By Mike Steely
Interstate 81 begins where I-40 turns right and heads toward Asheville. The left lane becomes I-81 and runs all the way to the Canadian border. Our section of the highway shoots northeast through the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. Along the southern part of the beautiful highway are several attractions worth taking the family and visiting.
There’s a couple along the way, however, that have disappeared.
The Grand Guitar in Bristol, visible for many years just to the south of the interstate, has been demolished. Over the years the huge replica of a Martin Dreadnought guitar has been a music store, recording studio, radio station and museum. The three-story, 70-foot replica and the attached building were purchased by a local developer who planned to restore it.
The roadside attraction was, in 2014, placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Originally built by Joe Morrell, a musician and music store owner, the huge guitar served as an unofficial welcome to Bristol which advertises itself as the “Birthplace of Country Music.”
The new owner said he demolished the guitar at the owner’s request because it and the building were beyond repair. The music memorabilia inside has been removed. No plans for what will go on the site have been announced.
Another landmark that has disappeared along I-81 is the replica of Stonehenge called “Foamhenge.” The full size replica of England’s prehistoric structure stood on a hillside near Natural Bridge Park and was free and open to the public. It was taken down in 2016 and moved to Centerville, Va. on the Fox Farm just off Interstate 66.
There are still many Virginia attractions for families located just off I-81 including Dixie Caverns and the Virginia Safari Park. There’s also a Frontier Village, Grand Caverns, Dinosaur Land and Luray Caverns along the long stretch of interstate.
I-81 also passes near the real “Walton’s Mountain” village of Skylar, Virginia and the home of Thomas Jefferson, Monticello, in Charlottesville.
Natural Bridge State Park is worth a visit, with a museum and large hotel, plus a walk from there up to the arch, which the local highway crosses. George Washington’s signature is carved into the bluff near the arch, made when Washington was a young surveyor.
American history buffs might also enjoy touring the Woodrow Wilson home in Staunton or the Steele Tavern near Raphine or the Sylas McCormack Museum in Lexington. Patsy Cline’s home in Winchester is open to the public as is the Belle Grove Plantation in Strasbourg.
Keep your eye out for the Apple Basket Water Tower in Jackson, Va., and the New Market Civil War Battlefield while you travel I-81.