Welcome to Montross
by Lisa Hinton-Valdrighi
There’s a dogleg turn in the middle of Montross that forces motorists on King’s Highway to slow down, in fact nearly stop, in the middle of the quaint Northern Neck town.
Otherwise, folks might zoom on through the county seat of Westmoreland County, which has a total area of only 1.0 square mile and just over 300 residents.
The 90-degree turn faces the Old Westmoreland Courthouse, which was the site of notable Revolutionary War events from 1774-1775.
In fact, Westmoreland County is steeped in history as the birthplace of George Washington, James Monroe and General Robert E. Lee.
Montross is home to the Westmoreland County Museum, the county’s newspaper, a bottling distributorship, a few restaurants and shops.
The Westmoreland County Visitors Center is in the Westmoreland County Museum and Library at 43 Court Square. Established in 1941, it is the oldest museum in the Northern Neck. Built as a replica of Wakefield, the birthplace of George Washington, the museum was originally built to house Charles Willson Peale’s 1768 portrait of William Pitt, the Parlimentarian largely responsible for the repeal of the Stamp Act.
The museum exhibits include a geographical look at the region and depicts life in Westmoreland and the surrounding counties of the Northern Neck from the time of Native Americans and the first English settlements to the early 20th century. The museum is also home to the Presidents’ Garden, which honors Virginia’s eight U.S. Presidents.
Open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the museum sponsors many of the town’s annual festivals including a spring wine tasting, the Montross Fall Festival and Halloween and Christmas events.
One of the town’s most popular events, the Montross Fall Festival is held on the first Saturday of October and features games, parades, crafts, theater shows and re-enactors. The festival, which will be on October 2, 2010, is often held in conjunction with Washington and Lee High School’s homecoming celebration.
Once housed in the museum, the Northern Neck Historical Society moved in May just down the street to a private home at 15825 Kings Highway. Among the society’s collection are vital records, family histories, church and cemetery guides, histories of Virginia and Northern Neck towns and counties and immigration lists. Hours are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.
A visit to Montross wouldn’t be complete without a stop at arguably one of the most interesting shops in the Northern Neck — The Carrot Cottage — across from the courthouse on Kings Highway.
With flags waving in the breeze and yard decor along the sidewalk, it’s a what-not shop like no other. The Carrot Cottage sells nautical and seasonal gifts, pastel portraits, Crocs sandals, children’s clothing and toys, college apparel and memorabilia, jewelry, candles, knickknacks, dishes, soaps and hundreds of other items.
Just down the street, in a converted service station, is The Art of Coffee, a combination gourmet coffee shop, restaurant, art gallery and music venue. Promoting the arts of the Northern Neck, the shop provides a place to relax, sip coffee and dine while taking in artwork by owner Holly Harman and various local painters, photographers and woodcarvers. The shows change monthly. The current exhibit is one by art students from Washington and Lee High School.
For nearly five years now, the shop has promoted local entertainers with live music on the third Friday of every month.
Across the street from The Art of Coffee is possibly the town’s most recognizable building, the Northern Neck Coca-Cola Bottling Company, which was established in 1921. The company is best known for its production of Northern Neck Ginger Ale.
Montross had its 15 minutes of national fame in 2000 when the town was featured on the Late Show with David Letterman. Comedian Biff Henderson, during his segment “Biff Henderson’s America,” visited Montross’ museum, sheriff’s department, a bargain shop and the bottling company.
- June 4— John Dos Passos Lecture, Westmoreland County Museum, 6:30-8:30 p.m.
- June 13 — Wine Festival, Westmoreland County Museum, 5-7 p.m.
- October 2— Montross Fall Festival, events throughout town, 10 a.m.- 4 p.m.
- October 28 — Haunted Tales, Westmoreland County Museum, 6-9 p.m.
- October 29 — Haunted Tales, Westmoreland County Museum, 7-10 p.m.
- December 3 — Spirit Festival and Tree Lighting, Westmoreland County Museum, 7-9 p.m.
- December 5 — Holiday House Tour and Reception, 4-7 p.m.