Virginia’s Fort Valley and Fortified Houses, by BMW (Part II)


I couldn’t wait to start the second day of my search for Virginia’s “fortified houses” from the 1700s. As detailed in Part I of this report, early settlers often built stone houses designed to protect their families in case of Indian attacks, and a few of these places still exist. After a hearty breakfast at the Mimslyn Inn, I was eager to find more of them.


First, however, I decided to do a little touring around Luray, VA. I had been to the famous caverns here on a couple of occasions, but I’d never explored the town itself. Aventine Hall originally sat high on a hill overlooking Luray for 85 years before the builders of the Mimslyn Inn decided that they would like to use that location. They carefully disassembled Aventine piece by piece and reconstructed it in a nearby residential area. This beautiful Greek Revival mansion was built in 1852. Its distinctive, 4-column front portico is said to be based on the Tower of the Winds in Athens, Greece. This comparison seems peculiar to the uninitiated—e.g., me—since the Tower of the Winds is an octagonal building with a pair of 2-column “propylas” (Greek for “porches,” apparently), so I don’t see the similarity at all. Regardless of its inspiration, it’s a stunning home. (Drawing courtesy of Holiday and Travel Europe.)

The Shenandoah Railroad first laid tracks through Luray in 1881, and by 1906 demand for rail travel was so great that a new passenger station was built. The station was rebuilt following a disastrous lightning strike and fire in 1908, and it remains standing today. It now houses a museum, and the curator told me that he well remembers when passenger service was suspended in 1960.

I found the old Massanutten School on the other side of the railroad tracks. It’s a one-room schoolhouse that was originally located west of Luray, where students were taught from about 1880 to 1931.

In reading about the train station, I learned that it had separate waiting areas for white and African American passengers. That concept is jolting today, but before the Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, segregation was virtually universal in Virginia and other southern states. And, of course, before the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, and the enactment and ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1864-1865, slavery was widespread in much of the U.S. This plain stone is a stark reminder of those days: it is one of the few remaining blocks on which slaves were forced to stand during slave auctions. It was originally situated at the very center of Luray and now serves as “an historic symbol of a dark past of man’s inhumanity toward his fellow man.” It was impossible not to imagine the degradation, suffering, and despair felt by the unfortunate human beings who once stood here, being examined, bought and sold, separated from their families—and all without recourse until the nation, in its most wrenching, existential crisis, brought a halt to the practice.

E.N. Hershberger established the first Ford dealership in Luray in 1914 and expanded into this brick showroom in 1935. After the company went out of business sometime in the 1980s, the building sat vacant for a number of years. It has recently received several nice murals; note that the kids in this one are clearly admiring my 335i!

Just north of town, this inviting rural lane takes you to the Ruffner House, which is now a bed & breakfast.

Ruffner House was built in 1739 by Peter Ruffner and later purchased by William Chapman. Chapman’s three sons fought for the Confederacy, two of them with Mosby’s Rangers. Captain Samuel Chapman had graduated from Columbia University as a minister and was known as “the Fighting Parson.” Colonel John Mosby described him as “the only man I ever saw who really enjoyed fighting, and who generally went into the fray with his hat in one hand and banging away with his revolver with the other.” He was wounded at the Battle of Miskel’s Farm (see In Pursuit of the Grey Ghost) and returned to this home to recuperate. He eventually passed away—but not until 1919 at age 81, following a long list of accomplishments as a military chaplain and educator.

Massanutten Settlement

Leaving Luray, I admired this old farm on Hawksbill Creek. The farm itself is still active—but I hope the farmer and his family are not still living in this farmhouse.

Mauck’s Meetinghouse was easy to find, just off of the famous Highway 211. Swiss and German Mennonites had moved to this area in the early 1700s from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, since land cost only 2-4 shillings an acre here, versus 25-30 shillings in Lancaster. Before the American Revolution, the official religion of Virginia was the Church of England. At that time, Quakers, Mennonites, and Baptists were all considered “dissidents.” The Mennonite and Baptist residents of Mill Creek built this little church sometime between 1795 and 1800. It was open to all denominations, and the church minutes indicate that a number of free and enslaved African Americans were also members. Elder John Koontz was one of the first ministers and served for 50 years; interestingly, he believed that he was descended from the original John the Baptist.

Across the road from the meetinghouse, I noticed this Italianate-looking gazebo on the grounds of an old house. I later learned that the house was owned by William Randolph Barbee, who operated a toll road here through Thornton Gap in the Blue Ridge Mountains. In the 1850s he studied art in Florence, Italy, becoming a well-known and talented sculptor. (At least one of his sculptures is on display in the Smithsonian American Art Museum.) Mr. Barbee returned to his home near the meetinghouse in 1858, and I suspect he had something to do with the gazebo.

Continuing my peripatetic progress through Virginia, I detoured onto Oak Leaf Drive to try to get a good photo of the mountains in the distance. Several tries later, I gave up and settled for this juxtaposition of farm fields with brooding clouds overhead.

Fortunately, I spotted another valley-and-mountains opportunity while retracing my steps back to Highway 211. This part of Virginia truly is beautiful.

During my detour, in the back of my mind I kept recalling the barest glimpse of an abandoned house in the woods that I’d passed earlier. My corner-of-the-eye image hinted at a peaked window frame, suggesting that it wasn’t another ubiquitous abandoned house but an abandoned church. So I drove back toward Mauck’s Meetinghouse to investigate. (As usual, three steps forward, two steps back.) Sure enough, it turned out to be a church. Or at least it had been a church; what was left of its interior furnishings indicated that someone had used it as a dwelling for a time.

I also noticed the nearby Mill Creek Primitive Baptist Church. Subsequent research revealed that it was built in 1889—after the congregation had outgrown the original Mauck Meetinghouse. The church holds services once a month, including the Sunday that I happened by.

Kauffman’s Mill Lane runs alongside the South Fork of the Shenandoah River, with Strickler’s Knob and Massanutten Mountain in the distance. The White House Ferry used to transport travelers across the river here, guided by cable and drawn by a four-horse team. The ferry was especially popular after Stonewall Jackson’s forces burned the covered bridge in June 1862 to keep the Union Army from crossing… That’s the “White House” on the hill to the right.

Historical footnote: Stonewall Jackson burned the bridge as a critical element of thwarting Union Gen. James Shields’ “trap,” as planned in Front Royal and overheard by Confederate spy Belle Boyd. Part I of this report described her actions to warn Gen. Jackson of Shields’ plans.

Another historical footnote: Long-time readers will recall that when James Shields was a young lawyer in Springfield, Illinois, he challenged another young lawyer there to a duel. The other lawyer, Abraham Lincoln, accepted… In Pursuit of the Grey Ghost relates this little-known story.

And what about the white house next to the river? Martin Kauffman was another of the Lancaster County, PA Mennonites who moved to the Massanutten settlement in 1732. His son, Martin Kauffman II, was converted to the Baptist faith by Elder Koontz, and like his father he became a minister. In 1760, Martin II built the White House as his residence and used it as a Baptist meetinghouse. Following the defeats of Colonel George Washington at Fort Necessity in 1754 and General Edward Braddock near Pittsburgh in 1755, the French and Indian War reached into the Shenandoah Valley, with settlers attacked in 1757-1766. In view of these attacks, Martin Kauffman II incorporated a vaulted stone cellar when he built the White House. His dwelling is one of only six such fortified houses along the South Fork that still survives. A massive flood during Hurricane Fran in 2005 inundated the White House but, fortunately, did relatively little damage to its original, Federal-style woodwork indoors. (Interior photos courtesy of the National Register of Historic Places.)

I next went in search of Catherine Furnace. It was built in 1846 and supplied pig iron to the Tredegar Ironworks in Richmond, VA during the Civil War. It also cast cannon balls for use by Confederate artillery. Getting to the furnace required a half-mile hike, since this gravel road was “closed for your safety” by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. My 335i has traversed much worse roads, I must say!

At the bottom of the hill, I found the furnace at the confluence of Roaring Run and Cub Run. It narrowly avoided destruction by Union cavalry in 1862 and continued in operation throughout the war. Interestingly, ironmaster Noah Foltz (1815-1900) was “a secret Union sympathizer, [who] helped Federal soldiers escape from Page County, across the Massanutten Mountain to Fort Valley. After he mistakenly helped Confederates disguised as Union soldiers ‘escape,’ however, Foltz was arrested but was soon released on bond [and required] to continue work at the furnace.” (Fultz photo and quoted text courtesy of Cenantua’s Blog.)

Local legend adds an intriguing twist on this story. I had read that, as punishment for his Union sympathies, Confederate soldiers had forced Noah Fultz to hold his hand on a hot iron beam. Naturally I had to see if I could find any sign of a handprint at the furnace. Climbing up dirt banks, crawling through falIen trees and underbrush, I dutifully inspected every iron beam in each of the four furnace openings without finding a thing. They were all smooth and flat. I decided to give it one more try—and promptly found a distinctive handprint on the main beam of the front opening!

It was the right size and shape. But I wondered whether a handprint would leave a raised area of iron, rather than a depression. I’ll leave it to you all to decide.

Fort Philip Long

At long last, I finally turned north and began driving in the direction of home. With plenty more to see, naturally. This photo of the South Fork Shenandoah on the first day of winter appears to show ice and snow in the waters—but I’m afraid it was actually detergent foam.

Near the little crossroads town of Alma, VA, this old sedan has been “rusting in peace” for quite some time. Anybody care to try identifying its year, make, and model? Other than its hood and taillights, it’s largely complete and would make a great restoration project (for anyone not in their right mind!) I suppose the interior could use some minor refurbishment as well.

I now found myself, finally, approaching my most anticipated destination of the entire trip: Fort Philip Long. As a 1760 fort, it sounded fascinating; however, my advance reading had left me confused as to whether there was a separate, underground fort or a fortified basement to a stone house. I knew that the place was far off of the nearest public road, but I was determined to drive up to the front door, ring the bell, and ask permission to get a few exterior photos.

Proceeding along the very long and narrow driveway, I happened to encounter Adam Price, nephew of the property owner, driving the opposite way. I tried to look respectable (no easy feat), briefly explained my “historical tourist” mission, and asked Adam if it might be all right to get a couple of quick photos. He responded with a friendly “Sure!” and turned his truck around to lead me right onto the farm. There, he proceeded to give me the grand tour for the next 1½ hours! It was good fortune of the most extraordinary kind, and I am permanently indebted.

We started off with an exterior look at his uncle’s house, which was built in 1856 by Isaac Long. Adam told me that a nearly identical house was built across the valley by another descendant of Philip Long.

The farm’s old slave quarters sat a short way behind the brick mansion. It’s divided into two rooms, upstairs and down, by a huge fireplace and chimney with a later Federal Stove conversion. Following traditional German practice, a brick bake oven sat outdoors.

Philip Long was born in Alsace, Germany in 1678, came to America in about 1700 and settled in Pennsylvania before migrating to help start the Massanutten settlement in 1731. Here, he built a log cabin and started a farm. Remarkably, the property has remained a working farm ever since. In the background of this photo is the fortified stone house that I was hoping to see.

The limestone house sits high on a bank overlooking a small pond near the South Fork Shenandoah. The huge stone fireplace and chimney almost dwarf the house. The main living area consisted of just two rooms, including the küche (kitchen), with an upstairs attic loft. The date of the house is not known precisely; it is believed to have been built by Philip’s son Paul in about 1760, replacing the original log home. Most unusually, this house has two cellars, one underneath the other.

Adam Price is a tall former Marine and a full-time farmer. He rents the farmland from his uncle and raises beef cattle. This Sunday morning, he had arrived to feed the livestock and discovered that they had gotten loose and were contentedly wandering all over the place. After a considerable amount of effort, he had them corralled where they belonged, fed, and otherwise tended to. In fact, he was on his way back to his own home and family when I arrived.

Fortunately for historical tourists such as myself, Adam grew up running around this farm, and he loves the place. Without hesitation, he grabbed his keys and led me right into the old fortified stone house. There were a lot of interesting objects lying about, but these old drawings immediately captured my attention. Neither Adam nor his uncle knows who the subjects were, but—I swear!—their expressions seemed to almost beg us to remember them.

I had never seen an unabridged Webster’s dictionary before, let alone one from 1890. Noah Webster (1758-1843) published his first dictionary in 1806; his son-in-law, Chauncey A. Goodrich, edited this “revised and expanded” version.

After a look at the attic loft, we went back outside and around to the entrance to the first of the two basements. Like the other rooms, this one had an eclectic assortment of old and new farm equipment, older items (such as 1960s magazines), and the occasional, much-older artifact—including this elaborate Home Comfort wood stove from about 1915. It was built by the Wrought Iron Range Company of St. Louis, Missouri, which in turn was started by brothers Henry, William, and Lucius Culver. The brothers had been cast iron stove salesmen. After observing how easily their cast iron wares would break, they developed a wrought-iron version that was substantially stronger and began production. St. Louis, incidentally, is about 130 miles from Jefferson City, MO. We’ll return to this issue in due course…

Continuing the tour, things got even more interesting when we went into the lower of the two basements where, in the event of an Indian raid, the Long family could retreat. The cellar itself was relatively small and not especially distinctive—with the exception of this small doorway in the far wall. It’s only about 3 feet high, but behind it lies a tunnel running approximately 45 feet, intersecting the farm’s vertical well shaft! In other words, if the Longs had to take cover in the lower cellar, they still had a protected source of water. (Drawing courtesy of Acculturation in the Shenandoah Valley by Edward A. Chappell.)

As we left the lower cellar, I marveled at the Longs’ engineering talent that enabled them to dig through dirt and solid limestone to reach the well. Adam told me that the well is still full, with the water level about 2 to 3 feet below the tunnel surface. He also invited me to crawl in to check it out, but unfortunately I’m getting rather old for that sort of thing. I could see the opening in the distance. The height of the tunnel varies from about 3½ to 5 feet.

As we were exiting the cellar, and just when I thought I was “marveled out” over this place, Adam asked if I’d now like to see the fort. And here I thought I just had! I’ll admit to having been a little confused, since the available descriptions of Fort Philip Long had referred to a vaulted stone ceiling, whereas the lower cellar’s ceiling was made of wood. Adam quickly solved my mystery when he led me to the other fort, which had lain hidden beneath the ground for most of its 254 years. There it was, vaulted ceiling and all, and strong as ever. This photo was taken from the “modern,” ground-level entrance.

Here is my generous guide Adam in the underground fort. I didn’t think to ask him whether the old wooden barrels in the background held a supply of 1760s gunpowder…

If you look carefully, you’ll see two small wooden doors in the back wall, on the left and right, much like the one in the lower cellar of the fortified house. That’s right: more tunnels. Both of these tunnels have collapsed over the years. One led to a secret outside entrance, which could be covered by a boulder. The other tunnel ran to the well, providing not just water but access to and from the lower cellar of the fortified house. Remarkable!

In the earlier photo of Adam, did you notice the openings about two-thirds of the way up the right-hand wall? These are large enough for a man to climb into, but they taper to narrow openings at ground level—perfect for observing what’s happening outside and for aiming a rifle at it as necessary.

A small portion of the underground fort is now visible from above as a result of long-term soil erosion. A modern farm outbuilding has been built overtop of the site, in part for utility but also to help protect the historic site. Considering its underground position, thick stone construction, secret entrances and tunnels, rifle ports, and nearby water supply, Fort Philip Long must certainly have represented the state of the art in home defense. Whether it was ever attacked has been lost to history. The Long family almost certainly had occasion to take refuge here, however; other nearby homes were burned, and as many as 50 settlers in this area were killed in attacks during 1757-1764. This account by Jean Stephenson from the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club describes two of these occurrences:

  • The [Massanutten] settlers lived at peace with the Indians until 1754, but from that time until 1765 Indian incursions and raids were frequent. … 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 [reputed to be the infamous Simon Girty. 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 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.

For most of the settlers, then, it became a question of retreating east or staying and building stronger defenses. The underground Fort Philip Long reminded me of the “bomb shelters” I’d seen as a kid in the early 1960s, during the height of the Cold War. The desire for security never changes.

Returning above ground, I admired the farm’s “old and older” gas pumps.

Adam next led me into the barn, which dates from about 1830 and uses some of the timbers from Philip Long’s original 1731 log home. This beam, for example, shows notches from prior use—not to mention an interesting helmet-shaped crest and the initials of several Long family members.

The barn was a wonderful old place, and Adam pointed out its various parts and their uses such as the hayrick, which was used for hay storage and cattle feeding prior to the advent of hay baling. Before I knew it, we were up on the roof of the barn and walking across the slanting, standing-seem metal surface in search of further photographic vantage points. My feet were no longer touching ground, in more ways than one!

Our final stop was the Long family cemetery. Getting there involved a cross-country jaunt in Adam’s farm pickup, a couple of fence gates, and the occasional stretch of mud. The otherwise-reliable 335i would still be stuck out there if we had tried to take it. The oldest headstone that I saw was that of Philip Long (1742-1826), whose grandfather Philip was the original settler. He served with the Virginia militia during the American Revolution ande probably helped his father, Paul Long, build the stone house and underground fort.

Here, Adam contemplates his farming predecessors—who may also be his direct ancestors. Adam’s great-great-great-grandfather (give or take), C.D. Price, Sr., purchased the farm from the Longs in 1879. The tall monument was erected on July 4, 1891 in honor of patriarch Philip Long by his great-great-granddaughter, Caroline V. Long. She grew up here and recalled her “happy girl-hood days passed in the old home stead.” Somewhere along the way, she met and married General Thomas Lawson Price of Jefferson City, MO. After his death, she married his cousin, Colonel James B. Price. Although I spent a captivating 3 hours trying to connect Caroline’s descendants to Adam’s ancestors, I was not able to do so conclusively. It is not unreasonable to think that C.D. Price Sr. was related in some way to Caroline V. Long Price, in which case the farm has been owned and operated continuously within the same family for over 250 years.

As one last genealogical clue, remember the Home Comfort stove in the first-level cellar? They were very popular in Missouri and the MidWest, although few seem to have come as far east as Virginia. It wouldn’t surprise me if this one was ordered from St. Louis by a member of the Jefferson City Price family, into which Caroline married.

Historical footnote: Adam told me that C.D. Price, Sr. was a 17-year-old when Union General Philip Sheridan’s troops arrived at his family’s farm during the infamous Burning Campaign in the Shenandoah Valley. The soldiers burned the family’s barn and shot young C.D.’s dog. He was so incensed that he rode off and immediately joined Mosby’s Rangers, harassing the Union forces in Virginia for the remainder of the Civil War.

I left Fort Philip Long with great appreciation for its history and originality, and equally great appreciation for Adam Price and his ancestors. Thank you again, Adam, and long may the fort stand!

The Zirkles of Forestville

Returning to Highway 211, I had the pleasure of crossing the Massanutten on this twisty road, first climbing and then diving down the other side. It’s not a long drive to New Market, but it’s a great one. And even while urging the trusty 335i through the hairpins, I couldn’t help reflecting on how many people had traveled through New Market Gap before me—in cars, wagons, on horseback, or on foot (in the case of Stonewall Jackson’s army, the Indian raiders in the mid-1700s, and other Native Americans dating back thousands of years.

I didn’t have time to stop in New Market to view the Civil War battlefield or get any of the Southern Kitchen’s famous peanut soup. I’d done those things back in 2008 (see Stonewall’s Valley and, besides, I was on Yet Another Historical Mission. I did stop briefly, however, to admire this hilltop building. I later learned that it had been the 1918 “Craftsman style” Forestville School. It now serves as the town’s community center.

I was looking for Zirkle’s Mill in Forestville, but I wasn’t sure where it was. I thought I had identified it before the trip, using Google Maps’ satellite view, but that building turned out to be an old-but-not-very-interesting shed, for crying out loud. Where could it be? I drove around some more and pulled off the side of Quicksburg Road to consult the iPhone. As it turned out, the mill was right across the street from where I’d parked!

In 1755, Andrew Zirkle came to Virginia from Pennsylvania, along with his four brothers, two sisters, and their mother. The brothers built a gristmill on Holman’s Creek in the early 1760s, and the town of Forestville soon grew up around the mill. The mill continued in operation until the mid-1950s, and it remains in exceptionally original condition, complete with its water plume and almost all of its machinery. In 2006, descendants of Andrew Zirkle saved the mill from being dismantled and shipped elsewhere in Virginia. The structure is in excellent shape, and efforts are underway to restore the old mill to working condition. (If anyone would like to contribute to this noble cause, see the Zirkle Mill Foundation website.)

There were six other gristmills along Holman’s Creek in addition to Zirkle’s Mill. These six were destroyed in 1864 when the Union cavalry came through as part of the Burning Campaign. At that time, Zirkle Mill was owned by Peter Myers and operated by Samuel Hockman. From the hilltop where the old Forestville School / Community Center stands, Hockman could see his neighbors’ mills burning. He quickly found a Union flag, hung it from the Zirkle Mill, and then pleaded with the Union forces to spare the mill of a devoted Unionist. The commanding officer—one George Armstrong Custer—was apparently convinced, and Zirkle Mill survived.

St. Mark’s Lutheran Evangelical Church has dominated the center of Forestville since 1874. At the time of my visit, the sun was directly behind the church—the bane of photographers everywhere—but at least it produced this somewhat “glowing” appearance.

A useful rule of photography is, “If the sun’s in the wrong position for the photo you want, turn around and see what’s behind you.” In this case, the church cast an interesting shadow across the front of an 1840s log home. The temperature had warmed up to the low 40s, incidentally, making top-down driving “comfortable enough.”

Remember Peter Myers, the owner of the Zirkle Mill when the Union cavalry came through? Well, this was his house, built sometime between 1850 and 1860 in the Greek Revival style. Much like the 1856 brick house at Fort Philip Long, I might add. Here I had the great good fortune of meeting Mrs. Maxine Zirkle (and two very capable watchdogs). Maxine’s late husband, Blair Zirkle, and their daughter Lisa Zirkle, are direct descendants of Johan Ludwig Zirkle (father of Andrew Zirkle), as are their many other relatives in this area. Blair once quipped, “There’s a saying around here: ‘If you’re not a Zirkle, you’re probably sleeping with one!’”

The earliest known settler on this land was Peter Gartner, who built a small log cabin by Holman’s Creek sometime before 1750. No, George Washington never slept here (as far as anyone knows), nor did Thomas Jefferson. But Jefferson’s father, Peter Jefferson, camped here while surveying the Fairfax Line in 1746. The Fairfax Line runs between the headwaters of the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers and established the westernmost boundary of the 1649 land grant from King Charles II to several of his loyal friends in Virginia. The land grant eventually passed on to Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron. (For extra credit, check out the Fairfax Stone in Ghost Towns of the Upper Potomac.) Today, all that remains of Peter Gartner’s cabin are the chimney and foundation.

Lisa Zirkle now owns and operates the Shenandoah Valley Simmentals farm, specializing in Simmental dairy cattle and heirloom vegetables, fruit, and flowers of the type that were grown here starting with the earliest settlers. Her great-grandfather, John Willie Zirkle bought the farm in 1902. Running a small farm is not the easiest way to make a living in the 21st century—by a long shot—but it’s a labor of love for Lisa, who wanted to be a farmer even when she was a little girl. Moreover, preserving the site of her family’s long history in this area is of paramount importance to Lisa.

Peter Myers’ grandfather, Christian Myers, probably built the original, left-hand side of this log house in about 1760, with the other half added in 1803 by Peter’s uncle Samuel. It is undergoing restoration, as time and money permit; the scaffolding on the roof is for repairs to the original, center chimney. Brethren (Dunker) church services were held in this house from the late 1700s to 1841. Lisa Zirkle relates several fascinating stories related to the house in the history section of her website, including the destruction of the Myers’ barn during the Burning Campaign; why there is a round corner in the cellar; the continuing presence of the ghost of Minnie Weatherholtz; and why farmhand Elmer Weatherholtz “was acquitted of killing his wife but was jailed for not killing his mother-in-law.” It’s a great read! (The historical photos of the Gartner cabin and Samuel Myers house are courtesy of this website.)

As I was taking advantage of Maxine Zirkle’s kind invitation to photograph the historic farm, I couldn’t help noticing occasional loud splashing and honking noises coming from behind some trees. At first I thought it must be a Dunker baptism in progress (sorry, couldn’t resist!), but investigating further I discovered a large flock of geese cavorting in Holman’s Creek.

Once they caught sight of me, they promptly left the creek and began marching in my direction. Were they expecting me to feed them?? They didn’t look at all hostile—but then, it’s kind of hard to tell with geese.

When the geese came within 2 or 3 feet of me, they veered to their right, walked up the steep incline behind me, and immediately checked out my 335i. Smart birds!

With a last look at Lisa’s Fall vegetable montage—how does she find the time?—I drove back down the dirt lane and continued on my tour. Thank you, Maxine and Lisa, for sharing your wonderfully historic farm with me and for keeping that history alive.

Victorian Secrets

With only about an hour of daylight left, I still had several more sites to find, so time was of the essence. I found the massive old Edinburg Mill on the first try—well, it was kind of hard to miss—and stopped for a quick photo. The gristmill was built in 1848 by Major George Grandstaff, who was no doubt related to the George Grandstaff who was abducted by Indians in 1758 during the attack on the Stone family farm near Fort Philip Long. Remarkably, the mill continued in operation until 1978.

I had skipped lunch, having been too absorbed in my touring, and by now I was really hungry. I decided to pop into the mill shop to find something to eat. Along with preserves, applesauce, and pie fillings, I found a terrific museum, and naturally I had to take a look. This painting was donated to the museum by artist John Paul Strain, and it depicts how Major Grandstaff’s granddaughters Melvina and her friend Nellie Koontz begged Gen. Philip Sheridan to spare the mill during the Burning Campaign. Although the mill had already been set ablaze, the young women were successful, and a combination of Union soldiers and townspeople quickly put out the fire. As the story goes, Gen. Sheridan asked Nellie for a reward for sparing the mill, namely that she name her little dog for him. Nellie pointedly refused!

Other noteworthy items in the museum included this Studebaker farm wagon. I knew all about Studebaker cars, but I hadn’t known that the South Bend, Indiana company got its start in 1850 manufacturing high-quality wagons, with wooden hubs that were advertised to “last till doomsday”! They began transitioning to cars in the late 1800s, with first production in 1904.

The museum has a particularly impressive collection of Red Cross posters, with this one being my favorite:

In fact, the Edinburg Mill museum has a little bit of everything, with almost all of it drawn from local families. Here is a self-portrait of your happy (if hungry) rambling photographer.

They even had a scandalous collection of “Victorian Secrets.”

I left the museum even hungrier than when I’d entered and went in search of what might remain of the Lantz Mill from the early 1800s. Photos from 2006 suggested that it was on the verge of collapse, but I was pleasantly surprised to find it doing quite well following extensive stabilization and rebuilding efforts. During the Burning Campaign, Union troops burned the mill along with owner Jacob Lantz’ house, possessions, shops, and storehouses. (At least they didn’t shoot his dog…) The mill was rebuilt in 1867 and continued in operation as a flour mill until 1959 and as a feed mill for livestock until 1980. (Views of mill wheel and the village of Lantz Mill courtesy of the Lantz Mill website; 2006 deteriorated mill photos courtesy of

With the sun rapidly setting, I had just enough time to get a photo of the Wilkins Farm. Augustine Cofman obtained this property in 1775 from Lord Fairfax and sold it to his son, Adolph for £50 a few years later, along with a small log cabin that he’d built in the meantime. By 1789, George and Mary Ann Moyer owned the place and added the two-story house (shown in the background of this photo) onto the log cabin. (With 5 sons and 2 daughters to house, the 15-by16-foot cabin by itself might have been a bit small for the family.) The summer kitchen and well house in the foreground were also built at about the same time as the main house. Blacksmith Jacob Wilkins bought the farm in 1824, and he and his descendants continued to live there for the next 179 years. His son, Emanuel Wilkins, became a noted “fraktur” artist, specializing in elaborate birth, baptismal, marriage, and death certificates. Although I couldn’t find a photo of any of his works, this 1794 example by Jacob Strickler is typical of the fraktur style popular among Virginia’s German immigrants. (Fraktur photo courtesy of the Winterthur Museum.)

With my light gone and a good 130 miles to go before reaching home, I asked my 335i’s navigation system to take me home. In only a mile, it helpfully directed me onto a dirt road that abruptly dead-ended into the side of a hill… At least I got a final photo, of this small log cabin with a very large stone chimney.

My tour of various forts (both natural and manmade), mountains and valleys, Civil War sites, farms, churches, mills, and other scenic and historical sites in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia could not have been better. Nor could my means of conveyance: the mighty 335i swept around corners on rails and ate up the straight sections of road without breaking a sweat. Even with the top down in 30-degree weather, the blast from the heater and the heated seat kept me perfectly comfortable. I think I’m getting spoiled! And as for the navigation system, next time I’ll just remember Elder Yoda’s guidance: “Use the force, you must!”

Rick F.


Written by Rick

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