By Renée S. Gordon
“Oh Shenandoah, I long to see you, And hear your rolling river.
Oh Shenandoah, I long to see you, Away, we’re bound away, Across the wide Missouri.”
The 200-mile Shenandoah Valley in northern Virginia is consistently ranked as one of the most scenic areas in the country. The valley takes its name from the 300-mile-long river that was given a Native American name meaning “daughter of the stars.” Archeological evidence points to Native habitation as early as 9300 BC and by 900 AD the indigenous tribes had established agrarian communities and intertribal trade. www.virginia.org/regions/ShenandoahValley
There is debate about which tribes or how many were present in the region when the first colonists arrived, but it is believed the Catawba, Cherokee, Delaware, Iroquois, Shawnee and Susquehannock lived there. Largely, the Shenandoah Valley was uninhabited because of the Iroquois Wars. The Iroquois traversed the Great Warrior Path unimpeded until settlers entered the area in the 17th-Century on the road west. Conflict arose over the right of way and it was not settled until 1722 with the signing of the Treaty of Albany stating that the Iroquois would remain west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. A treaty two years later led to the six Iroquois nations being paid for their land though they retained access to the Great Warrior’s Path.
Many of the area’s original settlers were German and Swiss colonists who migrated from Pennsylvania because they were unable to obtain sufficient quantities of good land. In the 1730s, the Germans began to receive land grants and founded small villages and by the mid-1700s Virginians from the Tidewater region moved into the valley, leaving behind failing tobacco plantations and in many cases bringing with them their slaves. There was however never as large a slave and freedman population in this area as other parts of the state because of the geography and religious beliefs.
The Warrior’s Path became the Great Wagon Road, a route that originated in New York and ran southwest 800-miles to Georgia. The portion of the route that ran through Philadelphia was referred to as Lancaster Pike.
There are numerous outdoor activities offered in the area and visitors can hike, bike, camp, paddle or just enjoy long scenic drives through historic towns filled with unique shopping and dining opportunities. www.visitshenandoah.org
Shenandoah County lies at the heart of the Shenandoah Valley and this county is a microcosm of all the beauty, history and culture of the entire region. The Great Warrior’s Path is today Route 11, a designated scenic byway, and all of the county’s significant sites and attractions are arrayed along this route.
Woodstock, the county seat, was originally named Muellerstadt. Jacob Miller was granted land and he and his family settled here in 1752. He donated 1,200-acres for the town that dates from 1761. www.townofwoodstockva.com
Thomas Jefferson designed the 1795 Shenandoah County Courthouse, the oldest operating courthouse west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The Federal-style building was constructed of native limestone and survives today with an 1871 addition in the rear, an 1886 addition and a 20th-Century portico. This was one of the first two-story courthouses and it has one large ground floor room with two rooms above. All of the trim and moldings are original and the bell was added in 1810.
Less than one block away is the Wickham and Marshall Houses that constitute the Woodstock Museum. The Wickham House was built in the 1770s as a two-story log house with two chimneys and four fireplaces. In the 1880s a bow window and front porch were added. Highlights of the tour are a 1775 tavern table, a second floor spinning wheel display with a rare pegged loom and the Baughman Collection of 18th Century Artifacts.
The largest collection of museum artifacts is on display in the 1772 limestone Marshall House. Many of the structure’s architectural elements are intact including hinges and brass door pulls. www.woodstockmuseumva.org
Fort Valley Nursery and Garden Café is one of Woodstock’s surprising destinations. The 25,000-sq. ft. Fort Valley Nursery, one of the largest in the Southeast, is noted for environmentally friendly products as well as a wide variety of flora. A real treasure here is the Garden Café. Shoppers and browsers can dine in a splendid green setting and taste Virginia’s fine wine. www.fortvalleynursery.com
In the shadow of Massanutten Mountain, German settlers established the town of Staufferstadt, Strasburg, in 1761. There were two major slaveowners, the Spenglers and Bowmans, and 5 percent of the total population of colonial Strasburg was black. One of the earliest enslaved in the area accompanied George Washington as a manservant on his surveying mission.
Because of its strategic position it played a large role in Stonewall Jackson’s 1862 Campaign. After the Civil War it was important because it was the first western Virginia town with two rail lines and in modern times it is considered Virginia’s antiquing capital.
The Strasburg Museum is situated inside the Southern Railway Depot. Displays interpret the history and culture of the area through artifacts, dioramas, photographs, pottery and text. This wonderful conglomeration of galleries has interesting tales to tell and it does so on two floors and exterior railroad displays.
A highlight of the self-guided tour is a 1730s German folio Bible that survived a 1764 Indian attack. The family that owned the Bible accused one of the residents of the city of a crime. He was publicly whipped in front of the County Courthouse and decided to seek vengeance. He gathered local Indians and attacked their farms, killing residents and the cat and torching the farm. The cat’s body was place on the Bible at Second Samuel and the blood prevented the Bible from burning. Residue of the blood is still visible. This item is so rare that the Smithsonian has tried to acquire it. www.strasburgmuseum.org
The Bowman-Shannon Cultural Arts Center is located in Mt. Jackson in a beautiful 6,000-sq. ft. 1920 Craftsman cottage listed on the National Register. This three-story center is the place to see and purchase handcrafted items by area artisans. Each piece is unique. www.bscac.org
The Edinburg Mill, built by George Grandstaff, operated from 1848-1978. Today it is a two-story museum with displays related to area transportation and history. The mill is one of the few that wasn’t burned by Sheridan and in the on-site theater there is an excellent film on “the burning”. www.townofedinburg.org
Shenandoah Caverns is one of the area’s best and most popular attractions. The complex consists of the only VA caverns with an elevator and one-mile tour on level walkways, the Yellow Barn historic farm equipment and performance space, Mainstreet of Yesteryear with more than 100 animatronic figures and American Celebration on Parade.
American Celebration on Parade is a wonder for children and adults alike. Parade floats are featured in 40,000 ft. of galleries. Floats are representative of the Rose and Thanksgiving Parades as well as the Inauguration. There are buttons to push to make the floats come to life and video monitors allow you to view parades. Several of the floats were seen in Philadelphia. www.shenandoahcaverns.com
Snack Stop! Route 11 Potato Chips, VA’s premiere kettle-style chips, is open for fry-viewing and purchasing. The plant is totally waste-free, recycles everything, faces south and has a white-membrane roof. www.rt11.com
New Market Heights, settled on 1761, is one of the quaintest towns along Route 11. So much history took place here that it is best to take one of Dr. Betty K. Wilson’s fantastic thematic guided tours that interpret the Civil War, slavery and architecture. Tours leave from the Apple Blossom Inn, a historic B&B. www.appleblossominn.net
Tour highlights include stories of the impact of women on the town’s Civil War history, Underground Railroad sites and Reformation Lutheran Church The entire town was saved from burning because of four women who ministered to Union soldiers and had been given a letter asking the Union to spare them and their property. The UGRR sites are very unique because they are sites used not by fugitive slaves but by pacifists who were relocating to escape Confederate conscription. Reformation Lutheran Church’s stained glass windows are a must see. The windows have three panels, the top tells a Bible story, the center the history of the area and the bottom depicts a scene of area geographical interest. www.newmarketvirginia.com
New Market’s award-winning Southern Kitchen Restaurant was founded in 1955. All of the food is fresh, homemade and created from family recipes and the peanut soup has been voted one of the best in the US. The food and hospitality are worth a visit.
The Shenandoah Valley was considered the “Breadbasket of the Confederacy” and as such it was an important southern stronghold. This tour will end with two sites that clarify that history for visitors.
The Virginia Museum of the Civil War and Hall of Valor is the only state owned Civil War Museum. The complex consists of a museum and the Historic Bushong Farm that allows you to experience a battlefield and life on a valley farm 1858-68. The Bushongs were slaveowners and at the onset of the war they owned three people. The museum tells the story of the war in outstanding chronological displays and a viewing area looks out to where the battlefield meets the sky. www.vmi.edu/newmarket
Hupp’s Hill Civil War Park consists of a museum and walking trail of the Civil War earthworks. The museum relates the story of the 1864 Valley Campaign. There is an excellent 45-minute film. www.cedarcreekbattlefield.org
Accommodations are available in all price ranges. Three of the most centrally located are the Comfort Inn (www.choicehotels.com), Hampton Inn and Suites (www.Hampton.com) and Holiday Inn Express (www.hiexpress.com), all in Woodstock off I-81 near Route 11. All are AAA-rated and provide breakfast.
Shenandoah County is an affordable year round destination with a full schedule of festivals and activities from the Shenandoah Valley Music Festival (www.musicfest.org) to the Christmas festivities along Route. 11. Each August an untold number of shoppers turn out for the Route 11 Yard Crawl. The nearly 50-mile yard sale begins at 7 AM and continues until you can’t see the prices. If possible don’t miss this event.
It is a four-hour drive west on 76 and then south on I-81. Drive straight into history, straight into Shenandoah County. www.shenandoahtravel.org
I wish you smooth travels!
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