Heartwood: Cultural and economic gateway to Southwest Virginia

Heartwood has fast become the heart of Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountain region. Photo: Heartwood is the heart and soul of Southwest Virginia

WYTHE COUNTY, Va., July 1, 2012 — Imagine a 21st century “Foxfire” combined with a dynamic regional entrepreneurial gateway and you have Heartwood, located in the Blue Ridge Mountain region of Virginia. Conveniently located just off Interstate 81 at Exit 14 in Abingdon, Virginia, this stunning 27,000 square foot building is a must see in Southwest Virginia.

The home of the Southwest Virginia Cultural Heritage Commission, the center incorporates two successful cultural tourism initiatives. Round the Mountain, Southwest Virginia’s artisan network of more than 550 members, and The Crooked Road, Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail with a collection of people and locations dedicated to the vast musical heritage of the region.The initiatives are organizations created to first link and consolidate, and then showcase the cultural heritage of the region. 

Todd Christensen, executive director of the Southwest Virginia Cultural Heritage Foundation, sees it as a collection of what Southwest Virginia has to offer that can be found nowhere else in the country. The unique music, crafts, economic, and recreational opportunities are all combined in one easily accessible central location. From there you can plan a visit, a stay, a business venture, or a lifetime in the region. 

Blue Ridge Mountains region

Heartwood also presents the many natural assets of the area by featuring such outdoor recreation as hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, fishing, and kayaking. 

According to Christenson, the mission of Heartwood is to further Southwest Virginia’s restructuring as a creative economy. The real message is to attract high tech businesses and a new economy by marketing the quality of life of the region. 

For many years there has been a consensus in the region that the best it has to offer is its cultural heritage and recreational opportunities. With tourism growing at a rate of 17% annually in Southwest Virginia, the next logical step was to create one central location where all the resources could be combined.

In 2008, the General Assembly of Virginia appointed the Southwest Virginia Cultural Heritage Commission to spearhead the effort to build a creative economy in the region. Partners include the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, Virginia Tourism Corporation, and Virginia Department of Conservation and Resources.

Funding partners include the Tobacco Indemnification and Revitalization Commission and the Appalachian Regional Commission

Christensen also pointed out that the backing and energy of former Virginia Senator Mark Warner was a large part of the reason the facility went from idea to reality in such a short time.

What makes this facility so unique is the focus on obtaining materials and manpower locally if at all possible. When the goods or services could not be obtained locally, the next resources tapped focused on staying within the state of Virginia, then within the United States if Virginia could not provide the required resources. As a result of this innovative approach, Christensen was proud to state that 85% of the material and manpower used in building Heartwood could be tied to a specific person or business.

The wood used inside the facility is labeled throughout, and Christenson actually pointed to a section of walnut shelving-select harvested from Buchanan County, Virginia, one of the 19 counties of Southwest Virginia.

Heartwood front

The upscale cuisine offered at the restaurant follows the same principle by acquiring all its ingredients locally, including the wine and coffee bar that features locally roasted coffee and regional wines.

The crafts offered are each tagged with a photo of the artist, as well as where in Southwest Virginia their work can be found. The facility features four separate galleries to showcase the crafts, as well as a central venue to enjoy the music offered every Thursday and during special events. 

The crafts offered are unique and beautiful, all examples of a long history of creativity and ingenuity in the region which are passed from one generation to the next. So unique is the artwork offered that USA Today listed Heartwood as one of ten great places to shop at craft galleries. 

The effort of four cities and the 19 counties of Southwest Virginia, Heartwood is an example of what like-minded people can do when their energies and ideas are consolidated toward a common goal. More importantly, in the years to come it may well serve as a successful template that can be duplicated not only in Southwest Virginia but also throughout Appalachia.

Heartwood is open:

Monday – Wednesday:  10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.

Thursday - Friday: 10:00 a.m. - 9:00 p.m.

Saturday: 10:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.

Sunday: 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.

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Lisa King

I was born and educated in Southwest Virginia, traveled with my job all over America in my twenties and early thirties then came back to the mountains to raise my daughter.

I’ve been employed as everything from a quality control technician in industrial construction, to a mail processing plant manager, to postmaster of a small town. I’ve been to forty nine of the fifty states, as well as many other countries. Traveling will always be a passion I indulge, and something I’ll call upon often in my writing. 

I come from a long line of story tellers, and will shamelessly exploit a family tree resplendent with colorful and unique characters, both past and present.

In short my perspective will reflect the pride and familiarity I have of my Appalachian heritage. My stories will be a reflection of the values I believe we hold dearest here, all embellished with a healthy dose of Southern Appalachian flare.


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