Loudoun is rich in history: Colonial towns, Quaker villages, Revolutionary and Civil War skirmishes... For all our storied past, however, Loudoun’s history is not locked away in a museum. This month, in tribute to the National Register of Historic Places’ “National Preservation Month”, we highlight five historic buildings in Loudoun that have found second life as restaurants, bars, shops or entertainment venues. These are the buildings where time – and function - didn’t stand still.
Built in 1888, the handsome three-story Romanesque Revival-style building on North King is named for Leesburg native Francis Lightfoot Lee who represented Virginia at the signing of the Declaration of Independence. For much of the 20th Century the building was Peoples National Bank, but by the 1990s it had fallen into disrepair. In 1997 sisters Ingrid and Carrie Gustavson bought it and renovated it, opening the Lightfoot Restaurant in 1999. Twenty-five years later they are still there, Chef Ingrid serving New American cuisine in an imperious white tablecloth setting under 44 foot-high ceilings. Incredibly, they have retained most of the building’s original details, from the Corinthian columns near the bar, to ornate fireplaces, brass-rail staircases, carved friezes on the walls and even the old bank vault doors.
Thrift and vintage store fans beat a path to the door of this artsy consignment store on the second floor of a seemingly non-descript building at 860 Main Street, Purcellville, above the popular My Deli Café. What only Purcellville old timers know however is that the structure – the Old Theatre Building built in the late 1940s – was once one of only two movie theatres in Loudoun. The last movie was screened in the late 1970s and the loft served as office space until the thrift store opened in 2022. Mobile Hope, which helps at-risk and homeless youth, returned the space to its creative roots by opening the store. Pick up everything from vintage clothes and vinyl records to found decorative objects and Art Deco furniture.
The Red Fox Inn & Tavern founded in 1728 may be the most historic building in Middleburg, but it’s always been an inn and restaurant. Not so for King Street Oyster Bar on the corner across the street. The handsome Neoclassical building fronted by four imperious columns was for years the Middleburg National Bank. In the early 2000s, tech tycoon Sandy Lerner opened it as the Home Farm Store, an upscale butchery and gourmet deli serving produce from her nearby farm. In 2017 it took on its latest incarnation as the Middleburg outpost of King Street Oyster Bar, serving crab cakes, rib eye steak and a range of sublime cocktails. The tall windows and Cathedral ceilings remain from its years as a bank, while the rustic wooden bar counter and cozy seating give it the atmosphere of a cozy pub. Magic.
As its name suggests, Purcellville’s iconic farm-to-table restaurant – soaring ceilings, timber beams, steel pulleys, swing doors and gourmet cuisine – started its life as a grain mill. Built in 1905, it was used until the early 1940s by farmers who brought grain here to be ground into flour. During the Second World War, Virginia orchard grass seed was stored here and shipped to Europe as packing for artillery shells and armaments. In 2004 it was converted into Magnolias at the Mill, retaining much of the original structure and artefacts. And where local farmers once bought grain and seed, they now bring much of the fresh produce that appears on the menu.
Located in the heart of downtown Leesburg, Tally Ho Theater, built in 1931, originally showed silent movies. For the second half of the 20th Century, it was the premier cinema in Loudoun. It briefly closed in 2000 but reopened in 2002 with two screens. That year it hosted the gala opening and private screening of then-Loudoun resident Robert Duvall’s “A Shot at Glory,” which he attended. In 2012 it closed as a cinema, reopening in 2013 as a live music venue but with its retro marquee façade unchanged. Ten years on and it’s still going strong, featuring big name performers such as Shovels & Rope, David Allen Coe and Uncle Kracker, as well as frequent retro acts and touring cover bands.