Fincastle, Virginia – Population 389*

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.

Israel Christian’s house, believed to be the oldest house in Fincastle, began as a one-story log structure. A second story was added sometime later, and in 1811, a post-and-beam structure was added to the east side (on the right.)

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.

Ed Bordett, Artist, in the studio, standing among unfinished projects. Things ready for sale are in the front room.

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 corner door to the Pie Shoppe. The cafe on the roof is open during the summer.

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.

Botetourt County Courthouse, Fincastle, Virginia.

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.

The now-former Botetourt County Museum, formerly law offices. The museum has moved to 26 E. Main Street. As I write this, the museum has not reopened, but will reopen in April or May of 2022.
Formerly the Western Hotel, a destination hotel until the early 1900s. The original Western Hotel building was wooden, and was destroyed in the 1870 fire that started in the hotel’s stable. This building was the replacement.

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.

The old jail building, built circa 1897, with its New Orleans-inspired iron grillwork. The jailer’s quarters were on the first floor, the women prisoners on the second, and the men on the third floor. It ceased to be a jail in 1962, and became a library. There is a new library on Academy Street.

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….

In Fincastle, the oldest profession is journalism! The Fincastle Herald has published a weekly edition continuously since 1866, 156 years, making it the oldest business in town. The second-oldest business is the Bank of Fincastle, which is next door, founded in 1875.
The Big Spring, a public watering place since before white settlers, was part of the land granted to Israel Christian by King George III. Christian included it in his grant of land to the town of Fincastle in 1770. It is served by Water Street, which served as a market area.
The Fincastle Presbyterian Church building was erected in 1771, and originally served the Church of England. The Anglican congregation was replaced by the Presbyterians over the 1770s, given the politics of the decade. I was lucky enough to be around when some congregants arrived for choir practice, so I was able to go inside. It is a classic example of a 1770s church.
Interior of the Fincastle Presbyterian Church.
Cemeteries can tell an observer much about a community. One Fincastle family lost three sons to the Civil War.
This woman had a whole history written on her tombstone. The family names involved are prominent in Virginia history, which is undoubtedly why.
The First Baptist Church was organized in 1831 out of the Fincastle Baptist Church. Acting as trustees for the African Baptist Church, seven Freedmen, led by the Reverend John Jones, purchased the land for the purpose of building a church. The church is built mostly of handmade bricks. After the Civil War, a school for African-American children was established in the lower level.
The Anglican Church was reinvented after the Revolution as the Episcopal Church. St. Mark’s Episcopal Church was built around 1837. The description says, “The Vestry of the Botetourt Anglican Parish bought land on the west side of Roanoke Street” to build a church. “The congregation dates from the 1770s,” so apparently the congregation supported the Revolution and stayed around as events unfolded.

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

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