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(2015 - Spring/Summer Issue)


In Virginia, like pretty much everywhere else, it’s hip to be a start-up, a trailblazer, a maverick, an original.

The idea is to create a real headline grabber, one that will vault you to fame (preferably, paired with fortune). But centuries before modern-day America became marinated in the fast-paced world of gigabytes and crowdfunding, the quiet little towns and hillsides of northern Virginia were already a breeding ground for those who thrived on thinking outside the box.

Virginia, it seems, has always been a magnet for originals.

In that spirit, here are a few spots where you’ll see the real thing or sit down to chat with a true Virginia groundbreaker.

Aviation Collections

To make it into the world-famous Smithsonian collections, an item has to tick most of the boxes: one-of-a-kind, a record-breaker, some sort of historical or cultural significance. The cavernous aviation hangars at the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum near Dulles International Airport are filled with hundreds of items that make the grade, including some symbolic pieces of 20th-century history. The main hangar is 10 storeys high with a footprint larger than three football fields. Aircraft demand a lot of elbow room.

Filling one hangar is Discovery, the longest serving and most accomplished of the Space Shuttle orbiters. Most of the heat-resistant tiles on Discovery’s fuselage are original equipment from its first takeoff. Over 27 years, the spacecraft completed 39 Earth-orbital missions travelling a total of 240 million kilometres. Imagine the air travel reward points!

Parked one hangar over is another original: the Enola Gay Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber. The name on the plane’s nose is the original paint, harkening back to the sobering moment in August 1945 over Hiroshima when it became the first aircraft to drop an atomic bomb.

Washington's Mansion

More than 300 years of history are on display at Mount Vernon, once the home of America’s first President and now the most popular historic home in America.

The grounds at the lush, green estate are frozen in time circa 1799, the year of George Washington’s death. The family mansion—the crown jewel of the estate—is furnished with many originals including the office chair Washington used during his presidency and the custom-made, extra-long bed where he took his final breath.

Costumed interpreters lead visitors through his book-stuffed study where Washington hosted several of the nation’s Founding Fathers, including James Madison and Thomas Jefferson. A frame on the wall holds an original key to the Bastille, a gift from the Marquis de Lafayette in 1790 to mark the special relationship between the young America and one of the agents of the French Revolution.

On Hallowed Ground

In the era of the American Civil War, two main rail lines converged at Manassas Junction and the side that controlled those rail lines would dominate the crucial movement of troops and supplies. Just four months after President Lincoln took office and declared secession by the states illegal, the first major land battle of the Civil War took place on the green hills at Manassas National Battlefield Park. It was here that the two armies of a divided nation clashed as never before.

For those tracing the markings of the Civil War, two conflicts at Manassas earned it a stop on the official Journey Through Hallowed Ground route and designation as a national park site. This history-rich National Scenic Byway—“the most eventful corner of the United States”—stretches 300 kilometres from Gettysburg in Pennsylvania to Monticello in Virginia. The park commemorates the two Battles of Manassas.

Visitors walk through the peaceful rolling hills that were once a raging battlefield, stopping at the statue of Confederate general “Stonewall” Jackson and the reconstructed farmhouse belonging to Judith Henry, an elderly woman who was the battle’s first civilian casualty.

Clinking Glasses

Contemporary entrepreneurs are clinking their glasses in the northwest corner of Virginia. In small-town Purcellville, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, chemical engineer Becky Harris took a career detour and together with husband Scott established the Catoctin Creek Distilling Company. Building a distillery from the ground up takes a dose of moxie and the go-getter vision of how art and science intersect.

For starters, a female distiller is unusual in this line of work. The micro-distillery also makes an unconventional style of Prohibition-era style whisky, created from 100 per cent organic rye. Visitors can tour the old car dealership turned distillery, then slide onto a stool in the tasting room to sip the unique rye, gin and peach, pear or apple brandy.

Nearby, Niagara-schooled Canadian winemaker Jordan Harris celebrates his love of the state’s Viognier grape at Tarara Winery, one of the county’s leading vineyards. Twenty hectares at Tarara are planted with Viognier, Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon vines. Loudon County (40 kilometres from Washington, D.C.) leads the state in the number of wineries (there are 43) and grape production. For travellers, a day spent touring through “D.C.’s Wine Country” includes wineries’tasting rooms, exploring historic small towns, scenic vistas of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the capital’s Washington Monument, and a string of restaurants where menus focus squarely on the farm-to-table experience.

Travel Planner

Porter Airlines (flyporter.com) flies three times daily from Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport to Washington Dulles International Airport. For more information on Virginia’s cultural region, visit Virginia.org/VirginiasCulturalRegion.

For accommodation, consider the Lansdowne Resort (LansdowneResort.com)

in Leesburg. For dining, try:

Magnolias at the Mill: purcellvillerestaurant.com

Malones of Manassas: malonesofmanassas.com

härth in the Hilton McLean: harthrestaurant.com

Cultural Council of Palm Beach County
Fairmont Hotels
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