Want to understand the vibe of “America’s Coolest Small Town”? Stop here.
Vibe is tricky to put your finger on.
For Lewisburg, a quaint city in southeast West Virginia, creativity sets it apart.
The vibrant arts scene is immediately noticeable in downtown, in everything from the antebellum mansions to the green spaces and colorful flowers to the artistically painted fire hydrants. Lewisburg was even honored as one of America’s Dozen Distinctive Destinations by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and won its population category for “America in Bloom” in 2015.
A particularly eye-catching building is Carnegie Hall. If that name sounds familiar, that is likely because of its namesake in New York City.
“It is an actual Carnegie Hall,” said Kristi Godby, Media Relations Manager at the Greenbrier Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It was built by an endowment by Andrew Carnegie. It is 1 of 4 remaining, still in continuous use, in the world.”
The Carnegie is a pillar of arts in Lewisburg. In addition to its lineup of cultural performances and events, you can take a workshop to learn about stained glass, sculpting, weaving, calligraphy, oil painting or hip hop dance— and those are just a few options. Bring the whole family to the Carnegie Kids’ College, where children of all ages can learn new skills. There’s a pottery studio, and 3 art galleries with rotating exhibits throughout the year.
Carnegie’s the heart, but there are a stunning amount of performing arts venues and groups for such a small town. The local community also supports the lauded Greenbrier Valley Theatre troupe, restored Lewis Theatre and the Trillium Performing Arts Collective, which supports artists in creating original works.
But the creative community in Lewisburg stretches way beyond the stage.
“The depth of the amount of artisans we have in the area— chefs, potters, painters, poets, woodworkers, metal workers— is kind of amazing!” Godby said.
The city’s shops embrace art and craftsmanship, especially from fellow West Virginians. Visit Harmony Ridge Gallery for fine jewelry, whimsical garden pieces, decorative ceramics, distinctive woodwork and more.
“They are an American folk store, so they have all kinds of American art,” Godby said. “Everything is made in America, but then they also have some regional and very local stuff.”
Check out Bella The Corner Gourmet for artisan cheese, meats, snacks, wines and local handmade goods— including cutting boards shaped like West Virginia, which are crafted right in Lewisburg.
You might find the variety of shopping surprising for such a small town, but that it just adds to the charm. Wolf Creek Gallery, “As unique as you are,” sells modern and vintage clothing and accessories (and more). Brick House Antiques offers a look at the workmanship of the past, The Bookstore shares out-of-print works in eclectic genres and Plants Etc stocks regional handicrafts.
“They all work together, the downtown merchants,” Godby said. “They all work to have individual things. Nobody really copies each other, so if someone carries a local product, no one else is going to carry it. Each store has its own individual vibe. You aren’t going to go in and go, ‘Oh, well I just saw this two stores down.’ ”
Godby (and the rest of the town) is proud of their local artists.
“We have so many things to showcase local art,” she said. “We have so many that can fill all of these needs.”
The West Virginia Fine Artisans Gallery, a pop-up cooperative venture in the heart of downtown, has an array of work from area artists and artisans, including painting, sculpture, pottery, wood-working, quilting and jewelry.
Lewisburg’s art takes many forms, even food. The town has more than 14 local restaurants, with several centrally located downtown along Washington Street. With a rich culinary history nearby from the Culinary Apprenticeship Program at The Greenbrier, it’s only fitting that the neighboring town would develop a diverse palate.
Del Sol Cantina and Grille has fresh Latin cuisine, while The French Goat serves artfully crafted European classics like boeuf bourguignon and saumon poêlé. You can taste the care for detail in the ingredients. Most restaurants source from local farms and bakeries.
While you dine, you can probably even catch a show, too, since a lot of local restaurants support the local musicians with live venue space.
No wonder Lewisburg was named “America’s Coolest Small Town.”
This post was last updated on July 29, 2020