Saturday, January 31, 2009

McCampbell Inn

The double porches and east (back) entrance of the McCampbell Inn, on Main St.

Built originally as a residence for John McCampbell in 1809, the building was enlarged several times, and its distinctive porches were added mid-19th century, before it was converted to the Central Hotel in 1907. In 1971 it was restored by the Historic Lexington Foundation, and now it goes by the name of the McCampbell Inn.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Practical sculpture

The muted winter palette at a bend in the creek, somewhere behind Rail's End and Woods Creek Forge.

If you look closely you can see that this row of concrete slabs is covering a large black pipe that skirts the creek at this point. I've always found this "sculpture" to be strangely attractive -- it reminds me of the sets of old bridge piers from long-lost bridges - flooded out, mostly - that you find along the Maury River near here (and many other places, of course).

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Odd fellow

The clean facade of the Troubadour Theater, corner of Main and Henry streets.

Built in 1853 as the Odd Fellows Hall, this building was a community meeting place for generations, and has also seen service as a shoe factory, a hardware store, an opera house, and an early movie theater.

Since 1929 it has been owned by Washington and Lee, and has hosted theater classes and performances for the University as well as being a venue for local musicians and, until recently, the winter home of the Lime Kiln Theater. The addition to the left is from 1968, and windows have been added over the years, as well -- originally the Main Street front here had just two.

There is no sign identifying the theater at the moment, and the announcements of upcoming performances that used to paper the doors are gone. Though the building looks in general good repair, those doors are in need of a coat of paint. I don't know what plans W & L has for the building. Has the completion 2 years ago of Wilson Hall - the spacious new addition to the Lenfest Center for the Arts - rendered the Troubadour superfluous?

If you've heard what's in store for the Troubadour Theater, please leave a comment.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Ice coats the branches of a dogwood tree, whose bird house waits for spring.

After much anticipation and excitement, our big snow event brought nothing but freezing rain. Somewhere north and east of here, the snow is falling. School was cancelled, though, so it was a perfect day to sit in front of the:

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Red hat

A red mansard roof on an old Victorian house on Jackson Avenue.

Jackson Avenue is arguably the premier address in Lexington. It was developed over time, from north to south, beginning in the 1870's and on through the first half of the 20th century, so a drive or stroll down the avenue allows one to trace the changes of taste over those years. (It was named after Stonewall Jackson, of course.)

I'm looking forward to spring, when the dogwoods, redbuds, crabapples, and spring-flowering bulbs are in bloom, to capture Jackson Avenue at its best.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Winter hiking

Little House Mountain and Brushy Hill from the east, on Shenandoah Rd.

Rockbridge County is full of excellent hikes (I think I read somewhere that it has the highest percentage of publicly-owned land in the state), some of which are only a few minutes' drive outside of town. The above photo shows two of the most popular spots.

In the background is the best-known mountain in the county: House Mountain. (There are actually two House Mountains, Little and Big; you see Little on the right, and I believe on the left is some of Big behind it. Little House seems to be the one everyone calls simply "House Mountain.")

In front of both, with the towers on top (click photo to enlarge), is Brushy Hill, where the City of Lexington owns 600 acres as Brushy Hill Preserve. Only three miles outside of town, it's a beautiful place for a not-too-strenuous hike in the woods.

If you are looking for something a little more challenging, there's a trail around the southeast shoulder of Little House Mountain that begins at the end of Saddle Ridge Rd. The first mile-and-a-half is an easy to moderate climb on a lovely old jeep trail through stands of mountain laurel and past boulders and rock falls. At the saddle between the two peaks (Little and Big) is a campfire spot with a satisfying view to Hogback Mt., and a lean-to for overnighters.

Those looking for a more heart-pounding experience can continue the last 3/4 mile up (it feels like straight-up!) to the top of Big House for spectacular views over the valley.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Church on Sunday: Hands to work

The First Baptist Church at Main and Henry gets a new roof.

The workers appear to be hired hands, unlike those who originally built the church in 1894. First Baptist was founded as Lexington African Baptist Church in 1867, by the black membership of Manly Memorial (then Lexington Baptist) who wished to form their own congregation after the war.

It is said that they surveyed the church architecture in town and in that way put together a design for the building. All of the original construction work is reported to have been performed by the parishioners themselves, a feat that is especially impressive from this angle.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Ten feet wide

19 South Main St. is shoehorned between its neighbors.

The space where this narrow building stands was once a 10-foot wide alley, until this tiny storefront was inserted in the late 19th C. Architect Skip Ravenhorst has almost finished renovating the space for the offices of his practice. Naturally, architects often inhabit the most interesting and unusual spots in town.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Ruff House

Side door of the Jacob M. Ruff house at 21 North Main St., painted a felicitous shade of green.

The house is a Lexington landmark, and owes its life to the Historic Lexington Foundation (which purchased it in 1972 and restored the exterior) and G. Otis Mead III (who restored the interior after purchasing it from HLF the following year). It was only the third building in Lexington to be rescued by the then fledgling local preservation movement. It has served as the offices of Mead Associates, Realtors, for over 35 years.

Built c. 1829, this structure was likely not the first house on the site. A brick incorporated into the present building reads, "1783." According to The Architecture of Historic Lexington, by Lyle and Simpson, at the time of the restoration "the foundation introduced many young people in the community to an archaeological excavation in the backyard. It was the first such experience for Lexington. Among the artifacts unearthed were porcelain, pottery, glass, marbles, a clay pipe, a French brass hand-warmer, and evidence of the presence of an early stable and brick walls."

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Now showing

Outside the ticket window of the State Theater on Nelson Street.

Like most old theaters, the State has been divided into smaller screening rooms -- in this case, three. Now showing: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Four Christmases and Bride Wars.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Greek inheritance

The Greek Revival pediment of Newcomb Hall against a fathomless blue sky.

The serenity, solidity and classic simplicity of this image seem fitting for the day after the nation's historic forty-fourth peaceful transfer of executive power.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Sisters' walk

One of the piers supporting the sorority footbridge at Washington and Lee.

At present there are three footbridges spanning the Woods Creek ravine on the campus of W&L. I posted the newest one here. I'm still wrestling with getting a good shot of the oldest one. Today's photo is of the 2000 bridge which connects the crescent of sororities on the hillside below Liberty Hall Rd. with the main campus.

Interestingly, it is from here - below - that one gets the best sense of the height of the walkway. Up top it feels quite safe and secure, and rather tame by comparison.

Back in early December, a couple of sorority sisters were escorting giant Greek letters:

Monday, January 19, 2009

After the concert

Members of the Rockbridge Choral Society tidy up after Sunday's concert.

One of the wonders of this little town of 7,000 inhabitants is the wealth of good music - particularly choral music - available throughout the year. And this would hardly be the case if it weren't for William McCorkle, music director and organist at Lexington Presbyterian Church, and director of the Rockbridge Choral Society. Sunday afternoon the Choral Society performed a program in recognition of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Felix Mendelssohn.

In addition to Mendelssohn's Op. 52, Lobgesang (Hymn of Praise), we heard the Brahms Alto Rhapsody Op. 35, two Schubert lieder (Die Allmacht and Ständchen) and Schumann's In der Nacht. Mezzo-soprano Barbara Hollinshead and tenor Robert Petrillo were down from Washington, D.C., and the area's own Christine Fairfield sang soprano in the Mendelssohn.

Why don't I have a photo of the concert itself? I tried, but the music was just too good.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Church on Sunday: Lee Chapel again

The last few days have been too cold for new photos! (I have gotten soft since moving down from the frozen north; though I prefer to think of myself as developing one of the southern refinements.) Here's another shot of perhaps my favorite structure in Lexington - Lee Chapel - taken last month.

You may remember the Chapel from this shot through the columns of Newcomb Hall.

The walkway at right leads through the campus of Washington and Lee, beginning at Washington St. beside the R.E. Lee Episcopal Church, past the Chapel (with the Colonnade on your left), and eventually on to the VMI Post. (The two schools are adjacent to one another, making for extensive grounds, as well as a very interesting contrast.) Surely one of the most pleasant walks in Lexington.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Arch in the privet

A basketball lies idle by the gate on a cold January day.

On our very first visit to Lexington, two years before we moved here, I noticed this arch in a tall privet hedge at the corner of Jefferson and McDowell streets. I knew next to nothing about the town, and not a single soul who lived here, but this little spot stuck with me.

It's still one of my favorite corners. (Of course, this being a small town, I now know who lives here.)

Friday, January 16, 2009


Buxus sempervirens, or Common Boxwood, is one of the joys of Virginia, and Lexington gardens have lots of it: shaped into tidy mounds - as here - trimmed into thick hedges, arranged in formal patterns and parterres, or growing essentially free, when it can reach heights of 20 feet or more over time. (I've not seen any boxwood topiary in Lexington yet -- if you know of any let me know!) You (almost) can't go wrong with boxwood and red brick.

As a transplanted Northerner, boxwood and cardinals are the two things that delight me most about Virginia winters. The sight of a red cardinal sitting in a boxwood hedge will take the chill out of a cold snap, such as we're having right now. (Today's predicted high temperature: 21° F [-6° C]; tonight's low: 5° F [-13° C].)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Jacob's Ladder

The fields near Jacob's Ladder, in their winter colors.

This is the view from high on Shenandoah Road, just beyond the city limits, looking southeast. (Click on the photo to enlarge.) In the background haze you can just make out the Blue Ridge Mountains, looking rather grey for a change.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

13 windows

An overcast sky above the unusual roof line of 103 South Randolph St.

Yesterday's forge shares this building with the stables and carriage house for the Lexington Carriage Company. During the warmer months, and on the occasional weekend afternoon in the winter, the teams of horses are watered and groomed and fed (I suppose - I haven't seen them feeding) between carriage rides here. Then they go north to Augusta County for the night.

I have a fascination with this building. It hardly seems to belong in town. It is certainly not beautiful -- "utilitarian" is the word that comes to mind. I don't remember ever seeing another freestanding building of this size with just one lo-o-o-ng shed roof. The row of windows makes it, of course. (There's another similar row on the other side.) See the building from a distance here.

Pictures of the horses and carriages to come, in the spring.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Forge door

Brown's Forge at 130 South Randolph St., quiet on a Sunday afternoon.

Owned and run by the Brown family for almost 150 years (they are said to have shod Robert E. Lee's famous horse, Traveller), the forge is now operated by blacksmith Jack Chaffee.

I found the following, written by Chaffee, in the March 2007 issue of The Virginian, the newsletter of the Blacksmith Guild of Virginia, online here:

“The goal of BROWN'S FORGE LIVING HISTORY MUSEUM is to keep the feeling of a small town smithy at about the turn of the last century. The Shop was established about 1856 and the present building was erected in 1915. From about 1865 to around 1900 it was a carriage-building Shop and there are many dies and sets used to create the fittings typical of carriages of those days. Gradually as gasoline power replaced the horse the Shop converted to repair of automobiles and did a brisk business in that regard up 'til the 50's. But as automotive technology changed the owners chose not to invest in the technology required and the Shop reverted back to being a smithy and repair shop. Now, it is primarily a smithy for architectural iron and secondarily a repair/restoration shop for tools, utensils, and broken cast iron items. Our specialty in that line is the repair and sharpening of the push reel-type lawn mowers. We have the only reel mower sharpening machine (1943) in operation within a 60 mile radius.”

I expect this sign offers an example of Chaffee's work:

Perhaps I will be able to post a photo of Mr. Chaffee in action one of these days.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Nelson Street

Another dusk shot -- Nelson Street between Main and Jefferson.

The row of Italianate cornices dates to the 1890s.

One of Lexington's primary shopping streets, this block of Nelson St. offers antiques, jewelry, fine art photography, cosmetics, women's clothing and lingerie, Celtic items and memorabilia (this area was largely settled by the Scots-Irish), and one of Lexington's two independent bookstores. And there's an old movie-theater across the street, still showing first-run movies.

Many of the upper floors throughout the downtown house student apartments.

[My original post mistakenly stated that you would see this view if you pivoted left from yesterday's church. Any readers familiar with Lexington would know that I was a block off. The church that is in fact opposite this scene is here.]

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Church on Sunday: Full moon

Manly Memorial Baptist Church at dusk; corner of Main and Preston streets.

"Manly" does not refer to the character of the congregation (though I wouldn't like to rule it out), but to the church's early 20th C. namesake. Formerly Lexington Baptist, it became"Manly Memorial" in honor of Dr. Charles Manly, pastor from 1903-1914. (The church's website states that in his day he was known as the "most universally beloved man in Lexington.")

The present church was built in 1920, in a rather eclectic style. In addition to the dome, Ionic capitals (above smooth, unfluted columns), and heavy, dentiled cornices, there is an impressive amount of contemporary stained glass in soft, opalescent colors -- greens, blue-greens, warm browns, lavenders and pinks -- that make a strange and interesting contrast to the brick and the many classical references.

Here is an example:

It's a very American ("Rules? -- what rules?") structure that, not surprisingly, also appears to take inspiration from Thomas Jefferson's Monticello (located about 56 miles [91 km] NE of Lexington, as the crow flies).

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Class Act

The January show at Nelson Fine Arts Gallery - "Class Act" - opened last night, and there are eleven guest artists this month -- all teachers of art from Lexington and Rockbridge County.

The traffic stopper was "Crunch Bird," by MaryBeth Drake, foreground.

At center right (in red) is artist Claudia Cutler, whose work, "Reflections," hangs above her left shoulder.

Six paintings by gallery regular Paisley Griffin hang in the background.

Learn more and see works by all of the gallery's artists here.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Monkey brains

The fruit of the osage orange tree (Maclura pomifera) litters the ground in Woods Creek Park.

An interesting tree, native to the United States. The tree, its wood, and the (inedible) fruit have numerous uses. (See Wikipedia.) Its main use around here is as a playground projectile and, most importantly, as a slightly creepy curiosity (especially when thrust toward your sister). The regional nickname, "monkey brains," aids in this effect.

Here's a close-up of the fruit:

Thursday, January 8, 2009


One hundred years of architectural fashion at Washington and Lee.

From right to left (oldest to newest):
1904 - Reid Hall, School of Journalism (originally physics and engineering)
1961 - The Science Center (roof only)
1979 - James G. Leyburn Library
2003 - Elrod Commons (the student center)

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Independent coffee

If you want to sit down with a cup of coffee (plain or fancy) and read, browse the web, or chat with your neighbors, you don't have to settle for your generic Starbucks. In fact, we are lucky to have no Starbucks in Lexington; only unique local places run by dedicated local people.

Blue Sky Bakery (at Nelson and Lee), A Joyful Spirit and The Patisserie (both on Main), and the Lexington Coffee Shop on Washington St. (above), are all one-of-a-kind. Even the one not-totally-independent coffee spot in town - it was part of a small regional chain called the Daily Grind, which recently expanded nationwide - just went solo to stay personal, and has renamed itself "Java 23." At the Lexington Coffee Shop, you can sip your double espresso in the company of paintings by Rockbridge area artists, and listen to local musicians play on Wednesday mornings.

(Lexington even has its own coffee roaster, just north of town!)

The one drawback: It's very hard to remain anonymous.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Set a spell

An inviting front porch on Jefferson St.

The south end of Jefferson St. has some of the most wonderful old houses in Lexington (including my favorite -- to be posted at a later date), yet it's just a few blocks from the library, shops and restaurants of town.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Still waters

The pool above the Jordan St. dam on Woods Creek.

A fenced garden and shed are reflected on a particularly calm winter day. This pool is a favorite with children (not for swimming -- but for fishing, rock skipping, and throwing things in to watch them go over the dam) since it's just beyond the school playground.

There's a great blue heron who frequents this spot. I've been stalking him, but so far to no avail. It's good to have creatures around who are still too wild to let you get close.

Just beyond the dam, to the right of this photo, is this bridge.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Church on Sunday: Randolph Street

Window of the Randolph Street Methodist Church.

I can find out very little about this church, other than that it was built in 1892, and suffered a fire in 1929 (according to my copy of "The Architecture of Historic Lexington" by Lyle and Simpson). Like many Methodist churches I have seen, it does not have a spire, but rather a bell tower, which can be seen (from a distance) here.

This graceful window faces the street, and is surrounded by some simple yet imaginative brickwork (of a beautiful, rich orange-red), which makes for nice shadow lines.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

A glowing cornice...

...warm brick, and shadows in the late afternoon (when else?) on Edmondson St., one of the most charming residential streets in town.

There's something very Lexington about this one (not like yesterday's photo).

I promise to show some morning light in January. Another New Year's resolution....

Friday, January 2, 2009

10 Things I like about the New Courthouse, #1

The new courthouse nears completion at the corner of Nelson and Randolph streets.

This photo introduces my New Year's resolution, of sorts -- to find ten things I can like about the new courthouse. (It's going to be tough.) Number one: The quality of light on the Nelson street facade in the late afternoon can be breathtaking.

See the old courthouse, soon to be put out to pasture, here.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Theme Day Jan 2009: Best Photo of the Year

Being new to both photography and daily photo blogging, I didn't have a large number of images to choose from for this month's City Daily Photo theme -- Best Photo of the Year. But I have found, through looking at the many excellent pictures my fellow bloggers post each day, that photographs that engage my imagination have the most staying power for me.

So, I've chosen a slightly different perspective on the photo I first posted here. (I had a hard time choosing between the two for my initial post.) I think this second one adds a little something to what was intimated in the first. I also think the existence of this little door in a gnarly old tree along the Woods Creek Trail somehow brings together many things I particularly like about Lexington.

On this first day of the New Year I want to thank everyone connected with City Daily Photo for the very warm welcome I have received for my blog from people all over the world, and for the daily efforts that go on behind the scenes to bring so many blogs together. It is much appreciated!

Daily City bloggers around the world are exhibiting their year's best photographs. Click here to view thumbnails for all participants.