140-miles long Shenandoah Valley lies between the Allegheny and
the Blue Ridge Mountains. This incredibly beautiful region has
been a staging ground for history since the 1600s and for Native
Americans for approximately 11,000 years prior to that. The
Chester and Manassas Gaps afforded natural access for people and
goods into the valley where they could transport goods via the
In 1788 Front
Royal was formally founded as a river town. During the
Revolution the area had supplied much needed goods to the
colonists and they continued to supply both America and Europe
in the 19th-century.
Front Royal was
originally named LeHewtown, in honor of the French Huguenot
landowner who held 200-acres in 1754. The origin of the city’s
name is unclear but some believe that early French inhabitants
referred to it as the royal frontier or, "le front royal," The
second most popular version is that the colonial militia had
difficulty following directional commands so they were told to
“front the Royal Oak,” a giant oak tree on the parade ground.
The city was made Warren County’s seat in 1840. In 1861 Virginia
was the most densely populated of the slave states and held the
largest number of slaves. However the state was divided on
secession and did not leave the Union with the initial group of
Orange and Manassas Gap Railroad began service in the 1850s and
that, other transportation routes, the Valley’s geography and
its food production, made the city of enormous strategic
importance to both sides in the Civil War. The Valley provided
food for the Confederates throughout the war and it was not
until Sheridan’s 1864 Valley Campaign that the back door to DC
was shut after 4-years of continuous fighting, Grant had visited
and mandated Sheridan to do everything necessary to stop the
supply line. Sheridan cut a 100-mile path through the Valley
burning and destroying crops. His campaign continues to be
referred to as “The Burning.” The war ended in 1865.
Jackson’s Valley Campaign consisted of several battles, one of
which, The Battle of Front Royal, took place on May 23, 1862.The
battle routed 1,000 Union soldiers and resulted in a surprise
attack that halted the Union in their drive to Richmond.
The Battle of
Front Royal Driving Tour consists of ten stops that interpret
antebellum and Civil War history. Each stop is designated with a
marker and brochures with driving directions, maps and site
information are available at the Visitor’s Center, the point of
departure. The 16-mile trail winds throughout the town and along
the banks of the Shenandoah River. Much of the landscape has
undergone very little change.
Heritage Society, established in 1971, is located in the 1819
Ivy Lodge. Museum exhibits relate the history of Front Royal and
visitors can obtain information and brochures on area sites and
attractions. The building is located on Chester Street, the
oldest street in the city, and is actually a complex consisting
of several structures and a gift shop. A 33-site walking tour
brochure is available. The 170-acre Front Royal Historic
District was added to the National Register of Historic Places
Because of the
number of troops in Front Royal it was also a hotbed of spies
the most famous of which was the notorious Confederate spy Belle
Boyd. The 19-year old Belle and her mother relocated from
Winchester after her father joined the Confederate army. In 1862
a Union soldier insulted her mother and Belle shot him. They
then joined relatives who owned a hotel in the city and the
family moved to a cottage in the rear while the Union was
headquartered in the hotel. At the time ofthe Battle of Fort
Royal she managed to pass through enemy lines and passformation
to Stonewall Jackson and facilitated his decision to attack the
denounced as a spy many times and sent to prison three times.
She survived the war, wed three times and became an actress.
Some people believe she was the model for Scarlett O’Hara.
The Belle Boyd
Cottage is a typical 2 over 2 with a central hall. There are no
original furnishings but the flooring is original. Highlights of
the tour are the many photographs of Belle and an outstanding
portrait that symbolically captures her life and spirit.
The Balthis House
is a Federal-style townhouse built as a 2-story, timber-framed
house with dependencies. The original section of the house is
dated from 1788 and was owned by two town trustees. This is the
oldest extant house in the city.
Fristoe held Mary Fristoe as a slave and she continued as a
worker after Emancipation. In 1908, upon the death of her
employer she received an inheritance that allowed her to
purchase a rental property at 46 Chester St. Mary died in 1911
at the age of 55 and was interred in the Fristoe family plot.
Rose Hill is a
private dwelling but it is possible to view the exterior of the
building. The 2-story Greek Revival home with Federal elements
was constructed in 1830. South of the house sits what was once a
2-story wooden slave quarters/kitchen.
Front Royal is the
northern entrance to the spectacular, 105-mile, Skyline Drive
that runs through Shenandoah National Park. Here you can hike
the Appalachian Trail and take in scenic vistas that include
more than 800 wildflower species.
received its name, “Clear-Eyed Daughter of the Stars,” from a
Native American legend. It was said that to honor the beauty of
the valley the heavens blessed the waters with some of the
luminosity of the stars to make them even more lustrous. The
first nonindigenous people to view the valley were English
settlers in 1716 and within 20-years immigrants, mainly from PA,
moved into the region. They followed an established Indian path
that they named the Great Wagon Road. A Native presence is still
seen there in the Monocan Village and Living History Exhibit.
A royal grant was
given to Benjamin Borden and from that Rockbridge County was
formed and named after the area’s most prominent geological
feature, the Natural Bridge. The first written evidence of
Natural Bridge is in 1759 and the formation was fully documented
by French scientists in the 1770s. George Washington surveyed
the area in 1750 and visitors can still see where he carved his
name in the rock. It is designated one of the “Seven Natural
Wonders of the World.”http://www. naturalbridgeva.com
The first owner of
the land that included the bridge was Thomas Jefferson whose
patent was registered in July of 1774. He paid 20-shillings,
$24,675.70, for 157-acres of land. Jefferson constructed a
2-room log dwelling in 1802 and left a black man, Patrick Henry,
as manager. One of the rooms was for guests and a book was left
for guests to write comments. Henry was given land and a cabin
by Jefferson and he lived there as manager until his 1829 death.
Four years later the land passed out of Jefferson’s family.
Natural Bridge is
soon to be designated a Virginia State Park and this is the perfect
time to visit. the site includes the Bridge, Monocan Indian
Living History Exhibit, Cedar Creek Trail, the Drama of Creation
sound and light show and a historic hotel. The Bridge is
accessed by shuttle or by taking a staircase to a ravine path
that leads to the Bridge. It is an awesome sight, 215-ft.high,
60-150-ft. wide with a length of 90-ft. and an arch
approximately 48-ft. thick. The path also leads to a recreated
Monocan village complete with authentically dressed
interpreters. Fifty-minute Cavern Tours, descending 34-stories,
the deepest caverns on the East Coast, are also offered.
One of the
inventions that changed agricultural history was invented in the
Valley in 1831 when 22-year-old Cyrus McCormick took over a
project that his father had worked on for 16-years. His
mechanical reaper cut, threshed and bundled the grain using
horsepower. Prior to his reaper it took one man one day to
harvest 3-acres. With a mechanical reaper it took 1-hour per
acre. He worked on perfecting it and in 1834 he was granted a
patent. The reaper was not really successful, even though it
replaced hours of backbreaking toil, in the Valley because of
the cost and the fact that the hilly land was not conducive to
its use. He moved his operation to Chicago in 1847 where he
could benefit from the flat fields of the Midwest. In 1851 his
invention was recognized with a medal and he and it became
Tours of the
original McCormick Farm are free. Self-guided visits provide
access to the 1822 family home, gristmill, blacksmith shop,
museum and workshop. The site also includes nature trails and
picnic facilities. Research continues to be conducted on the
634-acre farm. Today the McCormick Company is International
Brownsburg is one of the county’s brightest gems. The entire
village was listed in 1973 on the National Register based on the
criteria that, based on its largely unaltered size and
appearance and presents a unique picture of an early Valley
village. Brownsburg was founded in 1793 and flourished until
roads and the railway passed it by. At its height it was on the
stagecoach line and had about 20 homes, businesses and an
academy. A self-guided walking tour brochure is available that
lists 20 sites with historic information and a map. Structures
date from 1760 to 1928.
Tours begin in the
Brownsburg Museum with emphasis on village history and that of
renowned residents of Rockbridge. A real highlight is the story
of Michael Miley who began his career in photography after the
Civil War. He began developing a color process and in 1902 he
patented the process. He gained fame as General Lee’s
photographer. The museum displays one of his early color
current main exhibit is “Grain into Gold.” It traces the general
and agricultural history of the area using early tools,
photographs and other artifacts. The exhibition is notable for
its inclusion of all of the regional ethnic groups. The
importance of regional farming and distilling are emphasized. It
was the Shenandoah Valley that supplied the flour and whiskey to
miners during the Gold Rush. The use of enslaved and free black
workers is explored and research places them in all occupations
and as important laborers in mills and distilleries.
Pennsylvania’s Ned Tar is cited as the first black landowner in
the early 1700s.
Culture Museum is an absolute must if you are in the area. It is
located in Staunton, an independent city that does not fall
under county jurisdiction. This outstanding complex brings to
life through demonstrations, outdoor reconstructions and live
interpretations, the ethnic farmsteads from which the cultures
that settled the Valley came from. The compounds represented,
West Africa, England, Germany, Ireland, Native American and
Virginia, are authentic and include homes, work areas and
250,000 Africans were brought to North America with 40% of those
brought to VA from the West African Coast, most of them Igbo.
The farm in the museum interprets life before removal from
Africa within a free Igbo compound. Life in Africa and the
African contributions to American culture, agriculture, cuisine,
music, etc., are stressed. This is a 3-hour adventure and
visitors can walk or rent a golf cart. A complete schedule of
activities and events is available online.
seat of Rockbridge County, was founded in 1778. The town was
once known as Gilbert Campbell’s Ford after the area’s first
landowner. It was renamed in honor of the village in
Massachusetts where an early Revolutionary battle took place.
The city was located near the North River, now the Maury River,
along the Great Road and consisted of 6 streets and 36 lots on
land that was owned by Gilbert Campbell’s heir. Individual lots
were 128-ft. by 195-ft. and all the streets except one, Main,
were named after Virginia’s Revolutionary heroes. It was
incorporated in 1841.
Virginia’s mainstay and although Virginia representatives railed
against slavery in 1787 the institution lasted until the Civil
War. An 1832 emancipation bill failed passage by one vote. At
that time the cost of VA’s enslaved approximated $100,000,000.
By 1861 VA had the largest number of slaves and slaveowners of
any state. Virginia was pivotal during the Civil War and more
battles, 384, took place there than any other state.
Lexington is a
significant stop on several Civil War trails, not only because
of Union and Confederate presence, but also because of the roles
several figures played in history. The historic area is little
changed and visitors can view the architecture and unique sites
while taking a narrated carriage tour along the original
streets. Tours are 50-minutes and provide an excellent
orientation and overview.
Museum at Jordan’s Point is a good place to begin your tour
because it interprets the impact of transportation on the
history of the region through its “Roads, Rivers and Rails”. The
house dates from 1811 and is situated on The Great Road that was
used by people migrating into the area. It was originally an
Indian path and eventually became a toll road leading to a
canal. A highlight of the tour is an original bateau, a boat
used on the canal.
“Stonewall” Jackson became legendary during the Civil War but
his story was shaped by events that took place in Lexington. He
graduated from West Point in 1846 and served in the US Army in
the Mexican War. In 1851 he took a professorship at the Virginia
Military Institute (VMI) in Lexington teaching Natural and
Experimental Philosophy. In 1854 his first wife, Elinor Junkin,
died in childbirth and he emancipated her slaves. In 1857 he wed
Mary Anna Morrison and the following year he purchased a 2-story
brick, Federal-style home in Lexington. They owned 5 slaves,
Albert, Amy, Hetty, Mary Ann’s nursemaid, and her 2 sons and
Emma, a 4-year old girl.
house tour includes period furnishings and personal possessions.
Of particular note are a piano purchased for his wife that cost
3-months salary, the bedroom furniture from his first marriage
and his framed diploma on his study wall. In 1861 a messenger
delivered the order for Jackson to march VMI cadets to Richmond.
He would not return alive. The home, listed on the National
Register of Historic Places, has been fully restored.
In 1855 Jackson
started the Lexington Presbyterian Church Sunday School for
blacks. As a Christian he felt that the enslaved could benefit
from hearing the Bible being read to them and those who
memorized verses were gifted with a Bible. When the community
learned that some of the blacks were learning to read after
being given a Bible they spoke to Jackson but he refused to
stop. Classes were held at 3 PM each Sunday and sometimes
On May 2, 1863
General Jackson was shot by friendly fire at Chancellorsville.
His left arm was amputated and eight days later he died of
pneumonia. A reverend carried Jackson’s arm to a nearby
plantation and buried it in the family cemetery. Jackson’s body
was taken to Lexington and interred in the Presbyterian
Cemetery, later renamed the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery.
Little Sorrel, his
horse, was cremated upon his death in 1886. His bones were
buried at VMI and his mounted hide is displayed in the VMI
Museum along with personal items belonging to Jackson. Jackson
Memorial Hall shares a building with the museum and a statue of
Jackson at Chancellorsville is on the Parade Ground. The statue
is set amidst 4 Cadet Battery guns used by Jackson for artillery
training, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. VMI’s museum displays
personal items connected with the life of Stonewall Jackson.
The VMI 13-site
walking tour is less than 2-miles and includes the George C.
Marshall Museum. The museum interprets the period from his WWI
Service through his military and diplomatic contributions pre
and post WWII. From 1939-45 Marshall served as the Army Chief of
Staff and as Secretary of State from January 1947 to January
1949. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the Marshall Plan
to rebuild Europe in 1953. Highlights of a visit are his Nobel
Peace Prize, his office and a 15-minute orientation film. A
statue of Marshall is located on the campus.
was founded in 1749 and renamed Washington College after he
endowed the institution with a monetary gift in 1796. Robert E.
Lee was named president after the Civil War and the school
became Washington & Lee University after his death in 1870.
Lee Chapel &
Museum houses the crypt in which the Lee family is interred.
Adjacent to the crypt is a museum displaying historic artifacts
and Lee’s office, just as it was when he died. On the upper
level is the 1875 sculpture of a reclining Lee by Edward
Valentine. Lee’s most famous mount, Traveller, went with him to
the university. After Lee’s death he refused to be ridden and
died of tetanus a year after Lee and is buried on the exterior
of the chapel. His stable is kept open so that his spirit can
The 1827 Col Alto
mansion is now a stately Hampton Inn that takes southern
hospitality to a new level. The hotel is located on 7 scenic
acres in the historic district and offers all the amenities
including complimentary WIFI, outdoor pool, Jacuzzi and
complimentary hot breakfast.
This is the
centennial of the National Park system and it is a great time to
make the trip.
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