can you find, live theater, great food, and 18th century history and charm
all within walking distance? No, I'm not talking about downtown DC. I
am speaking of Middletown, an unassuming town nestled at the foot of the
Massanutten Mountains in the Shenandoah Valley on Rt. 11 just north of
intersection of Rt. 66 and Rt. 81. This quiet little town's entire length
is no more than a few miles long, inviting you to casually stroll through
and not rush in a flush of tourist frenzy. Time seems to have stood still
in Middletown and all its inhabitants seem to prefer it that way.
A perfect example of timelessness
of this town is the Wayside Inn, which is located less than a mile from
the Middletown exit on Rt. 11 S. It is one of the oldest Inns in America.
Its 18th Century style décor, Colonial costumed waitresses and waiters,
and relaxing atmosphere make it the perfect place to have lunch or spend
the night. The inn's coziness is accentuated by indirect low lighting
on pictures, in china cabinets, and dimly lit chandeliers - no garish
modern lighting, yet the place does not suffer from the gloom. The rooms
are bathed in rich earth tones covering everything from the hardwood floors,
walls and ceilings giving off a romantic atmosphere. The entire Inn appears
to be a labyrinth, with steps and turns around every corner, and antique
treasure hidden in every nook and cranny. Even the staircases leading
up to the rooms in the Inn appear mysterious and inviting. If you are
hungry and want to try some traditional faire, try the peanut soup topped
off with chicken pot pie.
Within walking distance of
the Wayside Inn is the Wayside Theater Rt 11 S. The perfect place to spend
an evening viewing a live professional performance. The theater touts
"39 years of performance in an intimate and historic setting". The theater
itself, much like the town is quaint. If you are not careful, you could
easily overlook this treasure. This small intimate theater offers seating
practically on stage for that up-close and personal view. The Wayside
Theater offers the elegance and class of live theater with a hometown
flair. Artists from all over the country have graced its stage including
such stars as Susan Sarandon, Kathy Bates, Stacy Keach.
An easy to miss treasure in
Middletown is The Carpetbagger, a little shop located immediately next
to the Wayside Inn. This shop, though spare in decor, offers true craftsmanship
for anyone interested in authentic Civil War reproductions made of tapestry,
velvets and other exotic fabrics. If you've never seen a real carpetbag,
you can find dozens of them here. The proprietor states that he is "Bag
Maker to the Stars" as his bags have been made for such movies as "Tombstone"
example of the town's preference for doing things the old fashioned way
is the Rt. 11 Chips Factory. This is a "must see" while in Middletown
and is conveniently located within walking distance of the other attractions.
Behind the factory's modest metal walls lies a feast for the taste buds
as well as the eyes. Not only can you sample and purchase such unusually
flavored chips as Dill Pickle, Death Rain, Chesapeake Crab (great taste,
but very spicy), Mixed Vegetable, and Sweet Potato, you can actually watch
these treats being hand cooked. Upon entering the factory, the first thing
that will catch your attention is the large window where you can see the
red-hot flames shooting into a bin of hot oil waiting for the next batch
to be made. Next you will notice that the inside could be described as
anything but "factory-like". It is homey, with wooden ceilings, hardwood
floors and decorated with every imaginable form of potato related memorabilia
that you never knew existed including such items as: a mural painted on
the wall dedicated to Small Fry Brand potatoes, a picture of a starlet
dressed in a potato sack, a sign proclaiming "I saw Elvis & he is a potato"
and wooden potato figurines. Rt 11 Chips Factory is officially open to
the public on Fridays and Saturdays. The best time to see the chips actually
being made is in the morning and early afternoon.
A little further outside of
town on Rt 11 S is Cedar Creek Battlefield, which is famous for its Civil
War reenactments every fall. It is also home to Belle Grove Plantation.
Built in 1794, Belle Grove has been described as "the most splendid building
west of the Blue Ridge." For detailed information, as well as a self-guided
tour book of battlefield sites, stop by the Battlefield Visitor's Center
Once you have explored all
you can in that direction, head north on Rt 11 towards Stephens City.
Here you will find one of the last remaining icons of the 50s and 60s
- an actually operating drive in! The Family Drive-In Theater is one of
the last of its kind and is sure to bring back nostalgic memories that
have you humming the theme from "Happy Days" and reaching for your sweetheart.
However, keep in mind that this is seasonal activity.
Its hard to believe, but in
about a 10 mile stretch you can: revisit the Civil War, watch a bag of
hand-cooked chips be processed, see a live theater performance, buy an
authentic Civil War period accessory, dine in 18th century sty1e, watch
a drive-in movie, and if all the activity has you completely tuckered
out, you can spend the night in style in one of the oldest inns in America.