Tour 5 -- Strasburg to Front Royal, via Fort Valley
Over the river and through the woods…
This tour makes for an easy day trip from the Washington, DC, area. It starts in Strasburg, about an hour’s drive (via I-66 and I-81) from the Beltway, and ends in Front Royal, about 45 minutes to the Capital Beltway. The area is great for hiking, scenic drives, Civil War history, museums, and antique shops.
Strasburg is one of the oldest Valley towns, settled in the mid-1700s by German immigrants. All through the 1800s, the settlement was also known as “Pot Town,” because of the many shops devoted to producing Strasburg’s distinctive blue and gray salt-glazed pottery—valuable collectors’ items today. The Strasburg Museum, a fascinating trove of local history, features a display of these famous containers.
Attacks on settlers took place here a year after the French and Indian War ended, in 1764. A century later, the Civil War came to town, with two major battles fought nearby at Fishers Hill and Cedar Creek. The prominent peak above the town known as Signal Knob, at the northern end of Massanutten Mountain, was an important communications post for both the North and South throughout the war. The major railroad hub here played a significant role in General Stonewall Jackson’s strategy for defeating Union troops.
The tour heads south from Strasburg toward Woodstock, where it takes a left, crosses the Shenandoah River, and winds its way to the top of the Massanutten Mountain and the easily climbable Woodstock Tower, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. The views are great, both east and west.
The road descends into a valley within the Valley—Fort Valley. Here you will enter what seems like a time warp: no billboards, no fast food, no traffic lights, just rolling farms and tranquil scenes. The tour route takes you through the northern end of this 23-mile-long valley, past the turnoff for an early-1800s mineral springs resort called Seven Fountains, then through the woods past the Elizabeth Furnace Recreation Area (pack a picnic) along pretty little Passage Creek.
The next stop is Front Royal, once known as Helltown for its raucous residents in the town’s early days. It began as a crossroads, situated at the point where the two lowest gaps in the Blue Ridge mountains meet. The North and South Forks of the Shenandoah River combine here and continue on to Harpers Ferry, an important spot in the day when water transport was the best way to ship Valley products. The charming old homes on Chester Street make for a great “imagine life here in the past” walking tour. Also on Chester Street are a museum that features interesting Civil War relics and Belle Boyd Cottage, which tells the (tall?) tale of the legendary Civil War heroine.
To learn more about the Shenandoah Valley’s history and its scenic backroads, and for detailed driving directions and more in-depth information for the tours on this website, get a copy of Touring the Shenandoah Valley Backroads (2nd ed., 2010; ISBN 978-0-89587-3-866; $19.95) by Andrea Sutcliffe.
It’s available through your favorite bookseller (go to www.indieBound.com to find an independent bookstore near you), at many Shenandoah Valley gift shops and museum stores, or directly from the publisher, John F. Blair www.blairpub.com, 1-800-222-9796.
Original text and photographs for the tour descriptions on this website © 2012 by Andrea Sutcliffe