Harrisonburg Virginia 250

Harrisonburg’s Commemoration of American Independence

Formed by resolution from Harrisonburg City Council, the Harrisonburg VA250 committee led by Jennifer Bell, Harrisonburg Tourism Manager will plan commemorative events and activities, promote and support activities organized by local organizations and encourage community participation in this semiquincentennial milestone. The Harrisonburg Committee works in collaboration with the Rockingham County VA250 Committee led by Penny Imeson Director of Rocktown History.

Numerous local organizations have pledged their involvement, including the Brethren and Mennonite Heritage Center, Bridgewater Historical Society, the City of Harrisonburg Public School’s Social Studie Department, Daughters of the American Revolution (Massanutten Chapter), Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance, James Madison University, Massanutten Regional Library, the Plains District Museum, Rockingham County Tourism, Rockingham Circuit Court, Rocktown History, the Virginia Quilt Museum and others.

The Harrisonburg and Rockingham County VA250 Committees are seeking dedicated volunteers to assist in planning the 250th anniversary commemoration of the American Revolution. These committees, which meet jointly, are looking for volunteers, support and committee members to help plan and implement activities for this significant event.

Five key themes identified by the American Association for State and Local History:

1. Unfinished Revolutions – Highlighting the continuous journey towards achieving the ideals of liberty and justice for all.
2. Power of Place – Emphasizing the significance of specific locations in the revolutionary narrative and their ongoing impact.
3. We the People – Celebrating the diverse individuals and groups who have contributed to the nation’s history.
4. American Experiment – Reflecting on the United States as an evolving project in democracy and governance.
5. Doing History – Encouraging active participation in preserving and interpreting historical events and narratives.

Harrisonburg’s Origins

Harrisonburg was settled in 1737 by Thomas Harrison and became a stopping point for primarily Irish and German families heading south and west through the Shenandoah Valley from Pennsylvania. Settlers used the Valley Turnpike now known as Route 11 which traversed the valley north and south between two formidable mountain ranges (the Allegheny and Blue Ridge Mountains). The route was once used by American Indians and its story is told in the Valley Turnpike Museum in downtown Harrisonburg. Harrison deeded two and a half acres of his 12,000 acres in 1779 for the “public good” and construction of a courthouse and this date is accepted as the date of the founding of the city. In 1780, he deeded 80 additional acres in what is now downtown Harrisonburg.

Harrisonburg area’s role in the revolution was primarily in supplying soldiers and provisions for the army. Soldiers would have initially served in the 8th Virginia known as the “German” regiment. Harrisonburg area includes Brethren and Mennonite communities which left Pennsylvania for more land and due to persecution during the Revolutionary War for their pacifism. The Brethren and Mennonite Heritage Center tells the story of those settlers from the 1700’s until today. The Heritage Center includes a shoemaker’s shop, forge, one room school house as well as several homes.

Harrisonburg is home to Eastern Mennonite University as well as James Madison University. While James Madison does not have a direct connection with JMU, the university plans many activities to highlight VA250 and Madison’s legacy. Harrisonburg was also home to the famous African-American educator Lucy Simms, who was born into slavery in 1856 and went on to receive a degree from Virginia’s Hampton Institute and teach over 1,800 area students. African-Americans were among Harrisonburg’s early residents and Harrisonburg’s founder and his brother both owned slaves. However the local Brethren and Mennonite were opposed to slavery so in 1790 out of an area population(Rockingham County which includes Harrisonburg) of around 7,500 about 10% were enslaved. Brethren and Mennonite were also opposed to fighting and as pacifists many were harassed and chose to relocate to places like Harrisonburg.

Useful Links:

VA250 – https://va250.org/
AASLH 250 – https://aaslh.org/programs/250th/
American 250 – https://america250.org/