Farmville: Find Your Happy Here

From home design, to dining, to the great outdoors, there’s something for everyone.

(all photos by Jen Fariello) Kayla Pittman and Randi Brown at Charley’s Waterfront Cafe

When you sleep in a tipi (or teepee), you wake up with the sun. Bright. And. Early. Not that I minded. With a mug of hot coffee in hand, I stepped outside to take in a nearby field of young grapevines, which glowed in the morning sun. Birds chirped in the trees across the meadow. A great sense of peace came over me. It was just what I needed.

Tipis at Sandy River Outdoor Adventures in Rice

I’d recently caught wind of Farmville’s rising cool factor—its outdoor recreation, Main Street restaurants and shops, Civil War and Civil Rights history, festivals, even a rooftop bar. And when I heard you could sleep in a tipi, I had to see for myself what the buzz was about.

Anchored by Longwood University and Hampden-Sydney College, Farmville is a college town at heart. But as I discovered during my recent visit, whatever you’re seeking, you’ll find your happy in Farmville.

It started when I walked into the Hotel Weyanoke and felt like I was home. I’ll admit, I’m a hotel junkie—something about how fresh and tidy everything is—and my spacious room, with its mid-century modern furniture, blonde flooring, neutral tones, plush bathrobes, and walk-in shower, offered the hotel-fix I needed. Located across the street from Longwood and two blocks from Main Street, Hotel Weyanoke is close to everything but feels far away.

Originally opened as the Weyanoke Hotel in 1925, the luxury property hosted conventions and welcomed the well-to-do in its heyday. When its popularity waned, it was converted into a senior living facility and, later, a dormitory for Longwood University students.

In 2016, the Weyanoke was bought by Richmond investors and reborn two years later as a boutique hotel with a new wing and 70 rooms. Historical elements were preserved during the renovation, so today the hotel has a fresh, new look but still maintains much of the character of its bygone days.

Originally a grocery store, Green Front was owned by Richard Crallé, Sr., who bought an adjacent building and began selling home goods.

I met the manager, Catherine Snyder, at Catbird, the hotel’s fifth-floor rooftop terrace, which offers a lofty view of downtown Farmville and distant forests. A full bar serves craft cocktails, local beer, and wine, as well as small plates. Over crispy Brussels sprouts prepared with honey, soy sauce, and cashews, Synder explained that the rooftop bar is insanely popular but only open seasonally, “So, plan a visit soon!”

Green Front showroom

Farmville is one of 28 designated Main Street communities, a statewide program created to strengthen and expand existing businesses while encouraging new uses for downtown commercial spaces. On Farmville’s Main Street, you’ll find antique stores, gift shops, and clothing boutiques— plenty to keep a shopaholic busy. But it’s famous for furniture, and Hotel Weyanoke sources much of its décor and furnishings from Green Front Furniture, so I started there.

Now a destination store located in 13 buildings throughout downtown, the original Green Front was a grocery store owned by Richard Crallé, Sr.; he bought an adjacent building and began selling home goods. After his son Richard (“Dickie”) Crallé, Jr. inherited the business in the 1960s, things began to take off.

Dickie Crallé began buying old department stores, tobacco warehouses, and various other buildings downtown and filling them with furniture, much of which he traveled the world to find. Today, you literally need a map (or “Field Guide”) to find your way around the place.

Dickie’s son, Richard “Den” Crallé III, is the current president of Green Front Furniture.

“Den” Cralle III

“Our trademark is rugs,” he told me from his office in Building #1. “That’s something we do better than anyone else.” Hand-knotted carpets are shipped in containers directly from India and Pakistan, and the sheer number of choices is mind-boggling. The pandemic prompted Den to experiment with e-commerce, and the company began selling rugs online. “It got off to a good start,” he said.

Actually, the pandemic was great for business, Den noted. “Everyone wanted to spend money on their homes.” Outdoor furniture also exploded, he said. Total sales for Green Front Furniture last year were over $50 million. “It was a good year— better than anyone expected,” Den added.

Wandering through the buildings is not for the faint of heart, though. “Sometimes it can be overwhelming,” Den admitted. “Having a designer does help.” Still, he adds, “a lot of our customers like the quirkiness of being free to choose.” Trust me, there are plenty of choices.

My next stop was the great outdoors. My husband, Peter, and I enjoyed the walking trail around Wilck’s Lake on a one blue-sky afternoon. Then there’s the High Bridge Trail State Park, a 31-mile- long linear park that bisects Farmville. Once a rail line, the park opened in 2007 and is popular among hikers, runners, cyclists, and equestrians. Its namesake bridge played a significant role in the Civil War, as ranger Daniel Jordan explained while we stood on the newly reopened bridge. In fact, one of General Robert E. Lee’s last battles, before he surrendered at Appomattox, took place at what is now Sailor’s Creek Battlefield Historical State Park a few miles away.

Jordan shared more stories as we walked over the bridge’s fresh wooden decking. “Our job is to facilitate these histories,” he said. “But not everyone comes out to the park for the same thing. Some people want to hike, some want to learn history, and some want to learn science.” He mentioned the many marathons and ultra-races that have taken place across the High Bridge. “There’s a lot of opportunities for community engagement,” he noted.

Another outdoor mecca is Sandy River Outdoor Adventures in nearby Rice, where massive white tipis rise from a grassy meadow. Owners Mark and Candice Smith started Sandy River in 2012 because it was always their dream to own an outdoor adventure business, explained Maggie, one of the park’s employees. I couldn’t wait to peek inside a tipi, but we were running late for the Adventure Park’s treetop ropes course.

After our group was fitted with harnesses and literally learned the ropes, we walked the course. I was nervous, so I stuck to the easier yellow and green routes. It was scary at times, but my yoga practice helped me keep my balance. The rest was a mind game requiring sheer willpower not to fall—which, I’m happy to say, I didn’t.

We were joined by a family of five visiting from Columbia, Maryland. They whizzed through and seemed to be having the time of their lives. Turns out, they were staying in the next tipi, and we finally caught up with them to ask what they thought of Farmville. “We came for the experience of sleeping in a tipi,” said Dr. Ada Guiselle Rodriguez, “and found there was so much more to do!”

Spending the night in a tipi was a highlight of our visit to Farmville. We stayed in Thunder Bird Tipi, which features a king-sized bed, a comfy futon, kitchenette, air conditioning, and even a bathroom with shower. Sitting around the campfire watching the stars come out made us feel we were back in the pioneer days. We even heard a coyote yipping in the distance.

The next morning, we grabbed lifejackets and paddles for some kayaking on nearby Sandy River Reservoir, a peaceful body of water with an undeveloped shoreline. There were just a few fishing boats bobbing about as we paddled across a reservoir, and we spotted a great white heron, a blue heron, a doe and her fawn, turtles, and myriad butterflies.

My spacious room offered the hotel-fix I needed— mid-century modern furniture, blonde flooring, neutral tones, plush bathrobes, a walk-in shower, and a balcony.

Longwood University’s campus, in the heart of Farmville, is also worth exploring. Founded in 1839 as the Farmville Female Seminary Association, it is Virginia’s third-oldest public university. A beautiful rotunda anchors the historic buildings on the stunning campus.

“Joan of Arc is the school’s patron hero,” Jennifer Cox, Longwood’s director of community relations, told me as we entered the rotunda. Under the dome sat “Joanie on the Stony,” as she is affectionately known, a marble statue gifted by the Class of 1914. Traditionally, students rub her hand for good luck. The campus also boasts “Joanie on the Pony,” a bronze in the rotunda, and a new Joanie, installed in 2018. The 15-foot-tall statue presents “women taking charge of their own lives,” according to Alexander Stoddart, the Scottish sculptor who cast it.

Farmville’s role in the Civil Rights movement is brought to life at the Robert Russa Moton Museum, the site of a 1951 protest organized by 16-year-old Barbara Johns. Fed up with the over-crowded and dilapidated conditions of the local Black high school, Johns persuaded 450 students to boycott the school until conditions improved. This protest ultimately led to the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decision, which declared segregation in public schools to be unconstitutional. The museum is part of a two-mile Civil Rights Walking Tour, which takes visitors to 17 sites in downtown Farmville, where defining moments of the Civil Rights movement occurred.

A different kind of Farmville tour is available at the Heartland Regional Visitor Center on Third Street. The Scavenger Hunt is a series of clues designed to help visitors learn about the town, its Main Street businesses, and local attractions. For example, one clue is, “Fairytale creatures await below the surface.” Ask anyone about the trolls under the bridge, and you’ll be on your way to completing the Scavenger Hunt. Prizes will be awarded to those who finish by Dec. 31, 2021.

Biking the High Bridge Trail State Park was last on our list of things to do in Farmville. We rented bikes from Sandy River Outdoor Adventure Store on Main Street and pedaled 50 feet or so to the trail. As we rode along, leaving the bustle of traffic and commerce behind, Peter and I let the peaceful power of nature take over.

“Wouldn’t it be great to retire here?” I asked. “We could buy some land and have a garden and horses and go to concerts and plays at Longwood. What do you think?”

Peter smiled. He had a happy look in his eyes.

Cat Snyder at 3 Roads Brewing Company

Eat & Drink

Foodies will love Farmville. While the restaurant scene here is constantly changing, these hotspots are have definitely found their groove.

Carrot Cake at Charley’s Waterfront Cafe

For steaks and seafood, Charley’s Waterfront Café is a good choice. I joined co-owner Tommy Graziano for dinner on their beautiful deck overlooking the Appomat- tox River. The hot crab dip served with French bread was rich and creamy, as was the pasta alfredo, made with corkscrew-shaped cavatappi. Tommy showed me the new Virginia Tasting Cellar, an industrial-chic space below the main dining area, which also overlooks the river. Open Friday through Sunday, the Tasting Cellar offers a variety of Virginia wines in one convenient location.

Another popular spot is One19, where bottles of tequila and mezcal line the walls and the menu features margaritas, tacos, salads, seafood, and burgers. Owner Billy McKay renovated a former Main Street barbershop, repurposing the original fixtures into furniture and decorative touches, and opened One19 in 2018. Peter and I both tried tacos: spicy jackfruit for him and tender, flavorful swordfish for me.

One of Farmville’s newest restaurants, Taproot Tavern is on the first floor of Hotel Weyanoke. We sipped cocktails and sampled the flavorful tomato bisque before enjoying an entrée of crab-stuffed shrimp with a saucy lemony risotto. Delicious.

Tacos at North Street Press Club

The Fishin’ Pig, with locations in Waynesboro, Farmville, and (soon) Norfolk, specializes in killer BBQ and fried fish. I loved their sides, too: collards, smoked beans, and luscious slaw.

Grab a sandwich at Uptown Coffee Café on Main St. before you head out on the trail. I recommend the steak and cheese.

Finally, North Street Press Club serves excellent food both inside the restaurant and on their beautiful patio. The Pad Thai is phenomenal, especially if you like it spicy! Cool down with a local craft brew at 3 Roads Brewing Company, which overlooks the High Bridge Trail.

Billy Mckay at One19

This article originally appeared in the August 2021 issue.

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