- The American Shakespeare Center
The American Shakespeare Company harnesses power of the original Elizabethan stage, universal lighting, contemporary costuming, and audience inclusion, to bring the works of Shakespeare alive (photo courtesy of Staunton Convention and Visitors Bureau_
The hills of Virginia may seem an odd place to go hunting for an authentic piece of Shakespeare, yet tucked among the rolls and swells of the Shenandoah Valley sits one of the most honest and celebrated Shakespearean Theaters in the country. Moved by the surprisingly simple principle that Shakespeare should be viewed in the way that the bard himself directed it, the American Shakespeare Company has revolutionized the Shakespearean performance by taking it back almost four hundred years. In a recreation of Blackfriar’s Playhouse of fame, the company harnesses the power of minimalist sets, contemporary costuming, and universal lighting—meaning that no curtain of darkness separates the audience from their entertainment—to mimic the accessibility and inclusion that were the hallmarks of the Elizabethan stage. This, combined with a constantly rotating roster of maniacal villains, heartrending damsels, and clownish buffoons (often, in true Shakespearean style, played by the same actor), culminate in an atmosphere unlike any other, a celebration of sight, sound, and stage worthy of the name, The American Shakespeare Company.
- The Frontier Culture Museum
The American Frontier Museum doesn’t stop at providing one-dimensional historical recreations (photo courtesy Staunton Convention and Visitors Bureau)
The name of the Frontier Culture Museum isn’t really fair. It’s hard to imagine how the word “museum”—with all the connotations of stale and stuffy, dehydrated history under glass—could possibly be applied. Set against the stunning backdrop of the Virginia’s rolling hills—achingly green or brilliantly dressed in fall display—laced with mossy rock walls and weathered split-rail fences, and peppered with neatly plotted garden patches, lowing cattle, and herds of self-satisfied, munching sheep, the Frontier Culture Museum is a living, breathing thing. Through a series of period-perfect architectural recreations, the museum tells the story of the forging of the American identity: the steady evolution of English and Irish settlements through the 1740’s, 1820’s, and 1850’s, the hauntingly sparse story of the Native American tribes that once lived among the hills, and the true regional heritage of the 250,000 African slaves that were brought against their will to work the region’s tobacco farms. With exquisitely detailed exhibits, period savvy reenactors, and the benefit of being nestled amongst some of the most awe-inspiring natural scenery in Virginia, the Frontier Culture Museum must not be missed.
- The Beverley District
Downtown Staunton is a charming mix of 19th-century architecture and modern charm (photo courtesy Woods Pierce)
One look down Beverley Street, and it’s easy to see why Staunton is the first city in Virginia to win the Great American Main Street Award. The eleven blocks that make up the downtown, colloquially called the Beverley Historic District, ooze a quaint and quirky charm found nowhere else. Rows of tightly knit and meticulously kept historic buildings follow the gentle undulations of the Shenandoah Hills, a free trolley trundles along the well swept streets, and local galleries, one-of-a-kind boutiques, craft beer dens, and a vast variety locovore-centric restaurants tempt passersby. The buildings’ styles boast an impressively eclectic range—Beaux Arts nestled next to Victorian, Federal with Romanesque Revival—and yet somehow, the warmth and welcome, charm and polish of the Beverley District come together to create a cohesive character unlike any other.
- The Skyline Drive
The 105-mile stretch of Skyline Drive offers unbeatable views (photo courtesy of Jim Lukach).
Though the idyllic charm within the city limits of Staunton stands testament to man’s ability to build beauty out of the wilderness, a short drive up the road provides ample proof that nature often does just fine on her own. The Skyline Drive, a 105-mile stretch of serpentine roadway that rides the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains, runs through some of the most breathtaking scenery in the country. Un-mown roadsides allow native Virginian wildflowers—deep pools of waxy leaved trillium, red bursts of cardinal flowers, and fiery swathes of black-eyed susans and goldenrod—to put on an ever-changing seasonal display among the sun-tipped swells and vales of the Shenandoah Valley. Native fauna isn’t the only thing to marvel at, however; rabbits, black bear, and deer are just as likely to come ambling up to say hello as anything on two legs. The Skyline takes about three hours to drive, but with seventy-five overlooks to stop and stretch the legs, and awe-inspiring vistas on either side, it’s well worth the trip.
- The Stonewall Brigade Band
Originally called the Mountain Saxhorn Band, the group began in 1855 (photo courtesy the Stonewall Brigade Band)
If you’re fortunate enough to be around Staunton on a Monday evening in midsummer, be sure to make the trip down to Gypsy Hill Park, where in the soft Virginia twilight, you’ll find the Stonewall Brigade Band —the oldest continuous community band in the nation—carrying on a tradition 160 years in the making. Since their first formal concert in 1857, the band has been indelibly tied to Staunton’s history; as deeply as one can plumb, the outfit has provided the musical backdrop for the city’s civic events, religious services, and dress parades. Their service to the city runs much deeper than bugles and brass buttons, however; when the boys of Staunton donned the gray and joined the ranks of the Confederacy, the band was right behind them, providing support not only with music, but by stepping up to perform combat-related tasks when duty called. When the surviving members of the band returned from war, they picked up precisely where they left off, playing for the town they had valiantly striven to protect. Today’s members carry on this tradition, performing free shows weekly throughout the summer, each of which is imbued with the pride and fortitude of the rich history of the Stonewall Brigade Band.
Sheep, Shakespeare, and the Stonewall Brigade: What to See in Staunton
by Sarah Glaser
The Stonewall Brigade Band's performances aren't relegated to Staunton; they've performed in parades and expositions across the country, including this Presidential Inauguration, 1889 (photo courtesy of the Stonewall Brigade Band).
Raised in the piedmont of North Carolina by unforgivably Northern parents, Sarah Glaser developed an early love of the South that was at once unconditional and honest. She attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she was free to indulge her passion for both the written word and the Southern region, graduating with honors in English and spending two years breathlessly wandering among stacks of primary source documents while working in the university's Southern Historical Collection. Today she resides in Memphis, Tennessee, where she wallows happily in a sea of books as an assistant librarian at the Memphis Public Library, runs, writes, rock climbs, and shamelessly does everything in her power to elicit a giggle from her (adorable) one-year-old niece.
Read more stories by Sarah Glaser
You might also like these stories:
Tucked away in the northernmost part of Virginia, at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, sits one of the most historic and most romantic little villages in the South.
Mary Baldwin’s courage and spunk in the face of the enemy earned her the honored role as this equally courageous college’s namesake
Do pigs that have had a good life taste better? Joel Salatin thinks so, and he has a happy—and successful—little farm in the Shenandoah Valley to prove it.