Rockingham County, Virginia
VAGenWeb Project


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

Chapter I

 

CHAPTER I.

GEOGRAPHY OF ROCKINGHAM COUNTY.

 

     Rockingham County, Virginia, extends from the Blue Ridge on the southeast entirely across the great valley to the first Alleghany ranges on the northwest, and has an area of 870 square miles.  Only two counties in the State, Augusta and Pittsylvania, are larger.  Excepting a great notch, cut out of the east corner in 1831 in the formation of Page County, Rockingham is nearly a square, and lies on the map as if its corners were approaching the cardinal points of the compass in a right-hand turn.  The corner farthest north extends nearly up to the 39th parallel of latitude, the south corner being almost as near to the 39th.  As to longitude, the 79th meridian cuts it almost in half.

     A line drawn due east from the north corner of Rockingham, and measured in that course 107 miles, would end in sight of the Washington Monument, on the south side towards Alexandria. One drawn southeastward from the south corner, and measured 87 miles, would end at a point near enough to Manchester and Richmond to be in sound of the chiming bells in those cities beside the James.

     The northeastern half of the great valley of Virginia, comprising now the ten counties of Augusta, Rockingham Page, Shenandoah, Warren, Frederick, Clark, Jefferson, Berkeley, and Morgan (the last three being in West Virginia), may properly be termed the Shenandoah Valley, since it is drained into the Potomac by the Shenandoah River through its several branches.  Prior to the year 1738 the entire Shenandoah Valley, with much more territory west and southwest, was a part of Orange County.  In 1738 it was cut off from Orange, and divided into two counties, Frederick and Augusta.  In 1777 a large part of Augusta was cut off and erected into

 

 

the county of Rockingham.  These successive steps are shown in detail by the following copies of the respective Acts of Assembly authorizing them:

 

     An act (passed November 1738), for erecting two new Counties and Parishes; and granting certain encouragements to the Inhabitants thereof.

   I.  Whereas, great numbers of people have settled themselves of late, upon the rivers of Sherrando, Cohongoruton, and Opeckon, and the branches thereof, on the north-west side of the Blue Ridge of mountains, whereby the strength of this colony, and it’s security upon the frontiers, and his majesty’s revenue of quit-rents, are like to be much increased an augmented; For giving encouragement to such as shall think fit to settle there,

   II.  Be it enacted, by the Lieutenant Governor, Council, Burgesses, of this present General Assembly, and it is hereby enacted, by the authority of the same, That all thatterrotory and tract of land, at present deemed to be part of the County of Orange, lying on the north west side of the top of the said mountains, extending from thence northerly, westerly, and southerly, beyond the said mountains, to the utmost limits of Virginia, be separated from the rest of the said county, and erected into two distinct counties and parishes; to be divided by a line to be run from the head spring of Hedgman river (1) to the head spring of the river Potowmack:  And that all that part of the said territory, lying to the northeast of the said line, beyond the top of the said Blue Ridge, shall be one distinct county, and parish; to be called by the name of the county of Frederick, and parish of Frederick:  And that the rest of the said territory, lying on the other side of the said line, beyond the top of the said Blue Ridge, shall be one other distinct county, and parish; to be called by the name of the county of Augusta, and parish of Augusta. (2)

 

     An Act (passed October 1777) for forming several new counties, and reforming the boundaries of two others.

     Whereas it is represented t this present session of assembly, by the inhabitants of Augusta nd Botetourt counties, that they labour under many inconveniences by reason of the great extent of the said counties and parishes:  Be it therefore enacted by the General Assembly, That from and after the first day of March next the said county and parish of Augusta shall be divided by a line beginning at the north side of the North Mountain, opposite to the upper end of Sweedland Hill, and running a direct course so as to strike the mouth of Seneca creek, on the north fork of the

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(1)     Hedgman River must be what is now called Conway River, forming part of the line between the counties of Madison and Greene.

(2)     Hening’s Statutes, Vol. 5, pp. 78, 79,

 

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south branch of Potowmack river, and the same course to be continued to the Alleghany mountain, thence along the said mountain to the line of Hampshire county; and all that part of the said county and parish of Augusta which lies to the northward of the said line shall be added to and made part of the said county and parish of Hampshire.  And that the residue of the county and parish of Augusta be divided by a line to begin at the South Mountain (Blue Ridge), and running thence by Benjamin Yardley’s plantation so as to strike the north river below James Byrd’s house, thence up the said river to the mouth of Naked creek, thence leaving the river a direct course so as to cross the said river at the mouth of Cunningham’s branch, in the upper end of Silas Hart’s land, to the foot of the North Mountain, thence fifty-five degrees west to the Alleghany Mountain, and with the same to the line of Hampshire; and all that part which lies north eastward of the said line shall be one distinct parish (county and parish), called and known by the name of Rockingham. (3)

     Other parts of the same Act establish the counties of Green Brier and Rockbridge; fix the fourth Monday of every month as court day for Rockingham, the first session to be held at the house of Daniel Smith; establish the town of Lexington; change the name of Dunmore County to Shanando, etc.

     As at first constituted in 1777, Rockingham County embraced the greater part of what is now Pendleton County, W. Va., and about a third part of what is now Page County, Va.  Pendleton County was established in 1787:  this transferred the northwest boundary of Rockingham some 25 miles southeastward – that is, from the Alleghany Mountain to its present position on the Shenandoah Mountain.  Page County was established in 1831:  this cut out from the east corner of Rockingham the big notch already mentioned.

     The present boundaries of Rockingham may be indicated as follows:  Beginning at the south corner, at a point on top of the Blue Ridge above Black Rock Springs, draw a line, straight throughout the greater part of its course, N. about 55 degrees W., some 32 miles to the top of Shenandoah Mountain; this gives the southwest boundary, separating from Augusta County; turn north about 30 degrees east, and fol-

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(3)     Hening’s Statutes, volume 9, pp. 420-424.

 

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low the top ridge of the Shenandoah Mountain some 30 miles, to a point opposite Peru, in Hardy County, W. VA.; this gives the northwest boundary, separating from Pendleton and Hardy; turn south about 50 degrees east, and measure a straight course some 26 miles to the top of Massanutten Mountain, above New Market; this gives the northeast boundary, separating from Hardy and Shenandoah.  This is part of the original line between Frederick and Augusta, and is frequently called the Fairfax Line, since it marks the southwest limit of the famous Northern Neck, as claimed by Thomas Lord Fairfax.  Turn now southwest and follow the crest of the Massanutten Mountain some 9 miles, then turn southeast and go about 12 miles to the top of the Blue Ridge, between Elkton and Shenandoah City; this gives the boundary about the notch, separating from Page County; finally, turn southwestward and follow the crest of the Blue Ridge about 20 miles to the beginning, above Black Rock; this gives the southeast boundary, separating from Green and Albemarle.

     The boundary line of Rockingham around the notch is given more specifically in the Act of 1831, creating Page County, as follows:

 

     Beginning at a point in the line of the counties of Rockingham and Orange, on the top of the Blue Ridge, opposite to the head waters of Naked creek, in the county of Rockingham; thence, a straight lineto the head waters of said creek; thence, with the meanderings of said creek, to its junction with the South river; thence, down the bed of said river, to the upper end of Michael Shuler’s island; thence, a straight line to the mouth of Shuler’s run; thence, with the main branch of said run, to its source; thence, a straight line, to the top of the Massanutten mountain; thence, with the top of said mountain, . . .

 

     The boundary line between Rockingham and Augusta was described in an address delivered October 15, 1896, by Judge John Paul, as follows:

 

     Beginning at the South Mountain (Blue Ridge), thence by a direct line past Benjamin Yardley’s plantation (now Mohler’s) so as to strike North River below James Byrd’s house (James Beard is the way it is now spelled).  The point is at Diehl’s ford, about one mile and a half above the junction of Middle and North rivers.  Thence up North River to the

 

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mouth of Naked Creek; thence by a direct line so as to cross North River at the mouth of Cunningham’s branch (now Thorn Run).  This point is at Mr. Sanger’s house.  Thence, same course, to the foot of North Mountain.

 

     It will be observed from the foregoing statements that two streams by the name of Naked Creek appear in the geography of Rockingham.  One of these heads in Augusta County, and forms a small part of the boundary line between the two counties, near Mt. Crawford; the other heads in Page County, and forms several miles of the boundary between that county and Rockingham, in the vicinity of Shenandoah City.  Wholly within the county are two streams with the name of Dry River.  Both head around the bases of Tomahawk Mountain, near the Pendleton line.  One flows northeast and becomes part of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River at Fulk’s Run; the other flows southeast and unites with North River at Bridgewater.

     The most conspicuous, and perhaps the most wonderful, feature in the physical geography of Rockingham is the southwest promontory of the Massanutten, known as Peaked Mountain, or the Peak.  Rising gradually to a great height, it juts out into the wide valley, then sinks down into the plain as completely and almost as abruptly as the rock of Gibraltar into the sea.  From the east side it presents and appearance that strongly reminds one of Gibraltar.

     The view from the Peak is one of the finest in the world.  Behind one is the great hollow in the Peak itself, know as the Kettle; and beyond it are the triple ridges of the range, flanked on the west by the towering bulk of Laird’s Knob.  To the east is the billowy outline of the Blue Ridge; far to the west are the first ranges of the Alleghanies; halfway between the Peak and Harrisonburg is the long, wooded range of hills known as Chestnut Ridge; and farther back, thrown around the Peak in a great semicircle, are the seven huge, wooded cones that rise out of the plain to a height varying from 300 to 500 feet; Green Hill, beyond Linville; Round Hill, near Singer’s Glen; Mole Hill, at Dale Enterprise; Round Hill, at

 

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Bridgewater; Wise’s Hill, above Mt. Crawford, Shaver’s Hill, near Friedens; and Long’s Hill, toward Port Republic.

     Beyond Green Hill, the North Fork of the Shenandoah River comes out of the Alleghanies, through Brock’s Gap; is joined by Linville Creek at Broadway; flows on past Timberville; and, after receiving the waters of Long Glade Run, Smith’s Creek, and other Rockingham streams, continues its meandering course down the Valley, west of the Massanutten range.

     Beyond Round Hill at Bridgewater, North River comes out of the Alleghanies, through Briery Branch Gap and other gaps; is joined on its way by Dry River, Cook’s Creek, Naked Creek, and many other streams; combines with Middle River near Mt. Meridian, on the line between Rockingham and Augusta; then receives the waters of South River at Port Republic.  Here it surrenders its name, the big stream from Port Republic on being called the South Fork of the Shenandoah River.  This, having swept down between the Blue Ridge and the Massanutten Peak, and having been augmented by Cup Run, Madison Run, Elk Run, and other Rockingham streams, continues down the Valley, east of the Massanutten Mountain, uniting with the North Fork of the Shenandoah River fifty miles below, at the northeast end of the Massanutten range.

     Rockingham County is divided into five magisterial districts, namely, Ashby, Central, Linville, Plains, and Stonewall.  The first is named for the great cavalry leader ho fell, in 1862, just outside of Harrisonburg; the second is named from its position; the third bears the name of the creek that drains its fertile vales; the fourth has adopted the distinguishing term that has long been applied to the broad, level bottoms that shirt the North Fork of the Shenandoah between Timberville and New Market; and the fifth, with much appropriateness, is named for the hero of First Manassas, of Second Manassas, and of Port Republic.  It was in Stonewall District, of Rockingham County, that Stonewall Jackson began and ended his brilliant Valley Campaign.

 

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     Of these five districts, Plains is the largest.  Its western half is the famous Brock’s Gap country.  In 1858, Jed Hotchkiss, a few years later renowned as Stonewall Jackson’s chief topographical engineer, wrote of this country as follows:

     “The region of Brock’s Gap, inside, is large enough for a county by itself.  I was not prepared to find as large a stream of water there as we did find, nor so much romantic scenery.  All ‘Germany’ is inside, and it is some ways from the Gap.”

     The sturdy German race prevails all over Rockingham, particularly so, it seems, in the Brock’s Gap country; hence the expression just quoted.  In years past the region was frequently styled “Little Germany”; and one of the streams that drain it is called German River.

     There has been a good deal of interesting speculation as to how Brock’s Gap got its name.  One tradition is to the effect that “General Brock,” while on his way to relieve Fort Seybert, camped in the Gap, and thus gave it his name.  If there was a General Brock in the Gap at the time referred to, it evidently was not the “Hero of Upper Canada.”  Fort Seybert was destroyed in 1758, and the general just designated was not born till 1769.  It is most likely that the name was received from some resident of the Gap.  In 1748, as the Augusta County records show, Daniel Holman and Peter Gartner became guardians for Julia, George, and Elsie Brock, orphans of Rudolph Brock, deceased.  This shows that there were Brocks in this part of the Valley at a very early date.  In 1752, as shown by the same records, Christian Funkhousa and Henry Brock sold to Jacob Bare 400 acres of Land “on ye south fork of the North River of Shanando above the gap in ye mountain.”  The property was warranted specially against John P. Brock and his heirs.  The witnesses were Peter School, Samuel Newman, and John Bare.  This seems to show conclusively that the Brock name was familiar in the Gap as early as 1752, or earlier.

     With this brief outline of the geography of Rockingham County, let us proceed to the following chapters, in which, under the various heads, will be found many other facts that might properly be included here.

 

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