Cheré spent years working as a features editor and writer for newspapers and magazines across the country, including Variety magazine in Hollywood, before turning to writing freelance about food, travel and other lifestyle subjects. Her favorite niche is the South and its people, which is why she also pens the quirky blog, Weird, Wacky and Wild South (WeirdSouth.com). When not scouring the region for stories, she pens novels under the pen name of Cherie Claire, plus non-fiction titles under her own name, including Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana; Exploring Cajun Country and Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History.
The quaint village of Abingdon, Virginia, one of the oldest English-speaking settlements west of the Blue Ridge Mountains, dates to the American Revolution. Its entire 20-block historic district is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Naturally, we were going to hear about ghosts.
There are plenty of great ghost tales in Abingdon, and “Haint Mistress” Donnamarie Emmert loves to share them as host of Abingdon Spirit Tours. Take a walk with the Mistress and hear about the lovesick apparition at the Martha Washington Inn, a woman of the night still wanting to turn tricks at circa-1779 Tavern restaurant and a horse shot during the Civil War who still roams the streets. Yes, the horse.
It’s all part of this colonial town’s charm, and only one of many great things to do in Abingdon and the surrounding countryside, especially this time of year when temperatures drop and the nearby mountains turn vibrant shades of autumnal hues.
There are numerous hotels and bed and breakfasts but the grand dame remains the Martha Washington Inn & Spa. This four-star hotel was original constructed in 1832 as a private residence but morphed into a finishing school for women and later a women’s college. The massive building still owns a historic air with its creaky wood floors, elegant staircases and a discerning library filled with books and historic memorabilia. Accommodations run the gamut, from singles to suites, and there’s a decadent spa, heated saltwater pool, restaurant and fire pit area with Jacuzzi so modern sensitivities will be satisfied.
Barter Theater, the state theatre of Virginia, beats as the heart of town. Founded in 1933 during the Great Depression, the abandoned opera house attracted out-of-work New York actors who set up a barter system, sharing performances for food. Ernest Borgnine and Gregory Peck have graced its stage. Today, you must pay admission, but Barter still attracts top-name actors.
And yes, there is a ghost hanging about.
“I don’t know why ghosts love theaters, but they do,” said Artistic Director Katie Brown.
Feel safer watching theater outside sans mask? Barter at the Moonlite Drive In offers live theater from the comfort of your vehicle.
The Virginia Creeper Trail, a share-use trail stretching 34.3 miles to the North Carolina border, is a delight any time of year, but more so in the fall when foliage sets the hills aflame. For those preferring a faster ride, rent a bicycle at the Virginia Creeper Trail Bike Shop and coast from mile marker zero to Alvarado Station, an 8 ½-mile trip.
Pause after the ride at nearby Abingdon Vineyards and enjoy one of Elizabeth Hill Gardner’s varietals (she relocated from Napa) while overlooking the peaceful stretch of the South Fork Holston River. The 12-acre farm and winery offers live music, wine dinners, vintner classes and picnic flights.
Eat American and German dishes in the original section of The Tavern, built in 1779, or outside on the expansive patio to enjoy fall weather. Just don’t call the libertine who haunts the place, “The Tavern Tart” or she’ll mess with you.
For something unique, The Girl & The Raven offers a café-style breakfast and lunch — not to mention craft coffees — and tapas for dinner with craft cocktails within a restored 1886 Victorian.
There’s plenty of ways to enjoy the culture and history of Abingdon — History Alive Tours and the Southwest Virginia Cultural Center to name two — but if you still want to chase ghosts, contact the Haint Mistress, who celebrates 25 years of Abingdon Spirit Tours this fall. Text (276) 706-6093 for an appointment for the ghost tours (ages 10 and older) or visit haintmistress.com.