Small-town charm with plenty of culture and a lot of heart.
written by DAWN NOLAN
photographed by NIKKI BOWMAN MILLS
Quaint yet cultured, historic yet modern, casual yet vibrant—all of these accurately describe the small city of Lewisburg.
“It’s quiet, so you’re able to relax and rest, but there’s always something going on, too,” says Mayor Beverly White, a former Lewisburg City Council member who took office as Lewisburg’s first African American mayor in 2019. “You can do whatever you’d like, or you can do nothing at all.”
Lewisburg’s renaissance began in the late 1980s, and, over the past decade, it has been recognized nationally for its efforts. Budget Travel named Lewisburg America’s Coolest Small Town in 2011, and other publications, such Southern Living and USA Today, have bestowed titles on the city of less than 4,000 residents.
As the executive director of the Greenbrier Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau, Kara Dense’s job is to market the area. “I am always telling people how wonderful it is to visit here, and I couldn’t do that if I didn’t feel that way about the area and love living here, truly,” she says. “Because we are a tourist destination, and a wonderful one, it allows us locals to have a quality of life that we probably wouldn’t have without the support of visitors.”
A Greenbrier County native, Dense grew up in nearby Rainelle but moved to Lewisburg more than 15 years ago after accepting her current position at the GVCVB. She and her husband had a seven-month-old daughter at the time, so it was a big decision. “We were considering all of the factors—school system, safety, community—of where she would grow up and what opportunities would be available,” Dense says.
Lewisburg fit the bill.
As the third-oldest town in the state with a 236-acre National Register historic district, Lewisburg has a lot of history. Simply take a walk downtown and you’ll notice all of the architectural gems—treasured landmarks, restored residences and well-maintained structures still in use. And, if you’re looking to dive deeper, the Greenbrier Historical Society can help. In town, the organization owns and operates the North House Museum and Archive as well as the Barracks, one of the city’s earliest buildings. Walking tours are available for scheduling.
Another benefit to Lewisburg’s downtown is its walkability and the proximity of businesses—to each other and to residential neighborhoods. “A lot of neighborhoods are within walking distance to downtown, which offers access to so many different things,” Dense says.
One of those things, of which Dense is most fond, is Lewisburg’s thriving arts community. “Where else in West Virginia are you going to find the small-town feel but also have the opportunity to see a professional play at Greenbrier Valley Theatre or watch the West Virginia Symphony perform at Carnegie Hall?” Dense asks.
For a city its size, Lewisburg also has a flourishing food scene. Samantha Mohler, a Monroe County resident, has worked as an attorney in Lewisburg for over two years. From coffee at The Wild Bean to pizzas from Hill & Holler and “Sammies” from Corn + Flour, the assortment of eateries is one of her favorite aspects of the small town. “I eat lunch downtown three to four times a week,” she admits. “I love the variety of restaurants and the convenience of having them downtown within walking distance from my office.”
And, whether you’re looking for art, antiques, clothing, gifts, or other items, Lewisburg has plenty of local places to shop—like A New Chapter, an independent bookstore that opened in 2018. Owner Micheline Johnson and her husband were familiar with Lewisburg thanks to their time in Snowshoe. They made the decision to buy a home here not long after her husband’s retirement, opening the bookstore he always wanted. Johnson says Lewisburg has welcomed them both as well as their business. “We didn’t know anyone when we moved here, but now we have so many friends,” she says. “We didn’t know anything about opening a bookstore, but it has worked out really well; there’s been so much local support. I wouldn’t live anywhere else.”
Lewisburg’s location at the crossroads of U.S. Routes 60 and 219 with proximity to Interstate 64 makes it easily accessible, and Greenbrier Valley Airport offers nonstop sservice to American Airlines’ hub at Charlotte, North Carolina, and connections from there to destinations across the U.S.
The world-renowned Greenbrier Resort is 10 miles away in White Sulphur Springs. The Greenbrier State Forest is also nearby, with the 78-mile Greenbrier River Trail for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. The popular Greenbrier River is a Lewisburg favorite. “We call it ‘easy recreation,’” says Dense. You can often find kayakers and fishermen enjoying its calm waters.
LEWISBURG BY THE NUMBERS
Named USA Today’s No. 3 Small Town Food Scene in 2022
More than 170,000 people attended the 2022 West Virginia State Fair
Carnegie Hall is 1 of only 4 in the world still in continuous use
The Shanghai Parade goes back to at least 1896
Lost World Caverns has stalagmites up to 80 feet tall
The Greenbrier River Trail is a 78-mile former railroad
The West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine is 1 of 3 medical schools in the state
Seeking even more adventure? Lewisburg is also less than two hours from Snowshoe, one hour from the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, and 30 minutes from the Monongahela National Forest.
If you ask those who live and work there, Lewisburg is safe, with a good education system, job opportunities—particularly in hospitality and tourism—and events year-round. But at the heart of it all, it’s the people who make it what it is.
“There are a lot of us that have lived here all of our lives, and the care and concern that those who live and work here have for the area, that made our decision to stay,” says Mayor White. “It always feels like home.”
It was those very people, in fact, that in 2016 led Lewisburg to become one of the first cities in West Virginia to pass an ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. This monumental decision caught the public’s attention, kickstarting the vote that would name Lewisburg the Best of West Virginia Best Inclusive Community in 2021. “Lewisburg is a place of love—when people see a need, they step up and help their neighbors,” White says. “It’s friendly and welcoming. People smile at you when you walk down the street. That doesn’t happen everywhere.”
This story was updated February 21, 2023, to reflect changes in Greenbrier Valley Airport’s flight offerings.