When we decided to name our site “Only In Virginia,” it was with the intent of bringing you all of the amazing and wonderful things that could be found here. And we have a lot…I mean A LOT…of fun with it. Sometimes we talk about things that can be found other places, but that are still a unique part of our culture and way of life. But today, we are giving you a list of things that are truly special to Virginia. We hope they will serve as a little reminder of why so many people love living here…enjoy!
1. Smithfield Ham
Salt-cured meat has been around for centuries – but when the first colonists came to Jamestown in 1607, they learned a few more tricks about preserving meats from the Native Americans. By the turn of the 19th century, the Luters of Smithfield had the process down to a science and the Smithfield Ham was born – so to speak. In 1926, the Virginia General Assembly passed a law that only hams made from peanut-fed pigs and cured within the Smithfield town limits could be called “Smithfield Ham.”
2. The world’s best peanuts.
A peanut is a peanut, right? Not a chance. Thanks to our perfectly suited sandy soil, peanuts grow especially well here – so well in fact, that they’ve earned a reputation as the “Cadillac of peanuts.” And we take our peanuts seriously in the Old Dominion. We were responsible for the first commercial crop of peanuts grown in the U.S. in the 1800s and we’ve been ruling the peanut industry ever since. Even Planter’s, famous for their monocle-wearing Mr. Peanut, has made Virginia home. Companies like Virginia Diner, Blue Crab Bay Co., Whitley Peanuts, The Peanut Shop, Belmont Peanuts, Wakefield Peanut Company and many, many more keep the reputation alive with one-of-a-kind flavors and peanutty perfection.
Yes, STONEHENGE can be found elsewhere – but it’s only in Virginia that you will find a to-scale exact replica of this Celtic mystery made entirely of styrofoam. In 2004, Foamhenge mysteriously showed up in Natural Bridge on April Fool’s Day – and artist and Foamhenge creator, Mark Cline, has been getting a laugh ever since. Named as one of the “Top 25 strangest roadside attractions”, Foamhenge has become a national marvel – or at least one of the best photo opps out there.
Presidents just couldn’t seem to STOP being born in Virginia for a while. We can claim 8 of the U.S. presidents – which is more than any other state. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, William Harrison, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor, and Woodrow Wilson all got their start here – and you can visit most of their birthplaces, childhood homes and/or where they lived as adults.
5. This guy
Gary Duschl of Virginia Beach has held the Guiness World’s Record for more than 20 years for…(drumroll, please)…the world’s longest gum wrapper chain. That’s right, since 1965, Duschl has invested about 32,000 hours and $140,000 in gum to create a chain that stretches nearly 16 miles in length. Just to give you a little perspective, it would take around 6 hours to walk the length of this bad boy.
6. The Birthplace of Country Music
Bristol, the town that shares a border with Tennessee, is where country music as we know it got its start. When Ralph Peer, a record executive from New Jersey, came to Bristol in 1927, he wanted to find “hillbilly” music. What he found was history. In a portable recording studio set up in the Taylor-Christian Hat Company on State Street, he spent two weeks recording 76 songs by 19 artists including The Carter Family (known as “The First Family of Country Music”) and Jimmie Rodgers (known as “The Father of Country Music"). And while the studio was on the Tennessee side of State Street, the influence stretched across the border. And so it began. In 2002, The Library of Congress recognized the Bristol Session recordings as one of the 50 most significant sound recording events in history. These recordings are still a powerful source of influence for artists around the world. To learn more, visit The Birthplace of Country Music Museum in historic downtown Bristol-- on the Virginia side, just to be clear.
7. The site of the FIRST Thanksgiving
Those sneaky Pilgrims might have tried to claim the first Thanksgiving, but Virginians know that we called dibs on a day of overeating in the spirit of gratefulness. The first "official" Thanksgiving celebration was held in 1619 at Berkeley Plantation in Charles City. I am guessing this was also the site of the first mass marital dispute when all the men fell asleep after dinner while the women cleaned up.
8. THE Mistresses of Melody: Ella Fitzgerald and Patsy Cline
Virginia quite proudly claims two of the greatest female singers of all times. Jazz great Ella Fitzgerald, known as the “First Lady of Song,” was born in Newport News in 1917. Her country music counterpart, Patsy Cline, was born in 1932 in Winchester. Both of these women impacted the world of music in their own rights and are remembered as two of the greatest singers and performers in music history.
9. The world’s oldest edible ham
When P.D. Gwaltney found a ham in 1902 that had been overlooked in one of his smokehouses, he did what any reasonable person would do – he left it hanging there for another 20 years. By 1924, he claimed it was the oldest edible Smithfield ham and it became a legend. Gwaltney’s famous “pet” ham (he made a collar for it and took it to shows) has been featured in the Guiness Book of World Records and remains the oldest edible ham in the world.
10. The world’s Oldest Bluegrass Concert Series.
Some mighty big music comes out of the little town of Lucketts. For more than 30 years, a 100-year old schoolhouse has served as the home of the longest continuously scheduled bluegrass concert series in the world. The schoolhouse, which was abandoned but through years of renovation now serves as the Community Center, seats 225 people, but usually holds a standing-room only crowd. Shows, which are hosted by the Lucketts Bluegrass Foundation, are every Saturday night from October until April, minus a few holiday nights.
11. The longest stretch of pleasure beach in the world
Virginia Beach holds the Guiness World’s Record for the longest stretch of pleasure beach. This coastline of good times stretches 35 miles and includes the Virginia Beach resort area, Chesapeake Bay beaches and Sandbridge beaches.
12. A state bat
Ok, we’re not actually the only state to have an official state bat, but Texas and Oklahoma, who share this privilege with us, also share the same bat – the Mexican free-tailed bat. Virginia, on the other hand, has her own – the Virginia Big-eared Bat. Now if only we can get a state vampire….THAT would be cool.
13. The oldest continuous law-making body in the New World, a.ka. The Virginia General Assembly.
No, it’s not the sexiest claim to fame in the world – but it’s ours. The Virginia General Assembly first met on July 30, 1619, making it the oldest continuously operating law-making body in the “New World” (i.e., the Western Hemisphere). The VGA consists of 140 elected members representing constituents across the state and meets in the state capital building in Richmond.
14. Woodwick Candles
You can get nice smelling candles anywhere, but Woodwick Candles are the only ones that make that lovely little crackly noise when they burn. Featuring a “wick” made of organic wood, these soy candles are made in Forest near Lynchburg.
Of course, there are LOTS and LOTS of other things that are special to Virginia. But this list is a fun jumping off point. Tell me about a few of the things that you know of that can be found only in the Old Dominion….