Friday, December 16, 2011

Valley Christmas Folk Traditions

The three solemn holy days that span the darkest days of winter are also paired with folk customs that include performances in masks and other disguises. The holy days are All Souls, Christmas, and Lent; Halloween, Belsnickling, and Mardi Gras are the folk traditions coupled with the holy days.

Pelsnickling, as it was called locally, was a popular rural amusement, especially among the Pennsylvania-German settlers living in the western side of the Shenandoah Valley and eastern West Virginia. Pelsnickling or Belsnickling occurred during the last half of December. Also during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries similar customs adopted by other ethnic groups in the Shenandoah Valley were Kris Kringling, Shanghaiing, and urban mumming. Belsnickling derived from the earlier activities of the Belsnickle.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Happy Birthday, Mr. Dewey!

Image from member Eigappleton Some rights reserved
Born on Dec. 10th, 1851 in Adams Center, Jefferson County, New York, Melville Dewey is best known as the inventor of the Dewey Decimal Classification System that bears his name and is used in libraries world wide. Often dubbed the Father of Modern Librarianship, Dewey developed much more than a filing system.

In 1872, as a sophomore at Amherst College, he invented the Dewey Decimal Classification System which was the beginning of many contributions to the field of Library Science. In 1876 he co-founded the American Library Association. In 1887 he established the first professional library school in the United States at Colombia University. He also co-founded and edited Library Journal which is still the major library publication today. Fortunately for the Journal, his passion for simplifying spelling did not catch on with the masses. He did found the Spelling Reform Association in 1886 and changed the spelling of his name from Melville to Melvil.

Friday, December 2, 2011

"A date which will live in infamy"

December 7, 1941
7:58 am
Pearl Harbor

“[I]t was a day, they would never would be changed by what was happening in Hawaii.” [i]

December 6, 1941
9:30 pm. General Walter C. Short returning from the Schofield Barracks Officers’ Club looked down on Pearl Harbor at the Pacific Fleet ablaze with lights. “Isn’t that a beautiful sight?” signed General Short, adding thoughtfully, “and what a target they would make.” [ii]

December 7, 1941
2:00 am. Ensign Malcolm discovered he would never make the last launch to the Arizona. He spent the night at on the floor of Captain D.C. Emerson house where with three other officers they argued about Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points. [iii]

3:58 am. After following a trailing wake for sixteen minutes, Ensign R.C. McCloy on the small minesweeper Condor blinked to the destroyer Ward “sighted submerged submarine on westerly course, speed nine knots.” [iv]

6:00 am. Mrs. Blackmore dropped-off her husband, the chief engineer of the tug Keosanqua. Returning in the first gray light of day Mrs. Blackmore observed “this is the quietest place I’ve ever seen.” [v]

6:45 am. At the Army’s Opana radar station, which had just started operating around Thanksgiving and was full of bugs, the 4:00 to 7:00 shift was about to close-up, when a flicker on the radar screen noted a couple of planes about 130 miles away. [vi]

6:53 am. Skipper, Lieutenant William W. Outerbridge of the destroyer Ward, radioed the Fourteenth Naval District “attacked, fired on, depth bomb, and sunk submarine operating in defensive area.” [vii]

7:08 am. Private Lockhart, who stayed behind at Opana reported to Private Joseph McDonald at the Army information center switchboard “blips 113 miles away traveling at almost 180 mph”... “at 7:39 22 miles away.” [viii]

7:45 am. Mess Attendant Walter Simmons was setting the table in the officers’ wardroom at Kaneohe Naval Air Station, but no one had turned-up to eat. [ix]

7:53 am. Commander Mitsuo Fuchida, so sure of victory that before the first bombs fell signaled, the carriers “Tora...tora...tora....” [x] (“tiger, tiger, tiger” was code for a successful surprise attack)

7:54 am. James B. Mann, Jr. stood with his father outside their beach house at Haleiwa on the northeast coast Oahu saw more then 100 planes above. James Jr. observed “they’ve changed the color of our planes.” [xi]

7:58 am: The alarm sounded: "Air raid, Pearl Harbor. This is not drill!" [xii]

Most of the information in this post is quoted from this absorbing book. This book is still, after more than sixty years since publication, a must read for those interested in WWII, and it is available at your local public library.

[i] Walter Lord. Day of Infamy. Henry Holt and Company, NY. 1957. Foreword.
[ii] 4.
[iii] 8.
[iv] 27.
[v] 34.
[vi] 43.
[vii] 39.
[viii] 44-45.
[ix] 57.
[x] 63.
[xi] 48.
        1. 9:30pm, Dec. 6
        2. 2:00am, Dec. 7
        3. 3:58am; 6:53am
        4. 6:00am
        5. 6:45am; 7:08am
        6. 7:45am
        7. 7:54am
        8. 7:58am

Friday, November 18, 2011

1939 Turkey Festival

In September 1939 the first ever Turkey Festival was held here in Harrisonburg. The two day event took place on Monday, September 4, 1939 and Tuesday, September 5, 1939. The festival was designed “to pay homage to Lord Rockingham II, the big American bird emblematic of the county and city’s five million dollar poultry industry.” [1] It was hoped that the Turkey Festival would become an annual event that would earn Harrisonburg and Rockingham County nationwide attention.

Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber of Commerce secretary Russell L. Shultz originally proposed the idea for the Turkey Festival in January 1939. The membership of the Chamber of Commerce adopted the idea and went forth making plans.
According to the festival program printed in the Saturday, September 2, 1939 edition of the Daily News Record both days of the festival were packed full of events from 8 am Monday morning through late Tuesday evening. Events included a turkey exhibit hall, band concerts, a Turkey Institute, turkey stunts, tours of Rockingham turkey ranches, historic point tours, tours of Natural Wonders, a turkey throw, a baseball game, the Queen’s coronation ceremony and special reception, Turkeyrama pageant, turkey roasting demonstrations, flights on the Goodyear blimp, two parades, a tournament, street entertainment, a turkey race, open air chorus, and two dances. Of course, each day was also highlighted by the opportunity to partake of some turkey as the schedule actually says,

Monday - Noon - Eat Turkey
Monday - 6:00 - Eat More Turkey
Tuesday - Noon - Roast Turkey Dinner
Tuesday  - 6:00 - Turkey Supper. [2]

Members of the 4-H Club started Monday morning with a turkey roasting contest. First place went to Carolyn Long and Lydia Ann Miller. At 10:30 Mrs. Elva S. Bohannon, Home Economist of the Rural Electrification Administration, presented a turkey roasting demonstration complete with advice on how to kill a turkey at home. Souvenir booklets containing turkey recipes were distributed after the demonstration. [3]

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Veterans History Project

PFC Tommy Tucker Showalter
US Army, WWII European Theater
In 2000, the United States Congress created and funded the Veterans History Project under the auspices of the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress. The mission of the project is to collect first-hand accounts of U.S. veterans who have served in WWI thru the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Participants are those who served on the frontline and those civilians who worked war industries and volunteered at the USO. Spotlighted stories have included women veterans, the Buffalo Soldiers, Coast Guard and Merchant Marines, the Southeast Asia campaign, and tactics used in the War on Terrorism. The website is www.loc/gov/vets. To recognize the 5,000 residents of Rockingham County who served in WWII and the numerous other local veterans of the Korean War, The Viet Nam War and Desert Storm, the Massanutten Regional Library is a project participant.

Friday, November 4, 2011

1940 Turkey Festival

In late August 1940 news cameramen from M-G-M News of the Day, Paramount, Fox Movietone, and Universal descended on Harrisonburg to film footage for news reels to be shown in theaters. The purpose of the footage was to publicize the 1940 Turkey Festival which was scheduled to be held on October 10th and 11th. The film would eventually be shown in local theaters as well as theaters across the United States and overseas.

The cameramen were invited here by Robert F. Nelson, public relations counsel for the State Chamber of Commerce.
Upon their arrival the cameramen headed to the farm of P.A. (Dick) Carver where they were joined by a flock of 2,000 turkeys and more than 60 attractive Harrisonburg and Rockingham County girls. The girls were filmed driving the flock of turkeys and engaging in a “battle royal” pillow fight.
You can view 35 seconds of the newsreel footage on the Critical Past website by clicking one of the screen shots.

You can read more about the 1940 Turkey Festival on the Daily News-Record microfilm housed at Massanutten Regional Library.

Friday, October 28, 2011

More than BOOOOOKS!!

Halloween is just around the corner and we thought we would share a story about a ghost here at Massanutten Regional Library (MRL). This story was shared with us by Lisa Ha who is the tour guide for the Haunted Harrisonburg Walking Tours.

Seven or eight years ago after the library had closed for the day, a former employee was walking through the building. Everyone had left and he was alone. He entered the Law Library in the back of the old part of the library. There he saw a young man in his twenties looking at the shelves of law books. The gentleman seemed out of place, he was dressed in outdated clothing, including an argyle sweater and an old fashioned driving cap.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Art of Quilting

This October 20th, at 7 pm, the Massanutten Regional Library’s Deyerle series offers its third program. Judith Shuey, the Director of the Virginia Quilt Museum (VQM), will discuss Depression Era Quilting.

The VQM is a wonderful resource for those interested in quilt making and the history of quilts. For the curious visitor, the dazzling display of quilted colors and the showcase for the women who made them provide a satisfying experience. In keeping with the 150th Civil War anniversary observances, and as an alternative to a battlefield tour, the museum has a permanent exhibit dedicated to quilt making in the Civil War era.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A Fall Ritual - Craft Shows

During the next few months, residents and tourists in the Shenandoah Valley will have many opportunities to attend craft fairs and bazaars. Before setting-out, a discussion of some of the terms relating to these shows might be helpful because sponsors often blur the distinctions by holding multi-functional events. A bazaar and a craft show both provide a market area or stall for selling various kinds of goods, however, the goods at a bazaar are more diversified than at a crafts fair and are usually used by an organization to raise money, e.g. jumble sale at the nearby church. Food is an essential feature at a bazaar; a craft fair focuses on the work of artists. The August/September 2011 issue of American Craft magazine celebrated seventy years of American handmade history that includes ceramics, fiber, glass, wood, metal, paper and individual influences on these crafts. Nationwide, October 7-16 is designated as American Craft Week

Friday, September 23, 2011

Banned Book Week

It all began with The Meritorious Pride of Our Redemption by William Pynchon in 1650 in Springfield, Massachusetts. Not only was the religious treatise banned, but it was burned in the market and a day of “fasting and humiliation” was proclaimed.[1] Ironically, Pynchon fled to England where he wrote and published his religious tracts until his death in 1662.

Following in this puritanical stride, “Banned in Boston” became the catch-phrase for censorship of literary works because the “Watch and Ward Society” compelled Boston’s city officials to ban anything they found offensive. It was not until the Warren Court (1953-1969), Supreme Court Justices under Chief Justice Earl Warren, upheld civil liberties that censorship was reduced in Boston. The last major literary battle was over Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs. It was banned in Boston in 1962 for obscenity, but the decision was overturned in 1966 by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

Judith Krug, (1940-2009) was the Director of the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom and, later, the Executive Director of the Freedom to Read Foundation. In 1982 she founded Banned Book Week. She was often criticized for her views on libraries and children, to which she responded: “We know that there are children out there whose parents do not take the kind of interest in their upbringing and in their existence that we would wish, but I don't think censorship is ever the solution to any problem, be it societal or be it the kind of information or ideas that you have access to."[2]

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Sport of Kings-The Beast of Burden: Excellent Horses in Rockingham County

The first of an occasional article on the history of horses in Rockingham County
The Elkton and Timberville Horse Shows

During the last century somewhere in the region a horse show was scheduled almost every weekend. Many of these shows no longer occur. The Elkton Lions Club hosted a show from the end of WWII until the 1960’s, which featured a race track as part of its program.[1] Horse shows in Broadway, Bridgewater and Weyers Cave are also no longer on the calendar. Countering this trend, the Rockingham County All-Breed Horse Show was resurrected three years ago.

Two horse shows are on the calendar for September 2011. The Elkton Historical Society is the sponsor of the event that was held on September 10th at the Blue Ridge Park at the north end of Elkton on Route 340. The event has been held continuously since 1983 when it was organized by Jane Cline, a local horse show organizer since the 1960’s, to help pay-off the debt incurred by the Town of Elkton for its centennial celebration.[2] After the first year, the event has been under the auspices of the Elkton Historical Society.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Constitution & Citizenship Day

Congress has set aside September 17th to observe Constitution Day and Citizenship Day. Citizenship Day was established by a joint resolution of Congress in 1940 to be celebrated on the third Sunday in May and designated as “I Am An American Day.”

In 1952 Congress repealed this resolution and passed a new law that moved the date to September 17th, which commemorated the date that the Constitution was signed in 1787, but retained its original purpose to honor those who had obtained citizenship status. The law urged civil authorities to make instruction available on citizen responsibilities.

Friday, September 9, 2011

September 11th 10 year anniversary

Do you remember where you were? Members of the staff at Massanutten Regional Library were in various places on September 11, 2001. Here are a few stories of where some of us were 10 years ago.

One staff member was still in Library School, and actually teaching college freshmen how to use the catalog at Florida State University in Tallahassee. In a closed classroom no one there knew what was going on outside until the class was interrupted because the University was closing. Many hours were spent trying to contact family in northern New Jersey.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Labor Day, An American Celebration

The Library will be closed on Labor Day, as should all work places. Other countries have an International Workers Day, but Labor Day is a United States federal holiday.  It became a federal holiday in 1894 because of the deaths of workers by the U.S. Military and the U.S. Marshals sent by President Grover Cleveland to end the Pullman Strike. 
Fearing more violence, President Cleveland made peace with the labor movement his top political priority. (It was an election year!)  Legislation making Labor Day a national holiday swept through Congress unanimously and was signed into law within six days of the end of the strike.  All U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and the territories of the US made it a statutory holiday. (1)
How to celebrate Labor Day was actually laid out in the original proposal for the holiday:  a parade to show “the strength and espirit de corps of the trade and labor organizations,” followed by a party for workers and their families. (2)  In 1898, Samuel Gompers, head of the American Federation of Labor, called it "the day for which the toilers in past centuries looked forward, when their rights and their wrongs would be discussed...that the workers of our day may not only lay down their tools of labor for a holiday, but upon which they may touch shoulders in marching phalanx and feel the stronger for it."
This Labor Day, as we fire up the grills or take a final summer vacation, remember those who struggled for your right to a day off--and enjoy your holiday!
Cheryl Metz, Reference Librarian

1)      Origins of Labor Day.
2)      The History of Labor Day. US Department of Labor.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Civil War Commemorations

Now that the first salvos have been fired to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, one wonders what memories were being provoked fifty years after the conflict when some of those who participated were still alive.  The few available newspapers for April 1911 in Rockingham and Page Counties seem nearly mum on the subject of the battles.  A typical concern focused on the assembly of memories of comrades.  The Page Courier printed on April 6, 1911 an open letter by C. W. Finter to members of Company D, 7th Regiment Va. Cavalry. CSA.  In the letter Mr. Finter requested a “muster roll” call of the first company from Page County, which reported for duty on June 1, 1861.  The Company began with 93 men in the ranks, at times increased to over 100 men, and near the end of the war had less than fifty men in this company who were incorporated into the Laurel Brigade. 

The Finter letter listed over 190 names of men who may have mustered with the company at one time or another.  The letter concluded with an invitation to a reunion on July 21, 1911 “for old confederates” before the “taps for lights-out will sound for the last of us.”

Do you have a relative who answered this “muster” in 1911.  Please, share your memories or knowledge in the box below.

If you want more information, the Main Library Branch has The Rockingham Register and the Page Public Library has The Page Courier on microfilm.  Also, the Main Library Genealogy room has materials on many of the names listed in the letter. 

Friday, August 5, 2011

Virginia Theatre Wedding

Massanutten Regional Library patrons pose a variety of research related questions to the reference department librarians. Some of those questions are easier to answer than others. Earlier this year a former Harrisonburg resident asked the reference department to help her locate information about the marriage of her parents which took place on the stage at the Virginia Theatre. The patron provided her parents’ names, the location and year of the wedding, and the name of the business which sponsored the wedding contest. In the age of the Internet this sounds like a lot of information to use in a search, but when one is searching through old newspapers on microfilm searching an entire years worth of newspapers is quite daunting.

At this point we enlisted the help of our wonderful reference volunteers. Two volunteers took up the task of looking through the 1929 Daily News-Record newspapers on microfilm. The first volunteer began searching the January 1929 newspaper in case the contest had been held in conjunction with New Year’s or Valentine’s Day. Two hours later having perused two months of newspapers this volunteer was ready to give up the search. Having a year, but no month, for the wedding ceremony the second volunteer decided to start the search in May as he figured that month begins the most popular season for weddings. Four hours later after having searched three months worth of newspapers this volunteer was looking for a new angle for the search.

So, his next stop was the courthouse. There our volunteer was able to look at the marriage record for the couple in question. The record revealed an important detail that our patron had incorrectly communicated to us. Her parents’ marriage took place in 1930 rather than 1929. Now with a corrected year and an exact month we began our search again. This time the microfilm of the Daily News-Record newspapers proved to be extremely helpful.

The Virginia Theatre formerly located on Main Street in downtown Harrisonburg was a Warner Bros. theater. In 1930 Warner Bros. was celebrating its 25th anniversary of participation in the motion picture industry. Celebratory events were taking place in various Warner Bros. Theatres across the country. Here in Harrisonburg those events included special movie showings and a wedding contest. [1] The July 21, 1930, Daily News-Record included an entry blank for the contest, which asked interested parties to submit the names of the bride and groom along with the groom’s address and telephone number in order to obtain further details about the contest. [2]
Looking north along Main Street in the 1920's. Image from Harrisonburg volume of the Images of America Series by Scott Hamilton Suter and Cheryl Lyon.
An advertisement in the Daily News-Record on July 29, 1930 listed the numerous gifts that would be given to the bride and groom by various local businesses.

Franklin Furniture Co. – Table Lamp
Friddle’s – Wedding Supper
Kavanaugh Garage – Transportation
McCrory’s – Dishes
Merit Shoe Co. – Shoes
Murphy’s – Helen Rubenstsin Cosmetics
Jos. Ney & Sons Co. – Suit for Groom
J.E. Plcker & Co. – Corsage
Ralph’s – Wedding Gown
Schewels – Lane Cedar Chest
Taliaferro’s – Wedding Ring
Ye Valley Beauty Shoppe – Beauty Treatment
Friddle’s Bakery – Wedding Anniversary Cake [3]

On August 5, 1930 an advertisement appeared in the Daily News-Record inviting readers to attend a wedding to be held on the stage of the VirginiaTheatre at nine o’clock the following evening. The advertisement promised that the wedding service would be “conducted in a most impressive manner.” [4]

The Virginia Theatre was packed on the evening of August 6, 1930. First the crowd saw a showing of the movie “Son of the Gods” starring Richard Barthelmess and Constance Bennett. After the movie the theatre goers witnessed the wedding of Miss Elsie Charleton and Mr. Albert Hockman who were united in matrimony on the stage of the Virginia Theatre as part of the Warner Bros. silver anniversary celebration.

After the movie ended the stage curtains were pulled back to reveal a stage decorated with ferns and cut flowers. As the wedding march played the bride and groom entered the theatre, the bride marched down the left center aisle and the groom used the right center aisle. The bridal couple was accompanied by their witnesses Mrs. Charles Charleton, maid in waiting, and Charles Charleton, best man. The Reverend B. J. Earp officiated and Miss Virginia Harlin, organist, provided the music. [5]

Entrance of the Virginia Theatre and the Arcade, 1926-1927. Image from the Harrisonburg volume of the Image of America Series, by Scott Hamilton Suter and Cheryl Lyon.
The Reference department truly enjoys assisting patrons with their research. And though this search had a successful ending, unfortunately we can not always find the information for which a patron is searching. Had our diligent reference volunteer not gone the extra mile in conducting research at the courthouse we most likely would not have found any answers. For more information and fees for having the Reference Department conduct this kind of research please consult our Website at or call the Reference desk at 540-434-4475 x 122.

[1] “Warner Bros. Silver Anniversary Will Open Here Thursday Night.” Daily News-Record [Harrisonburg, VA] 29 July 1930: 1.
[2] Daily News-Record [Harrisonburg, VA] 21 July 1930: 3.
[3] Daily News-Record [Harrisonburg,VA] 29 July 1930: 2.
[4] Daily News-Record [Harrisonburg, VA] 5 August 1930:2.
[5] “Couple Married on Theatre Stage.” Daily News-Record [Harrisonburg, VA] 7 August 1930: 6.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Dog Days of Summer

On the morning of the first rising when the sea boiled, the Wine turns sour, Dogs grew mad, and all creatures became languid; causing to man among other diseases, burning fevers, hysterics, and phrensies*

In the northern hemisphere, depending on the latitude, the “dog days” are between early July and early September and are characterized by stagnation and inactivity. From ancient times people looked at the sky, connected the dots between the stars, and imagined pictures. Constellations (star pictures) in the European culture included bears, a bull, and dogs. The dogs were called Canis Major and Canis Minor. The brightest star in the big dog is Sirius, which rises at sunrise (helical rising). It was the ancient way of calculating the dates of Canicular Days to which many civilizations attach significance.

Ancient Egyptians named the Sirius star that appeared before the flooding of the Nile after their god Osirus. Greeks and Romans both used the term “dog days.” The Romans sacrificed a brown dog to appease the rage of Sirius. Virgil’s Aeneid associated Sirus with infesting the sky with pestilent heat. The Christian feast day of St. Roch, the patron saint of dogs, is August 16. The 1552 Anglican Book of Common Prayer called the period between July 6 and August 17 the “Dog Daies” and the lectionary of the 1611 King James Bible had the days in its calendar of readings. The readings were dropped in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, but by then the references to the “dogs days” made it to the new world. The Old Farmers’ Almanac dated the dog days between July 3 and August 11, which are the days of year with lowest level of rainfall and coincide with the rising of Sirius.

“Dog Days” have found a place in literature and other media. These references include: John Webster’s 1623 play the Duchess of Malfi; John Brady’s 1813/15 Clavis Calendaria; Richard Harding Davis’ 1903 The Bar Sinister, the main character of which is a dog; Charles Dickens in A Christmas Carol referred to Scrooge as having “iced his office in dog days; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas;” and Jeff Kinney’s 2009 Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days. This time of year has been a theme of several movies including the Sidney Lumet’s award winning Dog Day Afternoon, starring Al Pacino and John Cazale, was based on P.F. Kluge article “ The Boys in the Bank” about a Brooklyn bank robbery in August 1972.

Natalie Babbitt, the author of the children’s book Tuck Everlasting, described the first weeks of August as “strange and breathless days, the dog days, when people are led to do things they as sure to be sorry for after.” A local librarian knows this to be true when years ago a grandfather forbid swimming or fishing in ponds or lakes in August because of infections found in the water. It was hot, so she and friends went to the river anyway. Grandfather found out and all of the disobeying crew received a whipping.
  • J. Brady. Clavis Calendaria. Vol. 89. Nichols, Son, and Bentley. 1813.
  • Natalie Babbitt. Tuck Everlasting. Farrar, Straus, Giroux. 2nd 2000.
Virgil’s Aeneid, Part18 ,astyanges weblog

Friday, July 15, 2011

Riven Rock Park – From a Public Works Project to a Recreation Area

In the Dry River watershed between Route 33 and under the Riven Rock Mountain in the George Washington National Forest about 14 miles from the City is the 27.5 acre Riven Rock Park.  At the turn of the 20th century the City purchased three thousand acres, including these, between Rawley Springs and Skidmore Fork to protect the watershed that provides tap water to Harrisonburg.  The City also secured the right-away between Rawley Springs and Harrisonburg to lay a gravity carrying ten-inch cast-iron water pipe.

Ownership of the watershed including the park land can be traced back to the late 1700s and included ownership by the New Rawley Springs Company.  In 1883 this entity sold 237 acres of its non-resort land to Mssrs. Silbert, Sprinkel, and Lowenbach.  The City of Harrisonburg purchased in 1897 more than fourteen acres of the 237 acres, the parcel then owned by John Joseph and Charles Sprinkel.   Three years later, the City purchased from A.M. Neuman 80 acres adjacent to the Joseph and Sprinkel purchase from which 14 acres became part of the Park. 

The Dry River often lived up to its name and endangered a constant water supply to the City.  The City Council sought ways to overcome this problem. In October 1930 it engaged a geologist to advise on the feasibility of constructing an impounding reservoir near Rawley Springs.  The ensuing exploration revealed the existence of large subterranean stream beds below the river’s surface that could be dammed to improve the water supply.  Unable to get federal WPA construction funds, the City turned to local banks to underwrite the project.  The locally-financed project provided needed employment opportunities in the area during the Great Depression.  The dam construction project also required building an office, tool sheds, a blacksmith shop, and cement making sheds at the site. 

At this cleared site, the Civilian Conservation Corps program set-up a camp in 1942.  During the two years it operated the Corps offered camping and military discipline to young boys between the ages of 7 and 14.  Among the 100 or so who participated in this experience several would become local and national leaders.  Some sources suggest the swinging bridge was one of the Corps projects.  After the Corps left, the site fell into disrepair.

In 1947, the City Council donated $1,000 to turn the site into a City park.  The Daily News Record, August 22, 1978, described the making of the park

Dick Keane [a recent veteran]…spent the summer clearing out brush, building picnic tables and outhouses, and supervising a crew of students….His crew built 18
oak picnic tables, moved an enormous old stove from the Masonic Temple downtown to the pavilion and added a gate to the swinging bridge…They gave me an old police car….we used it to haul rocks out of the river for fireplaces and chimneys ….He estimated the summer’s expense, including labor, at about $800.

Fifteen years later, in 1962, vandalism closed the Park.

For a third time, in 1978, the Young Adult Conservation Corps, a Federal program, assisted in the restoration of the Park.  The park reopened on August 1, 1978 with the cabin refurbished as an information, nature and arts and crafts center, but authorities closed the swinging bridge for safety reasons and to prevent public to the dam site.  The cleanup revealed what was believed to be the tallest sassafras tree in the state.
To maintain the Dry River watershed, the City awards small contracts to private logging operators.  In 1992, residents living near the Park protested the removal of about 300 trees.  The City defended the tree cutting as a way to keep the Park safe, to maintain the forest, and to protect the water supply.  The project provided lumber for other City Park projects and as well as earned some revenue for the City.  The City’s Public Works Department continues to permit limited harvesting of timber in the 1450 acres in the Rawley Springs to Skidmore Fork watershed.  The funds earned are used to maintain the property and currently to study the feasibility of adding recreation uses.

Today Riven Rock Park is opened from May 15 to October 31. There are four shelter sites, walking trails, and space for volleyball and a horseshoe pit.  The Park serves as a teaching laboratory for students to learn about soils, wildlife, aquatics, and forestry.  Vandalism and annoyances to nearby residents that plagued the Park in the past have been minimized by adding police patrols and by renting the cabin to city police officers. 

Deed Books: 22:311; 57:181ff; 63:471
Daily News Record: 10/8/30; 8/22/78; 5/19/83; 3/5/92; 11/7/92; 8/15/94; 8/22/94; 5/24/02;
Interviews: David S. Wigginton, Asst. Director, Harrisonburg Parks & Recreation
                     Ande Banks, Director of Special Projects, City of Harrisonburg.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Independence Day

Dressed in layers of ruffled-neck shirts, vests, and cut-away coats and legs in silk stockings, in the heat of the summer of 1776, fifty-six men representing thirteen American colonies sat in Philadelphia behind closed doors debating the nature of their relationship with Great Britain. On the day British soldiers landed on Staten Island, July 2, this assembly of men voted to “dissolve the connection with Great Britain,” and thus committed treason.*

Levying of war against “our lord and king in his realm” was a treasonable offense in 1776. Conviction required two witnesses. Among the penalty options, if convicted, included quartering, cutting off of the head, and hanging. Until this step the American patriots only disagreed with Parliament, not with King George III. Thus, Benjamin Franklin who supposedly quipped “We must all hang together, or most assuredly we hang separately,” the act was not without serious consequences.
On the other hand, John Adams writing to his wife, Abigail, said that the July 2nd declaration “will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival….It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this times forward forever more.”

On a pleasant, cool day, July 4th, without much fanfare the Continental Congress again meeting behind closed doors voted on the wording of “The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of America." This document, mainly written by Thomas Jefferson, set forth the reasons that impelled the colonies to separate. The case for this action was that the equality of men gave them certain unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Twenty-seven abuses of these rights by Great Britain were enumerated. Among the abuses specified were the “quartering of large bodies of armed troops” and “imposing taxes without consent.” John Hancock signed the document.

The first authorized printing of the Declaration of Independence appeared in Philadelphia on July 6. As the document reached the colonies there was ringing of bells and bonfires and other celebrations. While the Congress was now charting the course for a new country and its war with Great Britain, the delegates signed the document on August 6.

The 1776 celebrations of independence, which was not unlike the previous celebrations for the King’s birthday, now included the mock funeral for King George III. In 1781, Massachusetts became the first state to make July 4 an official holiday. After the second defeat of Great Britain in the War of 1812, patriotic celebrations on July 4th spread across the country. Thereafter, ground breaking events such as the opening of the Erie Canal and of the B&O Railroad were planned to coincide with this celebration. Not surprising, African-Americans did not/could not participate in the celebrations even though many of their leaders encouraged supporting the ideals of the Declaration. In 1870, Congress made the date a federal holiday. John Adams’ prediction of the celebratory activities came true. The most common symbol of the holiday is the American flag and the anthem it inspired.

In Harrisonburg, July 4, 2011, a ten-year tradition of celebration will include a parade, food booths, family-fun activities, and, of course, fireworks. The celebration begins at noon in front of the Court House with the reading of the Declaration of Independence and ends with nighttime fireworks.

*The New York Delegation abstained on this vote.  Several delegates who opposed separation absented themselves during the voting so their colony would vote in favor of the action.

David McCullough.     John Adams.  Simon and Schuster.  2001.
                                   1776.  Simon and Schuster.  2005.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Summer Solstice

Summer Solstice is the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere. The word solstice derives from the Latin “sol” for sun and “stice” which means to stop. Summer Solstice occurs at the mid-point of summer, or mid-summer (May 1st – Aug. 1st).

A major celestial event, summer solstice has been celebrated for millenniums. Stonehenge was built around 3100 BC and reflects the summer solstice from its center. The Druids termed the day, “the wedding of heaven and earth,” which is the reason weddings are still so popular in June. A June wedding is supposed to be a lucky wedding. The ancient Chinese used the day to celebrate the earth, femininity, yin, and the Chinese Goddess of Light, “Li.” Native Americans celebrate the connection of the heavens and the earth with dance and fasting.
After the spread of Christianity, in Sweden the day became known as St. John’s Day, June 24th, to honor St. John the Baptist instead of the pagan gods.

Needless to say, the day should be celebrated with flowers, especially white elder blossoms and any yellow flowers, plus feasting, bon fires, dancing, sun rise gatherings, the drinking of mead and other forms of merriment.

Don’t forget to leave an offering for the faeries!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Father's Day

On December 6, 1907, the town of Monongah, West Virginia, was devastated by a mine explosion that killed 362 men and boys[1] thus leaving behind 250 widows and more than 1,000 grieving children. This event prompted Mrs. Grace Golden Clayton to implore her pastor to dedicate a Sunday church service to honor and remember all fathers. On July 5, 1908, the Reverend Robert Thomas Webb of Williams Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church, South, in Fairmont, West Virginia held the first Father’s Day observance in the United States. Mrs. Clayton and the people of Fairmont are not credited with the founding of Father’s Day as they never followed through with a proclamation establishing the annual observance of the day.[2]

While listening to a Mother’s Day sermon in 1909 Sonora Louise Smart Dodd of Spokane, Washington, conceived the idea of a similar celebration to honor fathers. She specifically wanted to honor her own father, William Smart, a widowed Civil War veteran who raised six children on his own. The Spokane Ministerial Association and the local Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) supported Dodd and her efforts to establish a day to celebrate fathers. On June 19, 1910 Father’s Day was celebrated in Spokane, Washington.

Throughout the years various United States Presidents offered their support for a Father’s day celebration. In 1966 President Lyndon Johnson signed a proclamation declaring the third Sunday of June as Father’s Day. A permanent national observance of Father’s Day on the third Sunday in June was established by President Richard Nixon in 1972.

[1] United States Department of Labor. Mining Disasters – an Exhibition.
[2] Meighen, D. D., Reverend. Father’s Day.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Enthusiasm for Early Automobiles in the Valley

About noon on Monday, June 13, the rally teams of the The Great Race of 2011 will circle Court Square, park at the Turner Pavilion, and luncheon at The Smokin’ Pig. Car enthusiasts and the curious will watch about 100 vintage autos. Harrisonburg is the second leg of the 1,000 mile, seven day (June 11 -17) race between Chattanooga, TN and Bennington, VT. The Great Race is a controlled speed and endurance race that is “a test of a driver/navigator team’s ability to follow precise instructions and the car’s (and team’s) ability to endure a cross-country trip...GPSs, computers, and cell phones are not permitted and odometers are taped over." Many entrants make great sacrifices of time and money to participate. In addition to caring for a vintage car, individual participants pay an entry fee of $3000; corporations pay $3,500. In 2011, cars built in 1969 or earlier are eligible to participate.

The race is a revival of one organized in 1983 for pre-WWII cars. That race motored from LA to Indianapolis, IN and arrived for Indy Week. This year is not the first time participants stopped in Harrisonburg on the rally route. In 2005, a festive atmosphere around Court Square included country singers who welcomed drivers for the first overnight stay in the two week race between Washington, DC and Tacoma, WA. The local Valley Cruisers and the Antique Automobile Club of America were among the many who welcomed the racers. The rally prize committee awarded the Friendly City the second best overnight stop, missing out on the $10,000 awarded the first best stop. The race organizers awarded a total of $270,000 in prizes.

About 120 years ago, between the Gilded Age and WWI, Americans rapidly embraced the automobile for convenience and for racing. In 1895, on Thanksgiving Day, Frank Duryea covered 54 miles in 10 hours, 23 minutes and won the first automobile race. Horatio Jackson made the first cross country auto trip in 1903, without seeing a gas station, which did not open until 1907 in St. Louis. The first coast-to-coast road, the Lincoln Highway, was not completed until 1927

Enthusiasm in the Valley for the automobile was evident from the early days of the industry. J.L. Baugher, a local grocer, brought the first car to Harrisonburg in 1902. Ten years later historian John W. Wayland in his 1912 Historic Harrisonburg reported 40 automobiles in the Valley. An old-auto lovers from the Harrisonburg area organized in 1966.

Evans and Cline in Weyers Cave advertised “exclusive agency” in the surrounding counties for the Metz Runabout. The 1911 Metz was priced at $485, got 20 to 30 miles per gallon, and had a speed of 2 to 40 miles per hour. The car was made in Waltham, MA and like many other automobile manufacturers had branched into automobiles from bicycle manufacturing. Some automobile firms then expanded into manufacturing motorcycles and aviation. Today, depending on the condition and quality of restoration, the antique 1911 Metz Runabout would cost between $5,000 and $35,000

J. J. Hawes of Harrisonburg offered the Rambler, a brand name used by the Thomas B. Jeffrey Company of
Chicago. Local advertising focused on engineering details, such as an offset crank shaft. The Rambler price was not advertised, but other sources quoted the Rambler price as about twice that of the Metz. The mileage was comparable. Long-ago these cars passed into the antique category, though the Rambler name was carried on by successor companies into the later 1960s. The dealerships, Evans and Cline and the J.J. Hawes, have also passed from the local business scene. Another noteworthy dealership was the Rockingham Motor Company. This dealership opened in 1923 and was one of the first Ford dealerships in Virginia. Its former showroom at Liberty and West Market Streets won the 2004 award for restoration and repurposing of the Art Deco building. The firm had moved from this site in 1964.

The oldest car participating in the 2011 Great Race is the 100 year old 1911 Velie manufactured in Moline, IL. One 1911 ad bragged that it was “the raciest, snappiest, get there runabout on the road.” The car was advertised in the John Deere catalogue. The $2,000 car reached a top speed of 65 miles per hour. The Velie race-type roadster participated in the first 500 Brickyard race, finishing out of the money in 17th (out of 40) place. At the time the Velie Company, which also made touring cars, was considered leader in quality and low price automobiles. For additional information and the latest 2011 race event details contact Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance.


John W. Wayland. Historic Harrisonburg 1912.
The Daily News. April 1 and May 23, 1911.
Daily News-Record. June 24, 2005; June 27, 2005; August 12, 2005; February 25, 2005; January 29, 1996

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Memorial Day

If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep...

In this year of the Civil War 150th anniversary commemorations, did you know that the day set aside to honor all war dead began unofficially when Southern women decorated the graves of Confederate soldiers. On May 5, 1868, the national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, Gen. John Logan, officially proclaimed May 30 as a day of remembrance. On the first official Day, at Arlington National Cemetery the graves of Union and Confederate were decorated and Gen. James Garfield made a speech. For many years the Day was referred to as Decoration Day and several northern and southern cities claimed to be the birthplace of the observance. In 1966, President Johnson named Waterloo, NY as the founding site. Several states in the South have also added an additional day to honor the Confederate dead.

After World War I, the Day was set aside to honor all war dead. All readers of a certain age can at least remember a few lines of the poem by Canadian poet Lt. Col. John McCrae In Flanders Field. In 1915 another poet, American Moina Michael, conceived of the idea to wear red poppies as a way to honor the dead. The proceeds from the sale of poppies benefit servicemen in need. This custom was adopted in Europe to benefit orphaned children and widows of servicemen.

Though the poem In Flanders Fields received mixed literary reviews, it presents a powerful image of war dead that cannot be denied.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe;
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch: be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Lt. Col. John McCrae, In Flanders Fields. May 1915

Memorial Day observances diminished after World War II, possibly a consequence of the new prosperity and consumerism. Unofficially the Day became the beginning of summer and the outdoor grilling season and the washing and waxing of one's car to the drone and hum of the Indianapolis 500 car race. While military cemeteries went ignored and neglected, some families treated the day as a national remembrance of all souls and decorated and picnicked at family gravesites.

Some balance between the purpose and seasonality began in the late 1950s when the 3rd US Infantry re-established the practice of placing American flags on gravestones in Arlington National Cemetery. Throughout the nation the VFW and the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts mark the graves at other cemeteries. To help re-educate and remind Americans of the true meaning of Memorial Day, the Congress passed in December 2000 a National Moment of Remembrance Resolution which asked that at 3 pm local time, all Americans should observe a moment of silence or listen to Taps. Some veterans, who were irritated by the 3-day weekend holiday, considered it a distraction from the meaning of Memorial Day and started a movement to return the commemoration to May 30.

Local jurisdictions' celebrations include both Southern and National Commemorations to war dead, as well as the traditional and non traditional observances. After the dedication of the Vietnam War Memorial, veterans of that conflict started a "rolling thunder" of motorcycles through the countryside toward Washington, DC. In 2010, in Franklin, WV, the local chapter of the Sons of the Confederacy dedicated a memorial at Cedar Hill Cememtery to honor Pendleton County men who fought for the Confederacy. Likewise, the Turner Ashby Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy holds annual Memorial Day services at the Confederate Monument in Woodbine Cemetery in Harrisonburg. Also in 2010, Shenandoah, Grottoes, and Broadway-Timberville held late morning observances and in Harrisonburg a WWI cannon produced a boom at JMU's Memorial Hall. A traditional parade was held in Shenandoah. Unlucky students in Harrisonburg spent the day in school to make-up for lost classroom time due to heavy snows the previous winter. For 2011, events for the weekend include a Valley Fest of Beer and Wine tasting and a concert at Hopkins Villages at the Massanutten Resort. Returning to the beginning, a Civil war program and re-enactment of the 1861 Great Train Raid in Strasburg will be held between May 27 and 29 (Daily News-Record. May 29 and June 2, 2010)

Please help us to honor all the men and women who have served our country in the armed forces.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Friends of Feathers

At one time Harrisonburg was known as the “Turkey Capital of the World.” In the late 1930s and early 1940s Harrisonburg hosted a turkey festival complete with a parade and a festival queen.

In 1967, a group called Friends of Feathers staged their first annual get together to celebrate the turkey industry. This event was held on April 28, 1967 at Belle Meade Restaurant.

In 1968 the event included a parade at which Peggy Simmers served as Egg Princess.

The 1969 get together included Dr. Carl S. Winters as speaker. The June 1969 edition of “The Virginia Poultryman” noted that guests at the dinner were “greeted at the door by four pretty girls in real feathered mini-dresses (pg. 4).”

In 1969 the Friends of Feathers event was preceded by a 3 day Folklore and Poultry Festival sponsored by the Virginia State Poultry Federation, Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber of Commerce, and Shenandoah Valley Folklore Society. The festival included music, food, craft demonstrations, and antique-displays.

May 3-9, 1970 was recognized as “Friends of Feathers Week” by Virginia Governor Linwood Holton.

At the 1970 Poultry Festival Parade the Indian Maids of Ft. Defiance High School were awarded the prize for Best Majorette Group and Elkton High School won the award for Best High School Band. The parade was capped off by a concert performed by Del Reeves in Court Square.

The Virginia Poultry Federation continued to hold the large scale annual Friends of Feathers events through the mid-1990’s. Today the group still hosts the Friends of Feathers Golf Tournament.

You can read more about the Friends of Feathers events from 1967 to 1991 in the library’s scrapbooks at the downtown Harrisonburg branch of Massanutten Regional Library.

Do you have memories from these events to share with us? If so, please use the comment box below this entry so the library community can benefit from your thoughts.