Deep in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, Lexington, a Quaint Little Town, Boasts Eclectic Architecture, a Scenic Setting, a Collegiate Ambiance and a Sense of Tradition
Cost of Living: Below the National Average
Tucked in the inspiring natural beauty of the Shenandoah Valley in lush west central Virginia, Lexington (population 7,300) is a quaint, quiet burg steeped in history and tradition. It was settled in 1777 and is home to the prestigious Virginia Military Institute (1,650 students), established in 1839, and the well-regarded liberal arts college of Washington and Lee (2,265 students), established in 1749. The entire downtown is listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places, and General Robert E. Lee and General "Stonewall" Jackson are buried here. Although Lexington is a bit isolated geographically, Civil War buffs and other tourists wander into town, and the two colleges give it a vitality not always present in small metropolises.
Lexington has grown by 4% within the last decade, and 33% of residents are age 45 or better. Politics lean to the left, and 45% of locals hold at least a four year college degree. Racial diversity is minimal, and the crime rate is below the national average. The cost of living is 7% below the national average.
The median home price is $170,000. Residential architectural styles include bungalow, Craftsman, Cape Cod, Federal, Neoclassical, Colonial Revival and Victorian, as well as ranch rambler and raised ranch rambler. Many single family homes are large, lovely and at the end of a long driveway. Some town homes are also available. Outside of town limits, horse farms and properties with acreage are the norm.
When it comes to taxes, Virginia is a mixed bag. Social Security is not taxed, and, depending on income, people age 65 and better may deduct up to an additional $12,000 in retirement income. All other income is taxed at rates between 2% and 5.75%. Long term care insurance premiums are deductible. Real estate is assessed at 100% of fair market value. The annual taxes on a $170,000 residence are approximately $1,360. The state sales tax is 4.3%, but another 1% is added at the local level. Prescription and non-prescription drugs are not taxed, but food for home consumption is taxed at 2.5%.
The two campuses abut one another as well as the historic downtown, which is full of sturdy, well-preserved red brick buildings, red brick sidewalks, shops, narrow streets and some very good restaurants. Nearly a dozen art galleries, studios and cooperatives are sprinkled about, and the Lexington Carriage Company offers horse drawn tours through the town center.
For a small town, Lexington offers plenty to do. The Lenfest Center for the Performing Arts on the campus of Washington and Lee presents more than 125 public theater, ballet, music and opera performances each year. The Theater at Lime Kiln mounts 74 perfromances per year. Community events include the Rockbridge Community Festival, Restaurant Week, the Gallery Walk and many others.
Residents also enjoy an 18-hole golf course (the Lexington Golf and Country Club), a YMCA and two farmers' markets. For anyone needing a sports fix, both Virginia Military Institute and Washington and Lee have active athletic departments with football games, basketball games and more. Washington and Lee's campus has been called one of the prettiest in the nation and is a perfect spot for an afternoon stroll. The sprawling Virginia Horse Center, just outside of town, is the center of Virginia's horse industry and presents 100 or more events each year, including dressage competitions, rodeos and music jams. The Blue Ridge Parkway is just a short drive away.
Lexington is also proud of its Civil War and military heritage, and several museums and historic sites mark its place in history. The completely restored "Stonewall" Jackson house is a museum, and the Hunter's Raid Civil War Trail documents a Union general's 1864 raid through the Shenandoah Valley, including the burning of Virginia Military Institute after its cadets had earlier distinguished themselves in the Battle of New Market. The Virginia Military Institute Museum traces the history of the country's oldest state-supported military college, and the nearly hidden Museum of Military Memorabilia showcases uniforms worn by militaries around the world. The "Stonewall" Jackson Memorial Cemetery, surrounding the old Lexington Presbyterian Church on South Main Street, holds the remains of Revolutionary War veterans, 144 Confederate soldiers and General Jackson.
Retail shopping includes a country store, a food market, a gourmet food market, wine shops, outdoor gear stores, bookstores, shoe stores and the like, most located downtown on Main Street. There is also a Wal-Mart on the northern end of town, but many residents shop in Roanoke, 45 minutes away. Dining options are plentiful and include the Southern Inn (American fare and white table clothes) and the Palms (a cozy bar and grill).
The Rockbridge Regional Library is the central library for this region and has a collection of 170,000 volumes. It also has an interlibrary loan program, a magnifier reading machine, books by mail, public computers with Internet access and free wi-fi for laptop users.
The Valley Program for Aging (VPAS) is a part of the Commonwealth of Virginia's Department for the Aging and while based in the town of Waynesboro, it provides services for people age 60+ residing in Lexington. The Maury River Senior Center is one of several senior centers operated by the VPAS around the state, and although it is located seven miles away in Buena Vista, it is open to Lexington residents. Services include Meals on Wheels, social programs, exercise classes, trips and transportation to the center.
Carilion Stonewall Jackson Hospital has 25 beds and is a critical care access facility with emergency services, cardiac care, respiratory care, surgical services, home health care and more. It is accredited by the Joint Commission, and Medicare patients are accepted. The nearest VA hospital is 50 miles away in Salem, and the closest VA outpatient clinic is in Lynchburg, 45 miles away.
Rockbridge Area Transportation System (RATS) has an on-demand, door to door van service Monday through Friday. Fares vary, depending on length of the trip. Lynchburg and Roanoke, both about 45 miles away, have a regional airport, but the closest international airport is in Washington, D.C., 180 miles away.
Lexington's elevation is 1,065 feet above sea level, and the climate is humid subtropical, with four mild but distinct seasons. Summer temperatures reach into the 80s and 90s, and winter temperatures are in the 30s, 40s and 50s. On average, the area receives 39 inches of rain and 15 inches of snow per year. On the comfort index, a combination of temperature and humidity, Lexington meets the national average. The sun shines 222 days of the year, and both the air quality and the water quality are above the national averages.
Retirement in Lexington has some drawbacks. Virginia Military Institute cadets and Washington and Lee students make their presence known, and the town is crowded during alumni weekends, homecoming weekends and commencements (Lexington does not, however, have a rowdy college town reputation). The poverty rate is above the national average, but this is attributed to the large student population. Lexington is also hilly.
Despite these issues, Lexington is worth a peek at retirement time. A comfortable, historic burg, it is a nice place to call home.
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