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5 Things I Love About Marion, Virginia

Over the past 18 months, the small town of Marion, Virginia has experienced an incredible revitalization. Prompted by a community-wide determination to stimulate the local economy, new entrepreneurs and small businesses are flooding the historic downtown district to show that in terms of tourism, Marion means business.

Located about a mile off route I-81 in Southwestern Virginia between Wytheville and Abingdon, Marion is a easy stop for road trippers. There’s moonshine, and bluegrass, and BBQ and a gorgeously restored historic hotel all within easy walking distance of each other… pretty much everything you need to have a super visit.

I was so charmed by my overnight stay in this friendly and fun small town, that I wanted to share… so here are the 5 things I love the most about Marion, Virginia!

Marion- main street 2

Marion’s downtown Main Street

 

1.) Some really cool things have happened here

  • Marion’s known as the birthplace of Mountain Dew. Local resident Bill Jones formulated the final recipe and sold it to Pepsico in 1964.
  • Baseball Hall-of-Famer Nolan Ryan pitched his first professional baseball game in Marion in 1965 as one of the “Marion Mets.”
  • A precursor to the snowboard, called the “Snurfer” was invented and produced in Marion in the 1970s.
  • The nationally syndicated “Song of the Mountains” musical TV show is filmed at Marion’s Lincoln Theatre on the first Saturday of each month. The series is currently in its 10th season on PBS and celebrates the musical heritage of the Southern Appalachians by featuring local talent performing bluegrass, old-time and Americana tunes.
  • The Lincoln Theatre has a cool history of its own. The theater was built in 1929, and had a distinctive style– Mayan Revival –one of only 3 theaters with that style in the U.S. But by the late 1970s, the theater closed and fell into disrepair. In 2004, the theater reopened  with the help of the entire local community wielding paint brushes and hammers, and is a worthy source of community pride.
Marion- Lincoln Theatre 2

A foot-stompingly good bluegrass performance at the Lincoln Theatre by the group Valley Grass

 

2.) There’s (legal) moonshine

At first glance, the Mercantile & Stillhouse store on Marion’s Main Street looks like a straightforward, traditional country store featuring locally-made products. At least, it does until you continue on towards the back, where you soon discover the magic really happens.

Marion- Appalachian Mountain Spirits- moonshine 2

Moonshine!

 

Opening in late August 2014, the Appalachian Mountain Spirits tasting room features several varieties of old-school moonshine whiskey, made in the woods in the old-style way… but legally. This storied illegal liquor has been a mainstay of the region’s culture and economy for generations, and Marion distiller Scott Schumaker is committed to bringing this heritage to the masses in a way that still preserves the mountain methods. Stop in for a $5 tasting of 3 x .5 ounce samples, and pick up a bottle or two to take home. Keep your fingers crossed that you are able to stop in on a day that features a bluegrass group playing in the tasting room, in traditional Floyd Country Store style.

TIP: Don’t pass up a sample of the “Apple Pie”, which is half 85-proof Virginia Sweetwater moonshine and half apple-cinnamon mixer. YUM!

Marion- Appalachian Mountain Spirits- Scott Schumaker 2

Moonshine Distiller Scott Schumaker pours a sample of “Apple Pie” moonshine

 

Marion - the mayor and moonshine

Marion Mayor David Helms (yes, the MAYOR!) takes a seat and shows off the moonshine

 

3.) Main Street is the place to be

Beyond the moonshine tasting room, Marion’s Main Street has a lot of good stuff going on. First, there’s the aforementioned Lincoln Theatre– a cultural center in the center of town.

Then, there are a bevy of brand new independently-owned and affordable restaurants, each with their own unique personality. My favorites?

  • Wooden Pickle for tasty twists on American pub food (think: Pickle fries, beer pretzel sticks and un-sauced buffalo wings served with 6 homemade sauces on the side) which pair perfectly with their extensive list of wines and local beers.
  • 27 Lions for brick oven pizzas and burgers. Oh, and there’s 27 taps… Impressive!
  • Wolfe’s BBQ for the best beef brisket I’ve ever had (seriously), tasty homemade BBQ sauces, and damn good sides like mac and cheese and baked beans.
Marion- Wolfe's BBQ

A mouthwatering plate of food from Wolfe’s BBQ

 

Lastly, there’s the Main Street lodging. Historic hotel-lovers will swoon over the lovely General Francis Marion hotel. While the rooms aren’t huge, they’re luxuriously-appointed and full of character… and all for around $100/ night. And B&B travelers will feel right at home at the 5-room Collins House Inn.

Marion - General Francis Marion Hotel- room 2

General Francis Marion Hotel

 

Marion- Collins House room

Collins House Inn

 

4.) There’s easy access to the outdoors

Thinking beyond Main Street, the area surrounding Marion has a lot to offer those in search of outdoorsy activities. There’s Hungry Mother State Park, which features a lake, a man-made beach, a restaurant, rental cabins and natural forest spread across nearly 3,000 acres. Hungry Mother has 18 miles of hiking trails, including Molly’s Knob, a nearly 4 mile hike that at 3270′ elevation has the best view in the park.

Marion- Hungry Mother- paddleboat and lake 3

Hungry Mother State Park

 

Marion’s also the beginning of the popular 32-mile Back of the Dragon motorcycle route. This curvy ride takes motorcyclists through the mountains, along scenic Route 16 to Tazewell, Virginia.

Bikers of the slower kind would love the Virginia Creeper Trail— a 35 mile bike trail that runs from Whitetop Station that runs down to Abingdon. Beginners should stick to the first 16 mile route from Whitetop and Damascus. All you have to do is start in Damascus at Creeper Trail Bike Rental & Shuttle (a 25 minute drive from Marion). There you can pick out your bike of choice and hitch a lift to the top of the mountain for $26. Then all you have to do is enjoy an easy, scenic downhill ride.

Damascus- Creeper Trail- biking

The Virginia Creeper Trail

 

5.) The local community couldn’t be more welcoming

When you visit Marion, you will soon realize that everyone there knows everyone else. It’s a small community of just around 6,000 residents, and is the type of place where it’s not at all uncommon to see the town mayor stopping into storefronts along Main Street to see what’s going on.

Over the past year and a half, Marion has been operating with kind of a “if you build it, they will come” mentality, so everyone is incredibly welcoming of visitors and so pleased to see that the shared vision for their town has taken root. There’s an overarching spirit of pride and authenticity, making this is one small town that shouldn’t be missed.

 

**DISCLAIMER: Many of my meals, accommodations and activities for this trip were provided by Virginia Tourism. All reflections and opinions are completely my own.**

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23 Responses to 5 Things I Love About Marion, Virginia

  1. Ken Heath September 29, 2014 at 9:21 am #

    We LOVED having you visit, and hope to see you back soon – and often! You’re always welcome here in your home in the heart of Virginia’s Highlands!

  2. Roaster John September 29, 2014 at 10:17 am #

    Thanks for visiting! We love our little corner of the world!

  3. Tony R September 29, 2014 at 1:45 pm #

    Loved this blog! Marion sounds like an interesting place to visit with plenty to do!

  4. Becky Nave September 29, 2014 at 3:03 pm #

    Love the article and Thank you for visiting Southwest Virginia! Looking forward to the next visit!

  5. Chris Haulsee September 29, 2014 at 3:39 pm #

    I was born in Marion and still visit there about 3 times a year. I still have many cousins, aunts and uncles and other relatives in the area including my 95 year old grandmother. One of my cousins owns a business (restaurant/frame shop/gift shop, etc.) on Main Street and serves on the Town Council and has been instrumental in the revitalization of Marion. I love the town and look forward to traveling there when I can. A resident of South Carolina for the last 50 years I still consider Marion as my hometown and that I am a Virginian. I encourage anyone that is traveling in the area to stop by Main Street and visit! I am very proud of what the people of the are have accomplished!

  6. Billy Burgess September 29, 2014 at 7:40 pm #

    What a wonderful post about my hometown. I spent about 36 of my first 37 years in Marion (with interludes away for college) – with about 33 of them living on the same street! I moved to northwestern Oregon 13 years ago, and don’t get back much (was back last in 2001). But I keep up with family and try to keep up as I can with what’s going on back there. It seems as if changes are being made there, but mostly for the better. I doubt I’ll ever move back, but just as Oregon has become home for me, Marion will always be home.

  7. J Taylor September 29, 2014 at 8:18 pm #

    Don’t forget about Macado’s!!

  8. Frankie Newman September 29, 2014 at 10:37 pm #

    This is great exposure for my childhood town. I think it awesome seeing the growth of restaurants in the downtown Marion area!

    Always loved hanging out at the Hungry Mother State Park.

  9. Cathy September 30, 2014 at 12:04 am #

    Thanks so much for your kind article. I love our town!!

  10. Linda Fox Blevins September 30, 2014 at 2:55 pm #

    I was born and raised in Marion and I love the town and people. Now I am so homesick .

  11. Scott Ferrell September 30, 2014 at 3:41 pm #

    I grew up in Marion with many fond memories, and it sounds like the town leaders are doing the right things! Look forward to my next visit so that I can try the new attractions, especially Appalachian Mountain Spirits for a little moonshine!!

  12. Valley Grass September 30, 2014 at 5:42 pm #

    Great article! Thanks for including a photo of us!

  13. Valley Grass September 30, 2014 at 5:42 pm #

    Great article! Thanks for including a photo of us!

    • Jean Hunter October 1, 2014 at 1:27 am #

      My husband and I just returned from a trip to VA and spent 2 days in Marion. It was undoubtedly the highlight of our trip. We saw the Great Dr Ralph Stanley at the Lincoln Theater and stayed at the Francis Marion Hotel. The people of Marion gave us such a warm welcome. We hope to return some day to that beautiful area.
      So worth the trip from Oklahoma!

  14. Don Francis October 1, 2014 at 3:46 pm #

    Very good information. A Marion resident from 1970 until 2005, disappointed that you did not include the fact that the writer, Sherwood Anderson, was a resident of Marion from 1925 until his death in 1941. He married a Marion lady, Eleanor Copenhaver. A few of us decided that we needed to do something to commemorate Anderson. We organized in 1976, the centennial of Anderson’s birth, the Sherwood Anderson Literary Festival. A short story contest was part of the program, and it continues annually until today. In recent years it has been sponsored by the Smyth-Bland Regional Library in Marion.

    • Youlin Beck October 13, 2014 at 10:57 pm #

      Actually I do not think he was a resident of Marion. I do know he owned 2 newspapers there, but I actually think he lived at Ripshin Farm in Troutdale, VA, not Marion.

  15. jamie January 12, 2015 at 1:25 am #

    Well,I see it from another stand point..no jobs..the town purchased a country club that was failing now tax money is spent on it.The town leaders won’t let any real business come in other than their buddies.The whole community as a whole is closeminded..Fatz and other businesses have tried to come in but seems they are always met with opposition. A decent meal will cost you as well..Not all of us like bluegrass or folk music but thats all there is here..I myself will drive to bristol va/tn.Its a shame change is so looked down on.I’ve lived here all my life but the chance I get I’m gone.

    • Keith Medeiros May 18, 2015 at 11:02 pm #

      I’m sorry you feel this way. I Moved to Marion in 1971. The town has weathered many social and economic hardships, and it has taken time to make changes. If you honestly look hard at where we were 20 years ago and compare to where we are today you have to admit we are a great small town working hard to become something more. I own one of the new downtown businesses, the Past Time Antique Emporium. We were able to start our business not because we are “buddies” with the town govt but became cause we worked hard on our vision, invested our life’s savings and laid out a plan. Anyone can do the same thing if you are willing to work on it. Don’t like what you see in town, want other choices? Invest the time, energy, and dollars to make your vision happen. I Promise you that you will find friends in Marion interested in seeing success. It’s easy to complain that you don’t like this or that about Marion, but being willing to make the effort to see change is where the good folks in town are putting there energy. One other thing, don’t complain about the price of a good meal downtown when admittedly take your business out of town. The more locals frequent the businesses here in town the easier it will be for those merchants to ease up on prices. Give Marion an honest chance, this is a great place.

  16. David Coulson-Lowes February 12, 2015 at 8:31 am #

    I haven’t been to Virginia since I was a kid but I recognise some of the places in the post. Great to see it has kept many of the things that make it a special place.

  17. Bethany Husson September 13, 2015 at 12:19 pm #

    I was born and raised in Marion until I married and had to leave in 1980. My folks and some siblings stayed plus many family members. When you have to live in different parts of the U.S. As I did being a military wife, it makes you appreciate the small town life and the kindness of our people. I live in Northern VA now, but frequent Marion several times a year. One very important place that was omitted was our one of a kind Dip Dog Stand…can’t not include that spot. Still one of places I have to visit evrytime I’m home. I love what the town has done to improve downtown. The Lincoln Theater holds many memories for me as a child with its Saturday matinees and beautiful design as well as Hungry Mother Lake where many summers were spent hanging out with family and friends, Good times! Thanks so much for the article. I love that visitors appreciate my Hometown. I’m proud to be a Marionite!

  18. Rick French May 9, 2016 at 3:02 pm #

    I lived in Marion from 1958 till 1968. Saw a lot of things happen here in that short time period. Came back in 1975 with my wife to show her where I grew up & we ended up getting married in Cripple Creek by an elderly Justice of the Peace. I was 23 yrs old. My fiance was 21. We had run away from Louisville, KY to get married. The JP & his wife were very accomodating, and just prior to the ceremony, the elderly gentleman pulled me aside in the living room, and he looked straight into my eyes and said the following : ” Son, I’ve married a lot of people in these parts over the years. Not one of those couples was ever separated by anything but death. And you’re not going to be the first one, are you ? ” I answered, ” No, sir. I promise.” And here we are, 41 years later, still hitched & going strong. I remember a character from my childhood seen frequently peddling his ancient, balloon-tire bicycle around Marion, “Old Man Tuck”. He wore black horn rim glasses and had a long white beard and long white hair sticking out under his floppy woman’s sun hat.One day, at age 10, (1962), I made fun of him when I spotted him riding on the side of the road with a big floppy hat and balloons tied on his handlebar basket. As the schoolbus passed by, I made the comment, ” Look at that crazy old man !”. Being new and unaware, I was quickly and strictly straightened out by an older student on the bus, who shouted at me , : ” He ain’t no crazy old man ! That’s Old Man Tuck,
    and he ain’t been right since he was hit by gas in the Great War. So you better watch your mouth !” I learned a lot about Marion that day. A small town that watched out for the least of its citizens. And I have told this story many times about Marion since then. May Old Man Tuck rest in peace for his service to the country, and may Marion always be the place that kids grow up respecting those that are deemed lacking elsewhere.

  19. A curious traveler July 7, 2016 at 7:27 pm #

    Well, I just rode by (through) Marion on a bus, and it looked so nice that I searched online to learn more. Thanks for a great blog–and for all the posters. If your goal was to welcome others to visit this historic town, then you’ve done a great job. I can also appreciate the struggles involved in trying to create change while not leaving others out of your vision. Hats off to all! I hope to have the good fortunate to actually be able to stop by and visit Marion, Virginia one day.

  20. Michelle March 18, 2017 at 10:15 pm #

    Curious about the area….. a family member just relocated to marion and I stumbled upon this afyer trying to find out about grade schools…. possibly thinking about relocating there too.

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