One fact of life that never changes is that things will never stay the same. Ironic, I know. The economy goes up and down, businesses open and close – and time goes on. From wacky museums to century-old institutions, here are a few places in Virginia that have fallen victim to the passage of time. I have to admit, I’ve been sad to see them go.
1. Thalhimers, Richmond and throughout the South
The Richmond-based chain first started as a dry goods store in 1842 before it became Richmond's first department store and opened in dozens of locations throughout the south.
Many Virginians will remember shopping at this store, especially during the holidays when the “Snow Bear” would visit.
In 1992, Thalhimers merged with the Hecht Company and the iconic name was no more. The flagship Richmond store closed its doors and, in June 2004, was demolished.
Local author, and great-great-great-granddaughter of founder William Thalhimer, Elizabeth Thalhimer Smartt, has written a book chronicling her family’s history and their famous department stores. The book, "Finding Thalhimers", is available on Amazon.com. Learn more at www.findingthalhimers.com.
2. Sweet Briar College, Lynchburg
Although it’s not gone quite yet, the fate of Sweet Briar College remains dubious. On May 16th, graduates walked across the Sweet Briar stage for the 106th, and possibly last, commencement of the 114-year old college.
Earlier this year, the board announced that the school would be closing following the 2015 commencement due to a lack of enrollment and funding.
Since that time, a significant grass roots campaign, “Saving Sweet Briar”, has formed and fundraising efforts have take place to fight the board’s decision and keep the college open.
On June 3, 2015, the Supreme Court of Virginia heard a case to block the school’s closing, and while the Sweet Briar’s advocates feel hopeful, the fate of the College remains in limbo.
Economic issues are very real, but we can all agree that seeing the doors close for good on this Virginia institution would be a sad day, indeed. Learn more about “Saving Sweet Briar” at www.savingsweetbriar.com.
3. Mark Cline’s Dinosaur Kingdom and Haunted Monster Museum, Natural Bridge
In “Professor” Mark Cline’s weirdly wonderful Dinosaur Kingdom, dinosaurs devoured Civil War soldiers in a fiberglass recreation of “if dinosaurs had been around in 1863.”
The life-size dinos “lived” in the woods surrounding Cline’s equally fantastic Haunted Monster Museum.
Sadly, the haunted house was destroyed in a major fire in 2012, and by 2013, it was decided that both attractions would be closed for good. Farewell, freaky fiberglass friends…you will always be missed.
4. Ukrop's Super Markets, Richmond and surrounding areas
Beginning in 1937, Ukrop’s Super Markets were a staple of Richmond and the surrounding area. These family-owned stores were a cut above, offering quality products and exceptional customer service – not to mention some of the best rolls and cakes on the planet.
In 2010, they sold the chain to Martin’s, a subsidiary of a Netherlands-based company. I know I’m not alone when I say that I still miss the friendly baggers who would take your cart to the car and load the groceries for you – with no tipping allowed.
In the days of self-service checkouts that usually take longer than a traditional line thanks to the never ending “please wait for an attendant” error message, Ukrop’s will be missed. Fortunately, their bakery items are still in Martin’s stores.
5. Lakeside Amusement Park, Salem
Lakseside Amusement Park was a Salem icon since it first opened as a swimming pool and beach area in 1920. A few years later, amusement park rides and a pavilion were added. The pool closed in 1967, but the park added more rides, including a wooden roller coaster named the Shooting Star.
The park remained popular with locals through the 70s and 80s, but bigger parks started drawing customers away and a flood in 1985 caused significant damage. Although Lakeside was repaired, a series of unfortunate events led to its closing in 1986.
However, for you Salem residents who still miss this local icon, a group formed in January 2015 with the intent of reopening the park. What do you think? Should they bring Lakeside Amusement Park back?
6. Natural Bridge Wax Museum, Natural Bridge
Change is never easy, even when for a good cause. With the plans to make Natural Bridge a state park by 2016 were drawn up, sadly, the Natural Bridge Wax Museum just didn’t fit into the picture.
In early 2014, the Virginia Conservation Legacy Fund purchased the Natural Bridge hotel, caverns, 1,600 acres, the wax museum, and the bridge itself.
By Labor Day, the museum was no more. Yes, it was weird. Yes, even a little creepy. But we can all use a place that makes us laugh while teaching us a little bit about history along the way – and its sad to see this one go.
7. Natural Bridge Toy Museum, Natural Bridge
Like the wax museum, the Toy Museum didn’t make the cut. The museum closed in November 2012. With over 45,000 toys on display, the Natural Bridge Toy Museum was a walk back through childhood for many.
Where else, other than your mother’s attic, could you show your kids and grandkids the toys you played with as a child?
8. Rennaisance Faire, Frederiscksburg
Only open from 1996 – 1999, bad weather, swampy grounds (read, BUGS), and poor ticket sales are said to be the things that thwarted this Renaissance Fair’s merry existence. Fortunately, The Virginia Renaissance Fair began operations at Lake Anna Winery in 2004 and they have seen much more success than the Renaissance Entertainment Corporation’s ill-fated fair in Fredricksburg. All the same, it’s sad to see a place like this fade into the mist.
But I can’t end this without giving you all a little ray of hope. Sometimes, when we wish something long enough or hard enough – it CAN happen. I am happy to announce the return of an old favorite – or what is sure to be a new favorite for those of you who don’t remember the old one – Cooter’s of Sperryville has finally re-opened after a dozen years out of the picture. So if you have felt a giant gaping hole in your heart where Dukes of Hazard paraphernalia used to be, just head to Sperryville to get your fill of Cooter, Daisy, and the boys.
It’s always sad to see a beloved icon go. But as we’ve seen, sometime when you love a place enough – and you’re willing to fight for its return – it can make a comeback. Take a minute to comment below and tell us about the places in Virginia that you miss the most…