Lexington is a relatively undiscovered town in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. It’s much less visited than other cities in the state, such as Charlottesville, Richmond and Alexandria. However, just like its distant neighbor of Staunton, Lexington is home to some fascinating historic sites. In this case, it’s the prestigious Lexington colleges Virginia.
A charming town of about 7,000 inhabitants, Lexington lies at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The iconic Blue Ridge Parkway is a 15-minute drive away. In historic downtown Lexington, visitors can indulge in beautiful historic architecture, craft beer and farm-to-table food.
Despite being so small, Lexington colleges Virginia has been home to many people of influence, from Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee to George C. Marshall (the U.S. General responsible for the Marshall plan and receiver of the Nobel Peace Prize).
Lexington Colleges Virginia Major Attractions
All these historically important men were, each in his specific way, associated with the Lexington colleges Virginia. There are two major educational institutions in Lexington—Washington and Lee University and the Virginia Military Institute.
Both are surprisingly fascinating places to visit. You can easily spend an entire afternoon exploring the grounds of these two historic colleges.
Washington and Lee University
Founded in 1749 as August Academy by Scottish-Irish pioneers, the school changed its name to Liberty Hall in 1776 (the year the United States became independent). Twelve years later, it became Liberty Hall Academy.
Struggling during its first half-century, the academy was saved in 1796 by George Washington who donated $20,000 worth in stock of the James River Canal. Thankful, the board changed the school’s name once again—this time to Washington College.
From 1865 (right after the Civil War) to 1870, Robert E. Lee was president of the college. He basically single handedly saved the college and put it firmly on the national map. Introducing innovative programs and courses, Lee made the college into what it still is today—a renowned school distinguished for its honor and integrity.
After Lee’s death in 1870, the college was, once again, renamed to Washington and Lee University. It is the second-oldest institution of higher learning in Virginia (after the University of Virginia in Charlottesville) and the ninth-oldest in the entire United States.
The Washington and Lee University is home to a collection of downright gorgeous buildings. Two of those, the Colonnade and Lee Chapel, are National Historic Landmarks. You can pick up a map of the Washington and Lee University campus at the visitor center, which is located on East Washington Street.
Don’t miss: the Lee House, the Lee-Jackson House, Washington Hall, and Lee Chapel and Museum.
Virginia Military Institute
A five-minute walk from Washington and Lee University lies the Virginia Military Institute, another National Historic Landmark. While completely different in look and feel, this prestigious school is of equal historical importance.
This was the first state-supported military college in the United States, established in 1839. Among the early members of the faculty were Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, who taught natural philosophy and would become one of the greatest Civil War generals, and Matthew F. Maury, who charted the ocean currents and was nicknamed the “Pathfinder of the Seas.”
The institute’s most distinguished graduate is George C. Marshall. Graduating in 1901, Marshall would become one of the greatest U.S. Army generals in modern history. He became the first five-star general. During his impressive career, he was Chief of Staff during World War II, Secretary of State and Defense, Ambassador to China and head of the American Red Cross. His most notable achievement is the Marshall Plan, which helped Europe recover after the war. Partly because of this, he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953.
The Virginia Military Institute is one of America’s best public liberal arts college. It combines college studies with the military discipline, honor, responsibility and integrity. The campus consists of various buildings and museums, some of which are open to the public.
Don’t miss: George C. Marshall Museum and Research Library, the VMI Museum and Jackson Memorial Hall, and the Maury House.
Extra: Southern Virginia University
If, after visiting those two Lexington colleges Virginia, you’re in the mood for another one, you should go for a drive to nearby Buena Vista. This tiny town lies about halfway between Lexington and the Blue Ridge Parkway, making for a nice, brief stop on the way to the mountains’ ridge.
Buena Vista is the home of the Southern Virginia University, a liberal arts college. While not as historically significant as the previous two Lexington colleges, this one, too, is a National Historic Landmark. You don’t need to spend much time there, though. Just drive up to the imposingly spectacular main building. Snap a photo and continue toward the mountains.