DANVILLE, VA. -- The two major industries, textiles and tobacco, have been in a slump for years; the population is stagnant; the nearest place with major entertainment or sports is 50 miles away in another state; there is no public swimming pool; the art museum does not display nudes, and the only serious restaurant does not have a liquor license.

Greetings from "the best place to live" in Virginia, and the 24th best in the United States, according to a new poll by Money magazine.

Surprised? So, too, were even the biggest boosters of this conservative, industrial city of 45,000, whose previous claims to fame have been as the last capital of the Confederacy, the birthplace of Lady Astor and site of the wreck of the Old 97, a mail train that crashed in 1903, killing the engineer and most of the crew.

"It's the first time I've thought of my hometown as such a nice place," admitted T. David Luther, president of the local Chamber of Commerce.

"The stereotype has been of a sleepy tobacco and textile town, but this has caused a lot of us to look a little closer at Danville," Luther added.

The only other Virginia city to make the list was Charlottesville, at 89th.

The only Maryland city to make the list, Cumberland, placed 15th.

Washington placed 70th, just behind Newark (yes, the New Jersey one). Nashua, N.H., ranked first. Baltimore finished at 126th; Norfolk 157th, and Richmond 169th among 300 rated areas. Five of the 10 lowest-rated cities were in Michigan, with Flint last.

"This wasn't a poll by Good Housekeeping, or Wrestlemania," declared Mayor Seward F. Anderson, who runs a furniture store. "The people who read Money are interested in the preservation and growth of capital, and they also are the people who are responsible for site selection for their companies."

Anderson, who at 40 is part of a new, young leadership in Virginia's 11th largest city, said, "If Danville is lacking in any area, it's probably that we don't have the spectrum of cultural activities."

"Actually, we don't have much culture at all," said Ron Miller, editorial writer for the Danville Register, which reported last week that the city's art museum has refused to allow three nude paintings to be included in an upcoming exhibit.

"But I can get to a concert as quickly as my daughter, who lives in McLean," said the Chamber of Commerce's Luther, 46. "It takes her 45 minutes to get to the Kennedy Center, and it takes me 45 minutes to get to the civic center in Greensboro {N.C.}," he said.

"I don't believe it," laughed Frank Van Valkenburg when he learned of the poll. "We know the outside world," he said, explaining that he was transferred here from Colorado by Goodyear 10 years ago.

"It's a nice place to raise a family," interjected his wife Carol, who said, however, that their children, ages 20 and 16, "find it a little boring."

"The quality of life is not the best. There are few good restaurants, for example, but we can always go to Greensboro or Raleigh or Chapel Hill {N.C.}."

The Van Valkenburgs operate a photography studio in a Victorian house on Main Street, where, she noted, "I can keep my wicker on the porch and not worry about it being taken."

Dolores Keene, who has four young children and lives in a public housing project, agreed that "it's a nice community to raise children, especially for single parents," although "there aren't enough jobs or recreational facilities."

Keene said she has no complaints about race relations, although she said, "I think the projects are still segregated -- there are no whites living here at Cedar Terrace."

The Rev. Doyle J. Thomas, one of two blacks on the nine-member City Council in a city where 30 percent of the population is black, said "things {for blacks} have improved" since he was a plaintiff in an NAACP school desegregation suit against the city in the 1970s that was resolved last February.

Crime was far and away the most important consideration among 60 factors rated by 260 randomly polled subscribers to Money. Other factors were the local economy, housing costs, health care, weather, leisure opportunities, the arts, quality of education and public transportation. The weighted factors then were matched by computer to statistics for the nation's 300 largest metropolitan areas.

While Danville's overall crime rate is lower than average, The Danville Register reported that in 1986, Danville's six homicides gave it the fourth highest murder rate among Virginia's 15 largest cities. Alexandria was 15th and Pittsylvania County, which surrounds Danville, was fifth among the 15 most populous counties, behind Arlington but ahead of all other counties in Northern Virginia in homicides.

The average asking price for 18 three-bedroom houses advertised for sale in the Register one day last week was $53,000, ranging from $35,000 to $83,000.

Among Danville's assets cited by the mayor are the second-lowest property tax among Virginia cities (86 cents per $100 valuation); low electricity, gas and water rates (all city supplied, with the nation's oldest municipal power plant selling electricity 27 percent cheaper than Virginia Power); Baptist-run Averett College, and a diversified economy whose employers include Disston tools, Corning glass, Goodyear rubber, Miller beer (across the line in North Carolina) and Carnation food products, soon to locate in the new industrial park.

For more than a century, the largest employer, with about 5,000 workers, has been Dan River Inc., an employe-owned textile firm since it beat back Carl Icahn's takeover attempt.

The annual tobacco auction, which begins on Aug. 11 this year, is billed as "the world's best tobacco market," with sales annually averaging more than $50 million.

Mayor Alexander, seeking to be a gracious winner, recalled that while he doesn't get there much anymore, when he was a student at the University of Virginia, "I often thought Charlottesville would be an ideal place to live."