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.
The Virginia Quilt Museum located in Harrisonburg has already received a Humanities grant to host a quilt exhibit highlighting 250 years of Virginia’s History and it is just one of the activities that will take place in Harrisonburg as part of Virginia 250. We will also host a big community birthday party with fireworks and a community festival.
While there are currently no events listed specifically for City of Harrisonburg, search the VA250 Statewide Calendar of Events for a comprehensive listing of programs across the state.