Richmond magazine Arts & Entertainment Editor Samantha Willis on Ashland's Main Street (Photo by Julianne Tripp)
Nestled snugly in the heart of Central Virginia, Ashland is just 20 minutes from downtown Richmond. I was born and bred in western Hanover County, and graduated from Patrick Henry High School in Ashland. My alma mater may still sit across the street from a cow pasture, but there’s been a renaissance in Ashland. What was once a sleepy little hamlet in Hanover County has blossomed into a bustling mini-metropolis, bursting at the seams with friendly faces and lots of new things to do, see and eat.
Officially incorporated in 1858, the town was originally established as a mineral springs resort, and was contained in one square mile. Presently, Ashland stretches over seven miles and has about 7,000 residents. Famed lawyers and politicians, including Henry Clay and Patrick Henry, once called Ashland their home. Randolph-Macon College, founded by the Methodist church in 1830, sits in the center of town, its campus straddling the railroad tracks.
Train tracks run through the center of Ashland. The Amtrak station is pictured here. (Photo by Jay Paul)
History buffs will enjoy a trip to the Ashland Museum, with its artifacts dating back to the town’s start touting its close ties to the railroad, or to Scotchtown, home of 19th-century legislator Patrick Henry, of “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” fame. In the summer, the whole family can enjoy the Strawberry Faire (June) and the Hanover Tomato Festival (July). The Ashland Theater offers a variety of live shows, movies and programs, while the collection of art galleries (Gallery Flux, the Flippo Gallery) will inspire you. Looking for an adults-only good time? Head to Center of the Universe Brewing Co., which is housed in the former Herald-Progress newspaper building. For an outdoor history lesson, check out one of the many nearby Civil War trails.
Ashland Park, a fairly new neighborhood by CraftMasters builders, offers two-story homes in contemporary styles, starting at $250,000. Also new on the scene is the Woodside Estates community, which features half-acre wooded home sites. Historic, Victorian-style homes dating back to the first half of the 20th century line Main Street and can be found throughout the town.
In Ashland, there’s no shortage of restaurants to pique your appetite and match your tastes. Homemades by Suzanne, a community favorite since 1983, offers savory potato salad and fresh roasted turkey sandwiches, among a host of delicious lunch options, plus handmade desserts. Enjoy a wine tasting paired with gourmet cheeses at Caboose Market & Café, directly next to the tracks. The Iron Horse Café will please any fine dining palate, while Ashland Coffee & Tea offers more casual fare and a relaxed atmosphere. A newcomer to the established restaurants in Ashland, Southern Soul Café offers authentic “soul food” dishes like golden fried chicken, collard greens and melt-in-your-mouth candied yams.
Ashland Coffee and Tea offers casual fare and live music. (Photo by Jay Paul)
Ashland is a veritable picker’s paradise, offering several antique stores, including Hickory Creek Antiques, Thrill of the Hunt and Class & Trash. Those in the know can point you to Jezebel’s Boutique, tucked quietly near the Ashland Library, and offering a variety of eclectic gifts and jewelry. Get properly pampered at Indulgence Salon & Boutique, or ride into Changing Reins Boutique for all your equestrian needs (did I mention that Secretariat, “America’s super horse,” was born in nearby Caroline County?). Step off the beaten path with a visit to the 104-year-old Cross Bros. Grocery; view the photos chronicling the family business’ history and grab a snack at the little deli, and nibble the freshly-prepared WondeRoast chicken or handmade cheese.
Jezebel's Boutique sells eclectic gifts and jewelry. (Photo by Jay Paul)