Note: This is the first post in what will be a series of posts about the history of the Shenandoah Valley. Be sure to follow us on your favorite social media network and keep checking back to see future installments!
At the intersection of I-81 and I-64, 2.5 hours southwest of Washington, DC, and surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains you’ll find the growing but still warm and welcoming community of Augusta County, VA. Formed in 1738, the county was named after Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, Princess of Wales. This great county once stretched west all the way to the Pacific Ocean but today is 971 square miles and is home to 73,750 people with a population density of 76.3 people per square mile.
Hidden away in this community are a number of historic sites who each possess their own unique story to be told, five of which we’d like to share with you today!
#1 – Hanger Mill, circa 1860
Located in Churchville, just west of Staunton, on Hangers Mill Rd. you will find our first site – Hanger Mill!
Listed in the 1860 census as a merchant mill, this historic site was built on a 253-acre plot of land purchased by George Hanger in 1832 with the mill itself being built by George’s son Jacob around 1860. The mill was passed down through several generations of the Hanger family and was operational until shortly before World War 2, with records showing it was shutdown in 1940.
The mill was purchased by another Hanger (though not directly related), James Brown Hanger, in 1966 who restored the mill to its former glory. Faced with the challenge of having a restored mill and no water, James got creative and put in his own 5,000-gallon tank underground!
#2 – Bare Mill, circa 1795
Standing on the banks of the South River we’ll find another historic grist mill in the county, this time in Stuarts Draft. The Bare Mill was originally constructed just prior to the turn of the 19th century in 1795. This mill has unfortunately not stood the test of time as well as Hanger Mill, after floods in 1870 caused severe damage to the mill.
In addition to the historic mill, you will find Bare House, built in 1857, with its Greek Revival and Italianate design influences.
The meadows surrounding the mill once served as home to the Linda Vista Orchards. When the orchards were forced to shutdown due to a lack of capital some of the workers were paid in land as they didn’t have enough money to pay them for their work!
Thanks go to Simon Kinsinger for the fantastic picture and history lesson. We highly recommend anybody interested in the history of Augusta County follow him on Facebook!
#3 – Clover Mount (a.k.a. Tate House and Stone House Farm), circa ~1790
Situated among the rolling hills along Broadhead Creek at the headwaters of the South River in southern Augusta County (Greenville to be exact), Clover Mount is one of the earliest and best-preserved examples of a small group of vernacular stone houses in the county. (Source)
While the exact date of the homes’ construction is unknown, insurance records from 1803 show the home was valued at $2,500 for the 920 sq ft home built of cut limestone. The home is an excellent example of the rich masonry tradition that was prevalent in the area during the 18th and 19th centuries.
#4 – Valley Railroad Stone Bridge, circa 1884
Anybody local to Augusta County has passed by this bridge at some point as it sits right along I-81 five miles south of Staunton. Many of you probably wondered just like I did about the history of this bridge. This beautiful bridge, built of granite, once served as an important passage for trains to cross Folly Mills Creek.
Construction of the bridge completed in 1884 and serves as another great example of the quality masonry that played such an important role in the Augusta County of yesteryear. Although it operated under the name Valley Railroad, the operation was owned by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.
B&O discontinued this branch of service in 1942 selling it to Chesapeake & Western who would later sell it to the Virginia Department of Transportation in 1965 as it was purchasing property to build I-81. VDOT thankfully maintains the bridge to this day as it has become an important and familiar fixture for all of us that call the Valley home.
#5 – Tinkling Spring Presbyterian Church, founded 1740, circa 1850
Unlike the other sites we’ve covered where information was hard to come by, there is ample information available for this site thanks to the local congregation’s excellent preservation of the property. Tinkling Spring Presbyterian Church, in Fishersville, is the 2nd oldest Presbyterian congregation in the entire Shenandoah Valley.
The church we see today is actually the third iteration of the church. The first was an all-log structure built between 1742-1748. The original log structure was replaced by a simple stone building in the 1790’s which was used until the current church was erected in 1850. The extremely conservative architecture of the building was meant to counterbalance the extremely liberal influence taking place across Afton Mountain by Thomas Jefferson in Charlottesville to the east, and just north in Harrisonburg by James Madison.
The church, built under the leadership of minister R.L. Dabney, was planned to be, “a very neat, handsome, and convenient house, the best country church anywhere in this part of the country.”
The total cost to construct the church that is still operational today more than 160 years later? $3,400. Talk about money well spent!
One of the things I love the most about our home here in the Valley is the deep history and the pride the community takes in it. I enjoyed the opportunity to learn about a small portion of this history as I wrote this post and hope you’ve enjoyed reading it.
Until next time!