmville has a variety of antique shops, boutiques and specialty stores.

Along with renting bikes, The Outdoor Adventure Store sells high-end outdoor gear and clothing, including High Bridge Trail T-shirts. At Farmville’s farmer’s market, on Saturdays, you can buy local produce and meat, baked goods and handmade items.

History
Farmville, which prides itself as “America’s First Two-College Town”—Longwood, founded in 1839, and nearby Hampden-Sydney College, founded in 1775—is chockablock with history.

The last major battle of the Civil War was fought nearby at Sayler’s Creek, after which Gen. Robert E. Lee retreated through Farmville. Along the way, the Confederates attempted to burn down the original High Bridge.

The current bridge was built around the turn of the 20th century.

It and several sites along the route known as “Lee’s Retreat” are part of the Virginia Civil War Trails system.

Farmville and Prince Edward County also played a prominent role in the Civil Rights Movement, particularly the fight against school segregation.

The museum at Robert R. Moton High School tells the story of how, in 1951,16-year-old Barbara Johns and her classmates
began a student strike that paved the way for Brown v. Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court case that ruled school segregation was unconstitutional.

“We tell the civil rights history of Prince Edward County between 1951 and 1964,” Cameron Patterson, the museum’s managing director, said, adding the strike was “one of the first student-led movements of the Civil Rights era.”

The museum, which has free admission, sees visitors from all over the U.S. and can be an “eye opening” experience, Patterson said. “I think one of the reasons is that it didn’t happen that long ago and we’re so fortunate that a lot of the folks who lived this history are still here with us and actively engaged in the museum. They help us tell the story.”

Patterson said visiting the museum also can be a “powerful” experience for young people, “for them to see that Barbara Johns and her classmates were not much older than [they]. That resonates with them and hopefully helps to let them know that they, too, have a voice.”

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