Shenandoah Surprise

For one of the prettiest country scenes in America, exit I-81 at Raphine, Virginia.
Cassandra M. Vanhooser

It's rare to come across a place so breathtakingly beautiful, so utterly charming that you consider pulling up stakes and moving there. But that's how I felt when I first found this stretch of State 606 in Rockbridge County, just north of Lexington, Virginia.

At Exit 205 off I-81, you're greeted by huge truck stops and convenience stores. But pass through the town of Raphine and continue west on 606, and you'll find yourself rolling along a gentle country road.

"I love it," says Raphine resident Georgie Young. "When you head out this road, you think you're at the pity's end of Western civilization. But when I take this road, I know that in two minutes, I'm going to be in heaven."

Heaven on Earth
Georgie's idea of Nirvana is a pre-Revolutionary War gristmill that she and husband Jim now operate. In 1992, they both abandoned high- profile jobs in Washington, D.C., and moved their lives to the Shenandoah Valley. They've never been happier.

The couple sells freshly ground flours, meals, and grits to wholesale and retail customers, plus they've added a line of mixes for everything from buckwheat pancakes to hush puppies. They also pair their products with other locally and regionally produced foods for gift baskets. Imported linens, local pottery, and gourmet cookware round out the offerings.

Georgie invites visitors into her kitchen, too, for instruction on preparing foods from France, Italy, and the American South. The cooking classes, she says, started as a way to teach people how to use grain products, but they too have evolved. Now she teaches her students to prepare a complete meal designed with entertaining in mind.

 

Stone-ground Goodness
Even if you don't have time for a cooking class with Georgie, you can still enjoy the mill. Jim often grinds his grains on Monday and Tuesday. They close to the public for safety reasons then, but if you're lucky, he'll have the 21-foot waterwheel going. The mill was built in 1742 by one of the area's first Scotch-Irish settlers. On the second floor, the date July 11, 1771, is etched into the wall along with other ancient graffiti. Just looking at those dates fills Jim with a sense of pride and accomplishment he never felt in Washington. "We've worked to continue a 250-year-old tradition," he says. "That's what satisfies me."

Wade's Mill: 55 Kennedy-Wade's Mill, Raphine, VA 24472; (540) 348-1400 or www.wadesmill.com. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 1-5 p.m. Sunday, April through the Sunday before Christmas. Cooking classes range $25-$50. Directions: Get off I-81 at Exit 205. Travel west about 4 miles on State 606. Look for the Wade's Mill sign.

Good Neighbors
Wade's Mill adjoins the property occupied by Buffalo Springs Herb Farm where owners Don Haynie and Tom Hamlin plant an amazing garden. They harvest the blooms, hang them in the top of their red valley bank barn, then use them to create amazingly beautiful wreaths, door swags, and baskets. Visitors can stroll the gardens, peruse the gift shop, or sign up for one of the workshops or lectures. Call (540) 348-1083, or visit www.buffaloherbs.com.

Delightful Detour
Why not plan a short drive through the country as you're traveling on I-81 in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley? If you're headed south, get off I-81 at Exit 205 (Raphine/Steele's Tavern), and follow State 606 to the intersection of State 39/42. Continue south until you reach U.S. 11; then follow the signs to I-81.

If you're headed north, it's a little more complicated. Get off I-81 at Exit 191. This puts you on I-64. Go about 1 mile, and take Exit 55 onto U.S. 11. Reverse the previous directions, and get back on I-81 at Exit 205.

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This article is from the September 2004 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.