The town welcomed me into the past as I turned off of SR220. If, somehow, I could have cleared the automobiles from the streets and peeled away the blacktop covering the brick and cobblestones, I could almost have seen ghosts of the people from the 1700s going about their business here in Fincastle.
Fincastle, founded 1772 and named for Lord Fincastle, son of Lord Dunmore, the lieutenant governor of Virginia, was at that time the newly-designated county seat for Botetourt County, which had only been created as of January, 1770. The county had been named for the popular Lord Botetourt, governor of colonial Virginia. Today’s Botetourt County is contained within 546 square miles of present-day Virginia, but when it was created, the “Mother County” stretched from Fincastle to the Mississippi River, and included Kentucky, most of Illinois and Indiana, southern Ohio and some of what would become West Virginia, even a corner of Wisconsin.
Newly-minted Fincastle was forty acres (or forty-five – accounts vary) donated by Israel Christian, a lawyer-farmer and land speculator. Christian was an active land speculator everywhere in Virginia, but his home was in Fincastle. His house is believed to be the oldest house in Fincastle, a one-story log house built in 1772. Christian willed the house to one of his slaves, Becky Holmes. A room in the basement served as the first black church, and an adjacent room may have served as a school for black children.
Fincastle is a quiet town. A good number of the residents commute to the city of Roanoke to work, but there is activity in Fincastle, too. I was waiting for my pie from the Pie Shoppe. I was fortunate to be peering into the window of an old car dealership, now used as an artist’s studio, when the artist came to visit said studio.
I said, “Good morning” to him, and it led to a tour of the studio and chats ranging from Brooklyn’s fire escapes to antique furniture. Ed Bordett was born on Long Island, attended New York’s Academy of Fine Arts, and graduated from Florida’s Ringling School of Art. After that, he moved to southwestern Virginia, and settled in Fincastle.
Ed offers prints of Brooklyn’s fire escapes along with other paintings and prints. I don’t know what his hours are, or even if he has “hours,” but the studio is at 5 W. Main Street, Fincastle, Virginia, one or two doors down from the Pie Shoppe, which is on the corner of Main Street and Roanoke Street. You can also find him on Facebook as Edward Bordett, or by googling “Ed Bordett.”
By the time we had toured the studio, it was time for me to pick up my pie – chicken, vegetable, and asiago cheese – next door, so I took another peruse of the art in the front room on my way out. I plan to return. That may sound like a “road not taken,” but I am pretty sure I’ll be back to Fincastle.
The Pie Shoppe, which sits diagonally from the Botetourt Courthouse, is a very pleasant place to have lunch. Their menu is limited, but the pie is delicious. Their pies come in sweet dessert or savory entree, by the (large) slice or whole pie, to go or to eat in. Their lunch specials don’t all come wrapped in pie crust – there are choices, plus good coffee, served by friendly people. The cafe on the roof, a popular place to have dinner and a glass of wine in the summer, was not, alas, open yet. Maybe next time.
The courthouse in the photo is the fourth building on this site. The first was a log structure, probably built at the founding of Fincastle. It was replaced in 1818, and again in 1845. This third courthouse was partly destroyed by fire in 1970. The present courthouse was built and dedicated in 1975.
It is notable that the county’s records, dating from 1770, survived the 1971 fire because of the county’s vault, and are available for historical and genealogical research. The close call for the records resulted in the Virginia Public Records Act of 1975, which required land records, wills, and other vital public records to be inventoried and microfilmed. The microfilm is stored in the Library of Virginia in Richmond.
There was a brick tavern built around 1809 next to the hotel to provide entertainment for visitors and locals. With no hint of irony in the historical descriptions, the county’s jail was built next door around 1897.
There are so many historical buildings in Fincastle that it’s not possible to show them all. There is an excellent self-guided tour brochure that is easily available, and if you go to Fincastle, I recommend it. Below are some places of particular interest, at least to me….
I found Fincastle, Virginia, to be a charming place, filled with small-town character, friendly people, and a strong sense of history. It’s a worthy stop for art and history, but most of all, the wonderful people who live there.
*As of 2019, sources include the U.S. Census Bureau.
— March 31, 2022