The four rivers from North to South are:
The Potomac River. Most well-known because George Washington is from around here and its proximity to that messy famous city that is named (for now) in his honor. The Potomac River starts in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, and meanders through Maryland (to its north) and Virginia (to its south). At over 400 miles long, it is the longest of “Virginia’s” rivers. I put “Virginia’s” in quotation marks because it turns out that the Chesapeake Bay along with the Potomac River are actually parts of Maryland!
The Rappahannock River (where Urbanna is). Yes it’s spelled with two “p”s, one “h”, two “n”s. I’ve had to look it up repeatedly for decades, and finally figured stating that would emblazon it on my brain. This river, wholly part of Virginia, begins in the Blue Ridge mountains, and flows through Fredericksburg, Virginia, before it starts to widen significantly. The Rappahannock became a strategic dividing point between the Union and the Confederacy during the Civil War. Following the Battle of Fredericksburg, over 10,000 slaves were able to escape across these calm and wide waters to Union lines.
The York River. Early settlements of the Virginia Colony settled along its banks, including Yorktown. located on its south shore. This river bounds the north side of southernmost peninsula, formally referred to as the “Virginia Peninsula” (but locally most often referred to as the lower peninsula), or as I now am calling it the “lower neck.” The Virginia Peninsula also includes the other two cities that make up what has become known in tourism speak as “Virginia’s historic triangle.” Williamsburg, located centrally on the peninsula, while Jamestown is located on the river that bounds it from the south.
The James River. This river bounds the Virginia Peninsula from the south. The longest river in Virginia, it begins in the Appalachian Mountains and flows over 300 miles to the Chesapeake Bay. Navigable only to just south of Richmond, where the river’s “fall line” is located, the river makes for some class IV rapids right along Richmond’s skyline.
You can start reading now. That concludes the geography/history lesson portion of this story. 🙂
So all of the above is my not-so-short way of explaining where Urbanna, Virginia is, located on the southern shore of river number two, the not-so-mighty Rappahannock, and is only 10 or so miles by boat to the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. (Sorry for imprecision of “10 or so”, Google Maps doesn’t do waterway distances.)
Urbanna is best known for its history as a tobacco port and for its seafood industry, in particular, its oyster industry. Each year the town attracts tens of thousands of visitors to the annual Oyster Festival, held annually in November. (This year’s Urbanna Oyster Festival is November 1 – 2.
Although I definitely want to go to the Oyster Festival one of these years, I think visiting Urbanna at any other time is in order. Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t help but think that Urbanna at its best can be found anytime other than the weekend of the oyster festival. This is how Dave and I did it. We picked up the self guided walking tour of the town at the tourist office and spent an hour or two (ah, to live a life of such imprecision), wandering around.
Comprised of more than its fair share of 18th century buildings, Urbanna may be most often visited for its boating scene, but is worth a stop for its history. The town itself is small, as in very small, with two intersecting streets lined with shops, restaurants and an art gallery.
Although not from the 18th century, Marshalls Drug Store has been around only since 1929. Definitely plan to step in for a treat or lunch somewhere during or after your self guided tour at their old fashioned soda fountain.
As with many of the small river towns on Virginia’s peninsula’s, over the years Urbanna has come to serve as a playground for sailors, boaters and second home owners drawn to its proximity to the Chesapeake Bay.
Changing times, also means changing crops. Where once you could see nothing but tobacco fields you now find primarily cornfields along with fields planted with barley. The oyster industry in recent years has made quite a comeback following years of decline. Virginia’s blue crab industry may be experiencing a rebound that will hopefully continue.
With the advent of Airbnb, Urbanna and other small towns in this area have become more accessible to us, the non-second home or boat owning public. We stayed at Shannon and Rob’s place. It was quiet, clean, and private. My favorite parts about it were the covered porch and extraordinary views of the creek. And that we were able to bring our dog, Lily.
The seafood lovers of the world with have a ball here, but there are choices for other fare as well. Here are a couple of places we tried and enjoyed.
Arrive by boat, car or the local trolley to dine with a view over the creek. This place is seafood purist heaven. Although they have fried options, we mostly opted for items steamed in a big pot (just as it should be, in my mind). Friendly waitstaff keeps the butter and cocktail sauce coming. We liked it so much we went here twice in two days, the first time taking our dog, Lily with us.
Located on Virginia St. right in the middle of town, Something Different, lived up to its name. Touted as serving “neanderthal cuisine”, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Was it uber paleo? Or suited best for people who prefer to eat with their hands? Turns out they serve up lots of fresh, hearty food made from scratch, with an emphasis on barbecue and smoked meats served with homemade sauces. I sensed a deep south vibe à la Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi. There are beignets at breakfast and muffalatta’s at lunch. Something called “hoe cakes” are served with pretty much everything. Dave with went the beef brisket and I went with the soft shells. We took a pint of the homemade ice cream with us to enjoy later (which of course turned out to be as soon as we got back to our Airbnb.)
We didn’t go here, but we will next time. My friend, Agnes, who lives “down the way” told me after our visit that it’s her favorite eatery in town. No surprise they are best known for their soft shell crabs and oysters. They also get high marks for their hush puppies and fried chicken.
A visit to Urbanna makes for a perfect day or weekend trip from Richmond (57 miles and just over an hour depending on traffic on I-64), Williamsburg (around an hour’s drive), Fredericksburg (1 1/2 hours). If I were to go again for the day, I would definitely check into ways to get out on a boat. Urbanna Cruises looks like a good place to start.
Some of the images in this post are available to purchase as either printed wall art or digital downloads. For more information either contact me using link above, or visit Decor Photographs by Margo