Small Town Virginia: The "New" Farmville
As a touring musician, self-proclaimed gypsy, and travel trailer-owning adventurer, I have seen my share of small towns, and made it my goal to explore as many areas within an hour or two of home as possible. Upon hearing of the town of Farmville, I racked my brain for any adventures that I may have had there. I couldn’t come up with much… In 2005, while singing in a band called Sin City Revival, I played a frat party at Hampden-Sydney College. This is the one and only trip I’ve ever made to Farmville, and I must admit, I didn’t exactly see the sights. So a visit to Farmville was really going to begin with a fresh slate.
Frankly, I’m glad that my first real visit to Farmville happened now, as opposed to several years ago. Many locals tell me that the way the town has grown and been reborn in the last couple years is partly attributable to Hotel Weyanoke, which was the home base of my stay in Farmville.
Hotel Weyanoke wasn’t always a hotel. Built in 1925, it has also been a senior living facility, as well as a dormitory for students of the nearby Longwood University. Now, with its newly added Cumberland Wing, it’s hard to tell that this posh spot has ever been anything other than the modern boutique hotel that it is.
Details are everything at the Hotel Weyanoke, and there is no lack of details both historic and modern in the hotel. Upon entry into the bright foyer, you walk into an entry styled with furniture from Farmville’s flagship furniture empire, Green Line Furniture. Professionalism from the staff is topped only by friendliness and efficiency. Even after entering your room, you are able to easily communicate with the front desk using a tablet which acts as an in-room guest concierge, allowing you to easily request services, or communicate with the front desk. Modern details are mixed with nods to the history of the hotel, including a photograph of former guest Helen Keller, an antique elevator shaft door, and an original hotel ledger, with every entry written in the calligraphy-like script of decades ago.
Upon entering my room, one of 70 - including king and double queen rooms, as well junior and two-room suites – my eye was immediately drawn to the details. You’ll feel like you’re staying in an upscale home with the décor and design touches that you’ve likely never seen in a hotel before. And this isn’t just your typical amenities list of WiFi, premium cable, and flat-screen TVs. These rooms also feature true blackout drapes (an absolute necessity for me), an iron and full-sized ironing board, in-room safe for your valuables, and a small balcony with views of the city. The bed itself is a luxury experience in itself – a Hotel-Weyanoke-branded Kingsdown® mattress topped with luxury linens and down-like mattress pad and blankets, and Zen pillows. Each room has a stainless-steel brewer with tins of coffee from on-site cafe Sassafras and stoneware mugs.
Bathrooms boast plush guest bathrobes and a huge walk-in shower stocked with high-end toiletries and linens. Stoneware water tumblers are sourced from local company Mainly Clay. Under-cabinet lighting automatically turns on when you enter the bathroom, which is a perfect feature for visits to an unfamiliar space in the middle of the night!
If you choose not to, you never have to leave Hotel Weyanoke for a meal. I had the pleasure of dining in 3 of their 4 dining establishments, and the opportunity to tour the fourth, the gorgeous Catbird Rooftop Terrace, which is closed in the winter months. The options in Sassafras make it a perfect choice for breakfast and coffee, or a quick lunch. I sat down with General Manager John Shideler for breakfast there – a bread pudding-style blueberry French toast with and a latte, overlooking a beautiful view of the Longwood campus out of original lead-glass windows. “We have some folks who visit frequently – even every day in some cases,” he tells me, and the many other locals who come and go.”
Dinner my first night at the hotel was at Effingham’s, which is known for its artisan grilled pizzas in a coal-fired oven. I started with crispy pesto wings, and a delicious roasted cauliflower, seasoned with an unexpected combination of honey, chili flake and sesame seeds. I enjoyed the Meat signature pie, with its crisp, coal-fired crust and topped with fresh ingredients. For dessert, their cheesecake was a scrumptious choice! Fortunately, leftovers can be saved for later in your in-room refrigerator, which is also stocked with bottled water.
My favorite meal was dinner the following night at Campagna, Hotel Weyanoke’s on-site Italian kitchen and wine bar. I sat down with Chef Frank Paris III to sample a few small plates he ordered, as well as a delicious dinner of Rainbow Trout with Potato Gnocchi and a grilled broccolini. I truly could have made a dinner out of just the small plates – a hand-pulled mozzarella accompanied by an olive tapenade and candied orange rind. That, along with the absolutely crave-worthy Surryano Ham, complimented by pickled mustard seeds and house-made giardiniera, and a house-made bread were easily a meal within themselves – and one I would eat over and over again! Chef Frank is the creative force behind all of the menus at Hotel Weyanoke. His food is delicious, hearty, and elevated yet accessible.
I loved the accessibility of so many Farmville attractions from the hotel. Most of the local business on my list to visit were within easy walking distance, even in brisk January. (And if it’s raining outside, grab your Hotel Weyanoke-branded umbrella, stocked in each room.) I made the walk down to Green Front Furniture, which is most definitely not “just another furniture store”, but a collection of over a dozen buildings, including the beautiful brick converted tobacco warehouses that comprise their logo. President Den Crallé walked me through the majority of those buildings, and I felt as though I had visited India, England, and more myself. Den and his father, owner Richard Crallé, are extremely hands-on in the business, and you could feel the pride and personal investment as Den described to me the vast markets that their furniture and rugs are purchased from and showed me piece after one-of-a-kind piece.
The area’s only museum of its kind and size, Longwood Center for the Visual Arts, is currently offering the first solo museum exhibition of artist Morgan Everhart. Her beautiful, colorful collection “Flowers for Failures” is being shown at the museum until March 31, 2019, and features a translucent painting on the 32’ front window of the LCVA.
Though not in easy walking distance, The R. R. Moton Museum was a trip well worth the short drive. The former school is now a National Historic Landmark which tells, room by room, the story of the student strike that helped kick off the Civil Rights area. Although it is told in history books, the story this museum told was truly brought to life in a way that put tears in my eyes for most of my visit.
Longwood University, whose beautiful campus was chosen as the site of the 2016 Vice Presidential Debate, is just across the street. The High Bridge Trail, which is a 31-mile trail over the Appomattox River, can be accessed just down the street from the hotel, and Hotel Weyanoke offers rental bikes on-site.
This isn’t the hotel to sleep in and until noon and quietly escape the world. This is a hotel that offers an incredible list of opulent amenities, and accessibility to a number of venues and activities that few other small towns can boast. If you have been to Farmville, but haven’t visited the Hotel Weyanoke, do yourself a favor and experience the town again, this time at a whole new level. This is no longer a destination for parents of college kids during graduation, it is an up-and-coming town that should be on the bucket list of any Richmond adventurer.