The history of Orange County dates back to 1722. But for many the Orange experience begins with a tour of Montpelier, a 2,650-acre estate that was the home of our fourth president and the “Father of the U.S. Constitution” James Madison. Its history includes exploration of the lives of slaves who lived on the plantation, Civil War soldiers who encamped on the property, and a freedman’s family who farmed there after emancipation.
Each year in September, Montpelier hosts the Constitution Day Celebration and Taste of Freedom Wine Festival. With live music, local food, beer, wine, fireworks, horse parades, hayrides, colonial games and balloon rides with breathtaking views, it’s a celebration of all things that make the county great. Mark your calendar for Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014 for a day of family fun.
Wine is a big draw for visitors to the region. The region’s rich soil and long growing season have helped winemakers craft a distinct, award-winning, tradition fast-gaining national attention. Festivals and special tours make this a mecca for wine enthusiasts. New wine tour packages include multiple winery stops, special transportation and overnight accommodations at one of the award-winning Inns at Montpelier bed and breakfasts.
There is no shortage of attractions for those with interest in the Civil War. Retrace the footsteps of soldiers from the Battle of the Wilderness starting at Ellwood Manor, a Union Army headquarters, Confederate hospital and the burial site for Stonewall Jackson’s amputated arm. And the Civil War Museum at the Exchange Hotel in Gordonsville tells of more than 70,000 injured soldiers, Confederate and Union, who received care there during the war. Newly freed slaves knew it as Freedman’s Bureau Hospital during reconstruction. Recently, the hotel has had many visitors interested in the “permanent residents” inhabiting their premises. Take a nighttime ghost tour in October and learn more about their historical haunts.
Here’s one you may not have known about but is on many horseracing fan bucket lists to attend. Since 1929, the grounds of James Madison’s home has played host to one of the most fascinating spectacles in sports, the Montpelier Hunt Races. The first Saturday in November hosts seven exciting races, including five with fence jumping, bring out the excitement and the pageantry of the sport. The day even includes Jack Russell Terrier races; stick horse races for the kids, and a party atmosphere for the whole family.
You can also take it slow and explore galleries and antique shops, or dine out in the land where fried chicken was made famous and fine dining thrives, get a taste of county life on a farm tour and get lost in Liberty Mills Farm’s Corn Maze, Virginia’s largest corn maze. Experience farm life and leave with fresh Virginia produce.