Davis Street: Culpeper, Virginia


When a bypass for U.S. Route 29 took travelers out of downtown Culpeper in the 1960s, businesses in the 200-year-old town closed, trees grew through roofs, and crime plagued streets originally surveyed by a young George Washington. When Norfolk Southern prepared to demolish part of the historic train depot at the eastern end of Davis Street in 1985, residents and downtown business owners joined together to save the building. The effort led to a much larger revitalization effort that saw quick results: in 1993 Culpeper was named one of "America's Top 10 Small Towns."

Designated Area

Three blocks between Commerce and West Streets.

Davis Street has been a Main Street designee since 1988. Forty million dollars of private investment as well as 25,000 volunteer hours have gone into the restoration of the streetscape and building facades, and all the improvements have followed the historic district guidelines. Photo courtesy of Culpeper Department of Tourism.

Planning Excellence

Davis Street is the geographic and figurative heart of Culpeper. Grand oak trees outside the Visitors Center and train depot frame Davis Street, inviting out-of-towners and Amtrak travelers to explore the street's independent shops and restaurants. Offices, second-floor apartments, and community events draw residents to the street.

Davis Street rebounded, the town says, in large part from small business owners who believed in the street's potential and remained open despite worries that prolonged restoration work would be bad for business. The results speak for themselves: no vacant lots and an ample supply of willing tenants for the rare available lease. The business owners also have collected the histories of each building along Davis Street, showcasing the evolution of the office, retail, and residential spaces before and after revitalization.

Partnerships between the town, state, Chamber of Commerce, and other public and private entities have ensured support for continued revitalization of Davis Street and the historic district, most notably through the Virginia Main Street Program administered by Culpeper Renaissance, Inc. Since Main Street designation in 1988, Culpeper has been recognized with milestone awards for achieving $40 million of private investment and 25,000 volunteer hours.

Through historic district guidelines and grants, the town has improved building facades, buried utility wires, planted trees and flower boxes, and installed benches and historic street lamps. The most recent Culpeper plan, approved in 2007, calls for additional revitalization and infill of the historic downtown in order to expand the successful pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use character of Davis Street to other parts of downtown.

The community fought to save this historic train depot, ultimately leading to a much larger revitalization effort on Davis Street. The depot is the first stop for people arriving into town by train, and the outside space behind the depot accommodates outdoor events, concerts, and a farmers market. Photo courtesy of Culpeper Renaissance, Inc.

Defining Characteristics, Features

Planning and Revitalization

  • Historic District established in 1982 and added to the National Register in 1987; intersection of Davis and Main Streets — principal intersection since town's founding — is center of district
  • Culpeper Renaissance, Inc. (CRI) formed in 1987 to administer Virginia Main Street Community program
  • $4 million bond in 1988 initiated downtown restoration; started with burying utility lines, adding sidewalks and historic street lamps
  • $700,000 Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development grant used to rehabilitate historic train depot in 1999
  • $700,000 Community Development Block Grant matched with private developer funds in 2001 to remove blight, restore storefronts, improve streetscapes in 200 block of East Davis Street
  • Architectural Review Board ensures compatibility with early 20th century buildings; massive fire led to ordinance requiring brick or stone construction
  • 2007 Design Plan derived from community visioning process calling for a more pedestrian-friendly, smart growth-oriented downtown
  • Arts and Cultural District Overlay approved 2010; offers tax incentives to arts-related businesses locating on Davis Street
  • Current efforts include adding landscaping, signage, lighting to pedestrian alleyways that connect Davis Street to businesses and off-site parking

Community Engagement

  • Unused freight portion of Culpeper Depot turned into multi-purpose community facility in 2001; houses Visitors Center, Chamber of Commerce, Department of Tourism, conference space
  • More than 2,700 volunteer hours contributed through Culpeper Renaissance, Inc. during 2010 alone for special events, beautification, in-kind services, and downtown revitalization meetings
  • Davis Street is historical gathering place in town; in 1953, street hosted "Operation Skyglow" where residents celebrated lighting of street lamps; 1,254-foot banquet table set up on street set Guinness World Record

Street Activity

  • Pocket park and plaza created as part of train depot revitalization; used for popular farmers market, summer concerts, community events
  • Mix of residences, small inns, shops, offices, restaurants and pubs generates activity along Davis Street throughout the week and weekends
  • Annual Taste of Culpeper features a wine, food and arts festival held along Davis Street
  • Street accessible by trolley, local bus, and Amtrak; nearly 9,000 train passengers in 2010 used Culpeper station, which connects to New Orleans, Chicago, and Boston via the Crescent, Cardinal, and Northeast regional lines
  • Wide sidewalks provide room for pedestrians, outdoor dining, bike racks

Originally built in the 1890s to house the Post Office, Farmers & Merchants Bank, and Clark & Co. Grocers, the Romanesque Revival building at 125 E. Davis St. is known as the 'Martin Furniture Building' and is now home to The Cameleer, an international gift and handcrafts store. Photo courtesy of Town of Culpeper.