Though Mike sticks to road bicycling, we are finding that mountain biking (you know–with the fat tires) is quite popular in the area. This past weekend, Winston Lord drove from D.C. and stayed at Oak Grove Plantation to ride the mountain bike trails at Anglers Park in Danville, about a half-hour away. Winston said he enjoyed the 15-mile single-track course of sharp turns and winding trails. As a warm-up, he rode some of the five miles of dirt trails on our 400-acre property. There’s also mountain biking at nearby Staunton River State Park. Oh, and Winston also rode a 15-mile road course with Mike a few minutes after arriving on Saturday. If you want a guided bike tour of Halifax County roads, just ask Mike to join you.
10. Enjoy outdoor festivals and chatting with local people. Virgilina Summerfest May 26, Cantaloupe Festival June 13, Staunton River Bridge Battle commemoration (150th anniv.) June 21-22, Patrick Henry Day at Brookneal July 4, Lakefest in Clarksville July 17-19. Details at Halifax County Visitors Center.
9. Catch the sun’s rays and wade in the water at Buggs Island Lake’s many beaches.
7. See Bob Cage’s Sculpture Garden near U.S. 360. You won’t see anything like it anywhere.
6. Check out Halifax County’s many wineries. Sample their best and buy some to take home. Blackberry wine is a local favorite.
4. Enjoy our fine restaurants, particularly the upscale Bistro 1888, the Molasses Grill for dinner, and Cafe Peroni and Southern Plenty for lunch. Windmill Farms, a Mennonite bakery is especially unique. Gatrell’s Cowboy Up Café in Virgilina is fun for karaoke.
3. Go hiking, biking or horseback riding at the Tobacco Heritage Trail.
1. Attend the summer theater at the Prizery with two excellent summer stock musical productions: Hairspray June 19-July 2 and Les Miserables, July 11-20.
1. The simplest route is to follow Interstate 95 through Richmond, turn on to I-85 near Petersburg and turn on to U.S. 58 west to South Boston. Best times are before 8 a.m. and after 8 p.m.
2. Or take I-95 south to Richmond and get on U.S. 360 southwest to South Boston. This involves a few stop signs in Richmond, but usually very little traffic on U.S. 360. (There are several ways to get to 360, either north, south or through Richmond on the Powhite Parkway.)
3. Lots of people prefer taking I-66 west to U.S. 29 (at Gainesville) and following it to Lynchburg. At Lynchburg, get on U.S. 501 south to South Boston. There are a lot of stoplights, though, in Charlottesville.
4. Mike’s favorite: When traffic is likely to be busy on I-95 (Fridays and Sundays especially), we take I-66 west to Gainesville, follow U.S. 29 to Culpeper and then down U.S. 15 to 360 and then southwest to South Boston. U.S. 15 is a two-lane highway, but traffic is rarely heavy, and the scenery is beautiful. Coming back from South Boston, I have never encountered much trouble even on the Sunday after Thanksgiving or Fourth of July. But avoid the route on Columbus Day weekend, when people go to the Blue Ridge to see the leaves.
A local African-American entrepreneur from the early 1800s is gaining widespread recognition for his unique furniture and indoor woodworking, a notable accomplishment during Black History Month. Several of his works are on display at Oak Grove Plantation.
From 1820 to 1860, this businessman, Thomas Day, had dozens of workers, both white and black (including his own slaves), handcraft and later machine-craft architectural elements and furniture. He became the largest furniture manufacturer in North Carolina with his uniquely designed beds, wardrobes, chairs, cabinets and mantels.
More than 150 years later, the talented free black man is finally gaining recognition from the Smithsonian Institution, the Museum of History in Raleigh, N.C., his hometown of Milton, N.C., and the region’s tourist industry. All have displayed and promoted this craftsman’s handiwork.
Collectors and museums, are discovering and buying his works at auctions. The Halifax County Historical Society, in South Boston, is identifying about 20 houses with Day’s works. His handiwork will be featured in an upcoming issue of American Furniture magazine.
A little-known turning point in the American Revolutionary War took place just six miles north of the current Oak Grove Plantation, when the American army retreated across the Dan River ahead of the British army, leaving no ferryboats for a British pursuit. Called “the Crossing of the Dan,” this landmark historical event was re-enacted on Feb. 22 with cannons firing, flag-bearers marching and dozens of troops bearing colorful uniforms of the era.
For the first time, a ferry boat built for the occasion traversed the Dan at South Boston, just as American troops rowed through the strong currents while retreating northward 231 years ago. Because all of the boats were gone when they arrived, the British under Lord Cornwallis were unable to catch up with the revolutionaries. With their supplies and numbers reinforced, the Americans crossed back south across the Dan again a few weeks later and decisively defeated Cornwallis at Guilford Courthouse, near Greensboro, N.C. Cornwallis’s army then headed northeast, where it was trapped at Yorktown, effectively ending the war.
A packed house at the Prizery’s Chastain Theater in South Boston saw an honor guard in full Revolutionary War uniforms bear various flags from the time. Dignitaries described the events from the American Revolution and descendants of some of the principals were honored. Among them was Patrick Henry Jolly, who gave a speech in the role of the former Virginia governor and Revolutionary War patriot. Noting that he had 17 children, he asked, “So why is George Washington considered the father of our country?”
If they missed the reenactment, visitors can still see exhibits about the historic event at the Prizery, the former tobacco warehouse turned into an arts center.
Pickett Craddock of Oak Grove Plantation in South Boston received a green award at the Virginia Green Conference & Awards Celebration in December, along with 13 other tourist attractions in the state.
“Oak Grove Plantation B&B’s solar installation clearly demonstrates the environmental commitment of owners Michael Doan and Pickett Craddock, and it helps to educate consumers about the viability of such technologies,” said Tom Griffin, Virginia Green Coordinator. “We are proud to promote Oak Grove Plantation B&B as a Virginia Green Travel Star.”
North Carolina-based Southern Energy Management designed and installed the system, a 3.9-kilowatt solar array featuring 16 Bosch 245-watt modules mounted in the field behind Oak Grove’s main building.
Virginia Green is the state’s voluntary program to encourage green practices in the state’s tourism industry. The program is run through a partnership between the Virginia Tourism Corporation, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and the Virginia Hospitality and Travel Association.
The historic inn aims to attract environmentally conscious guests and save money too with the first solar photovoltaic system to generate clean electricity at a Virginia bed & breakfast. Oak Grove has also installed an energy-efficient heating and air conditioning system. The project will allow the bed and breakfast to extend its season beyond the traditional months of May through September.
The panels were financed under a unique set of circumstances that also allow Oak Grove to protect the 400 acres of forest surrounding the inn. Its owners are using a Virginia Land Conservation Incentives Act program to preserve the land in perpetuity, a move that made them eligible for tax breaks to make up for the lost property value. Oak Grove then sold the tax breaks and used the proceeds to pay for the solar array.
Besides using solar power, the inn recycles, has a compost pile for vegetable scraps and has installed “low-e” energy-efficient storm windows on the south side. Motorists who arrive in hybrids get a third night free. Also, the inn uses rain barrels to collect water, the inn has a tankless electric hot water heater, and it uses compact fluorescent lighting.
Just a few minutes from Oak Grove Plantation Bed & Breakfast is a leading auto and motorcycle track, attracting participants and fans from all over the country. At VIR (Virginia International Raceway), one of the highlights this year is the Optima Batteries Chump Car World Series Aug. 10-11. Participants can only drive cars valued at $500 or less and hope that the four alternate drivers can make it to the finish line in a 24-hour race. “This series is for gear-heads, for people who love driving and driving fast,” say the sponsors at VIR.
A few years ago we had guests rooting on their families in the Chump Car race. They had a blast, but the car conked out in the first few hours of the race.
For relatives who would prefer a substitute activity, we recommend our Thomas Day Tour of museums and other institutions that have furniture and woodwork designed by the prominent free black cabinetmaker before the Civil War.
Other upcoming events:
Aug. 23-24: The Biscuitville K&NR Series NASCAR development race.
Sept. 21-22: The CCS Fall Cyclefest of Speed Motorcycle Racing.
Sept. 29: Heacock Classic Gold Cup
Oct. 5: American LeMans Series
When a preschool teacher runs a bed and breakfast, you can be sure that children will like it there. Some of our most satisfied guests are kids taught by innkeeper Pickett Craddock during the winter at Amazing Life Games preschool in Washington, D.C.
With its 400 acres, Oak Grove Plantation is great for hiking, biking and games of hide-and-seek. A tall magnolia tree is a favorite for climbing. Children love swinging from the tire swing and playing in the sandbox. Indoors, they enjoy playing with the Lego set and a variety of board games. And they’ll want to play with our two friendly standard poodles, Niko and Bonnie.
In a review on Trip Advisor, one satisfied customer called Oak Grove “a child’s paradise.” She wrote: “The boys could run around in the yard and we relaxed on the porch. There are trains throughout the day that pass through the property. There is a wooden bridge to stand on as the train passes underneath. We heard one coming, got to the bridge just before it passed underneath and the engineers waved as they went underneath. Then as end passed us, the engineers flashed the lights and blew the whistle. Pure joy for kids.”
Wrote another: “Oak Grove Plantation is perfectly suited for children – and anyone who wishes to get away from everything stressful and modern for a few days.”
Could it be? In our house? We were surprised recently to find that some of our furniture and woodwork were designed before the Civil War by a free black man who is slowly gaining national recognition as a major figure in the history of cabinet making.
From 1820 to 1861, Thomas Day hired dozens of workers, both white and black, to build his unique works in nearby Milton, N.C. In fact, he sold more of them in North Carolina than any other manufacturer.
Finally, the talented African-American has gained recognition for his craftsmanship and his bold business sense by the Smithsonian Institution’s Renwick Gallery, the Museum of History in Raleigh, N.C., his hometown of Milton and the region’s tourist industry. All have been displaying and promoting this craftsman’s handiwork.
While organizing a tour of his works in the area, we invited Jerome Bias, a woodworker and expert on Thomas Day to visit our house. Though it can’t be proven, he figured that Day made or had employees make the main staircase and newel and the front entranceway. In an upstairs bedroom, he made the baseboards, windows and mantel, and he made a table that is in the parlor.
Day was famous for his designs that included undulating shapes and spiraling forms with S-curves. The governor of North Carolina bought 37 of his pieces for the statehouse, giving Day an amazing two-month deadline.
Though black, Day was one of the wealthiest people in the region until the Panic of 1857, when his business went to pieces. He had overextended himself, and the law prevented him from collecting from white debtors. Though his shop in Milton, N.C., survived, his business was wiped out by the Civil War, and he died in 1861. In Milton, local people of all races have raised money to restore the home and factory where so much furniture was made.
Oak Grove Plantation Bed & Breakfast will just be one of the stops on the tour we are organizing with the Halifax County Virginia Tourism and other groups. People can use our guide map to take it on their own or we can show them some of the sites. It includes Breezy Oaks Farm in Alton, Villa Cathedral Country Home Bed and Breakfast in Alton, the Oak Tree Tavern at Virginia International Raceway in Alton, the South Boston-Halifax County Museum and the Molasses Grill restaurant in Halifax.
You won’t want to miss The Thomas Day House in Milton, a few hundred feet south of the Virginia border. Restored in 1989 after a fire, Day’s home and workshop contain much of his furniture, mantels and tools of the era. Two films also can be seen of his life and his contributions. The museum is open by appointment.
Don’t miss Fourth of July events this year, including the Scottsburg and Clarksville parades and fireworks, a celebration at Patrick Henry’s home near Brookneal and shows at the Prizery in South Boston.
Scottsburg Parade: At 10 a.m. on Thursday July 4, about a half hour northeast of Oak Grove Plantation Bed & Breakfast. You’ll see fire trucks, antique cars, floats, horses and local pageant winners during the parade. Kids will enjoy the candy thrown to them from passing paraders. Then there is a day of food, music and games, followed by fireworks at 9:45 p.m.
Patrick Henry Home: Enjoy fireworks, live music, Patrick Henry delivering his celebrated speech, 18th century interpretations (many are hands-on!), tours, kids’ games, arts & crafts vendors and more! Events begin at 3:00 p.m. July 4, with fireworks at dusk. Bluegrass band Tara Mills and Yankee Dixie of Charlottesville, VA will play from 5:00 to 7:00pm! The gate closes at 9:00 p.m. The home is in Red Hill, about an hour northwest of Oak Grove.
Red White and Broadway: This musical revue, starring professionals brought to South Boston for the summer theater program, can be seen at 7:30 p.m. on July 4 and continues through July 7 at the Prizery.
Clarksville Fourth of July: Sponsored by the Clarksville Ruritans, this year’s lineup will include decorated bicycles, floats, antique cars, trucks and tractors, decorated golf carts, fire trucks, bands, Color Guards, and Shriners Motor Corps miniature cars. It starts at 11 a.m. July 4 and is about a half hour east of Oak Grove.