Original Name: Rocktown
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CrossRoads: Valley Brethren-Mennonite Heritage Center
In 1737, Thomas Harrison, the son of English immigrants, settled on the land around several natural springs to make his home. The town of Harrisonburg grew up around those springs. His brothers chose to settle in other nearby locations in what would become Rockingham County. Still standing today, Harrison's house is just a stone's throw from historic Route 11 and Virginia's Heritage Migration Route.
The same independent and revolutionary spirit that drove America to freedom and fueled Virginia's Heritage Migration Route created opportunity. In the midst of the Revolutionary War, 1778, the Commonwealth of Virginia established Rockingham County. A year later, Thomas Harrison deeded two and one half acres to the public good. The town fathers used the land to build the first courthouse on what is today, Court Square. Known as Rocktown, the town continued to grow as travelers-from Iroquois to Cherokee, Scots-Irish to German, Brethren and Mennonite-stopped for the natural springs; a welcomed respite from their travels.
In 1780, Harrisonburg officially became a town. Today, Main Street runs right through the historic downtown district, included in the State and National Registers of Historic Places. In 2001, downtown Harrisonburg became one of the state's first Cultural Arts districts, and a Virginia Mainstreet Community.
Part of the city's unique history can be viewed through the work of quilting artisans. The Virginia Quilt Museum made its home here, and serves as a resource center for the study of the role of quilts and quilting in the cultural life of society. The museum's permanent collection features over 150 quilts dating from 1810 to the present.
As a central location on a major thoroughfare of the Great Valley Road, Harrisonburg and Rockingham County became home to a large number of Brethren and Mennonites, Christian Anabaptist denominations that are committed to non-violence and pacifism. In the summer of 2006, CrossRoads: Valley Brethren-Mennonite Heritage Center opened its doors. CrossRoads is an interpretive center which brings to life the history of the Brethren and Mennonites. Experience their simple way of living; touch artifacts from earlier days; visit a farmstead, and attend events celebrating their heritage.
The scenic mountains certainly played a large part in why many chose the area for settlement and the Valley Turnpike became a major thoroughfare through the great Valley of Virginia. Known by many names, the natural buffalo path and game route used by Native American Indians became the road to western expansion and the wilderness attracting thousands of early pioneers.
Harrisonburg, with its wealth of natural springs and genuine hospitality, was a popular stopping point on the Wilderness Road. Many travelers along Virginia's Heritage Migration Route became permanent residents of our area, and that heritage is evident when you experience Harrisonburg!