Who knew that rail trails would eventually become a thing? Just recently, we went out to bicycle down the Virginia Creeper Rail Trail in Damascus and I’ve blogged about a 5K/10K on the Dick & Willie Rail Trail in Martinsville. This weekend was the annual Apple Dumpling Festival in downtown Stuart and this year it was kicked off by a 5K on Stuart’s rail trail, the Mayo River Rail Trail.
By the way, if you are interested in rail trails in Virginia, I highly recommend “Virginia Rail Trails: Crossing the Commonwealth” by Joe Tennis. Just keep in mind that, as the interest in rail trails continues to grow, so does the attention that some of them are getting from their community. Such is the case with Stuart’s Mayo River Rail Trail. Tennis’s book has a lot of history on the trail but here is what it has to encourage folks to get out to see it today:
” Stuart’s Mayo River Trail stretches for 2,550 feet on asphalt, originating at a parking lot with picnic tables. The trail forms a sidewalk along Commerce Street and follows the railroad grade heading through an industrial section of town, squeezing between a factory and the bubbling waters of the Mayo River. Park benches and split-rail fencing line the path before it ends at a parking area with shade trees.” (page 113)
Today, the rail trail is almost three miles long and has recently been paved. Landscaping will come soon and I believe that they have already acquired a historic caboose to place at the first turn of the trail, the area described as “industrial” in Tennis’s book.
Starting in 1884, passenger trains of the Danville and New River Railroad would depart from Danville at 5 o’clock in the morning and chug into Stuart at 11 o’clock. Being at the end of the line, the train was then turned around on a turntable and pointed back east for the return trip to Danville.
Nothing remains today of the old railroad. In 1942, the line was shut down and cannibalized for the steel that could be used in the war effort to defeat the Nazis. The old turntable was burned to make it easier to collect the scrap metal. What artifacts are left are currently in the Patrick Henry Historical Museum in uptown Stuart.
There are plans in the works for a 75th anniversary commemoration of the last train leaving Stuart. The caboose should be in place sometime in the spring and they are shooting for holding the anniversary events sometime in the summer.
This past weekend was the annual Apple Dumpling Festival.
The weather was chilly and a little blustery but still beautiful. The apple dumplings made it all worthwhile.
Old-fashioned ice cream was being whipped up in the booth next door for those that wanted their’s a la mode.
Vendors lined the streets of the little downtown. It’s a nice little festival and the layout is perfect for filling up on apple dumplings and kettle corn (and other tasty treats in the food area, like potato doughnuts) and walking it off looking at the vendors’ wares and admiring the old buildings.
There were kittens outside Pet Pro Visions Naturally.
And a mascot.
It was a fun morning. I’ll leave you with this, one of my favorite buildings in Stuart’s downtown.
The Historic Star Theatre opened in Stuart in 1947. I love to imagine these old downtowns “back in the day”. Hats were stylish for men and women wore flared A-Line dresses. Bogart and Bacall were a thing.
It would depend on what month it opened to be able to guess what played there in the Star Theatre its first year. Some of the big films of 1947 were Life With Father (William Powell, Irene Dunne, and a young Elizabeth Taylor), Road to Rio (Bing Crosby and Bob Hope), Dark Passage (Bogart and Bacall), and, a personal favorite, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (Rex Harrison and Gene Tierney). There’s a better than even chance that the classic Christmas films The Bishop’s Wife and Miracle on 34th Street, both released in 1947, did play here.
Up until recently, the Star Theatre was open as a concert venue but was put up for sale in 2015. I’ve checked with the commercial Realtor who handled it then and the Patrick County Tourism Office (who checked with the Chamber of Commerce) but no one seems to know the current status of the theatre. Even its Facebook Page currently say “May Be Permanently Closed”. How sad.
I’ve got my fingers crossed that its story doesn’t end quite yet.