From 1986 to 1990 I served as Finance Director in Lexington. This historic city has links to George Washington, Robert E Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and George Marshall. It is also the home of two fine college campuses Washington & Lee University and the Virginia Military Institute.
One of Smithsonian Magazine’s Best Small Towns to Visit in 2013, Lexington, Virginia offers a mix of history, charm and natural beauty that will make any visit unforgettable. Lexington’s economy is based on two major factors, the deep history to be found in the area and diverse higher education.
The area’s history is remarkable. Here is a quick list of some of the historical figures with ties to Lexington.
Thomas Jefferson, who owned a tract of land in Rockbridge County that included the Natural Bridge, is reported to have played a part in naming the county as well as the town.
George Washington surveyed much of the property in the area. Liberty Hall Academy was established in 1790 just to the west of the town. When George Washington made a sizable gift to the college’s endowment, the institution’s name was changed to Washington College.
At the end of the Civil War the presidency of Washington College was offered to General Robert E. Lee who presided over it for the five years preceding his death. Shortly thereafter the trustees renamed the school Washington & Lee University. Lee is buried on the grounds in Lee Chapel. Traveller, his horse, is buried on the grounds outside the chapel.
In 1816 the General Assembly established three arsenals for the housing of arms. One of these was built in Lexington. By the mid 1830’s a state military school was established at the arsenal. The Virginia Military Institute enrolled its first cadets in 1839 and prospered in the years prior to the Civil War. Among its faculty was Major Thomas J. Jackson, soon to become known as “Stonewall Jackson” and be noted as one of the South’s most famous and revered heroes. Jackson’s house is maintained as a museum in downtown Lexington. He is buried in Stonewall Jackson Cemetery on the south side of town. 144 Confederate veterans and two Virginia governors are also buried here.
The home and farm of Cyrus McCormick, inventor of the mechanical grain reaper, is maintained just outside Lexington.
George C. Marshall studied at Virginia Military Institute. He became the Army Chief of Staff in 1939 on the day war broke out in Europe and for the next five years demonstrated a strategic brilliance that led the U.S. and its allies to victory. The Marshall Plan of 1948 rebuilt Europe after World War II, helped contain the spread of Communism, and laid the foundation for U.S. foreign policy today. Marshall’s papers are housed in the Marshall Museum on the campus of VMI.
Washington and Lee is a small, private, liberal arts in Lexington, Va. and is the ninth oldest institution of higher learning in the nation. Washington and Lee’s famous Mock Convention attracts national attention when it is held in the winter term of every presidential election year. The entire student body participates in this political exercise aimed at choosing the presidential candidate of the party out of power in the White House. The Mock Convention has achieved a remarkable record of accuracy and is considered to be the most realistic event of its kind in the nation. Every student has an opportunity to participate in at least one Mock Convention during a four-year career at Washington and Lee.
Virginia Military Institute is a four-year undergraduate college awarding B.A. and B.S. degrees. VMI is the nation’s first state-supported military college. From the beginning, the VMI experience has instilled the character traits of service to community and to others in its cadets. VMI is organized as a Cadet Regiment, made up of two battalions of four rifle companies each plus the regimental band. The basic structure of the corps is that of an infantry unit, and all cadets drill as infantry troops under their own leaders. On the basis of demonstrated qualities of leadership and proficiency in military and academic studies, cadets are appointed to non-commissioned and commissioned cadet rank. The First Captain, as the highest-ranking cadet, commands the regiment. A major share of the administration of the Corps of Cadets is entrusted to cadet officers and their staffs. A combination of discipline and academic rigor have helped to produce outstanding graduates.