Montgomery County Virginia: Small Town Charm at the Eastern Divide

Over 320 million years ago, Africa and Northern America collided, and the great Continental Divide was formed, creating the Rocky Mountains.

Around 70 million years later during continuing movement of the earth’s tectonic plates, forming the Eastern Continental Divide.

Today, Montgomery County Virginia straddles the Eastern Continental Divide with Blacksburg and Christiansburg key cities in this area that offers residents and visitors stunning natural beauty.

A significant portion of the Divide forms part of the border between West Virginia and Virginia along Allegheny Mountain and then Peters Mountain, separating the Greenbrier River and James River watersheds. It then makes a dramatic arc to the east around the Sinking Creek valley, and then follows the hill crest east of Blacksburg, Virginia, until it meets the Blue Ridge Mountains, which take the form of an escarpment separating the headwaters of the New River from that of the Roanoke River.

Recently Pursuitist was invited to experience the natural beauty, culture, and charm of Blacksburg and Christiansburg by the Blacksburg-Christianburg Montgomery County Regional Tourism Bureau. David Rotenizer, executive director of the tourism bureau, curated a memorable program that highlighted all that is special about the region, and there is plenty that is special.

Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech (VT), officially named the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University was founded as the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College in 1872. Virginia Tech is a public research university with its main campus in Blacksburg.

The sprawling VT campus is a dominant factor in the culture and community spirit of the Blacksburg-Christianburg area. The “Hokie” name, as VTer’s are called, and the iconic burgundy and gold colors are omnipresent no matter where you travel in the region.  The main VT campus features architecture with stunning granite block buildings, and the university even owns two granite quarries where “Hokie Stone” is cut for use in construction campus-wide.

Day One

During our tour, we were fortunate to stay at The Inn at Virginia Tech, where Director of Sales and Marketing Teresa Hughes ensured our stay in this beautiful facility was memorable.

The historic Inn at Virginia Tech and Skelton Conference Center is the only hotel on the Virginia Tech campus. Popular with “Hokies” and travelers, the property features a rich blend of history and comfort in the heart of campus. Superior rooms and suites are the top choices amongst visitors to the campus and beyond. With almost 24,000 square feet of flexible meeting spaces, the Skelton Conference Center is Blacksburg’s largest event venue.

Inn rooms are well appointed, and the restaurant Preston’s offers delicious food options, including a buffet breakfast with fresh fruit, juices, and traditional southern breakfast cuisine including yummy biscuits and gravy.

We arrived at the Inn on a Thursday afternoon, after a 40-minute drive from Roanoke International Airport to Blacksburg. Once checked in, we headed to Our Daily Bread for lunch. Later that evening, I enjoyed Happy Hour with live music in the bar area of The Inn at Virginia Tech from a local musician. The Happy Hour entertainment calendar features eclectic talent from across Montgomery County.

We then proceeded a few steps to Preston’s for dinner with Teresa Hughes and members of her team. Preston’s Restaurant prides itself on offering regional and seasonal cuisine sourced straight from Virginia’s farms and seas. The award-winning restaurant’s culinary team delights in creating delectable dishes with classic inspiration and a Southern flair. We feasted like royalty on a country-style meal.

During dinner, special dinner guests Dr. John Provo, Elli Travis, and Susan Bland from Virginia Tech’s Center for Economic & Community Engagement (CECE) spoke about the important work of  the Center.

CECE’s goal is to provide research and university connections to organizations and communities helping them to think strategically to find a pathway to economic prosperity. As CECE Executive Director, Provo provides leadership for the university in the design and implementation of its economic engagement mission, and leads a team that delivers applied research projects that create economic opportunities with areas of expertise in remote/hybrid work; regional economic transformation; and University-based economic development.

The economic vitality of Blacksburg/Christiansburg depends on a clear strategy to draw businesses, visitors, nature enthusiasts, and future residents to the area. Based on what we experienced during our multi-day tour, and the clear presentation at dinner, it’s clear CECE’s game plan is well thought out and executed.

Day Two – Time Enjoying Mother Nature and More

With the breathtaking hills, trails, and waterways across Montgomery County, under the watchful peaks of the Appalachian Mountains, we were stoked to explore the great outdoors. We toured a section of the 1.8 million acre Jefferson National Forest and walked along Poverty Creek trails with guidance and a great historical presentation of the area by U.S. Interior Department Park Rangers Beth Christensen, Steven Beri and Todd Priest.

We also walked around the Pandapas Pond, an eight-acre pond situated within the Jefferson National Forest. During our walk along the one-mile loop trail, we traversed wetlands over boardwalks and bridges and saw a wide variety of wildlife and plant species.

Small Town Charm

After our nature experience, we visited Blacksburg Books, Sugar Magnolia Ice Cream shop, and took a tour of the historic Lyric Theater.  All three are a stone’s throw from the VT campus, and really highlight how VT is well-stitched into the fabric of Blacksburg.

Blacksburg Books creates a place to gather, and enjoy some great books, as the store features the works of local creators from food and beverage to artists and musicians and more. Store manager Ellen Woodall has a commitment to building the local community while helping to keep the historic district where the store is located a great place to visit.

Of course, after perusing some great books, a milkshake at Sugar Magnolia Ice Cream and Shopping was in order. Owners Tom and Michelle Raub turned an old bank into a great place to enjoy special treats, and the adjoining gift shop features a bevy of great gifts including items created by local artists and artisans. Tom and Michelle have a mostly student staff and spoke emotionally about how the young students they employ are part of their extended family. Oh, and the milkshake was awesome!

At noon, we converged on the Lyric Theater and the edge of the VT campus. The Lyric originally opened in 1930 is famous for being one of Virginia’s first cinemas to show sound pictures. The theatre has kept this heart with original 1930s tapestries, replica lanterns, and the beautiful fully restored lobby and auditorium. Thank you Executive Director Seth Davis for deftly explaining the Lyric’s role in the historical transition from silent to sound movies.

After a tasty vegetarian/pescetarian lunch at Cabo Fish Taco, we headed to the incredible Beliveau Farm & Winery.  Why was the Beliveau incredible?  Because owners Yvan and Joyce Beliveau built their winery from the ground up with Yvan tackling all of the construction work. Yvan was a construction management instructor at VT for many years and hired student talent to help him erect the impressive main structure, and tasting bar atop a hill on the property, a Bed and Breakfast inn, as well as their new home in the final stages of construction perched on another hill with scenic views of the 165 acre property they purchased In 2001.

By 2009, the first grapes were planted with the first wine produced in 2011. The winery officially opened in 2012 and a brewery was added in 2019 to produce gluten-free beers – currently Virginia’s only gluten-free brewery. Today, there are 13 acres of a variety of grapes, and much of the electrical power for the entire property comes from an array of solar panels nestled on a hill.

We headed up the hilltop tasting bar dubbed “The Sugar Shack” to enjoy some wine, and Yvan served up some real treats. The secret to their delicious wine, according to Joyce Beliveau, is that they’re committed to making Virginia wine and not trying to be like California. Yvan led the tasting session and explained how different soil compositions across the property yield uniquely distinct award-winning vintages. Perhaps the most impressive thing about the Beliveaus is that they are self-taught when it comes to making wine. Impressive!

The Bed and Breakfast was full-luxe, with the rooms and common space all conducive to a very relaxing stay. Joyce also manages a cool gift shop on the property, and there is a tasting room and event center/garden that’s often booked for wedding receptions.

New River Junction

Do you like to kayak or tube on rivers? I do! Then a visit to the New River Junction campground and recreation park is the ticket.

Owned by Jake and Bernadette Mundy, New River Junction offers water experiences along one of the oldest rivers in the world, as the New River has sculpted the landscape of the New River Valley for millions of years, creating the verdant forested wonderland that it is today. Aquatic enthusiasts can rent tubes for the whole family and relax as they float down nearly one mile of calm water. For those seeking a bit more adventure, there is an optional 200 yards of exhilarating rapids at the end.

If you don’t want to get wet, hook your RV or tent up in one of the scenic spots they have along the river for campground enthusiasts. While we didn’t experience the water due to threatening weather, we thoroughly enjoyed the peace and tranquility New Junction provides for its customers.

Dinner at the Blacksburg Tavern

The Blacksburg Tavern is the oldest house in Blacksburg on Main Street (circa 1892). Current owner Daniel Riley purchased the property in 2007 and converted the old home into the must-visit Blacksburg Tavern. The Blacksburg Tavern serves traditional, regional farmer’s meals, much like the original family who lived in this house would have prepared.

The Blacksburg Tavern also features old-time and bluegrass music of the Appalachian tradition, while the art depicts local history and landscapes with wall murals hand-painted by Daniel Riley’s great-aunt Virginia McLaughlin, who painted the impressive mural at the age of 91 assisted by her son Salyer.

What a great meal! We feasted family-style on fried chicken, meatloaf, baked ham and beef brisket, pimento mac & cheese, green beans, and more.

Daniel joined us at dinner’s end to talk more about the Inn’s history and his family’s role in that history. Daniel is a super nice guy, clearly appreciative of the opportunity to continue to add to the heritage and history of Blacksburg, and we were appreciative to learn about this history and enjoy some great food!

Our Final Day

We began our final day in Montgomery County with an early morning visit to the Blacksburg Farmer’s Market, where every Wednesday and Saturday farmers within fifty miles and regional makers gather to sell regional produce, baked goods, meat, eggs, handmade goods, and locally made honey.  The Farmer’s Market is also a gathering place for locals to meet and appreciate all that is Blacksburg.  Farmer’s Market Director Debbie Edwards spoke to us about the goals of the market, which include many philanthropic efforts to support those in the community who need a helping hand. The market is the only producer-only market within a 50-mile radius, meaning everything sold there is either grown or handmade by the vendors. The Blacksburg Market was named the Best Market in Southwest Virginia and operates from Aril to November with different themes to encourage community involvement. Enjoy “Garden Theme Book Swap, Tomato Tasting, Watercolor Wednesday, a Community Soup Dinner, and more over the Market’s open season

Moss Arts Center and Gallery

Located at the crossroads of Virginia Tech and downtown Blacksburg, Virginia, the Moss Arts Center is a thriving community where the arts are a catalyst for engagement, inspiration, and discovery. The center operates as both a presenting organization and as a 147,000-square-foot, top-caliber arts center. Since opening in 2013, the center has brought innovative, significant, and diverse programming to the campus and the region.

During the tour, we viewed impressive works of art from VT students.

We then toured the performing arts wing of the Moss Center and were blown away at the Broadway-type theatrical and performance stage and seating areas. The entire wing is state-of-the-art. We unsuccessfully tried to weasel our way into tickets to see multi-talented actor/singer Leslie Odom, Jr., who was set to perform the night of our visit. What’s really cool about the Moss Center is VT students can buy tickets to all events for just $10, and get priority seating.

Hahn Horticulture Garden

This impressive garden on the campus of Virginia Tech spans nearly six acres, and features of teaching and display gardens, perennial borders, water, shade, and meadow gardens, and the Peggy Lee Hahn Garden Pavilion. The Garden is a popular place for weddings, and for VT students to relax in hammocks.

Lunch and Beer Tasting

Time for grub! We visited Eastern Divide Brewing and sampled different beer styles and flavors, all brewed on-site.

We enjoyed a comprehensive tour of the brewing area and the food offerings were terrific. Eastern Divide Brewing’s mantra summed up our great experience there: “The team at Eastern Divide thinks of the Eastern Continental Divide as the source from where we all came. These mountains are home to the headwaters of a much broader community. Eastern Divide is purpose-built to be the source of many things – stories, friendships, memories, futures, and of course great beer. Our geography may form a physical divide, but this is the place where we can all come together.”

Just after lunch, we sampled more excellent beer offerings at Moon Hollow Brewing Company. Head Brewer and Owner Hannah Lester was our host at Moon Hollow, which describes itself as “an inviting venue where people from all walks of life can connect over fresh, local brews.

The brewery is named for the small plot of land behind the brewery space. Locally influenced beer flavors, including grapefruit-ginger sour and a traditional Hefeweizen, are among the tasty beers we sampled.

Afternoon in Christiansburg

Montgomery County Virginia features another gem of a city, Christiansburg, with a population of just over 22,000, delivers on small-town charm.

Our first stop was at a community playground, which left me wondering “Why are we visiting a playground?” Well, I was super impressed with Huckleberry Park, a state-of-the-art playground/athletic facility that includes crazy fun playground apparatus, four professional-grade sports fields, and even a cool dog park. Two pavilions are available to rent to host parties of up to 100 people, who will be wowed by the stunning views the hilltop pavilions provide of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

My favorite Park features were the 40-yard dash timing run and American Gladiator-style obstacle course. The kids we watched playing, including a 6’9” kid (me!) had a great time at the park. Undoubtedly, Huckleberry Park is an amazing addition to the community, as it’s a great play for neighbors of all ages to meet, relax, and enjoy the 50-acre facility. Thank you Brad Epperly, director of Parks and Recreation for Christiansburg, for a great tour!

Cambria Station Antiques & Old New River Books

One of my favorite things to do is collect items from antique shops and bookstores, and I scored a couple of Gems from Cambria Station Antiques and Old New River Books, including a book on my hometown of Baltimore, Maryland.

The stores are both owned by Ken and Heather Vaughn and share a large building with an amazing arch made out of books separating the two shops.

The historic building at 596 Depot Street, NE was built in 1905 and became an antique store in 1988 as Cambria Emporium then as Charlotte’s Web II Antique Mall in 2018 before becoming Cambria Station Antiques on July 1 2022 when it was purchased by Scott Bandy (of Old New and Primitive Too, handmade custom furniture) and Ken and Heather Vaughan (of Old New River Books). With years of experience, the partners are excited to continue the longstanding tradition as operators of an antique store business. Their vision is to become the best eclectic shopping destination in the New River Valley as well as Christiansburg’s biggest used bookstore. Thanks for a great visit!

We then headed to the Montgomery Museum of Art and History dedicated to collecting, preserving, and interpreting the history of Montgomery County, Virginia, and the region as well as promoting art by regional artists. As the region’s steward of art and history, the museum takes great pride in inspiring and educating through cultural programming. We experienced a tour of the museum’s garden maintained by New River Valley Master Gardeners to see art, and sculptures alongside a native habitat garden.

A beer-tasting trifecta was next up, as we enjoyed our tasting session at Iron Tree Brewing in Christiansburg. Iron Tree came to be from three friends with a passion for tasty beer – Seth Locklear, Jansen Lee, and Steve Peter who became friends at Virginia Tech in 2010 and founded the brewery over a decade later after much practice home brewing, growing the brand and renovation of the current space.  Great beer, great owners! Thank you!

We hit the road back to Blacksburg for our final event of this incredible tour – a tasty dinner at The Blacksburg Wine Lab.

The Blacksburg Wine Lab offers a carefully curated selection of cheeses and charcuterie plates, along with delicious pates and spreads, all served with a variety of fresh-baked, local breads, crackers, pastries, and wines from around the world.

Menu favorites include tinned seafood, house-made pimento cheese, spicy Tasso ham grilled cheese, and green apple pecan salad. Owners John Boyer and Katie Pritchard’s vision for an educational enjoyment component in wine tasting was born more than 20 years ago as John was preparing to teach a wine geography class at Virginia Tech. Education and a passion for sharing the world with others have been a driving force in his and Katie’s lives for a long time, and what better vehicle to do so than wine? Reflective of the cultures from which it’s born in how the grapes are grown, harvested, and eventually turned into wine, the process alone offers teaching moments galore before you ever even get to the tasting notes of any given bottle. Eventually, that little class that John got 16 students to register for grew into a 1500-student online course he still teaches every spring.

Thank you Montgomery County!

What an amazing journey. The small-town charm of Blacksburg and Christiansburg is mesmerizing, and I will return to enjoy more that both offer!

Thanks go out again to the Blacksburg-Christiansburg Montgomery County Regional Tourism Bureau led by David Rotenizer; and thanks to Virginia Tech, all of the businesses, federal and county agencies, foundations, and the warm people of Montgomery County!

Special thanks to Debbie Geiger, president; Andrea Bebout, vice-president; and Carrigan Ramsey account representative with Geiger & Associates Public Relations for inviting Pursuitist and for a superb job executing this expansive itinerary’s logistics!