Rockingham County, Virginia
VAGenWeb Project

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

Chapter IX



FROM 1876 TO 1912.


     The earlier periods of the history of the County have been presented in chapters of considerable length, but it is not deemed necessary or advisable to make this chapter very long.  Accordingly, it is made to consist, or the most part, of a brief chronicle of certain important or significant events.

     In 1876 Rockingham County gave Tilden and Hendricks 3444 votes, as against 514 for Hayes and Wheeler; the nation at large gave the former 4,284,885 and the latter 4,033,950.  Notwithstanding these facts, and others even more pertinent, the Electoral Commission, by a partisan vote, declared Hayes and Wheeler elected.  The South, to use the words of Judge Kenney, had been through one war, and did not wish to see another, and so accepted the ruling.  President Hayes, on his part, did the fitting thing by withdrawing the last Federal troops from the South, and Reconstruction, as prepared by Stevens and distributed by carpetbaggers, came to an end.  Rockingham had already begun to show, in her own revival and progress, what the whole South was soon to become.

     One of the significant things about the county has been that she has always contributed liberally to good causes.  Possibly herein is revealed the secret of her growth and prosperity.  She has given abundantly, not only in means, but also in women and men.  Her part in the development of the great West and Northwest has already been referred to several times.  During the years now under consideration the building of the West was going rapidly on, and Rockingham still continued to send forward sturdy helpers.  In 1876 there seems to have been a marked immigration from the Valley and other parts of the State.  In February of that year a



party of about fifty persons went west from Rockingham.  It may have been a loss to Rockingham, but it was certainly a gain to the West.

     On Friday, March 9, 1877, Judge Kenney wrote in his diary:  “A volunteer company was formed to-night called after my old company, the Rockingham Rifles (the name was subsequently changed).  O. B. Roller was elected captain.”

     In November, 1877, another great flood devastated the river sections of Rockingham and adjacent counties.  Of all the floods in the Valley, those of 1870 and 1877 are most frequently referred to as notable for destructiveness. (1)

     On January 27, 1878, Judge Kenney wrote:  “I notice some 10 or 12 English sparrows in the street.  Last fall or winter was their first appearance in this town [Harrisonburg],”

     On Sunday, September 29, the same year, he wrote:  “Col. A. S. Gray died about 2 P.M.  He was in the 65th year of his age.  He was the son of Robert Gray, who was born in Ireland.  A. S. Gray was born in Harrisonburg.  He began life as a lawyer; was a militia colonel; was a member of the convention when the war began, and was opposed to secession.  After the war was a Republican, and was marshal of this district for about 8 years.”

     March 3, 1879, an Act was passed by the General Assembly for the protection of deer in Rockingham County, making it unlawful to kill them from December 1 to August 1.

     Three more brief extracts from the Kenney diary are here introduced; natural history, State politics, and agricultural progress being the respective topics.


     Friday, May 9, 1879:  Birds that I have seen in our yard in the last day or two:  the house sparros, English sparrow, wren, yellow bird, blue bird, pewit, robin, martin, chimney sweep, house martin, sand martin, & oriole; and the humming bird will come when the trumpet creeper blooms.


     Tuesday, Nov. 4, 1879:  This is election day for a Senator & two delegates from this county.  There is great excitement throughout the


(1)     On the flood of 1877, see the Rockingham Register, Nov. 29, 1877.




state in regard to the adjustment of the state debt.  One party is called funders and the other party readjusters.  The funders support the law known as the McCullok bill, and the other party want a new settlement.

     Tuesday, June 22, 1880:  I went to Lurty’s farm to see a self-binding reaping machine.  It works well.


     About January 1, 1881, there was intense cold throughout the Valley.  The snow in Rockingham and surrounding districts was from 25 to 30 inches in depth.  At Harrisonburg the temperature was 20 degrees below zero; at Mt. Clinton and Broadway it was 30, and at Bridgewater 22.  In June of the same year a terrific hail-storm swept over Port Republic.  In august, 1882, Harrisonburg and vicinity was visited by a destructive flood.

     There were at least two notable incidents in 1883.  In July John F. Lewis, J. B. Webb, and Henry B. Harnsberger, commissioners, selected the site in Harrisonburg for the new Federal court house.  The Baptist Church lot, the Henry Shacklett lot, and the W. C. Harrison lot, lying together in the corner of Main Street and Elizabeth Street, east of Main, were taken at the price of $12,000.  In September about 200 Union veterans came in a body to visit the Valley.  Harrisonburg and the county turned out in hearty style, and gave them a royal welcome.

     In 1884 certain changes were made in two of the lines dividing townships:  (1) the one between Ashby and Central; (2) the one between Linville and Plains.  The same year the work of restoring the county records, partly destroyed in 1864, was authorized.

     In April, 1887, three of the five districts in Rockingham, namely, Ashby, Central, and Linville, voted under the local option law to prohibit the sale of liquor.  The vote in each district was as follows:

Ashby, 714 against license; 121 for license.

Central, 692 against license; 451 for license.

Linville, 286 against license; 252 for license.

     The vote taken in Plains at the same time resulted in a count of 301 against license and 329 for license.  But there were no bar-rooms in any of the districts except Central (at




Harrisonburg) and Stonewall (one at McGaheysville).  The vote taken in Stonewall the following July resulted in a considerable majority in favor of license. (2)

     The year 1889 was remarkable for its heavy rainfall.  It was thought by Rockinghamers to have broken the record of a century or more.  Floods did much damage to crops in various parts of the county.  This will be remembered as the year of the Johnstown flood.  Other things too were at the flood in Rockingham and neighboring counties; for this year of 1889, with the year or two following, has ever since been called the “Boom Time.”  Cities were laid out – on paper – and built, too, - on cherished hopes and fair prospects.  The farmers of Rockingham almost always know what to do with their money, but at that particular period it soon became painfully evident that some of them, not a few, did not know.  Harrisonburg, Shendun, and Elkton were doubtless the Rockingham towns most conspicuous in the booms, but Broadway and other places were also heard from.  It is only fair to add that nearly all these towns have ever since had a normal, healthy growth, even if the dreams of boom times have not all come true – yet.

     In 1890 the population of the county was 31,299: 28,477 white, 2822 colored.  Upon petition of the requisite number of voters, Judge George G. Grattan, of the county court, ordered a new division of the county into voting precincts.  A new voting place was established at Swift Run.  As finally adjusted, the arrangement was as follows:

     Stonewall District:  Port Republic, Swift Run, McGaheysville, Furnace No. 2, Elkton.

     Ashby District:  Moyerhoeffer’s Store, Cross Keys, Pleasant Valley, Mt. Crawford, Bridgewater, Dayton, Ottobine.

     Central District:  Mt. Clinton, Keezletown, Harrisonburg.

     Linville District:  Oak Grove School House, Singer’s Glen, Edom, Melrose, Mountain Valley.


(2)  See Rockingham Register, April 28 and July 14, 1887.




     Plains District:  Tenth Legion, Broadway, Timberville, Cootes’ Store, Wittig’s Store.

     In 1891 there was much agitation for better roads in Rockingham. The year is especially notable for the death of the pine trees all over the Appalachian region in Virginia, West Virginia, etc.

     It is said that Rockingham, in 1892, was the first Virginia county to organize forces to take part in the great world’s fair at Chicago.  Governor McKinney appointed Dr. S. K. Cox and Mrs. A. E. Heneberger as managers of the Rockingham exhibit at the fair, and they appointed assistant committees in the several districts of the county.  Mrs. K. S. Paul of Harrisonburg rendered notable service in the enterprise.

     In the Presidential election of 1892, Rockingham gave Cleveland 569 votes more than she gave Harrison.  In 1888 she had given 281 more to Harrison than to Cleveland; and in 1884 she had given Cleveland the princely plurality of one vote over Blaine.

     In 1891 a dispute had arisen between Rockingham and Augusta concerning the location of the dividing line from North River to the top of the Blue Ridge – past Grottoes and Black Rock Springs.  About June, 1893, the matter was settled, according to the Rockingham claims, for the most part, at least, Professor William M. Thornton of the University of Virginia acting as expert arbiter.  In August (1893) stones were put up, marking that part of the line that had been in dispute.

     On November 11, 1893, the S. B. Gibbons Camp, Confederate Veterans, was organized at Harrisonburg, with the following officers:  Captain, D. H. Lee Martz; First Lieutenant, B. G. Patterson; Second Lieutenant, S. H. Butler; Adjutant, J. S. Messerly; Quartermaster, Giles Devier.

     The following statistics relating to marriage licenses issued in Rockingham County during certain recent years may be apropos:

        1876                                                                                                         total, 208











to white


to colored,




























     In July, 1894, there was a destructive hurricane in the vicinity of Broadway.  On August 22 the Kagey family held its annual reunion at Dayton.  Former reunions had been held in Ohio, Illinois, and elsewhere.  Franklin Keagy, Chambersburg, Pa., published a massive, splendidly illustrated history of the family in 1899.

     The assessment for 1895 showed the following real estate values in the several districts of the county:







$  6,612























     The values of real estate in the towns are included in the above statement.  In Central District most of the property owned by colored persons was located in Harrisonburg, the value of such property there being $15,940.

     On September 29, 1896, the northern sections of the Valley were visited by another notable freshet, thought by some persons to have been the worst since 1870.  The loss in Rockingham to public roads, bridges, etc., was estimated at $15,000 to $20,000.  Mr. S. H. W. Byrd of Bridgewater has recorded four unusual floods at that town, in as many different years, to wit:  1870, 1877, 1889, and 1896.  In 1877 North River came up Main Street to Bank Street; in 1896 Dry River broke across the bottom above the town and poured in a torrent diagonally across, passing between the Methodist Church




and the public school, and crossing College Street just east of the Presbyterian Church.

     On October 15, 1896, the corner stone of the present splendid court house was laid, the address of the occasion being made by Judge John Paul, an eminent son of Rockingham.  The finished building was formally opened on September 28 of the next year, the address on that occasion being made by Senator John W. Daniel.  A new jail for the county was completed about the same time.  The Board of county supervisors, under whose authority the court house was built, was composed of the following men:  W. L. Dechert, J. H. Shipp, E. W. Carpenter; C. E. Fahrney, and D. H. Moore.  The building committee were W. L. Dechert, E. W. Carpenter, and C. E. Fahrney.  W. M. Bucher was superintendent, W. E. Speir, was contractor, T. J. Collins & Son were architects.  According to the report made to the supervisors in June, 1898, the cost of the court house was $82,142.77.  Including the outlay for approaches, furniture, etc., the grand total was stated as $96,826.24.

     At the November election in 1896, McKinley was given 3525 votes, Bryan 2998, Levering 100, and Palmer 27.  These figures totaled the largest number of votes ever cast in the county at one election up to that time.  A vote distributed like this one affords concrete and striking evidence of the fact that decided changes in political affiliation have taken place since the days when overwhelming Democratic majorities were the rule in Rockingham.

    On May 12, 1898, the Harrisonburg Guards, E. W. Sullivan, captain, left for the war in Cuba.  Col. O. B. Roller, who accompanied the Guards, was acting colonel of the 2d Virginia Regiment at Jacksonville, Florida, during the summer.  On September 23, after an absence of four months, the Guards, now Co. C of the 2d Va. Infantry, reached home.  Most of their time away had been spent in camp at Jacksonville, and they were properly chagrinned because they had not been called to the front. (3)


(2)     Muster Rolls of the Guards may be found in the Rockingham Register of May 13 and 20, 1898.




     Fittingly, in view of the events and spirit of the time, it was in the summer of 1898 that the movement, long retarded, to mark the spot where General Turner Ashby fell, June 6, 1862, culminated in the erection of a monument.  It is made up of two great stones, a huge pointed granite elevated upon a massive limestone base, and stands a mile and a half south of Harrisonburg, on the wooded hill where the gallant cavalry leader received his death wound.  It was unveiled on the 6th of June, 1898, just thirty-six years after the sad day held in memory.  The place is visited each year by an increasing number of persons interested in the history of Virginia, as wrought in the valor of her sons.  Since the State Normal School was opened at Harrisonburg in 1909, a large number of young women from all parts of the State have visited the Ashby monument, and have carried the story learned there back to their homes and into their schools.

     The claims allowed by the county supervisors at their June meeting in 1898, for sheep killed by dogs, amounted to the surprising figure of $678.60.  A century earlier the justices’ court was paying for the scalps of wolves.  It might have been proper for the fathers of 1898 to have considered the advisability of putting a premium on the scalps of worthless and dangerous curs.

     In February, 1899, the thermometers in Rockingham registered 23 degrees below zero.  There was a big blizzard – the snow was deep and drifted.  The editor of the Register, shivering still in memory, no doubt, wrote:


     It made the deepest snow and the coldest weather we have known, certainly since the famous winter of 1856-7, and possibly since the beginning of the century. (4)


     He apparently had overlooked or forgotten the cold of January, 1881.  Thermometer readings in rural sections of the county, however, seemed to sustain the editor’s conclusion.  In the next issue of his paper it was reported that Eld. John P. Zigler’s thermometer had registered 40 degrees


(3)     Rockingham Register, February 17, 1899.




below zero, and that those of Jack Bradford and Michael J. Roller had registered 40 and 38 degrees below zero, respectively.  All these readings were Fahrenheit.

     Since these instances of extreme cold have been recorded, it is proper to say that such weather is very unusual in Rockingham.  Zero weather is unusual.  It is not often that thermometers in this section of the State fall below 10 degrees or 8 degrees above zero.

    In May, 1899, it was ordered that certain experimental free delivery mail routes be established in Rockingham; and in June the free delivery service was inaugurated.

     The census of 1900 showed a gain of 2228 in ten years in the population of the county, and the increase of property values shown by the assessment of the same year indicated an era of material growth.  The next year the tax rate was reduced from $1.25 to $1.10.

     In 1902 the first automobile owned in Harrisonburg, - the property of J. L Baugher, - attracted much attention.  At this writing, - ten years later, - the number of machines in the same town is said to be over 40.

     Monday, January 8, 1904, marked the opening of the last term, in Rockingham, of the old county court, which has given place to the circuit court under the present constitution.

     Three notable events in 1911 marked gratifying progress in educational and benevolent work:  The opening of the Waterman School, the building of the Rockingham Memorial Hospital, and the adoption of the law for compulsory school attendance in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County; all of which are noticed in more detail elsewhere in this volume.

     Inasmuch as some notice has been given to unusual weather conditions in preceding years, it may be of interest to record that a few days of extreme cold weather were experienced in Rockingham, as well as in many other places, early in January, 1912, the mercury at one time falling 25 degrees below zero.  The present summer (1912) has been remarkably cool and agreeable. (5)


(4)    For the loan of periodicals falling within the time limits of this chapter, grateful acknowledgement is made to Mr. Garnett C. Sites, of Staunton, Bishop L. J. Heatwole, of Dale Enterprise, and Mr. C. L. Matthews, of Harrisonburg.