Harrisonburg at a Crossroads

Convenient early turnpikes turned fiery during Civil War

We’ve all paid a highway toll once or twice, but imagine also having to pay to drive your horse and carriage across a roadway. Harrisonburg’s Valley Turnpike Museum gives you an unexpected lesson in American heritage with the story of one of the first toll roads in the U.S. The Valley Turnpike, as it was called, was established in 1834, less than 50 years after the American Revolution. Patriots who had bucked British taxes, later levied tolls on fellow Americans to pay for the convenience of newly-built roads.

Civil War Orientation Center

Since it stood at the crossroads of two turnpikes, now Routes 11 and 33, Harrisonburg became a significant proving ground for the Confederates in 1862. Also, in the same building that houses the Valley Turnpike Museum and the town’s visitor center, you’ll find a Civil War orientation center for Harrisonburg and Rockingham County. Therefore, here you’ll learn about the famous Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and his chief cavalryman, Turner Ashby. You’ll discover several interesting spots around town and in nearby rural areas such as the tiny river village of Port Republic. Learn about Jackson’s famous Valley Campaign and about how the area was torched nearly two years later.

Harrisonburg and It’s Role in the Civil War

Harrisonburg played a prominent role in the Civil War partly because the Valley Turnpike ran all the way from Winchester (at the top of the Valley) to Lexington toward the southern end of the Shenandoah Valley. Route 33 also allowed access to supplies from Central Virginia and a quick route to Richmond, the confederate capital.

While Civil War heritage figures prominently in Harrisonburg, the legacy of education leaves the most lasting impact on today’s visitors. James Madison University, established in 1908 as a women’s school, became co-educational in 1946 and today enrolls nearly 16,000 students. It was named James Madison College in 1938 after Virginian and third U.S. President, James Madison, known as the “Father of the U.S. Constitution.” Madison’s estate, Montpelier, is also a short distance from Harrisonburg in Orange County.

Harrisonburg Lodging and Nearby Resorts

There are many pleasant choices for lodging in Harrisonburg, from well-maintained chain hotels and motels to lovely bed and breakfasts and country inns. Boutiques and local art- spots are filled with regional treasures. See the antique and contemporary collection at the Quilt Museum and enjoy nature’s colorful landscape design at the University’s arboretum.

In addition to being close to nature’s resort, the immense Shenandoah National Park, Harrisonburg visitors are close to Massanutten Resort, a four-season, family recreational center with skiing on Massanutten mountain, golf in the valley below, an indoor water park, zip line and leafy canopy tours, and well-maintained bicycle trails used for mountain biking and nationally-recognized races.