Rockingham County, Virginia
VAGenWeb Project


A History of Rockingham County
John W. Wayland Ph.D.

Chapter XX

 

CHAPTER XX.

FARMS AND FARMERS.

 

     The chief wealth of Rockingham is produced in the fields, the orchards, the stock ranges, the poultry yards, and the dairies.  Ours is pre-eminently a county of farms and farmers:  of productive farms, and of farmers who own their farms and live upon them.  Of a total of 3528 farms reported in 1910, only 489 were operated by tenants and managers, while all the rest, 3039, were operated by the owners.  Of the latter, 2480 were free from mortgage debt.  It is not surprising, therefore, that Rockingham as an agricultural community holds front rank in the State and in the nation.

     One of the most interesting phases of this subject is to be found in observing the changes that have taken place from earlier to later times in the kind and character of agricultural products.  For example, tobacco for several generations was an important crop in Rockingham.  In 1844 Gen. S. H. Lewis (page 127) began to cut tobacco on the 21st of August, and continued on September 4, 5, 6, and 7, finishing on the 16th.  In February, 1861, he was preparing beds for tobacco plants.  As late as 1876 much tobacco was raised in E. Rockingham and the southern part of Page.  Most of it was hauled to Harrisonburg and shipped via the B. & O. railway.  From the statements in the current press it appears that tobacco raising in the county was a common thing, but that the quantity that year (1876) was greater than usual.  At present no tobacco, almost is raised.  In 1910 only 3 acres in the whole county were devoted to it.

     One of the most interesting experiments was made in grape culture.  A hundred years ago, perhaps, the Scherdlins (page 238), who lived on Paul Street, Harrisonburg, in the house now occupied by Mrs. Converse, had a vineyard on the

 

 

hill eastward.  In November, 1866, Hockman and Forrer were planting a 6-acre vineyard on the same hill.  Within the next few years grape culture was undertaken on a large scale in many parts of the county.  In 1867 Forrer and Hockman had about 5000 vines.  In November, 1867, Col. John H. Hopkins, Dr. W. D. Hopkins, A. S. Byrd, and Francis Staling had formed a company for setting out large vineyards near Mr. Clinton, and had ordered 65,000 grape slips.  They were also going to raise various fruits.  Firebaugh & Company, at Mr. Clinton, were also preparing to set out a large vineyard.

     By May, 1868, the following varieties of grapes had been planted about Mt. Clinton:  Delaware, Concord, Norton’s Virginia, Iona, Ives’ Seedling, and Hartford Prolific.  At the same time Simeon Woods had planted out a large tract in grapes near New Market, Shenandoah County.

     In August, 1871, it was reported that Capt. A. S. Byrd had a vineyard near Hopkin’s Mill and the North Mountain, planted in 1868, containing 5400 vines, of 14 different varieties.  In September (1871) Dr. J. C. Homan had a vineyard of 15 acres near Timberville.  In 1873 a quantity of wine was being made from G. T. Hopkins’ vineyard, near McGaheysville; and Samuel Shank had 4 1/2 acres in grapes on Linville Creek, near Broadway.  In 1874 G. W. Berlin sold his vineyard at Bridgewater to J. W. F. Allemong (page 232).

     At present there are a few grape vines on nearly every farm; but so far as known, no attempt is being made anywhere in the county to raise grapes on a large scale.

     But some things have come in while others have gone out.  The most striking instance of this sort is doubtless to be found in the development of fruit-growing.  A century ago Dr. Peachey Harrison wrote that the apples of Rockingham were few and inferior (see Chapter 28).  Now fruits of all kinds adapted to our latitude, especially apples, are produced regularly in immense quantities (see page 181).  Four miles west of Harrisonburg stands a single apple tree (York Imperial) that produced in one season, a year or two ago, 15 barrels of fruit, which sold for $2.75 a barrel.  The

 

-366-

 

chief varieties grown are York Imperial (Johnson), Winesap, Ben Davis, Jonathan, Delicious, Rome Beauty, and Grimes’ Golden.  The Smokehouse and some other old varieties are going out.  In November, 1911, T. N. Thompson and W. J. Dingledine were elected president and secretary, respectively, of the Rockingham Horticultural Society, a growing organization of over 100 members.  The great fruit growers’ convention and exhibition (16th annual meeting of the Virginia Horticultural Society), held in Harrisonburg in January, was one of the features of the year 1912.

     About 1843 Joseph Funk, as shown by his letters, was cultivating apple sprouts at Mountain Valley, in order that they might be ready for his daughter to carry to Missouri for planting, when she should return from a visit to him.  This may have been the beginning of the nursery business in Rockingham.  From 1860 to 1866, perhaps longer, John Niswander was proprietor of the Rockingham Nursery, at Dayton.  In 1869 Coffman & Son, near Dayton, were operating Cook’s Creek Nursery.  It was said:

 

     The elder Mr. Coffman is one of the early pioneers of superior fruit growing in the Valley. (1)

 

     For a number of years past the Wenger nursery, near Dayton, has been well known.  Mr. C. D. Wenger is the present proprietor.  Greenhouses have been known in the county for the past 30 or 40 years; but the one advertised at Harrisonburg by John H. Bell in 1875 was referred to as a “new enterprise.”

     One of our most interesting and significant agricultural enterprises is the seed growing business of D. M. Wetsel & Son.  In 1897 Mr. Wetsel, formerly a blacksmith, bought 15 acres of land near Port Republic, and began to raise superior seed corn.  His business grew, so that in 1905 he purchased 160 acres further down the river, 120 acres lying on Green Island.  Continuing his corn growing, Mr. Wetsel developed several new varieties, which are among the best yielders in

__________________________________________________________________________

(1)  Rockingham Register, Nov. 11, 1869.

 

-367-

 

the eastern States.  He has enlarged his work, now growing many seeds for garden and field.  His exhibits have taken a number of high prizes in the Roanoke, Richmond, Hagerstown, and Baltimore fairs.  The trade of the firm extends over nearly every State east of the Mississippi River.

     The leading grains of Rockingham are corn (994,436), wheat (719,090), oats (45,140), and rye (25,165); the figures indicating the respective numbers of bushels, for the year, reported in 1910.  Practically all the wheat is grown from fall sowing, and different varieties, both smooth and bearded, are cultivated.  Leap’s prolific smooth wheat is extensively grown in the eastern parts of the county.  This variety is regarded by competent authorities as probably better suited to Virginia soils and climate than any other known; and therefore it is of special interest to recall that this wheat was given to the world from East Rockingham.  Mr. Leap, the original cultivator, now lives near Charlottesville.

     In 1839 R. Kemper, of Cross Keys, was advertising “Italian Spring Wheat” for sale.  In 1852, Gen. S. H. Lewis cut Zimmerman wheat on June 25; “purple straw,” June 29, and following; Poland rye, July 8; and commenced sowing Mediterranean wheat on September 22.  From 1852 to 1861 he was also raising “white wheat.”

     Judging from advertisements in the Register, Rockingham farmers were using “plaister” for fertilizer as early as 1833.  In 1852 (March 31) Gen. Lewis sowed plaster on a clover field; on April 2, following, he sowed it on another field.  In 1864 Nova Scotia plaster was being used in the county; in 1866 H. Heller & Son, of Harrisonburg, were selling raw bone phosphate and super phosphate of lime.  During the years following much bone dust was used, large quantities being ground in the county.  In 1866 it was reported that plaster had been found on the farm of Capt. D. S. Jones, near Harrisonburg, and also on the farm of Emanuel Rhodes.  In 1867 Peruvian guano sold in Harrisonburg at $115 a ton; bone dust, at $70; wheat, at $2.25 a bushel; sugar, at 15 to 25 cents a pound.  In 1868 G. W. Berlin was paying 50c a hundred

 

-368-

 

for dry bones (in Harrisonburg), and $15 a ton (delivered at his mill near Bridgewater), and was grinding them into bone dust for farm fertilizer.  In 1871 he paid $20 a tone for bones, and sold the bone dust at $50 to $55 a ton.  In 1880 he said that Maj. George Chrisman had bought from him from two to ten tons of pure ground bone nearly every year during the preceding 10 or 12 years.

     The number of bushels of potatoes raised in 1910 was 122,116; of sweet potatoes and yams, 5058.  In certain sections of the county, particularly about Spring Creek, Bridgewater, Mt. Crawford, and Timberville, thousands of fine watermelons, etc., are grown every year.  August court is known as “watermelon court,” the reason being much in evidence all around the public square.  The color scheme is red, white, and green, with black for variation.  In 1901 - the first time in many years - August court was melonless, owing to lateness of the crop.

     Rockingham is a great country for hay and forage.  In 1910 over 45,000 tons were reported.  Timothy and clover, usually mixed, are the staple hay-grasses.  Crimson clover and alfalfa are being introduced.  The lands along Smith’s Creek, Linville Creek, and other streams are excellent for grazing, and in consequence the cattle, horses and sheep of the county are numbered by thousands (see page 181).  It is said that in 1903 Rockingham took first rank in livestock values in the U. S. census report.

     By common consent, Geo. W. Rosenberger, who lived at Rosendale, on Smith’s Creek, is regarded as the pioneer in bringing fine stock into Rockingham County.  In 1842 he began raising improved breeds of cattle, sheep, and hogs; later, he secured the better breeds of chickens, turkeys, and ducks.(2)  About 1860, a herd of 26 Durhams of his raising, 21 bullocks and 5 heifers, averaged a weight of 1773 pounds:  the heaviest weighing 1985, the lightest 1500.  From 1866 to 1876, etc., he was selling full-bred Cotswold sheep, as well as

____________________________________________________________________________

(2) Rockingham Register, Jan. 3, 1867, Jan. 31, 1878.

 

-369-

 

shorthorn cattle.  In 1874 he bought in Kentucky a Cotswold buck weighing 385 pounds.  In 1876 he sold to John F. Lewis two sheep weighing 200 and 300 pounds, respectively.

     In the 70’s Peter S. Roller and Samuel Frank, of the vicinity of Mt. Crawford, had for sale Berkshire pigs and shorthorn calves.  For many years past John S. Funk, John B. Bowman, and others, of the Singer’s Glen neighborhood, have won numerous prizes at Staunton, Winchester, Woodstock, and elsewhere on Shropshire, Cotswold, and Southdown sheep, etc.

     In January, 1867, Ephraim Wenger, near Dayton, killed a beef “which weighed over 1255 lbs. nett!”  In April following, Col. John H. Hopkins, “of the North Mountain region,” sold 25 head of fat cattle, to Mr. Hahn, of Shenandoah, at $95 a head.  In 1871, D. H. Landis, near Harrisonburg, was raising Ohio Chesters and Berkshires.  In 1880 Geo. W. Adams, of Linville Creek, bought of Daniel Byerly four cattle averaging 1802 pounds each; in March, 1891, Dr. E. A. Herring, of Cross Keys, sold two Durham cattle (twins), named Tom and Jerry, 4 years old the preceding December, that weighed respectively 2040 and 2155 pounds; and in January, 1895, John F. Myers shipped to Roanoke a hog (3/4 Poland-China, 1/4 Chester) that weighed 855 pounds. (See page 89)

     After Mr. Rosenberger, the man who deserves most gratitude in Rockingham for the high standards set in stock-raising, etc., is doubtless Maj. George Chrisman.  For forty years or more he has pointed out the best in these lines, and has shown how and why it is the best.  It was he who introduced Poland-China and Berkshire hogs into Rockingham, following the war, bringing them from Illinois. (3)  From 1877 to 1885 his thoroughbred cattle were awarded premiums at Staunton, Winchester, Culpeper, Richmond, and Washington; from 1875 to 1896 he contributed to the Rockingham Register no less than two dozen articles on such subjects as hog-raising, cattle-raising, Percheron horses, farming, fertilizers, etc.

__________________________________________________________________________

(3) Rockingham Register, May 9, 1878.

 

-370-

 

     As early as 1867, perhaps earlier, Sen. John F. Lewis was also engaged in raising fine stock.  In the year named he brought into Rockingham the thoroughbred race-horse, Engineer, for the improvement of his own stock, with that of his neighbors.  He also raised Durham cattle and full-bred sheep.  His son, John F. Lewis, president of the Virginia Pure Bred Live Stock Breeders Association, keeps saddle and Percheron horses, Shorthorn cattle, and Berkshire hogs.

     The first “thoroughbred” horse I have heard of in Rockingham was Sir Rubycon, advertised in March, 1833, by John W. Dunlap; the most famous one was doubtless Sam Purdy, brought to Harrisonburg in 1880 from the Pacific slope, a present to Capt. F. A. Daingerfield from his brother-in-law, James R. Keene.  Same Purdy had been at different times the property of Leland Stanford, and Keene had paid $50,000 for him.  He was in Rockingham about ten years, but died in Culpeper in 1891, aged 25 years.  General Miles, a Kentucky saddle-bred horse, the property of Dr. John a. Myers of Harrisonburg, has been in the county about 16 years, and has a great progeny.  Thomas Herring and Joseph Clatterbuck, of Dayton, keep fine horses.  St. Lorimer, owned by Mr. Clatterbuck, was sired by St. Blaze, owned by J. R. Keene and F. A. Daingerfield, and sold for $100,000.  One of St. Lorimer’s colts recently took blue ribbon in the free for all heavy jumpers’ contest in France.  Among other Rockingham gentlemen who have done notable things in promoting stock standards, specially of horses, are M. M. Jarman, Elkton, and Garber Brothers, of Harrisonburg.  Harrisonburg is probably the greatest horse market in the Valley.  In the Register of March 31, 1881, it was stated:  “About 500 head of horses have been bought on our streets within the last two months.”  Every court day brings horses and horse buyers.

     As may be supposed, the dairy and poultry products of Rockingham are very large - the quality keeping pace with the quantity.  In April, 1866, it was announced in the Register that, since the preceding October, Forrer & Clip-

 

-371-

 

pinger, local merchants, had shipped to Baltimore and Washington 25,000 pounds of butter, which had won such a reputation as to secure for the said firm a contract to supply $200’s worth of butter, eggs, etc., per week, to the White House.  During the two years ending July 1, 1871, there were shipped from Linville Depot 16,361 barrels of flour, 504,743 pounds of mill feed, 16,769 bushels of wheat, and 241 car loads of live stock.  On a single day, in the fall or winter of 1873, 600 pounds of butter were received at the Cross Keys store.  The annual shipment of butter from the same place amounted in value to $7000 or $8000.  On April 13, 1877, J. B. D. Rhodes & Co., merchants at Spartapolis, had on hand 2000 dozen eggs.  During the month of March, 1878, 10,000 dozen eggs were shipped from Broadway.  May 22, 1894, “Egg Day” at the Harrisonburg express office, 371 cases, containing 11,406 dozen eggs, were shipped north.  For the year ending December 31, 1894, the following express shipments were made from Bridgewater:  50,970 dozen eggs; 17,613 pounds of butter; 80,555 pounds of dressed poultry; 36,014 pounds of live poultry; 1721 pounds of chestnuts and dried fruits.  And this was before the railroad came.  In December, 1895, it was reported that over 8500 pounds of poultry had been shipped from Broadway and Timberville in one day.  At present, the J. A. Burkholder Produce Co., Harrisonburg, is shipping about 50 cars of poultry and 75 cars of eggs a year:  5000 chickens and 6000 dozen eggs in a car.  In other words, they send off each month over 20,000 chickens and 450,000 eggs.

     At this rate something must be done to keep up the supply; and it is being done.  Nearly everybody in the county raises chickens - people in the smaller towns and villages, as well as those on the farm.  S. H. Blosser & son, Dayton, have a hatchery with a capacity of 9900 eggs, tri-weekly becoming chicks.  There is only one other in the State (the one at Riverton) of equal size.  Near Dayton are also the large poultry yards of Senger Brothers; and there are many others, of varying sizes, over the county.  A yearly poultry show is one of the delights of the county-seat.

 

-372-

 

     There was a formal movement for agricultural societies in the Valley as early as 1825-6, the General Assembly records showing; and closer or looser organization has existed among Rockingham farmers, from time to time, up to and into the present.  From 1874 to 1878 the Grange was active in the county.  In 1874-5 local organizations were perfected at Bridgewater, Mt. Crawford, McGaheysville, Port Republic, Conrad’s Store, Zirkle’s School House, Melrose, North Mountain, and Harrisonburg.  On May 21, 1875, a great demonstration was made in Harrisonburg by the several granges of Rockingham and adjoining counties.  Dr. J. B. Webb, of Cross Keys, was installed Master of the county grange; M. M. Sibert was made secretary, and H. B. Harnsberger, treasurer.

     In March, 1878, the McGaheysville grange passed resolutions acknowledging the services of Geo. Chrisman, John F. Lewis, and Geo. Rosenberger in improving the herds and flocks of Rockingham.  From 1890 to 1893 the Farmers’ Alliance was much in evidence.  G. T. Barbee of Bridgewater was president of the State organization in 1890.

     At present there is an active Rockingham Farmers’ Association.  C.B. Kiser of Bridgewater is president; C. W. Wampler of Dayton is secretary; there are five directors one from each magisterial district:  D. C. Acker (Plains), W. S. Armentrout (Linville), Harry Forrer (Central), C. T. Callender (Ashby), and J. C. Armstrong (Stonewall).  Another healthy and growing organization is the boys’ corn club.

     April 14, 1870, “Agricola,” writing in the Register, proposed an agricultural fair for Rockingham.  In November, 1892, the first annual agricultural fair of the county was held at Assembly Park, just north of Harrisonburg.  In September of the next year, and perhaps for a year or two longer, this movement was kept up.  In August, 1898, the first exhibition of the Rockingham Horse and Colt Show Association was held in Assembly Park; in 1901 the annual exhibition was first held on the new grounds, just west of town.  These horse and colt shows were discontinued a few years ago; but now, upon the same grounds, while these lines are being

 

-373-

 

written, a new county fair is being held (October, 1912).  Maj. Geo. Chrisman is president; Mr. Paul Rhinehart is manager; and H. M. Strickler, Esq., is secretary.

     For about ten years past an annual horse and stock show has been held at Lacey Spring; Mr. J. S. Sellers is president, and Mr. L. B. Morris is secretary.

     There are dozens of particular farms in Rockingham so well situated and so well kept as to make the observer, whatever he is, long to be a farmer.  Perhaps the most famous of all these farms is the one two miles west of Harrisonburg, on the Rawley Pike, until recently owned by James e. Reherd, now the property of Frank B. Showalter.  This farm has been “written up” for at least three world’s fairs:  Chicago (1893), St. Louis (1904), and Jamestown (1907).

     Organization, co-operation, and increasing efficiency are marking the progress of farming and farm life in Rockingham.  Farm houses are being constructed and furnished with more regard for convenience and comfort, and the people are learning to get more pleasure and culture, as well as more money, out of their farms.  Intensive farming and better selection and adaptation of farm products will soon double results on our farms and for our farmers.  The following instance is presented to show what is possible in Rockingham on a very small farm.

A.     J. Anderson of Bridgewater has a farm of seven acres.  The land is river bottom - sandy loam.  He plants field corn and potatoes in three acres; the remaining four acres he uses as a truck farm, making specialties of tomatoes, cucumbers, cantaloupes, beans, and sweet corn.  Practically the whole output is sold at retail in Harrisonburg and other nearby towns.  In 1911 he cleared $1100.00.  This year (1912), up to August 15, his sales amounted to $600.00.  He regards the total receipts from the four acres of vegetables as clear profit, since the corn and potatoes raised on the other three acres pay expenses for the whole farm.

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

HOME PAGE