Tour 8 -- Harrisonburg to Port Republic
Heart of the Shenandoah Valley
The Harrisonburg area is located in the central part of the Shenandoah Valley, making it easy to get to from all over the state. From Richmond, it’s a little over two hours; from Charlottesville, about an hour; and from the Washington, DC, metro area, about two hours. Harrisonburg is a busy, growing college town, but the surrounding countryside offers pastoral views, rolling backroads, lovely old dairy farms, and an easy entrance to Skyline Drive.
Harrisonburg was founded in the mid-1700s by an English immigrant named Thomas Harrison, but later settlers were more often German. The downtown visitor center at the 1848 Hardesty-Higgins House is a good place to learn about the area.
The tour heads out of Harrisonburg to Dayton, home of the Dayton Farmers Market, which is run by area Mennonites. If you happen to see a family trot by in a horse and buggy, don’t worry that you’ve entered a time warp. Many of the area’s farms are owned by Mennonites and Brethren, who try to keep to a simpler way of life. Also in Dayton is the Heritage Center, operated by the Rockingham County Historical Society. It provides insight into the Civil War in this part of the Valley as well as a good overview of the immigrant culture in the area.
From Dayton, the tour heads south to Bridgewater, as we begin to see more evidence of Scotch-Irish settlement that prevailed in the southern part of the Valley. Mossy Creek Presbyterian Church was one of several early (1768) churches founded by pioneers in this area.
The tour continues on to Mount Solon and to Natural Chimneys Park, where several striking geologic formations evoke images of old castles. A jousting tournament has been held here yearly since 1821.
Verona, with its large antique mall, is next on the route. Then comes Fort Defiance and its beautiful old stone church, still in use, built to protect the early residents from Indian attacks in the French and Indian War of the 1750s.
The tour route crosses over I-81 and points out two unusual old octagonal structures before reaching Port Republic, an important 1800s Shenandoah River port and site of major Civil War actions. The tour passes several historic homes before ending back near Harrisonburg.
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