Residents, neighboring communities and tourists know what’s special about this town whose popularity as a destination continues to grow by leaps and bounds. Southern Living chose it for their special online feature about the South’s Best Small Towns, part of the year-long celebration of their 50th anniversary.
Here’s what Southern Living said about the Best Small Towns: “These Main Street towns evoke the best of what we are as a culture. They’re places with a beating heart, where tradition is the lifeblood, and neighbors gather on front porches for a glass of sweet tea. Here are our 20 favorite small spots.”
Alphabetically, Middleburg ran next to last, but to be one of the 20 small towns chosen from the many hundreds of small towns found throughout the South is, well, quite amazing. One person who isn’t that surprised by the accolade was born, raised and lived here her entire life: Mayor Betsy Davis.
“I have always known how very special our town is,” said Mayor Davis. “The beauty of our tree-lined streets and the gorgeous scenery that surrounds us is second to none. The history that our town holds is intriguing. People appreciate that we are “the real thing” — that we haven’t tried to mold ourselves after anywhere else. We have evolved and grown stronger through the years just by loving what we have and working hard to preserve it.”
Acknowledging that some people have expressed concern about Middleburg’s growing popularity, she added, “That’s what keeps us strong. We must share what we have while not changing who we are.”
Her words are typical of the graciousness of southern hospitality. However, many factors contributed to Middleburg being selected as a Best Small Town.
“We start with our readers and pay close attention to how they respond to stories and destinations,” said Valerie Luesse, Senior Travel Editor at Southern Living. “We reach out to our network of editors and freelancers. We go for a good geographic spread. We love visually beautiful settings, landscape, architecture, and towns that are into historic preservation and adopt causes, especially downtown. We love when a local group is excited about their town.
“We look for towns that are pedestrian friendly — good places to stroll and relax, where you can park the car and explore the shops, restaurants, galleries, culture, arts, the outdoors,” Luesse continued. “Then we deliberate, think about it, consider all the factors. It’s not a flash decision. There’s a great deal of merit and honor to be chosen one of the best.”
In the 50 years since its inception and first issue, published in February 1966, Southern Living has succeeded in its quest “to highlight the beauty and culture of the growing South” reaching more than 23 million people each month.
To celebrate Southern Living’s gold anniversary, the staff mapped out a festive yearlong celebration. Plans had been in the works for a huge February issue that included Best of the South features, some in print, some digital. The campaign kicked off with a big party in January called “Evening With The Editors” which launched the commemorative book, “Southern Living 50 Years” held in Time’s new Food Studios and the magazines test kitchens. The gale evening doubled as a reunion with former editors and staff.
To quote the magazine: “Our anniversary year is more than a celebration of Southern Living. It’s a celebration of life in the South.”
“We wanted to celebrate the best of the region with special stories throughout our 50th year that would showcase what we and our readers love,” said Luesse. “We’ll continue to feature more Best of topics, and Small Towns is one our readers love because they’re being introduced to a place where they would enjoy staying on their way to another destination – small towns like Middleburg that offer a lot. One of the great stories for the anniversary issue was interviewing some of the original staff. We were going to small towns that no one had ever covered, and that forged the relationship between small towns, Southern Living and its audience.”
Middleburg has been in the public eye for quite some time. It made headlines during the Kennedy era. Also, it appears in many back issues of Southern Living for antiques, cozy inns, great weekend getaways, holiday shopping, etc. The town will host the 4th annual Middleburg Film Festival, October 20-23, 2016. Last December, Christmas in Middleburg experienced a record-making turnout, and the committee’s already working on logistical improvements for the next one.
“We’re truly blessed to have visitors who want to come and learn about us and enjoy all that we have to offer — horses, history, shopping, dining, vineyards and gorgeous views — something that our locals appreciate on a daily basis,” said Mayor Davis. “Our gentle growth will continue to keep us strong and we will not lose sight of who we are and where we came from. Sometimes, on weekends, Middleburg can be more crowded, but that boost to our economy helps our town and businesses to thrive. We shall do our best to protect and perpetuate what makes our home one of Southern Living’s Best Small Towns.”
Be sure to visit: www.southernliving.com/travel/best-small-towns