Main Streets 2017: Virginia
Davis Street dates back to 1759, when the town’s streets were surveyed by a young George Washington — and the heart of Culpeper’s downtown has always been here. But after a bypass highway led travelers away in the 1960s, Davis Street fell on hard times. Businesses shut down and crime rose, so much so that, according to the Free Lance-Star of nearby Fredericksburg, there were parts of “Davis Street that people were afraid to walk down.”
Not anymore. Thanks to thousands of volunteer hours and a brace of public and private partnerships, Davis Street is thriving today, with dozens of handsome buildings, restored storefronts, shade trees, flower boxes, and the allure of old Virginia history. Culpeper was even named “One of America’s Top 10 Small Towns” in author Norman Crampton’s book, The 100 Best Small Towns in America.
After Culpeper created its downtown Historic District in 1982, local voters approved a multi-million dollar restoration bond issue, and the town set to work. Sidewalks and historically styled street lamps have been added, utility lines buried, and the streetscape improved.
A 2007 design plan, developed through a community visioning process, has helped downtown become even more pedestrian-friendly and focused on what’s often called smart, or sustainable, growth. The local Culpeper Renaissance, Inc. organizes special events, beautification projects and revitalization meetings — and it’s easy to appreciate the results.
For a small town there’s a lot to see here, and more to savor. The central intersection of Davis and Main has been home to a lunch counter/cafe since 1928, and today’s Frost Café still uses the counter and soda fountain from the original Gayheart Drug Store and Luncheonette. Set out from Davis and Main to explore shops that offer antiques, refurbished furniture, old-time sweets, fresh-baked treats and a whole lot more.
At the east end of Davis Street is the Culpeper Visitor Center, inside a 1904-vintage train depot that was saved from demolition by town residents and business owners in 1985. The depot also houses the Museum of Culpeper History, and there’s a lot to learn! Culpeper contributed volunteer Minutemen to the American Revolution, and the town and its environs were the site of three Civil War battles.
When you need nourishment, your Culpeper choices range from classic small-town diners to world-class restaurants. You’ll want to linger downtown a while longer. And why not?
All photos provided by Town of Culpeper