In honor of our 10th anniversary, we revisited Lewisburg’s historic downtown to see how it has changed over the years. And guess what? It is more charming than ever.
Ten years ago, when I was planning the first issue of WV Living, I spoke to focus groups around the state about what they would like to see in a statewide lifestyle magazine. One of the questions I asked was, “In your mind, what’s the most perfect West Virginia town?” No matter where in the state I was, the resounding response was “Lewisburg.” So, I jumped in the car with my camera and headed to Greenbrier County to write our first town feature.
In honor of that first issue, I packed my bags and headed south again to chronicle the growth of this charming community, and why 10 years later it is still considered West Virginia’s most perfect town.
It is probably safe to say that Lewisburg appeals to everyone. With the right mix of gift shops, boutiques, galleries, antique stores, eateries, and coffee shops, it is quaint and cosmopolitan at the same time. But know this: Lewisburg’s growth was by choice, not chance. Its renaissance began in the late 1980s, when a group of residents came together and created a vision plan for Lewisburg’s future. Today a cross-section of the community—merchants, residents, retirees, transplants, entrepreneurs, and artists—continues to join forces to enhance their town by capitalizing on its distinctive assets.
If you are a history or architecture buff, you’ll love the well-maintained historic buildings that line the streets. Mark Twain once said, “We take stock of a city like we take stock of a man. The clothes or appearance are the externals by which we judge.” When I first drove down Washington Street 10 years ago, I was ready to pack my bags and call Lewisburg home—and I hadn’t even gotten out of the car yet. Lewisburg is a beautiful town. No matter the season, it is always dressed in finery. Thanks to groups like the town’s astute Historic Landmarks Commission and The Lewisburg Foundation, Lewisburg’s historic and architectural heritage have been maintained and enhanced and are a main reason guests return again and again—and many even decide to stay permanently.
The beautiful buildings downtown aren’t just a façade. You’ll be hard pressed to find a small town in the state that offers the wide array of shopping options that Lewisburg affords. Fashionistas visit Yarid’s for a dizzying array of designer shoes, handbags, and jewelry. Yarid’s, which began in Lewisburg in 1908, is celebrating 100 years—no small feat for a retail establishment. For women’s clothing, Wolf Creek and High Country Boutique and Gallery are still tried and true spots for high-quality clothing and accessories. But in the past 10 years, new boutiques have joined them. Studio 40 features a hand-picked selection of limited-edition, artisan-designed clothing, jewelry, and accessories, and Merle Norman Cosmetics and Boutique sells the popular Simply Southern, Spartina, and Vera Bradley lines. For unique West Virginia–themed clothing and hipster-style casual attire, don’t miss Sunflower Soul. Check out the owner’s Pretty White Trash line.
Since we did our story 10 years ago, the beloved toy store Honnahlee has unfortunately closed—but don’t fret, there’s still a great toy and children’s clothing store in town: Love Child. Also new to the scene is a charming independent bookstore, A New Chapter.
Bella The Corner Gourmet is a must-visit. From artisan cheeses, gourmet foods, local meats, and fine charcuterie to West Virginia handmade goods and unique and useful kitchenware, you won’t walk out empty handed. Another local institution is Edith’s Health and Specialty Store, which has provided Lewisburg with health foods, spices, vitamins, and body care products for more than 20 years. A special spot is Harmony Ridge Gallery. You just feel cooler hanging out here. With a diverse and thoughtfully curated collection of American-made products that range from whimsical to artistic to functional at every price range, this is a place that draws you in. You can shop, pull up a bar stool and enjoy a glass of wine, and then shop some more. And if you are looking for outdoor clothing and equipment, Serenity Now is just next door.
If you love antiquing, Brick House Antiques is a darling shop that is still going strong. And for high-quality early 18th- to-19th century furniture, Robert’s Antiques Wine & Gourmet Shop is the place to go. In front of this unique shop, you’ll find more than 600 bottles of wine, beer, and champagne, along with a large gourmet food selection. Since our visit 10 years ago, Patina, a new vintage and antique store, has opened. With a large collection of vintage and eclectic decor, repurposed antiques, and even a booth that sells Yeti products, it’s a fun place to peruse. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are tons of more shops in and around the downtown area.
If, instead of shopping, you are looking for a jumping off point for outdoor recreation, Lewisburg has you covered. You can bike or hike the Greenbrier River Trail that follows the scenic Greenbrier River, the longest free-flowing and undammed river in the East. Folks come from near and far to fish and float the area’s pristine rivers and creeks. In the summer, you can swim at the Blue Bend Recreation area. If you prefer hanging out underground, then descend 120 feet down at Lost World Caverns or visit Organ Cave, the second longest commercial cave on the East Coast. Put on your hiking shoes and take to the trails at Greenbrier State Forest or, if you’d rather sling some mud, go off-roading at The Greenbrier Off Road Adventures. The Greenbrier also offers many other recreation activities—from golfing to sporting clays to ice skating to horseback riding.
Love art and culture? This town of 4,000 is home to three performing arts venues, including century-old Carnegie Hall—one of only four Carnegie Halls in the world that are still in continuous use as performance venues. Artists from around the world hold concerts here, and on summer evenings, you can enjoy free concerts on the lawn. Carnegie also has three galleries with rotating exhibits. The Lewis Theatre, which opened its doors in 1939, still shows films as well as hosting dance performances, concerts, and other events. Try and see a production at the Greenbrier Valley Theatre, the State Professional Theatre of West Virginia, which has been producing exceptional live theater for nearly 50 years.
Lewisburg loves its artists. Galleries showcasing nationally acclaimed and local artists dot Washington Street. The Cooper Gallery, on the corner of Washington and Lafayette, is an art connoisseur’s dream and nearby Wandering Bird Gallery offers an eclectic mix of fine art and crafts. And not far off Washington Street, a historic school has been turned into Lee Street Studios, a repurposed space for studios for all types of creatives.
Make sure you visit the North House Museum, which is perched on the hillside with commanding views of downtown. Built in 1820, it contains the collections of the Greenbrier Historical Society and offers guided tours. You’ll learn about the fascinating history of the area and the infamous Greenbrier Ghost, whose “testimony” about her murder was accepted at trial.
One of the most noticeable changes in the last 10 years, in my mind, is that the culinary scene has exploded in Lewisburg. If you are a foodie, there’s a plethora of restaurants to tempt your palate. Ten years ago, Stardust Cafe was relatively new, and 10 years later, it is still receiving rave reviews. High-quality and locally sourced foods served in an intimate atmosphere draw locals and tourists alike. Food and Friends is still dishing out steaks and comfort food, and The Market, located next door, is still going strong as a salad, soup, and sandwich spot.
New to the scene is one of the finest French restaurants in the state, the French Goat. This bistro serves classic French dishes, and if you happen to be in town on a Sunday, you’ll not want to miss their brunch. Another dining destination is the Livery Tavern. Mouthwatering steaks, lamb chops, and fish dishes are served in an elegant tavern environment. For fantastic Latin cuisine, stop by Del Sol Cantina and Grille. It’s also a great spot to grab a drink with a friend. The Wild Bean offers more than just great coffee—it is a local favorite for its vegetarian menu offered at breakfast and lunch.
Lewisburg is home to some new fantastic bakeries. Blackwell’s Catering, located where the former Greenbrier Valley Baking Company once was, serves fresh pastries and quiche in the morning and sandwiches, soups, pizza, and salads for lunch. You’ll also want to pick up a cupcake or two. Another new bakery that replaced the Bakery on North Court Street is Corn + Flour Bakery. It is also open for breakfast and lunch and is the go-to spot for fresh bagels and coffee, breakfast sandwiches, cinnamon rolls, and bear claws. On South Court Street is Amy’s Cakes and Cones, which serves up 16 varieties of Hershey’s Ice Cream along with artisan chocolates, cookies, cupcakes, and candies.
The Irish Pub on Washington Street is a Lewisburg institution. Weekly Celtic music performances, traditional hearty meals, a large selection of draft beer and whiskey, and a cast of characters sitting at the bar are a few of the things that make this place special. In the last couple of years, the Asylum has joined the nightlife scene. This multi-level bar and grill is outfitted with a dining area and a fully equipped sports bar, and in good weather you can enjoy live music on the rooftop bar. Open for lunch and dinner, locals swear Asylum’s fried chicken is the best in the county.
Now that you’ve shopped, eaten, shopped, and eaten some more, where do you rest your weary head? Of course, The Greenbrier is only a stone’s throw away from Lewisburg, but if you are more interested in staying downtown, the Historic General Lewis Inn has been greeting guests for 86 years. Offering 24 rooms and suites that are furnished with period antiques and a dining room that serves farm-to-table cuisine for breakfast and dinner, it has been undergoing impressive renovations since Sparrow and Aaron Huffman bought the inn four years ago. There are also chain hotels located near the interstate, but if you are looking for a bed and breakfast, Church Street B&B isa stately home built in 1904. For a touch of The Greenbrier without the expense, Maison Marcel, located less than one mile from downtown Lewisburg, is a delightful, albeit colorful option—the interiors were decorated by Carlton Varney, who as president of Dorothy Draper & Co., oversees The Greenbrier’s decor.
Since our article 10 years ago, Lewisburg has blossomed. New shops have opened, there’s a more diverse collection of restaurants, and more people are using it as a base for outdoor recreation. Lewisburg is a town you can visit for a day or stay a week and never be bored. I’ve focused on the downtown amenities, but there are equally as many restaurants, shops, and destinations on the outskirts, like Smooth Ambler Spirits, Greenbrier Valley Brewing Company, Jim’s Drive-In, Retro Donuts, and Hawk Knob Appalachian Hard Cider and Mead, to name a few. So plan your getaway. But be warned, you may love it so much you join the growing ranks of those who decide to never leave.