Enjoying the Simple Life in Patrick County, Virginia

April 12, 2021 Updated: April 14, 2021

One place that my wife, Fyllis, and I visited promised a “luxury boutique” that has won accolades as among the best resorts in the country. The other invited us to “experience the simple life.”

These very different settings stretch along the Virginia–North Carolina border. Together, Patrick County, Virginia, and the Primland resort offer an inviting getaway with an eclectic appeal. Primland combines touches of elegance with a friendly, casual atmosphere and opportunities to enjoy activities not found at many resorts.

The surrounding area of Patrick County offers an immersion in a locale where people cling proudly to their strong Appalachian heritage and colorful past. Much of the traffic in the region consists of trucks carrying freshly downed trees, horse trailers, and an occasional plow heading for a farm.

Country stores left over from earlier times attracted our attention and in some cases our cash. We were experiencing the lure and lore of Appalachia, a place that is as much a lifestyle as a destination.

The rambling Poor Farmers Market lives up, and down, to its claim to be an “old-fashioned country store.” Homemade jams, jellies, cakes, and pies share shelf space with bags of grits, barrels of beans, and sacks of locally grown fruit.    

Jams, jellies, and a taste of history tempt those who stop at the Mayberry Trading Post. Corncob pipes, wooden toys, and quilt patches serve as reminders that the store opened in 1892 and once also served as the local post office.    

Some flour sold at the Trading Post was ground at Mabry Mill, which has been in operation since 1905. The water-driven gristmill is the main attraction along a walking path that also leads to a blacksmith shop, tiny cabin, moonshine whisky still, and early farm implements.

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Some flour sold at the Mayberry Trading Post in Patrick County, Virginia, was milled at the famous Mabry Mill. (Courtesy of Victor Block)

While most people who lived in the area toiled and died in anonymity, Patrick County had its share of those who went on to become well-known. One was James Ewell Brown Stuart, better known as Jeb. He spent his early years on a plantation and after graduating from the U.S. Military Academy served in the U.S. Cavalry. When Virginia seceded from the Union in 1861, Stuart resigned his commission and eventually commanded the army of Northern Virginia’s cavalry forces.

This story is told at Stuart’s birthplace and family home. Its 75 acres contain family graves that date back to 1780 and a slave cemetery.

A very different type of plantation is recalled at the Reynolds Homestead, home of the founder of the tobacco company that bears his name. He gained fame and fortune as the first major marketer of cigarettes. Construction of the Victorian home began in 1843 and included a separate kitchen, milk house, ice house, and other structures that still stand. A hand-hewn barn represents the sheds where tobacco leaves were hung to dry.

In addition to brick, native fieldstones were used as construction material. Six lovely rock churches that date to the early 20th century also dot the area. The Mayberry and Slate Mountain Presbyterian churches, the two I dropped by, are nearby neighbors. Those who wish to visit all of them can follow a scenic backroads tour route.

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Mountain music is always on offer in Patrick County, Va. (Courtesy of Larry Metayer/Dreamstime.com)

Depending upon when they make the trip, visitors are treated to sounds of gospel music, which, along with other musical genres, play an important role in the Appalachian culture. Settlers from Europe in the 18th century arrived with their instruments, dances, and songs, and a strong musical tradition was born. Over time, it evolved into bluegrass, country, and other home-grown melodies.

Today music is everywhere. Scheduled performances are augmented by pop-up sessions that can occur at almost any time and place. As Fyllis and I passed a restaurant one afternoon in Stuart, the minuscule county seat, four men had gathered inside to jam with their guitars and banjos.

Stuart was named for the Civil War major general and is a stop along Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail. Two sections of the tiny town are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. They fit comfortably into a destination that combines a rich history with many charms of the past.

When You Go

A stay at the somewhat quirky Uptown Suites of Stuart adds to the immersion in the destination. The five accommodations are located on the second floor of a building that was constructed in 1928 to provide office space. They include a living room, kitchen, and the usual amenities. Rates begin at $95: 276-694-4471 or UptownSuitesOfStuart.com.

When it comes to dining, El Rancho restaurant is a favorite among locals seeking burritos, fajitas, and other authentic Mexican cuisine. Its lengthy menu also includes a variety of shrimp, chicken, and beef entrees ($9.95–$14.95). The atmosphere is inviting and the waitstaff pleasant: 276-694-8555 or ElRanchoInc.com

The place for breakfast, early lunch, and some down-home flavor is the Coffee Break Cafe. A full breakfast (egg, bacon, potato, and pancake) costs $5, and a giant-size cup of coffee is just $1. The walls are covered with photos of music groups, and diners sometimes eat to the sounds of locals taking part in an impromptu jam session: 276-694-4232.

To learn more about Patrick County: 276-694-6094 or VisitPatrickCounty.org.

Victor Block is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at Creators.com. Copyright 2021 Creators.com