Bedford, VA Attractions Feature History, Agriculture and the Arts

By Rebecca Denton on April 28, 2011 at 9:07 pm EST

PHOTO CREDIT: Todd Bennett

Rich in scenic beauty, history, agriculture and the arts, Bedford celebrates its roots with a wealth of diverse attractions and lively festivals. This vibrant city enjoys a friendly, small-town atmosphere that people are drawn to, says Judy Rush, a Bedford native who has been selling real estate here for 36 years.

“It’s just the hometown feel,” says Rush, who lives on 15 acres of pastureland with a clear view of the Peaks of Otter. “You know your neighbors, and you have the most beautiful view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s just very calming and relaxing to look up and see those mountains.”

Into the Outdoors

Twin mountain peaks, known as the Peaks of Otter, give Bedford one of the most beautiful backdrops in Virginia. As part of the popular Blue Ridge Parkway, the peaks are home to hiking trails, wildflower walks, picnic areas, fishing, campgrounds, and a lodge and restaurant facility that’s open year-round. Visitors also flock to nearby Smith Mountain Lake, the Appalachian Trail and the Jefferson National Forest.

Living History

History buffs can find plenty to keep them busy in Bedford. Historic CenterTown, a National Historic District, features antique and specialty shops, art galleries, cafes and restaurants in historic buildings. The Historic Bedford Walking Tour offers a self-guided adventure through 21 stops in the city. The Avenel mansion, located in the heart of Bedford, was once the focal point of a 200-acre plantation. The 1830s home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register, and its visitors have included Edgar Allan Poe and Gen. Robert E. Lee. Also in CenterTown Bedford is the Bedford Museum and Genealogical Library. Housed in a 1985 Masonic Temple in CenterTown Bedford, it’s the city’s only example of Romanesque Revival architecture. The museum’s exhibits trace the history of the area from early Native American culture through the Civil War and into the mid-20th century. Bedford suffered the highest per-capita D-Day losses in the nation, which makes it a fitting place for the National D-Day Memorial. This striking memorial on 88 acres features an English garden, an invasion tableau and Victory Plaza, including a massive arch high on a hill overlooking Bedford. Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest is a historic octagonal home and plantation built by President Thomas Jefferson as his personal retreat. It’s one of two homes Jefferson designed and built for his own use – and the first octagonal home in America. Franklin County is home to the Booker T. Washington National Monument, located on the former tobacco plantation where Washington was born into slavery in 1856. The African-American leader rose to prominence as an educator, orator and founder of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. This historic site interprets Washington's life through exhibits, film, a living history farm, guided tours and special events.

Fun at the Festivals

Bedford offers a lively roster of festivals and events throughout the year, drawing people together and fostering a sense of community. New in 2010 are the Second Friday events in CenterTown Bedford. Second Friday is a gallery walk held on the second Friday of each month, and more than 30 shops, restaurants and art galleries participate in this free event. Businesses stay open until 8 p.m. or later, and many feature live music. CenterFest , one of the region’s largest street festivals, features artisans, live music, children’s activities and food vendors each September in CenterTown Bedford. Many local farms and wineries offer a variety of festivals and music events. One example is the annual Apple Harvest Festival at Gross’ Orchard in Bedford. This October event features crafts, jam, cider, games, rides, entertainment and apple butter-making. Visitors can also pick their own apples. The Fat Tire Frenzy Mountain Bike Race & Bike Festival takes place each June at Falling Creek Park in Bedford. This growing event includes a competitive mountain bike race, a children’s mountain bike race, a mountain bike swap meet, live music and more.

Heart of the Arts

The Bower Center for the Arts, under the umbrella of the Wharton Memorial Foundation, is a nonprofit art center in the heart of Bedford. The vibrant center offers a variety of music and art classes for adults and young people, along with concerts, performances and exhibits. Little Town Players, Bedford’s award-winning community theater troupe, offers a yearly fall-to-spring season of comedies, dramas and musicals with summer theater camps for young people. Performances take place in the Elks National Home Theatre. The nonprofit Bedford Community Orchestra has two seasons each year, culminating in free public concerts in the spring and fall.

Connected to the Land

Bedford still has strong ties to agriculture, and visitors have plenty of opportunities to explore local farms and orchards. Known for its peaches, apples and wine, the area is home to several family operations that give visitors a chance to pick their own produce and sample locally made products. The Bedford area has five wineries, with many offering vineyard and orchard tours, picnic areas, wine festivals and other special events. The Bedford Wine Trail offers visitors an easy, fun way to experience each winery. The bustling Bedford Farmers Market in CenterTown Bedford – at the corner of Washington and Center streets - provides fresh, locally grown produce along with crafts, organic food and local specialties from June to October on Tuesday and Friday afternoons.

Visit the Bedford Tourism and Welcome Center website for more information about Bedford’s many cultural attractions.

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