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A short story by Etta Belle Walker


Title:     Harrisonburg
Author: Etta Belle Walker [More Titles by Walker]

Harrisonburg is called the Friendly City and its people are noted for their hospitality. It is near famous caverns and historic battlefields. It was named in honor of Thomas Harrison who had fifty acres of his land surveyed and laid out into lots and streets. It might also be called the center of a large German element whose forefathers settled much of the surrounding country. Harrisonburg is the county-seat of Rockingham county, which was formed from Augusta in 1778. This is the third largest county in Virginia.

These people have always been among the sturdiest and bravest in the Valley. They gave the best they had to develop their new homes in a new country and when they were called upon to fight in the French and Indian War, there were no braver men to be had nor could any endure more hardships than they.

During the Revolutionary War they were among the first to respond to the call for volunteers. They were among the first to resent the closing of the Boston Harbor by the British in 1774. We read an old account or notation of Felix Gilbert who kept a shop near the town of Harrisonburg. He agreed to take food-stuffs from his neighbors and send it to the relief of the Bostonians. One of those entries, made in 1775, reads:

"Rece'd for the Bostonians; Of Patrick Frazier 1 bushel of wheat, of Jos. Dictom 2 bushels of wheat, of James Beard 1 bu. of wheat, Geo. Clarke 1 bu. wheat, Robt. Scott and Sons, 2 bu. wheat."


The owners of the Massanutten Caverns call them the "gem of the cavern world," for they are a combination of the beautiful and the unusual. They are located east of Harrisonburg on the Spotswood Trail.

These caverns are of rather recent discovery. In 1892 during a thriving limestone industry some workmen blasted rock in the foothills and after the discharge of dynamite was over they looked into a fairyland of strange rooms and strange formations.

The operator of the caverns called the entrance "Discovery Gate" and planned the route through the underground so that visitors begin their journey where the discovery was made.

Vacationists find themselves unloading their luggage and remaining either overnight or for longer periods of time when they see the facilities offered there. The accommodations include a golf course and swimming pool as well as a lodge and cottages.


Back in 1804 Bernard Weyer discovered the unusual caves situated on a bluff belonging to his neighbor Mr. Mohler. Nearly a century before, the courageous "Sir Knights of the Golden Horseshoe" had passed by this part of the Blue Ridge--within ten miles of the entrance of the caverns, perhaps, and because of the layout of the land never suspected the underground "Buried City." Today these are called Grand Caverns and are located between Elkton and Mt. Sidney, the latter town being on the Lee-Jackson Highway.

Young Weyer was a great hunter who enjoyed roaming the fields and hillsides in search of game. The historian Kercheval tells the story of the day when Weyer went to find an elusive ground-hog, having previously set a trap for it. The animal not only had not been captured but for some time had made a successful getaway with each trap set for it. Weyer decided to dig for the ground-hog hide-out. "A few moments' labor brought him to the antechamber of this stupendous cavern, where he found his traps safely deposited." Not content with eleven pages of flattering and minute descriptions of every passageway known then, Kercheval used another page with "Note A" and "Note B" which described later explorations. This makes interesting reading for those who have either visited the Caverns or have not had that privilege and plan to see them. In these accounts he included Congress Hall, The Infernal Regions, Washington's Hall, The Church, Jefferson's Hall and numerous others.

The Historical Collections of Virginia by Henry Howe gives a vivid picture of Weyer's Cave and the author further states:

"A foreign traveller who visited the cave at an annual illumination, has, in a finely written description, the following notice:

" ... Weyer's Cave is in my judgment one of the great natural wonders of this new world; and for its eminence in its own class, deserves to be ranked with the Natural Bridge and Niagara, while it is far less known than either.... For myself, I acknowledge the spectacle to have been most interesting; but, to be so, it must be illuminated, as on this occasion. I had thought that this circumstance might give to the whole a toyish effect; but the influence of 2,000 or 3,000 lights on these immense caverns is only such as to reveal the objects, without disturbing the solemn and sublime obscurity which sleeps on everything. Scarcely any scenes can awaken so many passions at once, and so deeply. Curiosity, apprehension, terror, surprise, admiration, and delight, by turns and together, arrest and possess you. I have had before, from other objects, one simple impression made with greater power; but I never had so many impressions made, and with so much power, before. If the interesting and the awful are the elements of the sublime, here sublimity reigns, as in her own domain, in darkness, silence, and deeps profound."

Bear in mind that this account was given long before 1850 and that Grand Caverns was first known as Weyer's Cave.

We learned that the Cave was used as a source of income by its owners first in 1836, when the large chambers were converted into temporary dance halls for the countryside youth. Mentioned above is the fact that the caverns were lighted once a year and admission was charged on this occasion. About 1925 the passages were lighted properly and tourists began their trek to this wonder of nature.

A modern note is to be found in the name "Linbergh Bridge"--one not mentioned as such by any of the early writers!


One of the most delightful places in all the Valley is Massanetta Springs. It is one of those beauty spots which one finds after going through Swift Run Gap, famous for being the first gap through which came the English with Governor Spotswood and his Knights of the Golden Horseshoe. It was through here, too, that General George Washington passed on horseback in 1784.

Long ago these springs were known as Taylor Springs and during the War Between the States the wounded soldiers were cared for there. Many famous people lived in and around this lovely spring. We are told that Daniel Boone's wife lived near here, and that Abraham Lincoln's father, Thomas Lincoln, was born not more than twelve miles away on Linville Creek. Not far away is Singer's Glen where some of the first early American hymns and songs were published.

Today various religious denominations hold summer conferences at the Springs.

[The end]
Etta Belle Walker's short story: Harrisonburg