Shenandoah Valley History in Staunton, Virginia


This town on the Great Wagon Road is key to imagining the early settlers’ experience. It is one of the oldest towns west of the Blue Ridge and an early center for trade.

History lovers and genealogist will thoroughly enjoy a visit to Staunton, Virginia. The town was a major trade center west of the Virginia Blue Ridge Mountains that was surely visited by their ancestors. Some Europeans may have settled first in east coast regions like the Chesapeake Bay. From Chesapeake region cities like Norfolk, Williamsburg, or Baltimore and counties like Northumberland, Surry, and Kent, they (and their DNA!) took off to claim land of their own and fresh soil for growing tobacco or cotton and subsistence crops. Staunton was a way-station in their journey down the Shenandoah Valley Wagon Road and roads to the west intersected there.

Whether to study records in the Augusta County Courthouse or to visit the Frontier Culture Museum, visitors to Staunton will find research clues and will be inspired as they see the land that their ancestors trod. Re-creations of their everyday life on farms that reflect old world heritage will help children and adults alike make a connection that spans the centuries from Europe to today.

Staunton is an independent city located within the boundary of Augusta County, Virginia, at the Intersection of Interstate highways 81 and 64, just west of Shenandoah National Park. The land was part of a grant given by King George II to William Beverley in 1736. The Town of Staunton was incorporated in 1761 and named for Lady Rebecca Staunton, wife of Virginia Governor William Gooch.

Frontier Culture Museum of Virginia

Exhibits and programs at this outdoor living-history museum explore the old world origins of early immigrants to the new world. Costumes, architecture, and lifestyles reflect the lands of their origin. Museum exhibits and staff help visitors understand how cultures adapted to the new world environment. Germans and Irish immigrants, for example, found themselves in close proximity and eventually recombined their culture as families intermarried and became a new breed of people: modern Americans.

The modern American Interstate highway system roughly parallels the Shenandoah Valley’s wagon road (U.S. Route 11). Travelers will notice the highway signs along Interstate 81 as they approach its intersection with Interstate 64. The east-west Interstate 64 follows a route that may have been taken west by early settlers in the Chesapeake Bay Region as they moved on. The signs beckon modern travelers to touch base with their roots.

Original farm buildings from Europe and Virginia were documented, dismantled, and reconstructed to recreate six farm environments that illustrate the settlers’ homelands and new world ways of family life and work. The museum is open daily from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. and is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s days. Their non-lending research library is open to the public by appointment on weekdays.

Genealogy Resources

Because of its key crossroads and migratory path location, the genealogical resources at the Augusta County Courthouse, constructed for the region in 1745, are of key interest to those tracing their family’s journey through place and time. Marriage, birth, and death records as well as wills and deeds from 1745 are kept there. Similar records from 1802 to present are available at the Staunton City Courthouse.

Researchers will also want to visit the Augusta County Historical Society and Staunton Public Library to review census records and library holdings of family histories, historical organization bulletins and journals, and other periodicals and books.

Civil War History

Staunton’s development as a trade center expanded when the railroad line was built through the town. Supplies from Staunton were vital to the Confederate strategy. Although battles were waged to the north and west of town, Staunton’s buildings and infrastructure were unscathed. They were defended by the Confederacy from Fort Edward Johnson during the 1862 Shenandoah Valley Campaign. A Confederate Breastworks interpretive trail is located in the George Washington National Forest on U.S. Route 250 about 20 miles from Staunton.

A trip to Staunton will delight families, history lovers, and genealogists. An active visitor’s bureau ensures that a brochure and website are packed with good information that will guide visitors toward other interesting historical sites, like the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum, as well as shopping, lodging, and dining areas. The natural beauty of the area is an added bonus and pleasing backdrop for reflection.