In this volume we present to the public the results of the first serious attempt ever made to write and publish a comprehensive illustrated history of Rockingham County, Virginia. That the task herein essayed has not been undertaken before is remarkable, in view of the broad scope and inviting character of the field; for the sons of Rockingham, both at home and abroad, have been making history for many generations. They have made this fair land between the mountains to blossom as the rose; they have cleared farms and enriched them; they have founded homes and kept them in the light of sacred fires; they have builded altars and worshiped before them; they have erected schools and trained their children; they have sought peace and pursued it, yet in the hour of battle they have set their bravest and best in the forefront; they have borne loss and disaster without flinching, and in the midst of wasted fields and homesteads have raised again the standards of a free and prosperous people. Not only have the brave gone forth for defense, and the strong to arduous labor, but the fair have also done faithfully their noble part. In peace or war, in prosperity or adversity, the women of Rockingham have risen always to their high destiny. Their invincible spirit has given motive to soldier and farmer and scholar; their hands have ministered to sick and wounded, their prayers have soothed the dying; the memorials raised by their toil and patience enhance the past and inspire the future. We give them honor.
It has been the author’s purpose in this history (1) to give due recognition to all the important phases of Rockingham life, interests, and enterprises; (2) to emphasize those
particular interests and activities that have given the county its distinctive character and influence; (3) to find and preserve some treasurers lost, or nearly lost, in the lapse of time and the obscuring din of busy days.
Inasmuch as Rockingham is a great county, mine has been a great task. How well it has been performed, the intelligent reader must judge. No one more than the author will realize the lacks and deficiencies in the result, but he hopes and believes that all will at least credit him with a sincere purpose and an earnest effort. No opinion, however adverse, and no criticism, however sharp, can take from him the joy that he has found in the work. To him it has been indeed a labor of love. The splendid achievements and resources of the county have been appreciated as never before, and things in her history have been found – often by seeming chance or rare good fortune – that were before undreamed of.
At the laying of the corner stone for the new Court House in 1896, Judge John Paul delivered an address that contains much valuable information concerning the courts and civil officials of Rockingham. This address has been found very helpful by the author of this book. In 1885 Mr. George F. Compton, now of Charlottesville, Va., published an extended and interesting series of historical articles on the county in the Rockingham Register; in 1900 Mr. John H. Floyd of Dayton wrote a series of ten historical papers concerning Rockingham, and published them in the Harrisonburg Free Press; in addition, many historical pieces, in books, magazines, and newspapers have appeared from time to time. To all these, so many as he has seen, the author makes due and grateful acknowledgement; all that he has found published, in any available form, he has listed, and in many cases described, in the appended Bibliography; at the same time he begs leave to state that the bulk of the matter presented in this volume has been collected and prepared by himself, with the generous aid of many friends, from sources that may in a large measure be termed original. It would of course be impossible to enumerate all the sources from which materials have been obtained; but some of the more important ones are herewith indicated.
First in natural order and importance are the official records to be found in the land office at Richmond and in the county clerk’s offices of Orange, Augusta, and Rockingham County. The records of marriages, of land sales, and of court proceedings are rich in facts and interest and significance. Of almost equal importance with these original records, are the many printed volumes of Hening’s Statutes and the Acts of the General Assembly of Virginia. Old almanacs and files of old newspapers have been found to contain circumstantial accounts of important events that could scarcely be obtained from any other source. Old files of the Rockingham Register have proved of special value in this respect. Containing as they do particular and contemporary accounts of practically every notable happening in the county within the past ninety years, the successive issues of the Register are a very treasure-house to the student and antiquarian. A complete and well-preserved file of the Register, from the first issue in 1822 to the present, would be sought after eagerly by any of the great libraries of the country, and would command almost any price. Although the writer has not seen any complete file of this paper, he has been exceedingly fortunate in securing what is perhaps the best file in existence. Through the generous kindness of Mr. R. B. Smythe, manager of he News-Register Company, Harrisonburg, Va., he now has in his possession Register files covering many years. These have been found most helpful in the preparation of this book. Miss Hortense Devier, whose father, Giles Devier, was for many years editor of the said paper, has made a generous loan of extended files. In addition to these files, many fugitive copies of the Register, some dating back almost to the first issue, have been put into the author’s hands by his friends, as either a gift or a loan. Special acknowledgement is made to Hon. Geo. E. Sipe for access to files of the Old Commonwealth. For all these favors he is duly grateful.
He has also had put at his disposal files of other periodicals, old ledgers and day books, and even personal manuscripts and diaries. A manuscript account of Harrisonburg,
its people, and the activities centering in it as the county-seat, written in 1892 by a lady who was born in the town in 1812, and giving realistic descriptions of days and doings nearly a century ago, should be specially mentioned. The records of the Methodist church, dating back in their beginning more than a hundred years, have been a source of much information having a general as well as a particular interest. Photographers have contributed pictures, authors have given their books, publishers have opened their presses in hearty and generous co-operation. The librarians at Richmond and at the State University, as well as at other places where the author has gone gathering facts, have been obliging and helpful; hundreds of persons all over the county, and in many other parts of our great country, have responded cheerfully to personal letters requesting particular information. It is indeed an embarrassment of riches that has confronted the author; the task has been one of selection rather than of collection, though he has sought far and long for some things herein presented. He feels, therefore, that he may be justly criticized, not so much for what he has given in this book as for what he has been obliged to leave out. It has been deemed wiser, on the whole, to keep the volume within reasonable size and cost than to include so much as to make it cumbersome in bulk or expensive in price. We have tried to make a book for the average reader, for every citizen, as well as for the scholar and antiquarian.
Grateful acknowledgement is made to special contributors and others who have given aid in supplying materials or suggesting lines of choice, and the names of many of these will be found in the proper connections throughout the volume.
Special mention is yet due in this place, and is gratefully made, of the uniform courtesy extended to the author by Col. D. H. Lee Martz, clerk of the circuit court in Rockingham, and by his assistants, Mr. C. H. Brunk and Mr. J. Frank Blackburn.