the quaint & highly educated town of lexington, virginia

Saturday, October 26:  After our hike at Douthat State Park, we head to the town of Lexington to see the two universities that sit side by side in the town, and to celebrate my birthday with wine and dinner at Bistro on Main.

We make our first stop at Virginia Military Institute (VMI).  Founded in 1839, VMI is the nation’s first state-supported military college.

Inside an old track at VMI
Inside an old track at VMI
Virginia Military Institute
Virginia Military Institute

According to VMI: Historical Development of VMI: Early in VMI history, Colonel Preston declared that the Institute’s unique program would produce “fair specimens of citizen-soldiers,” and this observation has been substantiated by the service of VMI graduates in peace and war. Since the Institute was founded, VMI alumni have fought in every war involving the United States, starting with the Mexican War just four years after VMI graduated its first class.

VMI
VMI
Cannons and Stonewall Jackson at VMI
Cannons and Stonewall Jackson at VMI
Canon and Stonewall Jackson
Canon and Stonewall Jackson
VMI
VMI

VMI alumni continue to serve their nation with 266 having achieved the rank of General or Flag officer in the Armed Forces of the United States and several foreign countries, most notably Thailand and the Republic of China. During World Wars I and II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, over 300 alumni gave the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country, and two alumni were killed during Operation Desert Storm. Two VMI alumni were among those killed on September 11, 2001 in the terrorist attacks on America and 12 alumni have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Inside the chapel at VMI
Inside the chapel at VMI

After leaving VMI, we go right next door to the private Washington and Lee University.  Though the campuses are neighbors, they are as dissimilar as two places can be.

Washington & Lee University
Washington & Lee University

Founded in 1749, Washington & Lee University is named for two of the most influential men in American history: George Washington, whose generous endowment of $20,000 in 1796 helped the fledgling school (then known as Liberty Hall Academy) survive, and Robert E. Lee, whose presidency and innovative leadership brought the University into the national limelight.

Washington and Lee University
Washington and Lee University
Center for Asian Languages
Center for Asian Languages
Washington and Lee University
Washington and Lee University

On the campus grounds is the R.E. Lee Memorial Church, founded in 1840.  It’s part of the Episcopal Diocese of SW Virginia.  It has a labyrinth for meditation, something that has always fascinated me.

According to a pamphlet available beside the labyrinth:  The labyrinth is a form of walking meditation, introspection, prayer, contemplation, and even stress management.  It is important to know that no two experiences are the same.  The Labyrinth is not a maze.  There are not choices to make; every turn is a part of the path.  The path leads steadily to the center even though from time to time, you will appear to be moving away from it.  Some people find the walk consists of three stages: first, releasing or letting go of the details of your life, which quiets the mind.  Second, receiving insights and discernment, which usually happens at the center, a place of reflection, meditation and prayer.  Third, returning, with new understanding to the world.

Labyrinth at R.E. Lee Memorial Church
Labyrinth at R.E. Lee Memorial Church

I don’t walk the labyrinth this evening as it’s getting dark.  But I have walked labyrinths before in various Episcopal churches and I’ve always found it a very powerful experience.

R.E. Lee Memorial Church
R.E. Lee Memorial Church
R.E. Lee Memorial Church
R.E. Lee Memorial Church
R.E. Lee Memorial Church
R.E. Lee Memorial Church
a berry bush
a berry bush
Washington & Lee University
Washington & Lee University
Washington & Lee University
Washington & Lee University
Washington & Lee University
Washington & Lee University
another church on the campus of Washington & Lee University
Lee Chapel at Washington & Lee University
a church on the campus of Washington & Lee University
Lee Chapel on the campus of Washington & Lee University
church
Lee Chapel
Washington & Lee University
Washington & Lee University

Surprisingly, we come across the grave of Traveller, Robert E. Lee’s most famous horse during the Civil War.  Traveller was a horse of great stamina who was difficult to frighten.  However, during the Second Battle of Bull Run, he was frightened and lunged, causing Lee to fall and break both of his hands (Wikipedia: Traveller (horse)).

In 1870, during Lee’s funeral procession, Traveller was led behind the caisson bearing the General’s casket, his saddle and bridle draped with black crepe. Not long after Lee’s death, in 1871, Traveller stepped on a nail and developed tetanus. There was no cure, and he was shot to relieve his suffering.

Robert E. Lee and Traveller
Robert E. Lee and Traveller

Traveller’s bones went from being buried behind the main buildings of the college to being bleached and displayed in Rochester, New York.  Later, they were moved back to the college and displayed in the Brooks Museum, now Robinson Hall on the campus; there, they were vandalized by students who carved their names in the bones for good luck.  They were moved in 1929 to Lee Chapel’s basement, where they stood for 30 years, deteriorating from exposure.

Traveller's grave
Traveller’s grave

Finally in 1971, Traveller’s remains were buried in a wooden box encased in concrete next to the Lee Chapel on the campus, a few feet away from the Lee family crypt inside, where his master’s body rests. The stable where he lived his last days, directly connected to the Lee House on campus, traditionally stands with its doors left open; this is said to allow his spirit to wander freely.

We head into the charming town of Lexington, where we take a little drive through the streets.

on the corner of Main Street in Lexington
on the corner of Main Street in Lexington

At Bistro on Main, we find a reservation is necessary, and we don’t have one.  No tables are available, so we sit at the bar, where it’s much more lively and convivial than a private table.  I order a glass of wine and Mike and Alex order special microbrew beers.  I order Shrimp and Grits – cheddar grits, mushrooms, scallions, garlic, & white wine cream sauce.  Yum!  Mike orders Four Cheese Spinach Lasagna with a tomato basil cream sauce, and garlic crustini.  Alex order his first ever Duck Breast – pan seared, blackberry sauce, Parmesan roasted potatoes and vegetable of the day.

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Bistro on Main
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Bistro on Main in Lexington

The bartender, who is very charming, tells Alex that he better to be prepared to join Duck-lovers Anonymous, a special group for people who get hopelessly addicted to duck.  We talk later about the waiter; Alex and I both wish we were more like him.  I point out that Alex himself seemed quite charming while the waiter was in our company.  We agreed that some people we meet in life naturally bring out the best in us. 🙂

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at the bar and our charming waiter 🙂
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Mike and me on my birthday
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11 thoughts on “the quaint & highly educated town of lexington, virginia

  1. Brought back all kinds of memories….love Lexington!! Stonewall’s horse, Little Sorrel, is also buried on VMI grounds…in front of the cannons that are in front of Jackson’s monument. And those cannons are named Mathew Mark Luke and John! Your pictures are great!

    1. I didn’t notice Sorrel’s grave! Too bad I missed that. I’m sure this does bring back memories for you. I didn’t know about the names of the canons either. I guess I wasn’t paying close enough attention! Thanks, Louise! 🙂

  2. HB, Cathy. I do like what you say about how others affect us. It’s so true. The different faces we wear huh? I’m going on a photography course this weekend and will try and try and try not to be the class clown and actually concentrate. To note to self – overcome learnt behaviour. Shyness though must be one of the hardest.

    1. Good luck at your photography class, mrs. carmichael. It’s always nice to have a class clown, especially if you’re a fellow student. But not so much fun if you’re the teacher. Believe me, I know, as I have a number of class clowns in my class at NOVA, and though it adds some color, it is also very disruptive! 🙂 Yes, shyness is hard to overcome….

  3. Looks like you had a lovely birthday and meal. What a lovely sunny blue-sky day you had! I really like the architecture of the Washington and Lee University too. I think I’d like to explore Virginia and the eastern states around there.
    Jude xx

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