Civil War Trails: Abingdon, Virginia

Tucked far into Southwest Virginia is the town of Abingdon. If you’ve ever traveled down Interstate 81 there is no doubt you’ve seen the signs, maybe even the Civil War Trails directional sign, enticing you take the exit ramp. If you’ve not already visited Abingdon you are missing out.

For starters, there are two Civil War Trails sites in town. Most visitors usually start their visit by following our signs to the Fields-Penn House***. If you are lucky enough to catch the farmers market located in the rear of the building you are in for a real treat. As of Summer 2018, the Fields-Penn House is closed indefinitely for renovations, but is viewable from the street. In the corner of their yard, our sign helps introduce you to just some of the events you’ll run across as you walk town. Yes, I said – walk.

Park your car at the Fields-Penn House and if you’re hungry make a left up W. Main Street and pop into Bonfire Smokehouse. This former hardware store is not only dishing out some tasty smoked meats but in the spirit of Southwest Virginia will often have some live music to accompany your meal. Further down W. Main Street, on Colonial Road is the site of the historic “Abingdon Muster Grounds.” It was near this point that Virginia Militiamen and likely levies left Abingdon on their way south on a Campaign which would culminate with the Battle of King’s Mountain, South Carolina in October of 1780. Today, the Keller Interpretive Center is located on the site and helps interpret this period of the town’s history.

Photo of Drew Gruber in the ‘Love Booth,’ Courtesy Dr. Sarah McCartney, c. March 2018

As you head north on Main Street, passing by the Fields-Penn House you are following roughly in the footsteps of Stoneman’s troopers when they arrived in Abingdon on December 15th, 1864. Having left from Knoxville almost two weeks before, their objective was simple. Destroy iron, lead and salt- all essential to the Confederate was effort. Besides destroying the printing press of the Abingdon-Virginian newspaper Stoneman’s troops blew through town quickly.

Again, we recommend proceeding on foot and as you head north you’ll notice the architecture change and the street narrows as you head past the Martha Washington Inn & Spa. On the left is the historic Barter Theater. The Barter is the one of if not the coolest venue in the entire Commonwealth. It opened in 1933 and retains much of its original character. If you are lucky enough to catch a show while you are in town you won’t be disappointed.

Passing the site of Black’s Fort near Main and Pecan Streets, you’ll slowly head uphill, no doubt enjoying the tree-lined sidewalks and in another block the Washington County Courthouse will appear on your left. One of Stoneman’s rogue troopers did major damage here during his visit, and the current structure was erected in 1868. The monument in the lawn was erected in 1907 to commemorate the men who served from the surrounding area and unique attributes and details not found on similar statuary.

Make a right and head down Court Street. By now, it is very likely you are thirsty. Never fear. Make a left on Park Street and within another two blocks you’ll stumble into Wolf Hills Brewing Co. This old ice house is now home to one of our favorite breweries in Virginia. The atmosphere is relaxed, live music is a common attribute and their beers are worth writing home about (or posting on Untapped). The tracks alongside the brewery are laid in the same bed which carried Longstreet’s men out of their East Tennessee winter camps in the spring of 1864.

Photo of Landon Boyd’s grave stone, Courtesy Brian Palmer, c. July 2015

Across the railroad tracks from ‘Wolf Hills’ is a suburban neighborhood, which follows the rise in the landscape. Just over the rise was a plantation called “Mary’s Meadows” or “The Meadows.” The building and the plantation in the antebellum period was a stately structure owned by Virginia Governor Wyndham Robertson, Robertson’s plantation employed many slaves including young Landon Boyd. Some evidence suggests that Boyd made his way to Union lines and served with the United States Colored Troops and returned to the Richmond area where he served on the jury which was established to try former Confederate President Jefferson Davis for treason. By 1870, Boyd was serving as the Vice President of the Colored National Labor Union and after a failed bid to win a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates he would serve as an Assistant Assessor for the U.S. Internal Revenue.

Buried in a nearby cemetery, Boyd’s legacy is still alive and it is not hard to imagine as you walk the streets of Abingdon. He is buried a few blocks away in ‘Sinking Spring Cemetery.’ Having left Wolf Hills Brewing, and looking up towards the heights where Boyd’s wife, Kate, taught school you will make your way south again, this time along Park Street. At the intersection of Park and Pecan, turn left and head over to the Virginia Creeper Trail Welcome Center.

This is the Abingdon terminus of the Trail which is a 34.3 mile rail-to-trail which passes through two counties. From Abingdon, you can head over to nearby Damascus by bike. If you and yours are avid cyclists the opportunity to peddle this trail is not to be missed. However, today you will be on foot, so be sure to snap a photo in the phone booth and then head back up Pecan Street.

By now you are likely hungry again so we highly recommend 128 Pecan. Further down Park Street are two of the most quaint historic structures you’d ever want to check out and lo! You can not only check them out but you can spend a night here in either the Black Dog Inn or the Tailors Lodging. If you are planning a road-trip with your partner and you are feeling a bit romantic look no further. Both are within easy walking distance to all these sites and amenities I’ve mentioned herein and then some.

If this little walking tour-guide of downtown Abingdon has excited you (as it should have) and you want to plan a weekend getaway, please don’t hesitate to send an email through the Civil War Trails website and we can help plan your trip. Additionally, check out our friends at the Abingdon Convention and Visitors Bureau  for a full list of all the incredible things to do this in picture-perfect town.

***Please Note: According to Abingdon Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Fields-Penn House Museum is closed indefinitely due to some structural issues. (August 9, 2018).

About Drew Gruber

Drew lives in Williamsburg with his wife, Kate and their two cats Milton (the Brown) and Graham (Spartacus). He enjoys reading but doesn't particularly relish writing. He enjoys oyster, never cooked- always raw, brown spirituous liquors and quiet.
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