Monterey

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					Monterey, Virginia
Chapter excerpt from Exploring the Small Towns of Virginia and Maryland,
by Mary and Bill Burnham

(info-box)
Virginia’s Highland County is the nation’s southernmost producer of maple syrup, an
industry celebrated each spring at the Highland Maple Festival. This year it’s March 13-
14 and 20-21 in Monterey, Virginia, about 45 miles west of Staunton on Route 250.
www.highlandcounty.org, 540-468-2550


If we added up our receipts from the gas station in Monterey over the years, it would
probably be enough to buy a good, used car. US 250 is the only way to get from Staunton
over the Allegheny Mountains into West Virginia, and there aren’t a lot of places to get
gas along the way. It’s a twisting, switch backing road, without a lot of flat places to plant
a town. Thus you have Monterey, nicknamed “Little Switzerland,” where sheep
outnumber people and some locals still do their shopping by horse-and-buggy.

Believe it or not, this tiny community of just over 200 people is the county seat of
Highland County, one of the very few places in Virginia that can tap maple trees for
syrup, thanks to its having the highest mean elevation of any county east of the
Mississippi.

During the second and third weeks in March, the conditions of freezing nights a nd warm,
sunny days put the sugar camps at peak performance, tapping trees and boiling the watery
sap until it is reduced to syrup. The Highland Maple Festival takes place at this time.
Tour the sugar camps to see the process in full swing, from the traditional bucket and iron
kettle operation using antique tools, to the modern method using vacuum pumps, miles of
plastic tubing, reverse osmosis and evaporators. Visit the open-air Maple Museum for a
taste of the history of syrup-making going back to Native Americans. Then sample the
sweet stuff on some buckwheat pancakes at an area restaurant or the all- you-can-eat
community breakfast. Evening festivities include a Maple Queen Ball, a Maple Hoedown
and a Sugar Shake-up Dance.

It’s difficult to get a room right in Monterey during the Maple Festival - The Highland
Inn starts taking reservations on April 1 for the FOLLOWING March, and books up by
the end of the day. But there are other places to stay within an hour’s drive, including the
good-sized city of Staunton, where there’s plenty of lodging.

Despite it’s size, as a stop on the US 250 thoroughfare, Monterey is savvy to the benefits
of through-traffic and tourism. The main street is lined with antique, arts and crafts shops,
country stores, B&Bs and home-style restaurants.

Originally called Bell’s Place in the late 1700s, Monterey was just a small settlement of
cabins named for James Bell, owner of the Landmark House, which housed the most
popular landmark in any pioneer town - the tavern. Built in 1790, the Landmark House
is still standing on Main Street, across from the courthouse, and is believed to be the
oldest remaining building in town. In 1847, 17 justices met inside to organize Highland
County, designating 450 acres for the county seat of Highland. In 1848 they changed the
name to Monterey in honor of newly elected President Zachary Taylor’s previous victory
at the Battle of Monterrey in Mexico. Today, the original logs can still be seen, and the
SPCA runs a shop inside, the Attic consignment shop.

“A Walk Around Monterey, Virginia” walking tour brochure gives great tid-bits about
the town’s buildings, many of which are open to the public as shops. Local lore includes
a haunted house and a wall every child in town learned to balance on for the last 100
years.

Pop into the Corner Room (540-468-2161), a shop located inside the Campbell House
on Main Street, not only to browse the antiques and gifts, but also to look for the framed
windowpanes bearing the etched names of two soldiers wounded in the Battle of
McDowell. The 1852 building was used as a Civil War hospital.

You might catch sight of Carl Hiner running errands from his horse and buggy. He’s
turned his hobby into a business, giving rides to visitors and transporting bridal couples
to their nuptials (540-468-2957).

Recreation

Highland County has been called the “trout capital of the southeast.” Rainbow Springs
Retreat (804-353-1112), four miles north of Monterey on Route 220, has six stocked
ponds and a stream where you can try your hand at fly- fishing. Catch-and-release brown,
rainbow and native brook trout. There’s a lodge and guided trips available. At Virginia
Trout Company you can fish your dinner or buy trout to go. Located on Route 220, five
miles north of Monterey (540-468-2280).

Highland Adventure rents mountain bikes and provides shuttle, mapping and guide
services for caving, rock climbing, mountain biking and camping (540-468-2722).

Lodging:
For such a small town, Monterey has an inordinate number of Victorian B&Bs and inns,
sporting goodies like gingerbread trim, wrought- iron fencing, and rocking-chair porches.

Perhaps the most conspicuous is The Highland Inn on Main Street, with its double-
decker front porches. What’s amazing is that it survived the fires and dilapidation most
wood-frame hotels have succumbed to. Originally called Hotel Monterey when built in
1904, it had a picket fence to keep the sheep off the lawn. Guests included Harvey
Firestone, Henry Ford and Gen. Erwin Rommel, Germany’s WWII “desert fox,” who
spent three months here in the late 1930s studying the battle tactics of Confederate Gen.
Stonewall Jackson. It has 17 guest rooms, several suites with sitting areas, a dining room
and tavern. It may be an old hotel, but rooms have private baths and cable TV. The
resident ghost is a friendly, if sad one, and has been seen by hotel staff through the years.
The wife of the innkeeper when the hotel took boarders, Emily had an affair with one of
the residents. When her husband found out, he shot her. Consequently the townspeople
hung him outside of town. Whether it’s true or not, it makes a great story (888-466-4682,
540-468-2143).

Che rry Hill B&B on Mill Alley one block off Main Street, overlooks the town (540-
468-1900). The Mountain Laurel Inn was built in 1900 as the Arbogast House. It has
five guest rooms, a guest parlor with fireplace and an antique grand piano (800-510-0180,
www.va-bedandbreakfast.com). Trimble Acres Bed & Breakfast is another Victorian
surrounded by a wrought- iron fence on Spruce Street (540-468-1524).

The innkeeper at the Selby Inn on Main Street conducts tours of Civil War sites in the
area and displays his collection of “Goofus Glass,” an early 1900s pressed glass. The inn
is furnished with period pieces, and has gardens and a stream in the backyard (540-468-
3234, www.highlandcounty.org/selbyinn).

For a different experience, Bobbie’s Bed & Breakfast is part of a working sheep and
cattle farm. It’s a half- mile west of Monterey on US 250 (540-468-2308).

Dining:
Two inns in town also serve meals to the public: The Highland Inn (540-468-2143)
serves dinner Wednesday through Saturday and Sunday brunch, and the Mountain
Laurel Inn (540-468-3401) serves soup and sandwiches for lunch.

You can’t miss the Maple Restaurant on Spruce Street. There’s a big fish on the roof,
no doubt because rainbow trout from the hatchery up the road is one of the house
specialties. Dinners are usually less than $10 and come with two vegetables and
homemade bread. They also serve country ham and homemade baked goodies. This is
country food, inexpensive, where it’s been served for more than 35 years (540-468-
2684).

Information:

Highland County Chambe r of Commerce: 540-468-2550, highcc@cfw.com,
www.highlandcounty.org

((For Info boxes))

Events:
In addition to the Highland Maple Festival the second and third weekends in March, the
Mountain Mama Road Bike Challenge and the County Fair are in August, Hands &
Harvest Fall Foliage Festival is in mid-October, and Wintertide is the first weekend in
December. Two events alternate years: the House & Garden Weekend is held on “even”
years in mid-July, and the McDowell Battlefield Days are held in May on “odd” years at
the site of Stonewall Jackson’s first victory in the Valley Campaign of 1862 (540-468-
2550, www.highlandcounty.org).
((sidebar))
TRIP JOURNAL: Blue Grass
Just north of Monterey is the unincorporated village of Blue Grass. Most people have a
small town somewhere that when they first “discovered” it, made them fantasize of
moving there someday. For Bill, it’s Troutdale, Virginia, where author Sherwood
Anderson retired to. For me, it’s Blue Grass.

We found it purely by accident, driving in from the backside while “bushwhacking” off
the mountain from Laurel Fork Wilderness after a weekend of hiking. We were trying to
avoid driving the long way back home – the main route had us going west into West
Virginia, around, then finally east on Route 250. With trusty gazetteer in hand, we had
spied a backroads way off the mountain, although it meant taking some dotted lines. (You
can only do this sort of thing with four-wheel-drive.)

As we drove down into the valley, blue with the typical Virginia August haze, it seemed
as if it had been planted there by God Himself. After the rugged terrain of Laurel Fork,
the valley was like an oasis, soothing to the eyes, the mind, and even the sores muscles.
Rolling pastures were dotted with black cows and bounded by split rail fence. It may
have been the hunger and fatigue, but I felt we could just pull into any one of the dirt
driveways and move in. A hay wagon filled with the whole family was pulled to the side
of the road, the driver talking and laughing with someone who had pulled over in a pick-
up.

Then a small white sign finally told us the name of this oasis: “Blue Grass.” We almost
missed it, but eventually we came to the “town,” a row of white storefronts, perhaps a
block long.

I got a bag of chips and a cold Route 66 root beer at the Country Convenience store.
Junk food never tastes so good as after a weekend of healthy trail food a nd exertion.

I found out later that Blue Grass was the shopping center of the county before WW II,
with a jeweler, a cinema, and the largest mercantile in the county where you could buy
the latest in home appliances – washing machines and radios.

To get to Blue Grass, go north from Monterey on US 220 about six miles. The Ginseng
Mountain Store on the way is a great stop, as is the Virginia Trout Company. Turn left
on Route 642 and follow the South Branch of the Potomac for about two and half miles
to the village. There are no places to stay or eat in Blue Grass.

Trivia:
The 1921 silent film “Tol’able David” was filmed in the Blue Grass Valley and is shown
throughout Monterey’s Maple Festival in March. The story features a mountain boy and
his family tormented by vicious brothers who have invaded the small Virginia town. Shot
on location and featuring the bucolic scenes of western Virginia, the film opened to rave
reviews as a tragedy of “uncompromising power” (Photoplay, 1922). Much later,
Leonard Maltin called it “beautifully crafted Americana, shot on location in Virginia.”
One modern-day viewer compared it to Sling Blade in portraying the slow, yet rich,
nuances of small town America. In case you’re curious, the name of the film comes from
the protagonist’s mother: "David, you're not a man quite yet. You're only tol'able -
just tol'able.”

Bill and Mary Burnham are the authors of Hike Virginia and Exploring the Small Towns
of Virginia and Maryland. They’re currently working on a guide to paddling the 100- mile
length of the Florida Keys. See more of their adventures at www.BurnhamInk.com

				
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