Rockingham County, Virginia
VAGenWeb Project


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

Chapter XXIV

 

CHAPTER XXIV

NATURAL CURIOSITIES.

 

     First, let us take a walk through some of the underground palaces.  Rockingham has a dozen or more beautiful caves.

     In point of discovery, Harrison’s Cave, six miles northeast of Harrisonburg, is perhaps the oldest.  Few persons in the county now know of its existence.  I found a reference to it in Kercheval’s old history of the Valley, and, upon inquiry, succeeded in locating it.  It was discovered by David Harrison (born in 1775), and is in a cedar-covered rocky hill a short distance northeast of Melrose, and a few hundred yards west of the Valley Pike.  The hill is in plain sight from the pike, and is a part of the farm of Mr. Thos. A. Moore.

     Wednesday afternoon, September 20, 1911, I visited Harrison’s Cave.  My guide was Mr. Daniel Harrison, a grandson of the man who found the cave, so many years ago.  William Harrison, a son of David, put a building over the entrance, but his went into decay before the civil war, and now the opening is altogether without protection.  In fact, we had some difficulty in getting down the first ten feet, so much mud and so many leaves had washed in ahead of us.

     Once in, there was plenty of room.  Several of the apartments are very large.  One room, near the end, is larger in circumference, I think, than any room in any other cave I have visited except, perhaps, the Grand Cathedral in Weyer’s.  The ceiling, however, is not higher than 15 or 20 feet.

     Vandals have defaced Harrison’s Cave shamefully – have broken off tons of stalactites; and the smoke from candles and torches has blackened the whole interior; yet in spite of all this it is a great wonder, and presents many striking

 

 

features.  It contains a column thicker, I think, than any I have seen elsewhere.  One great column is severed about midway from floor to ceiling.  The grand “organ” has had its pipes broken off about half way up.

     Hundreds – perhaps thousands – of names are to be found on the walls, ceiling, and columns.  Some are cut into the stone, others are made with the smoke of candle or torch.  Most of the legible dates after names fall in the year 1862.  In April of that year a large number of Federal soldiers, perhaps from the army of Banks, were in the cave.  I saw the names of many men from the 4th and 8th regiments, Ohio Volunteer Infantry.

     The earliest date I saw was 1818.  This was smoked on the wall in large figures, plainly, and apart from other dates.  In all probability, 1818 was the year in which the cave was discovered.

     About 200 yards southwest from the cave just described is a grotto called “Wide-mouth Cave.”  It is about 40 feet in diameter – a single vaulted chamber – opening widely to the surface of the earth.

     On Smith’s Creek, a mile or two above Rosendale, on a farm now owned by Dorilas Driver, is a cavern known as Strickler’s Cave.  When it was discovered is not known, but it is called an old cave.

     In 1879, Reuben Zirkle and his sons, following a dog which had chased a rabbit into the rocks near the foot of the Massanutten Mountain, found a cave which is now known as the New Market Endless Caverns.  It is in the rugged slope between the mountain and Smith’s Creek, a short distance below Strickler’s Cave, and is opposite the site of the old Zirkle mill.  Rosendale is within sight.

     On September 16, 1911, Mr. Harry Strickler and I visited the Endless Caverns, having for guide the owner, Mr. Harvey J. Rosenberger.  Going down abruptly at the entrance for 20 or 30 feet, we entered the Anteroom, one of the handsomest apartments in the cave.  Other apartments deserving special mention are Centennial Hall, Alexander’s Ball Room, St.

 

-401-

 

Paul’s Cathedral, the Alpine Pass, and the Brown Room.  For profusion, variety, and beauty of formations the Brown Room is unexcelled by any other I have seen.

     There are many large apartments and passage ways, from which dark openings lead off, and around which bottomless chasms yawn.  Many of the corridors are not covered with stalactites, but the massive limestone arches and vaulted ceilings, the huge dependent crags, with the ponderous boulders piled up on the floor or projecting in ledges, combine to form a rugged beauty and grandeur that are unusual.  Interspersed with these rugged gorges come splendid apartments rich in mural and overhead decorations.

     A striking feature of these caverns is found in the numerous huge, fluted columns, many of them supporting the ceiling, some cut finely off just below the ceiling, and one or more fast above and extending far downwards, but separated from the floor by the space of only a few inches.  These splendid columns, large and small, make up what is perhaps the most characteristic feature of the caverns.

     Among particular curiosities of special interest and beauty are Diamond Lake, the Montana Snowdrift, Snow on the Alps, the Negro Campmeeting, and the Gypsy Tent.  The last and the Montana Snowdrift are unsurpassable for wonder and beauty.  In the Tent is a huge horror that looks like the jaws of a mammoth crocodile.  The jaws must be three or four feet long, and the teeth are like the guards on the cutterbar of a mowing machine.  At another place is a nearly perfect ear of corn, about as tall as the average man, and weighing several hundred pounds.  Not far away is a giant plowshare, which may easily be connected in imagination with the great ear of corn.

     We were in the caverns two and a fourth hours, and did not go into all the apartments.  They are truly endless.

     Three strong, clear, cold springs gush out at the foot of the hill, only 200 or 300 yards below the cave mouth; and from the hill the prospect across the Valley, westward and northward, is glorious.  The Alleghanies are in full view at

 

-402-

 

the farther side of the Valley, 12 or 15 miles away, while the massive ridge of the Massanutten looms up at one’s back.

     In 1871 or 1872 J. Harvey Taylor discovered a cave on the land of Mrs. Clary West, about 3 ½ miles northeast of Harrisonburg, one mile east of the Valley Pike.  It was explored for 200 yards or more.(1)

     From public notices that appeared in 1874, it may be inferred that Newman’s Cave, at or near Roadside, East Rockingham, was at that time being visited.

     In 1890 a cave was discovered on the land of Hon. Chas. E. Fahrney, three-fourths of a mile north of Timberville.  One morning Mr. Fahrney noticed a hole in the ground, such as might have been left by a stump entirely decayed; but he also noticed vapor issuing from the opening, and so made further investigation.  The cave is said to contain a number of beautiful formations, - an archway hung with sparkling stalactites, a small lake, and a good-sized flag, mounted on a staff.  The ceiling at some places is 30 or 40 feet high.

     On November 5th, 1892, hands blasting rock for lime on the farm of Augustine Armentrout, near Keezletown, discovered the beautiful wonder now widely known as Massanutta Gertrude Cave.  It contains 28 apartments, the ceilings of many being 15 feet in height, and the decorations in stalactites and stalagmites are of great profusion and variety.  The illumination by means of gas and magnesia tape enhances the splendid interiors.  Scientists and scholars, as well as less purposeful tourists, have come many miles to see this gem of nature.  Clubs, societies, and all sorts of picnic parties find Massanutta Cave both accessible and delightful.

     In Februray [sic], 1893, a cave was discovered on the lands of Mrs. Peter Pence, adjoining Long’s Hill, in East Rockingham.(2)

     In the winter of 1901 it was reported in the local papers

__________________________________________________________________________

(1)     Rockingham Register, January 25, 1872.

(2)     Rockingham Register, February 10, 1893.

 

-403-

 

that boys of the Weaver’s Church neighborhood had explored numerous interesting cavities in the limestone of the surrounding hills.

     There are caves in Round Hill, west of Bridgewater, in a hill near Linville, and in the Roudabush and Armentrout neighborhood, between Edom and Singer’s Glen.  Indeed, Rockinghamers feel like claiming a share in Weyer’s Cave, since it is so near the county line.  Many go every year to visit it, at any rate.

     One of the places in Rockingham long celebrated for a combination of rugged scenery and interesting associations is Brock’s Gap, located in the northern part of the county, and affording a giant’s gateway through the first ranges of the Alleghanies.  The mountain walls on either side, the trees and shrubbery springing from the slopes and cliffs, and the sparkling waters that rush down fresh from the heights and hollows beyond, all lend a charm and beauty to the place that must be seen to be appreciated.  Descriptions and pictures are both inadequate to convey a just impression of the varied and splendid forms in which nature has here enthroned herself. – See page 21.

     What has just been said of Brock’s Gap is equally true of Massanutten Peak, or Peaked Mountain, to which attention has already been directed in several connections.  The Peak must be seen to be appreciated.  Perhaps one should say, other things about it must be seen from it.  The Peak is a great natural wonder, and it is unexcelled as an observatory.

     Within the Peak is the Kettle.  This is a great, deep basin, or trough, with a narrow outlet at the eastern part.  This outlet is called Harshberger’s Gap, and through it flow the waters gathered from the springs in the basin.  One of these is far up near the head of the trough, and for a considerable distance the waters roar down through subterranean passages between the huge rocks that are heaped over the channel in wild profusion.  The stream that thus heads in the Kettle is called Stony Run, or Stony Creek, and flows through McGaheysville into the South Shenandoah.

 

-404-

 

     On the mountain side, a short distance east of the Kettle, and just above Rockingham Springs, is White Rock.  This is a high, broad-faced cliff that can be seen for miles as one passes Elkton, McGaheysville, and other places in East Rockingham.  On the opposite side of the Valley, high up in the Blue Ridge, may be seen the silver arc of Cedar Cliff Falls, - the waters of Wolf Fun leaping down a hundred feet or more in their hurried descent to join Elk Run, and then the Shenandoah.

     Before leaving East Rockingham, a word must be said of Indian Rock, which, if it is not a natural curiosity, is nevertheless set on a wondrous pinnacle of nature.  It is described by “G. T. H.,” writing from McGaheysville under the date of March 27, 1864, as follows:

 

     Deeply cut in a large, flat rock that forms the extreme western projection of the peak of Massanutten mountain can be seen the print of a moccasined foot, with the toe pointing due West.  This was no doubt executed by order of an Indian council, to direct the wandering members of their tribes to the path their leaders had taken.  Judging from the weatherbeaten appearance of the track, it must have been cut hundreds of years ago.

 

     About half way between Broadway and Singer’s Glen is Tide Spring, which flows out only at intervals, but whose intermittent stream is of sufficient volume to run a mill.  In a wet season it flows three or four times in an hour; in a dry time, only once, perhaps, in a day.

     On one of the cliffs near Rawley Springs – perhaps at Lover’s Leap – is the remarkable Washington Profile; and out in the Valley a mile or so, in plain view, is the long, low ridge called the Giant’s Grave.

     Until comparatively recent years a great wonder was to be found on Second Mountain, about half way between Rawley and Liberty Springs.  It was a huge rock, about forty feet long, thirty feet wide, and six feet thick, almost perfectly balanced on a ledge near the mountain top.  About 1893 some young men dislodged it with dynamite, and thus destroyed one of the most remarkable curiosities in the county.

     On the Rawley Pike, about two miles west of Dale Enter-

 

-405-

 

prise, is a chinkapin tree which is, so far as is known, the largest of its kind in the world.  It is about 40 feet high, and two feet above the ground the trunk measures 10 feet six inches in circumference.  At the ground the girth of this vegetable giant is 19 ½ feet.

     Near Dayton until lately was a large sugar-berry tree, which was regarded as very unusual because of its size.

     So much for natural curiosities.  We shall now take the liberty of appending to this chapter a few notes regarding various minerals, etc., found in Rockingham County.

     Tradition has it that lead was mined near Broadway and Timberville during the Revolutionary War.  In 1894 signs of old workings were found about two miles west of Timberville, and specimens of lead and zinc were secured.  In October, 1894, the Colonial Lead and Zinc Company, made up of W. H. Ritenour, Thompson Lennig, R. R. Douthatt, N. G. Douglass, and David B. Sites, got a charter to work these old lead mines.  In 1886 a lead mine on the farm of D. P. Showalter, near Chrisman, was being worked by Pennsylvania capitalists.

     In 1833, Philip Miller and J. N. Ball were advertising a “superior quality” of marble quarried on Smith’s Creek, and were manufacturing it into tombstones, hearths, mantelpieces, steps, sills, etc.  In 1880 marble was reported in Brock’s Gap.  Two years later marble was being quarried at or near Timberville by Messrs. Moffet & Moore.  It seems probable that black marble may be obtained just north of Harrisonburg.  At present Dr. E. D. Davis is making developments in that section.

     In 1854 gypsum was reported near the line of the Manassas Gap Railway; and coal in Brock’s Gap; both in Rockingham County.  The Dora Coal Fields in Briery Branch Gap have already been mentioned.  The presence of coal there was known as early as 1866.  From 1870 to 1880 a good deal of development work was done.  In January, 1880, the editor of the Register reported that he was using some of the Briery Branch coal, and found it “first-class.”

 

-406-

 

     In April 1866, it was announced that plaster beds existed on the farm of Peter Wine, two or three miles west of Tenth Legion.  Plaster was being sold there at $6 a ton.  It was said that certain farmers on Linville Creek had been using this plaster for the past five or six years.

     In 1868, as recorded by Mr. S. H. W. Byrd, John W. Click discovered onyx on the farm of John C. Miller, near Bridgewater.  From time to time the onyx quarries at Bridgewater have been worked more or less successfully.  There of indications of roofing slate on the river below Bridgewater.  In 1894 onyx was being shipped to New York City from quarries near Hinton.

     Iceland spar exists in large quantities near Broadway and Timberville.  In 1889 J. P. Houck, in boring a well, presumably at or near Harrisonburg, found evidence of oil.  Gold and silver in small quantities have been found at various places in the county.  The late Mr. David A. Heatwole, of Dale Enterprise, records the fact that in Adams’ geography, published in the earlier part of last century, it was stated that nuggets of gold had been found a short distance west of Harrisonburg, on the farm lately owned by Mr. Daniel J. Myers.

     But every golden age is largely dependent on iron; and Rockingham is rich in iron.  From early times iron has been worked in various parts of the county, particularly in the vicinity of Paulington, in Brown’s Gap, in the districts east of Elkton, and in Brock’s Gap.  It is said that iron ore used to be hauled to Mossy Creek iron works from the neighborhood of Dale Enterprise.

     The limestone, blue and gray, in which the county abounds, is fine for building.  Some of the oldest, as well as some of the newest, houses are constructed of this native

 

-407-

 

limestone, which is also converted, at many places and in large quantities, into valuable lime.  At Pleasant Valley is a quarry of gray limestone, which was opened about 1873, and which has been worked regularly since 1890, tons of stone from it being sent by rail to Staunton and other places at a distance, to be used for lintels, sills, bases of monuments, etc.  Mr. C. E. Loewner is the present owner of this quarry.

     About two and a half miles southeast of Elkton extensive operations are now being carried on in the mining of manganese.

     In 1891 parts of the skeleton of a mastodon were found one mile north of Singer’s Glen, by Henry Frank, while digging out an old pond.  The remains were identified by Dr. M. S. Zirkel of Edom,  and were sent, probably, to the National Museum, at Washington.  The find attracted a good deal of attention among scholars and scientists over the country.  On July the 25, 1912, while at Singer’s Glen, I saw parts of one of the great teeth, preserved by Mr. Edward Funk.

     In April, 1899, two mammoth teeth were discovered in an excavation being made in Harrisonburg for Mr. Herman Wise’s new store building.  They weighed over a pound apiece, and were found 15 feet below the surface of the street.

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

HOME PAGE