The Shenandoah Valley

The emergiing 3rd millennium finds the Shenandoah Valley at a temporal milestone as it transits to a new era. Though the Shenandoah River basin maintained much of its natural beauty during and evaded many of the effects of the industrial revolution, more dramatic changes are emerging from the dramatically expanding information revolution. The Shenandoah Valley is both contributing to and benefiting from the resulting global dynamic of emerging social, cultural and economic changes producing the "global techno-village" of this new era. Only one impact is the increasing population attracted to the beauty, charm and historical heritage of the Valley and freed from congested urban environments by the availability of information technologies that enable cottage industries and other enterprises not previously possible in areas remote from metropolitan industrial and financial centers.

Ancient geological evolution of the beautiful Shenandoah Valley is consistent with its legendary parentage by mythical heavenly forces. In reality, powerful geological force over hundreds of millions of years shaped it's fascinating features and charmingly pleasant environs. The mighty mountain ranges with gracefully intertwined peaks and ridges, surrounding fertile estuaries and and piedmont vistas have long attracted, nurtured and protected those fortunate enough to discover access through it's trails, pikes, passes, and waterways.

Throughout its long history, the Shenandoah Valley has been revered as one of the most bountiful and beautiful regions of North America, bounded by lovely mountain ranges and nourished by the Shenandoah River. Prospering as a predominantly agrarian region while avoiding ravaging effects of the industrial revolution, at the emergence of the 3rd millennium, the Valley is both benefiting from and threatened by the effects of the evolving "information revolution." The changes enabling and accompanying this new worldwide upheaval threaten population increases likely to affect the Valley's beauty and charm but, from evolving powerful telecommunications and transportation links, reap economic and cultural benefits from beyond the mountains to the farthest reaches of our Nation and the world. The many diverse affects of these changes to the Valley's beauty and culture are evident from observance of the many aspects, facets, dimensions and perspectives represented by these images of the Valley and its inhabitants.

Valley scenery varies from steep mountain slopes to soft rolling valleys. From over 3000 feet above sea level along the Allegheny Front to below 1000 feet along the valley floor, underlain by sedimentary rocks, mainly limestone and shale. These have supported and decorated the Valley for 500 to 600 million years. Its limestone is quarried for many commercial and industrial uses. The many other valuable natural resources found in this bountiful land include manganese, iron, lead, zinc, and clay.

A major attraction of the Valley is the very agreeable climate it enjoys, with seasons varying little from year to year. Summer days are pleasantly warm, averaging 76 degrees in temperature, though rarely reaching 100 degrees. Winter, with an average snowfall of 16 inches has temperatures in the mid 30s but rarely reach zero degrees. The fertility of the Valley is awesome, with an average six month growing season fed by 35 inches of precipitation each year.

The name Shenandoah is believed derived from that of an Indian tribe, the Senedos, of Shawnee-Algonquian extraction. They lived in beautiful bottomland called "Meems Bottoms" between Smith Creek and the North Fork of the Shenandoah River, just north of present-day New Market. Varying translations of the word Shenandoah also confirm "daughter of the stars" as encompassed in its meaning.

Overhead, overwhelmingly startling Shenandoah skies of stellar-carpeted landscapes are unbounded, inspiring legend and yearnings for association with eternal entities of the heavens. A year 2000 legend indicates a gathering of the stars may focus on their Valley as it enters the emerging 3rd millennium. Though few if any Valley dwellers are capable of reading the stars, those who can likely foresee many changes ahead for the Valley. The widespread signs of an information revolution appear most evident as the prevalent force to drive those changes in decades ahead.

Change our gaze from the heavens to terra firma. The Valley is bounded on East and West by peaks and ridges of the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains. Other distinctive physical features of the Valley are the North and South Forks of the Shenandoah River, separated by Massanutten Mountain. The River frequently curves back and forth in graceful horseshoe bends, fed by its many tributary streams draining the surrounding Valley, to flow northward and spill into the historic Potomac River at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.

Though the River has provided a means to navigate along the Valley, from the beginning of settlements by European émigrés in the early eighteenth century, the principal transportation route was a rutted dirt wagon road called "Indian Road." Subsequently, its surface was improved to become a toll road called Valley Pike, and even later was transferred to the Commonwealth of Virginia for operation and maintenance as what is now known as US Route 11. In recent decades, Interstate Highway I-81 was built along the original Indian Road path and has become the major way through the Valley, carrying both interstate goods, local travelers and voyagers.

Important to the Shenandoah Valley is its prominent role in U.S. history. During the Civil War, the Valley was caught in the struggle between Federals and Confederates in many important battles. Valley Pike was recognized by Generals Robert E. Lee, "Stonewall" Jackson and J.E.B. Stuart as an extremely important transportation resource. May 15, 1864 saw one example of many military operations in the Valley, a bloody day-long battle at New Market. In this battle and throughout the War, the nearby village of Mt Pleasant, later called Mt Jackson in honor of General Andrew Jackson, was an important hospital town with its historic Union Church often used as a hospital. Many other very Civil War operations left their marks on the Valley's roads and the hearts of the survivors and their descendants.

Following the original native-american settlers, in the early eighteenth century, German, Scotch-Irish, and some English immigrants were attracted to the Valley. German became a common language and major cultural influence for decades. Later that century, economic activites of the Valley increased significantly. The very earliest non-native american settlers engaging in fur trapping and trading, but with the early settlements came changes to the predominantly forested environment that continue to today. First came clearing of natural vegetation for cultivation of flax, grains, livestock, vegetables, and fruits.

Then poultry and dairy farms emerged to add to the many agricultural products used and exported by Valley dwellers. But in recent decades, old-timers in the Valley have witnessed major changes from days gone by, in both natural and cultural environs. The predominately rural atmosphere in the Valley has attracted and welcomed lovely and increasingly "modern" towns and villages which now share the beautiful and serene surroundings. Even the quaint farming techniques of yore have made way for more modern and productive farming enabled by modern technologies. Perhaps more feared by some old-timers is the arrival of increasing numbers of settlers and voyagers arriving in their Valley. The quiet solitude they've enjoyed has been increasingly disturbed as interstate highway eighty-one (I-81) streams myriad travelers and monstrous transports through the Valley in great numbers, following the route blazed by Indian Road and the Valley Pike which carried only plodding horses, slow-rolling wagons and men and women afoot in centuries past.

Though horses and wagons continue to be seen and county fairs feature horse pulling contests and antique tractor pulls, modern farming methods and techniques now prevail. Nevertheless, Valley farms continue to reflect the charm and simplicity usually associated with days gone by.

Raising poultry, common and exotic livestock and operating hundreds of dairies is a way of life for many Valley dwellers. This productive and satisfying lifestyle is partly enabled by the wide stretches of hay, corn, soybean and other crops fueled by six months of long sunshiny days and 35 inches of rainfall distributed by the Shenandoah River each year. Hard work and commitment to strong family and community values, traits brought with early Scotch-Irish, German and Dutch settlers, still provide the strength and commitment necessary for bountiful harvests.

As immigrant communities grew along Valley travel routes, manufacturing tools an other implements became necessary to meet local demands using the products of farms, forests and mines. Small local and regional industries - tanneries, lumber mills and iron smelting furnaces - began appearing by the middle of the 18th century. Trade patterns to supply the needs of the Valley and expert its products soon evolved. Supplies came from, and valley products went to such market centers as Baltimore, Georgetown, Alexandria and Richmond. Through the Revolutionary War hemp was a major cash crop. Cattle were driven to Baltimore and Alexandria. Raising of poultry (still a major interest today) became a major source of food and income. Plentiful iron ore, limestone and timber led to the establishment of iron mining and smelting operations which began in the early 1740s and lasted until the early years of the twentieth century. These furnaces became a major source of pig iron for forges not only in Virginia but also for those in Maryland and Pennsylvania. Other industries have evolved in the Valley to capitalize on special skills of Valley dwellers. For example, printing has been a major activity for over two hundred years, following the Henkel Press establishment in New Market in 1806. Pottery production, exploiting the rich clays of the Valley, has been another lucrative enterprise, particularly in the Strasburg area (sometimes called "Pot Town").

Early Valley farming and manufacturing enterprises quickly expanded beyond the Valley needs and began supplying regions beyond the Valley. For example, industries commercially processed farm products and other raw materials. Flour and cornmeal were ground at the many stream-side mills. Pork products were cured in large quantities in area smokehouses. And sawmills became more and more productive in supplying building materials needed in distant urban centers. These and other surpluses of farms, quarries, furnaces and forges were taken to markets by wagon and river barge. Tourism too has long been a source of enjoyment and income to Valley dwellers and fostered increased prosperity, improved transportation and the enhancement of scenic beauty by flourishing summer hotels, resort spas and and the seasonal homes. As the 3rd millennium progresses, tourists are increasingly attracted to the Valley's rich forests, beauty, serenity, moderate climate, mineral springs, limestone caverns, lakes and streams, and mountain trails.

The rich natural heritage of the Valley enables great bounty from thousands of acres of apple orchards, vineyards, beautiful flower nurseries, pastures, vegetable gardens, and other crops. From early settlement of the Valley by European émigrés, other rich natural resources were exploited by extracting metal ores and fuels to produce the materials necessary to manufacture farm implements and harvest foods to feed Valley dwellers and export to surrounding regions for profit. The Valley is truly a bountiful land, one whose attractions and rich resources seem to grow rather than diminish, primarily due to the frugal and wise stewardship long maintained by those depending upon them.

The same sensible conservation and care in managing the Valley's natural resources has been applied by its citizens to civic responsibilities and the development of public institutions in the towns and villages which have evolved and prospered in the Valley. Toward the middle of the eighteenth century the town of Strasburg emerged at the northern end of Massanutten Mountain, probably its first. Just a few decades later, one of the Valley's most noted landmarks emerged - the stone courthouse at Woodstock, in Shenandoah County. Built in 1795, it is the oldest courthouse still in use west of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Among the finest features of the Valley's towns and civic centers are the many beautiful and highly respected educational institutions. Most civic and cultural functions of the Valley's towns and villages have evolved very effectively to become carefully integrated with and supportive of the environment and services of the rural countryside. The blending of town and country services and environments are major elements of the ascetic and cultural appeal of the Valley. With the arrive of new breeds of settlers with ties to cultures and institutions beyond the Valley, enabled by modern information services and technologies, expectations are that the special relationships among towns and the countryside will be preserved and protected to maintain the beauty and unique cultural charm of days gone by.

With the early settlers and the emergence of towns and villages supporting the Valley's many farms and small industries, came and grew a common base for its unique and ascetic cultural charm. That common base was and continues to be its strong spiritual heritage. A primary source of strength, sustenance and direction, religious institutions of great variety are widespread throughout the Valley. The strong Christian principles of love for neighbor and nature and concern for others have been and continue to be central to the strong social responsibilities maintained by Valley dwellers for centuries. Riding through the countryside, visitors are impressed and inspired by hundreds of urban and rural churches and many religious education centers, enhancing the serene Valley landscape. Though its early settlers brought Lutheran and other Protestant faiths from homelands of their fathers in Great Britain, Holland and Germany, the Valley has long been an haven for independent spiritual convictions of many sects, from Unitarian Universalist to Catholic, to Mennonite and a great variety of other Christian Protestant denominations.

The emergence of the 3rd millennium finds some fascinating vistas vanishing from the Valley, but generally the beauty and serenity of its towns, villages and countryside continue to attract visitors and settlers. The Valley will long be influenced by the spiritual heritage of its early settlers, a legacy from days gone by, to support individuals and public and private institutions emerging in the modern paradigm. Though the Valley is experiencing an unprecedented temporal experience in its transition to this new paradigm, traits and icons of past eras continue to influence the Valley in the "information age." Though the Shenandoah River basin protected much of its natural beauty and avoided other harmful effects of the industrial revolution of days gone by. But more dramatic impacts are emerging from the chaotic effects of the information revolution, accompanying the arrival of this new era in time. The Shenandoah Valley both contributes to and benefits from information services and technologies fueling this "revolution" as it spreads around the world, dynamically bringing great social, cultural and economic change. The Valley is awakening to a new existential dimension as a "global techno-village." Only one impact is the arrival of thousands of settlers, attracted to the beauty, charm and historical heritage of the Valley and freed from urban environments by the availability of information technologies enabling cottage industries and other enterprises not previously possible in areas remote from metropolitan centers. The many influences to both vistas and cultural tenets of increasing populations and global connections enabled by modern transportation and information technologies are easily discernible, from the most highly developed urban centers to the most meager farms of the Valley. Increasing agrarian, industrial, social and technological changes to Valley settlers and the environment are evident, signifying impacts of the arrival of "information age" associated with the dawning of a 3rd Millennium.

Increasingly powerful and flexible transportation and information systems and facilities are enabling evolutionary migration of populations of professionals from cramped urban centers to less congested and more pleasant environments from which they can comfortably commute or "tele-commute" and initiate new "hi-tech cottage services" from their home or regional "telecommuting center" The "information revolution" is reaching significant proportions in the Shenandoah Valley to impact both cultural dimensions and physical facets of its traditionally rural environment.

The overwhelming year-round beauty and ascetic appeal of the Valley may be affected by changing landscapes and cultural practices but is not bowed by them. The attractiveness of the Valley and the impressive charm of its dwellers continue to exert great appeal to residents of metropolitan regions, but the serenity associated with that appeal magnifies and intensifies it. Changes are certain to continue and affect Valley personal and public life, as they will the beauty of the environment, but the stewardship of natural resources and civic functions continue un abated. The pride of citizens of the Valley, whether descendant of original settler or late-arrival, remains strong in the beauty and unique cultural charm of their haven from the chaotic conditions beyond the Blue Ridge and Allegheny mountains.

The Valley's beauty remains strong, striking and soothing, offering serenity fed by its beautiful river and protected by its surrounding mountain peaks from the chaotic global changes fueled by the information revolution. This beauty and serenity are certain to ensure the legendary gathering each millennium of the stars to gaze in wonder will continue. The fascinating, colorful and expansive skies viewed nightly by Valley dwellers and visitors, shielded from distant urban lights by the Blue Ridge, Massanutten and Allegheny Mountains offer awesome unparalleled views of the heavens, capturing the beauty of the stars not every millennium but every week if not every night. It's a sight not soon forgotten by those who've experienced it.