Deep in Virginia's Scenic Shenandoah Valley, Lexington, a Quaint Little Town, Boasts Historic Architecture, a Collegiate Vibe, a Sense of Tradition and Plenty to Do
Cost of Living: Below the National Average
Tucked in the inspiring natural beauty of the Shenandoah Valley in lush west central Virginia, Lexington (population 7,500) is a quaint, quiet burg steeped in history and tradition. It was settled in 1777 and is home to prestigious Virginia Military Institute (1,700 students), established in 1839, and well-regarded Washington and Lee (2,300 students), established in 1749. The entire downtown is listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register and National Registers of Historic Places. Although Lexington is a bit isolated geographically, Civil War buffs and other tourists come to visit.
Lexington has grown by 2% within the last decade, and 33% of residents are age 45 or better. Politics lean to the left, and 45% of locals hold at least a four year college degree. Racial diversity is minimal, and the crime rate is well below the national average. The cost of living is 24% below the national average.
The median home price is $243,000, a 5% increase over the previous year. Residential architectural styles include bungalow, Craftsman, Cape Cod, Federal, Neoclassical, Colonial Revival and Victorian, as well as ranch rambler and raised ranch rambler. Many single family homes are large, beautiful and at the end of a long driveway. Some town homes are also available. Outside of town limits, horse farms and properties with acreage are the norm.
When it comes to taxes, Virginia is considered a fairly friendly place. The state does not tax Social Security benefits and offers a $12,000 exemption for other types of retirement income, including IRAs and 401(k)s if annual income is less than $50,000 (single) or $75,000 (married). Income above the $12,000 exemption is taxed between 2% and 5.75%. The state sales tax is 4.3%, but another 1% is added at the local level. Prescription and non-prescription drugs are not taxed, but food for home consumption is taxed at 2.5%. The average effective property tax rate (the annual tax payment as a percentage of median home value) in Lexington is .96%. The annual taxes on a $243,000 home are approximately $2,333.
The two campuses abut one another as well as the historic downtown, which is full of sturdy, well-preserved red brick buildings along narrow streets with brick sidewalks. Food markets, including a gourmet one, wine shops, outdoor gear stores, bookstores, shoe stores and more line Main Street. Dining options are plentiful and include the Southern Inn (American fare and white table clothes) and the Palms (a cozy bar and grill).
For a small town, Lexington offers plenty to do. The Lenfest Center for the Performing Arts on the campus of Washington and Lee presents dozens of public theater, ballet, music and opera performances each year. The Theater at Lime Kiln has a robust schedule of events as well. Community activities include the Rockbridge Community Festival, Restaurant Week, First Fridays and many others.
Nearly a dozen art galleries, studios and cooperatives are sprinkled here and there. The sprawling Virginia Horse Center, just outside of town, is the center of Virginia's horse industry and presents 100 or more events each year, including dressage competitions, rodeos and music jams. The Lexington Carriage Company offers horse drawn tours through the town center. The Blue Ridge Parkway is just a short drive away.
Residents also enjoy an 18-hole golf course (the Lexington Golf and Country Club), a YMCA and two farmers' markets. For anyone needing a sports fix, both Virginia Military Institute and Washington and Lee have active athletic departments with football games, basketball games and more. Washington and Lee's campus has been called one of the prettiest in the nation and is a perfect spot for an afternoon stroll.
Lexington is also proud of its Civil War and military heritage, with several museums and historic sites marking its place in history. The completely restored "Stonewall" Jackson house is a museum, and the Hunter's Raid Civil War Trail documents a Union general's 1864 raid through the Shenandoah Valley, including the burning of Virginia Military Institute after its cadets had earlier distinguished themselves in the Battle of New Market.
The Virginia Military Institute Museum traces the history of the country's oldest state-supported military college, and the nearly hidden Museum of Military Memorabilia showcases uniforms worn by militaries around the world. The "Stonewall" Jackson Memorial Cemetery, soon to be renamed, holds the remains of Revolutionary War veterans, 144 Confederate soldiers and General Jackson.
The Rockbridge Regional Library is the central library for this region and has a collection of 170,000 volumes. It also has an interlibrary loan program, a magnifier reading machine, books by mail, public computers with Internet access and free wi-fi for laptop users.
The Valley Program for Aging (VPAS) is a part of the Commonwealth of Virginia's Department for the Aging and while based in the town of Waynesboro, it provides services for Lexington residents age 60 or better. The Maury River Senior Center is one of several senior centers operated by the VPAS around the state, and although it is located seven miles away in Buena Vista, it is open to people who live in Lexington. Services include Meals on Wheels, social programs, exercise classes, trips and transportation to the center.
Carillion Stonewall Jackson Hospital has 25 beds and is a critical care access facility with emergency services, cardiac care, respiratory care, surgical services, home health care and more. It is accredited by the Joint Commission, and Medicare patients are accepted. The nearest VA hospital is 50 miles away in Salem, and the closest VA outpatient clinic is in Lynchburg, 45 miles away.
Rockbridge Area Transportation System (RATS) has an on-demand, door to door van service Monday through Friday. Fares vary, depending on length of the trip. Lynchburg and Roanoke, both about 45 miles away, have a regional airport, but the closest international airport is in Washington, D.C., 180 miles away.
Lexington's elevation is 1,065 feet above sea level, and the climate is humid subtropical, with four mild but distinct seasons. Summer temperatures reach into the 80s and 90s, and winter temperatures are in the 30s, 40s and 50s. On average, the area receives 39 inches of rain and 15 inches of snow per year. On the comfort index, a combination of temperature and humidity, Lexington meets the national average. The sun shines 222 days of the year.
Retirement in Lexington has some drawbacks. It is hilly. Virginia Military Institute cadets and Washington and Lee students make their presence known, and the town is crowded during alumni weekends, homecoming weekends and commencements (Lexington does not, however, have a rowdy college town reputation). Virginia Military Institute has also been in the news lately as it grapples with accusations of racism and sexism. The town poverty rate is above the national average, but this is attributed to the large student population.
Despite these issues, Lexington is worth a peek at retirement time. A comfortable, historic hamlet, it is a nice place to call home.
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