Officially established in 1772, the Town of Fincastle’s roots run deep into American history and play an unlikely role in the nation’s western expansion.
Fincastle has long served as the county seat of Botetourt County, but in the late 18th century, Botetourt’s western boundaries looked far different than the Virginia county we recognize today. In 1770, the county’s western territory extended more than 600 miles to the shores of the Mississippi River, establishing the Town of Fincastle as the gateway to the west for a generation of settlers.
Following local merchant Israel Christian’s donation of 45 acres to establish the Town of Fincastle, historic documents show a building boom leading into the 1780s. Various buildings and homes were constructed, including taverns, ordinaries, and other commercial properties established to serve those passing through on their way to make a new life out west.
As the county seat, visiting settlers often stopped in Fincastle to record deeds and prepare for their long journeys west. Included in Fincastle’s list of famous visitors are Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. Yes, the same Lewis and Clark sent by President Thomas Jefferson to explore the Louisiana Purchase.
The building boom continued into the 19th century, with commercial expansion and the construction of various churches that can still be enjoyed today. In fact, Fincastle is referred to by town leaders as ‘a living museum of American architecture’ due to the more than 50 structures in the small town that date back to the 1700s.
Possibly the most recognized and celebrated of the many historic buildings today is the Botetourt County Court House. The court house was originally designed by Thomas Jefferson and contains original documents signed by Jefferson and various other well-known Virginia and U.S. politicians.
With other routes to the west gaining popularity and the official border of Botetourt County shrinking to what we recognize today, Fincastle began to lose its status as a gateway to western expansion.
By 1845, concerned citizens groups began petitioning the General Assembly to ensure rail and road infrastructure planning involved Fincastle. However, with the construction of a major railroad line passing Fincastle to the south in the 1880s, it was clear the small town would no longer be the travel hub it once was. Fincastle became increasingly more rural and remains a quaint piece of American history to this day.
Throughout the centuries, the American landscape and lifestyle has experienced drastic changes, but for generations of Fincastle residents, their unique culture has remained remarkably unchanged. With populations that remain steady at approximately 350, traditional small town life remains at the forefront of the experience to those calling Fincastle home and they welcome you to join them with these must see Fincastle stops.
1. Heritage Family Market
Looking for fresh baked breads, local honey, and free range chicken eggs? The Heritage Family Market is your opportunity to enjoy fresh foods prepared daily, as well as a plethora of Amish and Mennonite prepared canned goods and baking ingredients. Of course, traditional Virginia items also line the shelves. You’ll enjoy every minute exploring the shelves inside Fincastle’s Heritage Family Market.
2. Springwood Bike Loop
If it’s outdoor adventure you crave, Fincastle is the ideal starting point for the beautiful and challenging 33.2 mile Springwood Loop bicycling route. The loop begins in Fincastle, passes over the James River and directs you through a number of historic small towns and beautiful countryside before returning you to Main Street Fincastle.
3. New Year's Eve Ringing of the Bells
With little change over the centuries to the landscape and its population, Fincastle has developed a number of traditions that remain strongly embedded in the citizenry’s lifestyle. One of the more unique and well known traditions carried out by more than 150 years of Fincastle families is the New Year’s Eve ringing of the bells. The Library of Congress describes the experience as ‘a synchronized and solemn requiem to end the old year and a joyous tolling to celebrate the beginning of the New Year.’
4. Historic Fincastle, Inc. Walking Tours
A popular activity for any Fincastle visitor is walking the historic streets and touring dozens of historically significant structures throughout the small town. If you are interested in stepping back in time and discovering early American history and architecture, Historic Fincastle, Inc. conducts guided tours of Fincastle and offers self-guided tour materials as well.
5. Fincastle Art Studios
Generations of artists have called Fincastle home throughout the centuries and today there are a number of artist’s galleries to enjoy. From whimsical furniture restorations that combine 18th century techniques and artistic humor inside Jacob Cress’ Fincastle Gallery, to the realistic abstract paintings of Ed Bordett, to the colorfully creative woodturning of Willie Simmons, Fincastle artists cover the gamut of styles and mediums.
6. Attic Productions Theater
Attic Productions is a community theater committed to the presentation of family entertainment that reinforces and upholds community values. In addition to family focused productions such as Mary Poppins being performed on the main stage, Attic Productions is devoted to developing the next generation of actors through its Youth Summer Camp, consisting of workshops covering basic acting techniques, theater etiquette, auditioning tips and more.
The Town of Fincastle may be small, but its impact on the development of the nation cannot be overlooked. First as a passageway to western expansion, and today as a snapshot in time that reminds all who visit of the history and small town ideals embodied by early Americans.
Click here to discover more about the region's unique cities and counties, and experience more of Botetourt County by following our self-guided Taste of Botetourt Loop Tour. Also, don't forget to subscribe to our monthly e-newsletter to keep up with exciting new features and upcoming events in Virginia’s Blue Ridge!