There’s no place like Wytheville. Literally. Unlike Washington or ubiquitous Springfield (notably home of everyman family the Simpsons), the southwest Virginia town is the only place in the US with that name (and the entire world, they claim).
For the record, the burg – pronounced With-vil, and located in the Virginia “panhandle” – is named after US founding father and signer of the Declaration of Independence George Wythe, who hailed from Virginia, but not the town – a quirky fact that perfectly sets the tone for the historic Appalachian town of about 8,000 people.
Here are just a few Wytheville fun facts:
• The town water tower is camouflaged as an inflight weather balloon (banner photo)
• Wytheville has Virginia’s largest pencil (image below) and smallest church
• Just to the west of town in Rural Retreat (once called “The Cabbage Capital of the World”) is the final resting place of Dr. Charles T. Pepper, namesake of the iconic soda pop
• Favourite daughter Edith Bolling Wilson, wife of Woodrow Wilson and dubbed “the first female president” when her husband was ill, was a descendant of Pochahontas
• The town had the highest per capita cases of polio in the US during the 1950 polio epidemic – an event dubbed the “Summer Without Children”
• Interstates 81 and 77 run together in a wrong-way concurrency for about 16 km., meaning motorists are travelling northbound on 77 and southbound on 81 at the same, while actually travelling due west.
But while admitting, “we embrace our quirk,” Shane Terry of the town’s convention and visitors bureau, says there much more to the Wytheville than its curiosities, a mindset he calls “beyond the exits” (on the Interstate).
Located in centre of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the town’s convenient geographical setting serves as a gateway to the region’s rural natural attractions and activities, among them hiking, (mountain) biking, kayaking, and fishing – not least along the 100-km New River Trail and in the Crystal Springs and Big Survey Wildlife Management recreational areas.
Nearby is Big Walker Lookout, a 30-metre observation tower, and Wytheville serves as the hub for the scenic “Claw of the Dragon” driving route, which particularly gets motorcyclists’ motors running. The route features loops totaling over 565 km between Marion in the west and Galax to the east. The drive meanders through parts of seven Virginia counties but is easily accessible from Interstates 77 or 81.
As for Canadians – Terry says Witheville sees its fair share due to its position on the migratory route of snowbirds and families heading to South Carolina or Florida, and as a regional crossroads where the two interstates meet, as well as being smack dab along the “Great Lakes to Florida Highway” (Route 21), which is marked in a locale museum.
On a grander scale, the town is due south of Cleveland and Pittsburgh, just north of the Tennessee and North Carolina borders.
As such, a lot of Canadians have “either been to it or through it,” laughs Terry, of a town that is steeped in history and Americana, featuring plenty of homemade attractions and built on the passions of local families.
There’s a safari park, lavender and butterfly farm, Homestead Museum and interpretive centre, 250-seat dinner theatre, restored classic movie theatre (dating to the Vaudeville era in 1928), as well as local wineries and craft breweries. A vintage baseball team plays exhibition matches, and the puck will drop this fall as Wytheville joins the Federal Prospects semi-pro hockey league.
Accommodations are plentiful – 1,700 rooms around town – but visitors can also glamp in a covered wagon at the Conestoga Wagon experience, or stay at the newly re-opened Wythe County hotel, which dates to 1887, but was closed for the past half century. It features a large two-storey porch overlooking the New River.
All told, the town is worth the detour (or stop) for Canadians for a couple of days as they travel through southwestern Virginia, promises Terry, who adds, “If quirky and cool is your vibe, then look no further than Wytheville!”
First published at Travel Industry Today