Historic Downtown Culpeper: Genteel Charm in our Modern World
By Clarissa Fleming, PFM Staff
(As published in the Summer 2012 Issue)

Miss Minerva's Tea RoomIt is only 8:45 on a Saturday morning and alreadyDavis Street in Historic Culpeper is humming with the sounds of laughter and chatter as vendors set up their booths for the farmers market. The early-bird ‘regulars’ chat and enjoy a cup of coffee before starting their shopping.

The Raven’s Nest on Davis Street  – which Beverly Herdman of Wine Trail Homes called her “favorite meeting place” – is a common starting point for the day’s activities. You can see many people going in and out as they get ready to hit the farmers’ market, which boasts more than 40 vendors with fresh vegetables, fruits, honey, baked goods, and even locally raised meats.

 Main Street Life

Davis Street is the heart of the town, as is clear in the many activities that abound on this venue. Local resident Jay Lawing, who was out for the morning with his wife and little girls, said, “Davis Street is full of wonderful vendors that we have grown to love over the years. For our romantic getaways, we go no further than It’s About Thyme and the Hazel River Inn. Knakal’s Bakery, The Thyme Market, the Farmer’s Market and The Frenchman’s Corner are our favorite places to get food that makes you feel like a gourmet chef.”

Many of the activities and the welcoming atmosphere on Davis Street are supported by the Culpeper Renaissance Organization, whose goal is to keep Culpeper’s Main Street atmosphere alive and vibrant.  And their efforts are visible. You can see the excitement in the eyes of individuals as they stroll through shops. There are often street festivals, car shows, parades or other events around town.

Culpeper was recently named a 2012 Great American Main Street by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in recognition of the community’s “exceptional accomplishments in revitalizing the nation’s historic Main Street commercial districts.”

Frequent visitor Lawing notes what a great community this is, saying: “We bring our family downtown because the experience is like no other. We walk down the sidewalk and are greeted by all the smiling faces and feel at home.”

Family-Friendly Events

Perhaps one of the best qualities is the friendly nature of the people you meet. Strangers chatting as they see an item that they both like, or pleasantries as a woman holds the door for a mom with a stroller.

That feeling of welcome is intangible, but is so much a part of what makes people come back again and again. “Davis Street is one of the friendliest streets I’ve ever known,” commented Herdman.

Frequent events provide countless opportunities to socialize with friends and neighbors, contributing to this friendly atmosphere and creating a sense of community.

The much-loved summer concert series features a variety of great music from local bands such as the Survivors, Thinking with Richard, Keith Bryant and Iron Horse. Though coolers aren’t allowed, picnicbaskets are welcome. This summer, one lucky visitor at each concert will win a free salon makeover provided by David Pate of Dachi Studio (of course, located on West Davis Street).

There are also countless street festivals and craft fairs throughout the summer which all have great activities for the children such as face painting, the 4-H petting zoo, wagon rides through town, moon bounces, karate demonstrations and so much more. The Annual Culpeper Country Fireman’s Parade is a huge event for the entire community.

Fine Dining

Of course all this shopping and visiting is bound to make you hungry. Fortunately, there is no shortage of dining establishments of all types and sizes. And many are world-class, including Foti’s Restaurant, named one of the 100 Best Restaurants by Washingtonian Magazine.

Just walking along Davis Street, you can smell the delicious, fresh-baked breads at It’s About Thyme Market. And in the Frenchman’s Corner, you will become intoxicated by the huge glass cases of chocolates and confections. The Cellar located in the back of the Frenchman’s Corner sells gourmet cheese, local dairy and wine and is a favorite stop for your children as they can always count on a sample of one kind of cheese or another.

The newly relocated Stable restaurant is the place to go to enjoy barbeque, ribs and down-home food. Resident CeAnn Garr commented, “I love to eat the ribs with home-made rub! They are finger-licking good!” Stables is also a great place for night-time entertainment as they have a live band every weekend. Local bands such as Three Legs Up and The Survivors are just two of the many groups that have kept the place hopping.

One of the newest restaurants on the street is the Copper Fish, and though it may be new, it burst on to the street with a ton of atmosphere and what a menu! Bill Cook and his wife, visiting Culpeper from Arizona, were more than impressed with this small town and the cuisine they discovered here.

“We ate outside (at the Copper Fish), and the crab cakes I had were delicious, as were the gratin potatoes, and the berry crisp for desert,” said Cook. The real value, he added, is in the service, the quality of the food and the atmosphere. “It’s a very European feel sitting at the cafe tables in the passageway between the Copper Fish and It’s About Thyme in the middle of historic old Culpeper.”

Though not a place to stop and eat, a trip to Davis Streetwould not be complete without doing a tasting at Taste! This wonderful oil, vinegar and spice shop is as unique as it is wonderful. From basil-infused oil to the more unique wild mushroom or blood orange, you will be surprised at each new taste. Even the kids can get intrigued as they try the different varieties of oils that are both flavorful and much healthier than standard vegetable oil. Have you ever thought of dark chocolate vinegar? This is not flavored with flavoring; this is an actual infused vinegar, and the flavor will (pleasantly) surprise you!

Small-Town Charm

Jeffery Mitchell, the owner of the Frenchman’s Cellar, stated that one of the best qualities of Culpeper is what has not changed. “When you go into a store, you are apt to meet an owner who is going to be passionate about what he is doing and takes the time to get to know people in the community.”

That sense of service, he noted, really sets Culpeper apart. “You will find it all in the shops here, and you would be hard pressed to have a bad experience,” he commented.

Culpeper has roots similar to many small towns that dot our country landscape, but in the hustle and bustle of the 20th century they have managed to mix the old and the new without losing the human element. You can see people enjoying coffee while working on their laptop right across from a mom taking her daughter out to tea at Miss Minerva’s Tea Room.

Something for Everyone

From the Farmers’ Market to the Third Thursday Concert Series to the world-class dining and quaint shops, there is always something going on that is not only fun and exciting but suitable for all ages and interests. Add in the friendly family atmosphere, and you can see why Culpeper is such a special place.

If you have not had the chance to grace her streets, be sure to add this to your summer’s to-do list.

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