One of the joys of Harrisonburg is that it retains the charm of a sleepy southern town but adds the dynamism of a small city full of adventure and ideas. That has been a winning combination, laying a foundation that has propelled many of our citizens to the top of their fields. You can see this in the famous sports stars who have gotten their start here, none more prominent than the town’s favorite son, Ralph Sampson. After leading Harrisonburg High School to two state championships, Ralph didn’t move far away when he went to college, joining the UVA Cavaliers basketball program in Charlottesville. The most heavily recruited player in the country, he was named Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the Year and then National Player of the Year three times! He appeared on Sports Illustrated’s cover six times and was the #1 draft pick of the NBA Houston Rockets, where he was again named Rookie of the year. In 2012 he was inducted into to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame! Harrisonburg remembers him with a park named in his honor. Visit the Lucy Sims School which is located in the park, or walk the trails there, shoot some hoops or enjoy the picnic facilities. Stop at Friendly City Food Co-op to pick up all the fixings for a picnic before you go!
Other famous sports figures hail from the city or reside here, like Kristi Toliver of the WNBA; Akeem Jordan and Landon Turner in the CFL/NFL; and Josh Sundquist, paralympian. Kaitlyn Vincie is also a familiar voice in sports, reporting on NASCAR for Fox Sports. Jeremiah Bishop, an internationally recognized cross-country mountain biker, makes Harrisonburg his home, and you can see his influence in the national prominence of the town, named the “new mountain biking mecca” by Adventure Sports Network in 2014. You can enjoy endless trails or short bike rides in the city parks, along the rivers or up in the mountains around the town. Start out at Rocktown Bikes or Shenandoah Bicycle Company where the experts can match you with a trail to your liking and supply whatever gear you might need. Stop at Lola Mo’s to pack a delicious lunch to sustain you on your ride, and you’re on your way!
The rich history and sense of community in Harrisonburg also inspired other famous citizens like Clement Conger who served as assistant secretary for the Combined Chiefs of Staff during World War II and as White House Curator under five presidents. Edgar Amos Love, the founder of the first black fraternity created on a black campus, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity at Howard University, was born in Harrisonburg. You can see a marker celebrating his achievement on Sterling Street. One of the foremost authorities on the Vietnam War, William Conrad Gibbons, was also born here. To satisfy your thirst for history, you should start at the Hardesty Higgins House Visitor Center. Here you can explore the Valley Turnpike Museum which explains the importance of The Great Valley Road, Rt. 11, a major migration and commerce route. You can also find about the rich and complex Civil War history in the Civil War Orientation Center. A little further afield, the Heritage Museum in Dayton features a genealogy room and a an electronic map of Stonewall Jackson’s Valley Campaign. Come back to the present and enjoy southern cuisine at Jimmy Madison’s or global comfort food at Food Bar Food after a day immersed in history.
The confluence of local roots music influences and an ever-changing abundance of college bands has given rise to some of the most engaging music groups around. When Trent Wagler met Jay Lapp and started performing at The Little Grill Collective, one of the most dynamic bands in Americana music was born, The Steel Wheels. Winners of many Independent Music Awards, they can still be heard locally, sometimes headlining gigs, sometimes popping up unexpectedly to support old friends. And they host an annual music festival each July. The Little Grill was also the starting point for two friends, Ketch Secor and Critter Fuqua who first met in the seventh grade in Harrisonburg, and began playing music together, often appearing at the open mic night with Robert St. Ours who would later found the Hackensaw Boys. Secor and Fuqua went on to form Old Crow Medicine Show, headliners at The Grand Ole Opry and Grammy Award winners. They’ve had an international following with their old-time string sound fueled by punk rock energy. Songs like “Wagon Wheel” and their Grammy winning Best Folk Album of the Year, Remedy, showcase the sound that has influenced many groups in Americana music. The Music scene in Harrisonburg is still alive and rocking! Catch a show at one of the restaurants downtown, like Clementine or The Golden Pony, or at one of our breweries, like Pale Fire, Restless Moons or Brothers. Listen to local bands like The Judy Chops, Illiterate Light, Strong Water or The Walking Roots Band. See if you can predict which one will make it to the big time next!
Come to Harrisonburg! Let it inspire you! Make it a famous trip.
Written by Guest Blogger, Susan Facknitz. Susan is a Travel Specialist for Harrisonburg Tourism.