Friday, October 10, 2014

George W. Rosenberger: Model farmer of Rosendale

George W. Rosenberger
Model Farmer of Rosendale
            George Rosenberger, an immigrant from Zurich, Switzerland, came to colonial Virginia, , established himself in what is now Page County, and served in the Revolutionary War.[i]  His son, George Washington Rosenberger was born in 1778 and died in 1858 in his eightieth year.  In about 1790, this George acquired the land at the present Rosendale location on which he built a two-over-two log house.  Evidence of the senior George Washington Rosenberger’s success can be deduced from the 1850 Census records in which his real property was valued at $24,000.  He also owned two working-age slaves.
In 1802 George W. Rosenberger married Margaret Zirkle (1780-1836) of New Market.  Their fifth child, also named George Washington, was born on February 23, 1823 at Rosendale and is the subject of the following article.   Fifty-five years later he was described as the “model Valley farmer.”  He added what is now the front face of Rosendale in 1870; the original house became the ell.  In the 1870 Census Rosenberger’s real estate was valued at $12,500, about half the value of his father’s real property twenty years before.  The difference could reflect local conditions after the Civil War.
George Washington Rosenberger married Barbara Ann Kagey in 1845.  They had eight children, five of whom died before 1887 when their mother died.  In 1892, George W. Rosenberger married Barbara’s sister, Amelia (Millie) Kagey, who had been living with the family at Rosendale for several decades.  He was sixty-nine years old and she was fifty-two years old when they married.  Of the three surviving children from the first marriage, one was Arthur Russell Rosenberger, a successful local banker and entrepreneur.  Another son, Charles W., oversaw the Rosendale operation after the death of the father and probably for some years before the father’s death.[ii]
Rosendale during the Civil War
            Documents found in the George W. Rosenberger Collection at the VMI Archives provide a glimpse of Rosendale and, by extension, the local the farming experience during the later part of the Civil War.  When the War began Rosenberger was thirty-seven years old.  Instead of serving in the military Rosenberger purchased a substitute.  From March 1862 to April 1863 Abner Canada was the substitute.   An archival document recounted Canada’s capture in Shenandoah County and his escape that returned him to his comrades.  In the Civil War Rolls found in A History of Rockingham County,[iii] Abner Canada does not appear.  The only Abner Canada listed in the 1860 Census was a sixty-one year old farm laborer in Rockingham County.   G.W. Rosenberger was listed as member of the Company H, 10th Va. Cavalry.  There is no record that he actually served in combat.
Several preserved documents were the C.S.A. forms for the “Estimates and Assessments of Agricultural Products”… “for the common defense and to carry on the government of the Confederate States.” The completed forms give a partial picture of agricultural activity at Rosendale.  In February 1864, George W. Rosenberger’s crops were assessed at $552.50 by the CSA.  The following table derived from the form gives an idea of the diversity and value of the Rosendale operations.  All of the assessed crops were rated “good.”   A column is added to information on the form which based on the value of one-tenth, show the total crop values.
George W. Rosenberger
1864 - Estimate and Assessment for the CSA
    Item                                     Gross Crop             Est. of Total Value              Tithe                    Value of One-Tenth
Wheat, Bushels                          150                             $1,500.00                          15                                 $150.00
Corn, Bushels                            340                              1,700.00                          34                                     170.00
Oats, Bushels                            150                                450.00                          15                                       45.00
Irish Potatoes, Bushels               25                                  125.00                          2.5                                    12.50
Cured Hay, Pds                        27,000                             1,350.00                     2,700                                 135.00
Wool, Pds                                    80                                  400.00                         8                                        40.00
Total Values                                                                      $5,525.00                                                           $552.50

These assessments do not include the Rosenberger livestock, particularly the valuable beef herd.  A similar assessment form for 1865 suggested that Rosenberger had a twenty-five head hog herd.   One possible way to grasp the size of Rosenberger’s assessment and the value of the crops was to compare it to the qualification for exemptions from in-kind assessments.  A head-of-family not worth more than $500 and an officer, soldier, or seaman honorably discharged who were not worth more than $1,000 was exempt from this tax.
 In 1865, Rosenberger also qualified for special exemption from the tax-in-kind for crops necessary to raise and fatten hogs for pork.  In this case, 100 bushels of the 350 bushels of corn was exempt for pork production.  In February 1865, the value of the tithe-able amount of twenty- five bushels was $750, or $30 per bushel of corn, compared to tithe-able thirty-four bushels at $170 or $5 per bushel of corn the previous year. [iv]  This increase in assessment valuation suggests worsening conditions in the beleaguered Valley and Confederate cause in 1865.
            Rosendale not only provided for the C.S.A., but also for the U.S.A.  In March 1900, Rosenberger filed under the 1887 Tucker Act, which allowed for certain claims against the United States, requesting reimbursement for provisions taken by the US Army during the Civil War.  In the claim Rosenberger stated he was a loyal subject of the United States and that Army had appropriated $2,000 in stock and goods.  In 1906, a few years after Rosenberger had died his wife, as executrix, continued the pursuit of the claim.  In December 1915, the Court found that the claimant was not loyal to the government of the U.S.  The Court also found that the three horses ($345), the 950 pounds of hay ($5), the fourteen head of beef weighing 6,300 pounds ($630), and the 130 pounds of flour ($780) confiscated had a value of $1760 not the $2,000 asked for in the claim.[v] 
Model Farmer
            The quality of stock bred at Rosendale was widely known and praised.  From the 1830s, George W. Rosenberger corresponded locally and along the eastern seaboard with cattle breeders.[vi]  The breed that most interested him was the short horned Durham.  He acquired his most prized bull from a breeder in Auburn, NY.   In 1860, Rosenberger purchased a yearling named Christmas Duke, calved December 25, 1858.[vii]  This bull’s pedigree was traceable to 1739 in Ketton, England.  In a flyer (c. 1861) with a sketch of Christmas Duke, Rosenberger offered the services of the bull, recited the pedigree, and noted the weights and prices received from other Durhams in his herd.  The flyer included articles from the Valley Democrat (1858) and from the Rockingham Register (1856) that praised Rosenberger’s operation and the improvement of the stock he introduced into Rockingham County.[viii]  In addition to cattle breeding, Rosenberger, in the decade after the War, bred Cotswold sheep and fowl. 
            The following extensive quote is from the article, Model Farmer: A Model Farm and a Model Farmer in the Shenandoah Valley, published January 31, 1878 in the Rockingham Register.  The article was reprinted from the Baltimore Sun.  In the contemporary language of the article, an alive-ness of the Rosendale operation was evident, which no currently written description could capture.
….  About two miles east of the Valley turnpike a first class macadamized road, piercing the heart of Shenandoah Valley near the Rockingham and Shenandoah county line, lies one of the richest, and most fertile… Virginia…within the shadows of the Massanutten mountain, on the eastern side of Smith creek, a large bold stream which at times becomes an angry, roaring river, is located what we choose to designate a model farm.  The farm is neither too large or too small, comprising 500 acres, 350 of which are cleared….  Of course, a model farm is well inclosed on its outer boundaries with good substantial fences, and laid off in suitable divisions and sub-divisions to suit the views and interest of its owner.  The whole outer limits of Rosendale, stretching along the banks of Smith’s creek, are inclosed with solid post and rail, post and plank and stone fencing. …The front approach to Rosendale shows that this prominent feature on the outer verge of a good farm is not wanting here.  The dwelling house is a plain, handsomely painted, wooden building, standing on a commanding eminence, within sight of Smith’s creek, yet so far removed from its rushing tide, when it gets “high,” as it sometimes does, as to be perfectly safe from floods and freshets while the roaring of its excited water makes melancholy music for the dwellers upon the gentle acclivity near its bank.
                One of the peculiar features upon this farm is its fine blooded stock, Mr. Rosenberger having turned his attention, as early the year 1842, the raising of the best domestic animals, such as cattle, sheep and hogs, and more recently to the breeding of the best fowls, such as chickens, ducks and turkeys.   Among his pure blooded two-year old short horn cattle will be found  Bright Queen, Mercedes,… accompanied by Waverly Lord Second, a young Kentucky bull.  In his flock of sheep comprising the best Cotswold blood, will be found ewes weighing over 200 pounds, bucks weighing as much as 385 pounds, the sheep clipping on an average from 12 to 15 pounds.  His turkeys are of the bronze breed, weighing 22 pounds at eight months old and 33½ pounds when full grown.  The chickens are of the light Brahma stock, the hens weighing 10 pounds, and the roosters several pounds more. 
                The painted, covered stands of bees, thirty-nine colonies of which are handsomely arranged on two sides of the dwelling of the house, form a not unattractive feature of this rural scene.  Of course large quantities of honey are gathered from the industrious workers, Mr. Rosenberger being able to sell annually a good many pounds.  He has raised 2,100 pounds within the last three years, 900 pounds being the most gathered in any one season. – This honey is deposited by the bees in glass boxes of different sizes, and is sold readily at from 20 to 25 cents a pound.
                The barn is built upon modern principles, regard being had to the comfort of the animals housed and to the convenience of the person who feeds them.  Attached to the barn is a vegetable cellar, from which a car carries vegetables to the animals over a railway passing through the barn.  This arrangement enables a small boy to attend to the feeding of the stock, each animal receiving its just share of the food distributed.
                Order and system are everywhere seen on this farm. …
                The force employed to work this farm is not large, (two hands employed by the year and others by the day, as occasions warrants and demands,) but it is always kept employed, and thus large results are obtained from a small but well drilled and well directed force.  Mr. Rosenberger raised this year 1,000 bushels of wheat, in addition to his corn crop.
                Nor is this representatives of the hard-handed tillers of the soil only interested in the improvement of his land and his stock:… The liberal education of his children is, as it ought to be with all farmers, an object of great pride with this type of model farmer.  Under his own roof his children are taught music and other accomplishments, whilst they are instructed to honor the noble the pursuits which the owner of Rosendale has chosen and so successfully followed.
                …. The author of this sketch might refer to the higher life of intellectuality and the flow of soul which characterize the gatherings beneath the hospitable roof at Rosendale,…

The Smith Creek Seminary
            During the Civil War, on the Rosendale estate in the upper level of a stone building that housed a kitchen and wash house below, Joseph M. Salyards (1808-1885) taught school for young men.  The school was called the Smith Creek Academy.  The teacher and his family lived in a three-room log cabin at Rosendale.  During his teaching career from about 1838 until the 1870s, Salyards taught in several schools in Shenandoah, Page, and Rockingham Counties.  This highly respected teacher was mostly self-educated, which included learning eight languages.[ix]   
            As a poet, Salyards was known for his epic poem Idothea or The Divine Image, for which he was widely praised.  The pocket size volume of this epic was over 300 pages long and was published in 1874.  It may have sold a modest 500 copies in the United States, but the print run for the Oxford addition in England was 20 times greater than it was in the United States.  In one of the divisions of the poem titled “Waif of Rosendale” are the following lines:
It is a green and smiling swell,
A spot for happiness to dwell;
It seems that nature shapes a plan
And molds a dwelling spot for man,
And this was meant to be the home
Of loves and joys that never roam.[x] [xi]

            George Washington Rosenberger’s obituary writer[xii] observed that “[t]he Rosenberger home, years ago, was known far and wide for its hospitality, the happiness of the family circle, and the devotion of the parents and children toward each other.”  About a decade before his death, a fall that fractured Rosenberger’s hip permanently disabled him and had “a depressing effect on his naturally buoyant spirit.”   This understandable personal tragedy of his later years, should not caused George W. Rosenberger’s contributions to the Valley to be overlooked and appreciated.  He was indeed a model during the 1800s for the many successful agriculturalists in the area and for whom the Valley is renowned to this day.

Diane Rafuse, Sept. 2014

[i] John W. Wayland, ed.  Men of Mark And Representative Citizens of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County Virginia.  The McClure Company, Inc.  Staunton, Va.  1943.
[ii] Wayland.  Men of Mark. Roots.web.  Shenandoah County, Virginia Marriage Records.
[iii] John W. Wayland.  History of Rockingham County Virginia.  C.J. Carrier Company.  Harrisonburg, VA.  1996.
[iv] VMI Archives.  Rosenberger Collection.  Copy available at MRL.
[v] United States Congressional Series.  Issue 6954.  p. 479.
[vi] VMI Archives.  Copy available at MRL.
[vii] Katherine L. Brown and Nancy T. Sorrells.  Virginia’s Cattle Story, The first Four Centuries.  Commissioned by the Virginia Cattlemen’s Foundation and the Dairy Foundation of Virginia.  2004.
[viii] VMI Archives.  Copy available at MRL.
[ix] See Wayland. History of Rockingham County.
[x] John W. Wayland.  Historic Homes.
[xi] Rockingham Register.  August 10, 1885.
[xii] Rockingham Register.  November 14, 1902.


  1. Was George a decendent or relative of Erasmus Rosenberger from Niederzell, Germany?

  2. Although George is described as a "contemporary" of Erasmus Rosenberger [Early Settlers in Shenandoah Valley], they were not related.