NOTE: The descriptions of the places in this guide were accurate at the time the articles were posted. Please be advised that you should call ahead before traveling to any of them.

Middletown - Hidden Treasure of the Shenandoah Valley

By: Michelle Harper

Wayside InnWhere 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" and "Gettysburg".

Route 11 ChipsAnother 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 first.

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.

For additional information on these locations in Middletown, see the following:
Wayside Inn:
Wayside Theater:
The Carpetbagger:
Rt 11 Chips:

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