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Clarksville, VA. Photo courtesy Courtesy Clarksville Lake Country Chamber of Commerce.
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Prestwould Plantation. Courtesy Wikipedia.
My introduction to Clarksville came last year at Lakefest (clarksvilleva.com), a festival held on the third weekend of July and one of the Top 20 festivals in the South for 2015, according to the Southeast Tourism Society. I was one of 80,000 visiting the small, waterfront town (population 2,000) for seaplanes, hot air balloon rides, regional crafts and an antique car show. The three-day event ends with The Gathering of the Boats and fireworks over the 50,000-acre John H. Kerr Reservoir, better known to Virginians as Buggs Island Lake. Busy? Yes, but all the fanny packs in Mecklenburg County couldn’t hide the fact that Clarksville also has plenty to offer outside of this annual party.
The Life Aquatic
Clarksville’s claim to fame is that it’s the only lakefront town in Virginia. Founded in 1818, and a leisurely 2-hour drive south of Richmond, Clarksville blends rambling Victorians with modern lake homes.
Not surprisingly, fishing rules here.Along the waterfront’s municipal dock, Clarksville Marina (411 Fourth St., clarksvillevamarina.com), and at Buggs Island Bait and Tackle (7279 U.S. Route 15), you’ll usually see someone with a line in the water. Nightly, the U.S. Route 58 Business bridge is lighted in a Day-Glo green, the better to whip the food chain into a frenzy, attracting bugs that attract hungry bait fish, which lure largemouth bass that entice the anglers.
Occoneechee State Park’s marina (1192 Occoneechee Park Road, 434-374-2210) offers another jump-off point for anglers. Here we rented a pontoon boat to tour the lake (and a pet-friendly waterfront cabin in which to stay). Not being a fisherwoman, I left the tackle behind, strapped a lifejacket on our 3-year old and hit the water. After cruising the shoreline, we dropped anchor and checked out the park, hiking the 7.5-mile Panhandle trail before lighting up the grill by the woodland swimming beach.
A 15-minute car ride will get you to the reservoir’s 100-foot-tall dam near the county seat of Boydton. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lake itself is on the Roanoke River and is shared with North Carolina. Nearby, at the Joseph S.J. Tanner Environmental Education Center (5164 Buggs Island Road, Thursdays-Sundays, Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend), our son enjoyed learning what bears eat for lunch.
As for your midday meal, try the New York-style spinach and ricotta pie at Pino’s Pizza (6288 Buggs Island Road, 434-738-6999).
You can get a sense of 18th and 19th century gentry life in Clarksville at Prestwould Plantation (429 Prestwould Drive, 434-374-8672). The home was built in the late 1700s and holds outstanding examples of early American handiwork. From the canopied beds to the dramatic, manual ceiling fan hanging above the dining table, most of it was made in Virginia. Our guide, Julian Davis Hudson, creaked through the crannies of the plantation home’s history, as if he were one of the centuries-old floorboards, instead of Prestwould’s docent.
Outside, the original two-family slave quarters, plantation store, smokehouse and loom house show what plantation life was like for slaves and overseers. On our tour, I met a descendant of Margaret Harris, a wet nurse whose portrait hangs in Prestwould’s nursery, on an expedition to see her ancestor’s home.
After walking the formal garden and octagonal summer house, we set out for nearby Chase City and another house museum, the MacCallum More Museum and Gardens (603 Hudgins St., Chase City, mmmg.org, 434-372-0502), a 5-acre jewel and a strongbox of architectural follies. In the garden, statues from around the world are weathering like molars, their edges rounded by the elements.
Though we could have easily spent the afternoon picnicking amongst the garden’s oversized boat anchors and Greek and Roman idols, downtown Clarksburg beckoned.
Antiques, treats and eats
Antique lovers will find plenty to hold their attention in Clarksville, from The Virginia Avenue Mall (317 Virginia Ave., 434-374-5949), with more than 50 vendors, to Strum & Co. Antiques and Uniques, several blocks away.
We discovered rare Virginia wines (including now defunct Valhalla Vineyard) and handmade truffles from Nancy’s Candy Co. at The Galleria (216 Virginia Ave., 434-374-2576).
For breakfast, lunch and dinner, we relied on The Lamplighter (201 Virginia Ave., lamplighterva.com, 434-374-0230) for easy eats; fried flounder, homemade desserts (two words: coconut cake) and growler fill-ups from boutique breweries. For upscale dining, Traveler’s Tavern at Coopers Landing Inn (801 Virginia Ave., cooperslandinginn.net, 434-374-2866) highlights produce, cheese and meats from area farms in their three semi-formal dining rooms and outdoor tavern.