Orkney Springs – a Step Back in Time


On one of our favorite road trips, we meandered into a magical village called Orkney Springs, made even more exquisite by the surprise April snowfall. We strolled around, looking in the windows of a huge old hotel, and tried to figure out what actually took place in this real life Fantasyland.

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This particular trip was to the Shenandoah Valley region of Virginia, birthplace of my father. As a child, we visited every year, and as an adult, our family has visited numerous times. While we’re there, in addition to our visits to the old home place and cemeteries where my relatives are buried, we venture out to discover places we’ve never seen. It never gets old, at least to me. The scenery is spectacular. And our new discovery that year, Orkney Springs, made it even more special.

As we wandered around the grounds of this ghost-village, we discovered that it was originally a resort where visitors came to enjoy the mineral springs. The Orkney Springs Hotel, built in the 1870s, was one of a group of buildings built there after the Civil War, and the area thrived as a tourist destination for healing, rest and relaxation. The hotel, which is believed to be the largest wooden structure in Virginia, was privately owned until 1979 when it was purchased by the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, and it became part of their retreat center Shrine Mont.

Now called The Virginia House, the hotel has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1976, and its most recent renovation was completed in the late 1980s. This picture was taken shortly before the renovations began.

The Episcopal Church has held services in the town since the 1800s, and the open-air outdoor worship space, built of native stones and now called the Cathedral Shrine of Transfiguration, was consecrated in 1925. The retreat center has continued to purchase buildings in the town, and Shrine Mont now hosts conferences and retreats throughout the year, as well as summer camps and family reunions.

Beginning in the 1960s, Orkney Springs became the home of the Shenandoah Valley Music Festival. Originally formed to showcase symphonic music, over the last 50+ years, it has evolved to include a full range of world-class music from nationally known artists. The lineup for the 2014 Summer Season included The Oak Ridge Boys, Rosanne Cash, The Fairfax Symphony Orchestra and the US Air Force Strings, among others. The festival schedule runs from mid-July through the end of August.

Whether you’re interested in a religious retreat, a great place for a family reunion, or just a relaxing picnic while you and your family enjoy a fabulous musical performance, Orkney Springs might be a wonderful break from your everyday activities. A variety of lodging options are available, everything from chain motels to the fabulous Virginia House.

So next time you’re near northwestern Virginia, take a road trip down Route 263 from the Mt. Jackson exit of I-81. You might find your own special surprise!

Next: Travel in the Deep South: Spend a Day in Oxford, Mississippi

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