|From the PATC Archives
By Jean Stephenson
Travelers on the Trail between Manassas and Swift Run Gaps are always interested in the long hills to the westward, the mountain range occupying the center of the Shenandoah Valley, known as "the Massanuttens." This term embraces not only the twisting mountain that stretches the full length of the range but the hills on either side, the valley at the north in the "yoke" of the mountains and the space at the eastern base between the mountain and the Shenandoah River. All this territory is rich in historic associations and many traditions have gathered around it.
"Massanutten" is an Indian word, but there is some doubt as to its meaning. Some say it means "Indian basket" and was first applied to Fort Valley because the valley is basket shaped, but a better opinion is that it means "old field," or "potato ground," and referred to the field between the mountain and river. While the mountains are described by Louis Michelle who visited them in 1707, the first settlements were not made until after 1725. In 1740 the mountain was called Peaked Mountain, and later it was known as Buffalo Mountain. The name Massanutten was then confined to the large open space between the mountain and the river below Thornton Gap. One of the Stover patents referred to in the January Bulletin, covering land from the present site of Alma to the mouth of the Hawksbill (so called as early as 1733) on both sides of the river, was described as the "Massanutten patent" and another as covering "Mesenutten on the Gerundo." Variations of the name are found in the early records, such as "Mesanutta" and "Massonutting town." Massanetta Springs, where every July is held the famous Valley music festival, perpetuates another old spelling.
In 1746 the colony was petitioned to build a road "from Smith's Creek over the Buffalo Mountain to the mouth of Massanutten and thence over the Blue Ridge to Mr. Thornton's Mill." This was known as Massanutten Road and is the present route of the Lee Highway.
The Massanutten field and Fort Valley were held by the Indians as common hunting grounds. While no permanent towns were located there, many Indian relics have been found on several temporary village sites. Opposite Mill Creek, in Fort Valley, and above Luray, Indian mounds, some thirty feet high, have been opened.
The first settler on the Massanutten field was Adam Miller, who located there in 1726. A few years later Adam Strickler and other German families from Pennsylvania came in, and by 1732 there were fifty-one people on that tract. Meanwhile, one Powell, who is reputed to have had trouble with the authorities, took refuge in the gem of a valley lying in the northern end of the mountain, later known as "The Fort." This is not an artificial stronghold, but was a natural one for Powell, and here he lived in peace. For him the mountain to the west was called Powell's Fort mountain and the valley Powell's Fort valley, and later "The Fort." Now they are known as Powell's Mountain and Fort Valley. Powell is supposed to have found again the silver mines mentioned by Baron De Graffenreid as having been discovered by Michelle in 1707, and to have made counterfeit money, which did not endear him to the authorities.
According to popular report, he buried a quantity of gold and silver on Signal Knob overlooking Strasburg, and while several generations of treasure seekers have hunted for it, it has never been found. But every native still claims "Thar's gold in them thar hills," or at least silver! About 1733 a group of hunters, Tebo, Klizer, and Crick, settled in The Fort. Within a short time others followed. Soon it was too thickly settled for Tebo and his friends, so they sold out to John Bushong and Henry Cullers who had recently arrived in the Shenandoah from Maryland, and followed the game further west.
George Washington surveyed Fort Valley for Lord Fairfax in 1748, beginning near Buzzards Roost on the creek at what is now Slippery Rock Ford, running west to Fox Grape River, so called from the abundance of fox grapes growing there (now Lichliter's Branch), then to Passage Creek, crossed at Beaver Dam, then east to the top of Page Mountain at Four Pile Corner, then north to the beginning. Washington was so impressed by the natural defenses of the place that thirty years later, when at the close of the hard winter at Valley Forge it was stated that if the fortunes of war did not turn in favor of the colonists by the next winter, it might be necessary to surrender, Washington declared that instead the Army would move south to the Shenandoah and take its stand behind the rock walls of The Fort. About this time General Daniel Morgan started to build a road into the Fort, but when the Continental armies met with success, work was stopped. Traces of it may still be seen across Shermans Gap.
The settlers lived at peace with the Indians until 1754, but from that time until 1765 Indian incursions and raids were frequent. As the Massanutten settlement was unprotected, many inhabitants built stone houses with fort cellars, the only known cases of this type of architecture in Virginia. Several of these were still standing in recent years, the most interesting being the old Stover place about a mile down stream from the mouth of Hawksbill, built by Samuel Stover about 1760, and Locust Grove, built by Isaac Strickler on the north bank of Massanutten Creek. These cellars not only had fort walls and roof, but also had wells in them; in the Roads cellar there was a spring.
Several families fell victims to the Indians during this period. In 1764 John Roads' home on the South Branch of the Shenandoah was attacked by a party of eight Indians and one white man. The father was killed in the doorway; the mother and one son as they ran for the house, and another son was shot as he climbed a tree. The twelve-year-old girl seized her baby sister, crawled out under the side of the house and hid under some hemp poles. All the dead were scalped, the scalps, including those of the children, being later sold to the French for $15.00 each. Four children were captured but by the time the party reached Fort Valley, the seven-year-old boy was too exhausted to continue, so he was killed. As his sisters protested vehemently, they also were killed, and their scalps taken while their bodies were left unburied. The fifteen-year-old boy, Michel, remained a captive for three years, and then returned to the home of his brother Joseph eight miles south of Luray.
In some instances however, the captives became too attached to the Indian mode of life to feel happy at home. In 1758 John Stone of White House in the Hawksbill settlement, was killed by the Indians and his wife, son, aged seven, and George Grandstaff,were taken prisoner. Mrs. Stone could not keep up with the party, so was killed further up the mountain. Grandstaff came home after three years' captivity, but the boy remained with the Indians until grown, came home, and sold his father's property and returned to the Indians.
In this same year the Indians attacked Bingamen's house near New Market Gap. He killed several Indians but was finally wounded and his wife and children killed. His nephew, Lewis Bingamen, aged about fourteen, was captured. He remained with the Indians and in manhood became a famous leader among them. Ten years after his capture, a certain John Price, who was a shifty, untrustworthy trader went to the Indian country, made friends with a young chief and on one trip induced him to go hunting with him. Then he treacherously murdered and robbed him, and returned home and boasted of it. Soon Lewis Bingamen and thirty warriors came after him. The warriors remained in hiding on the Massanutten mountain while Bingamen went privately to Frederick Oppenberger, said he would go to Price and propose a hunt, and decoy him to his warriors; that if Oppenberger would not warn Price who the stranger was, the Indians would take Price and injure no one else, but otherwise the whole settlement would pay for the death of the chief. Oppenberger felt it was justice and did not tell who Bingamen was. Price was decoyed to the Indians and never heard of again.
After the Indian warfare, the Massanuttens were at peace for a hundred years. During the Civil War no battle was fought in Fort Valley but General Imboden's men camped there for a time, one camp near Seven Fountains, another near Dry Run, and a third near Cross Roads.
Signal Knob near Strasburg was an important outpost. Signals from it were picked up by the station on Fort Mountain opposite Seven Fountains near the Milford road, relayed to Stony Man and from there through to Richmond. At the storming of Signal Knob several Confederate soldiers were killed. One still lies buried there and it was his grave that inspired the beautiful poem so popular through the south, "The Georgia Volunteer."
When the Federal forces took possession of Fort Valley, they burned the iron furnaces, a blow from which the industry never recovered. The two oldest furnaces were Caroline Furnace, near the Luray Road, and Elizabeth Furnace, in the lower end of the Valley. They were owned for a long time by Mr. Blackford who also owned Isabella Furnace in Page County and who named the three furnaces for his three daughters. During the forties and fifties they were operated steadily. In 1880 a Pennsylvanian named Marette rebuilt Elizabeth Furnace but after a short time it was shut down and has never been operated again.
If space permitted, much could be written of the old church built about 1765 at Cross Roads, for a free Union Church used by all denominations; of Seven Fountains, where seven varieties of mineral and medicinal waters spring from the earth within a half acre, a famous watering place in early days, of the old mills: of the curious and interesting German Bibles, many dating from 1639, still owned by the inhabitants of Fort Valley and Massanutten.
The game has gone, the magnificent timber has been cut, many of the people have moved away, but the mountains and the valley remain unchanged and the crumbling stone fort cellars and furnaces recall the days that have vanished.