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Staunton (city), Virginia
Located in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley, historic Staunton, Virginia is one of the oldest communities in Virginia that is west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. In 1732, Scots-Irish settler John Lewis and his family became the first Europeans to settle in the area, and a Courthouse for Augusta County was built here in 1745. Augusta County at that time stretched westwards to the Mississippi River. The states of Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, most of West Virginia and a portion of western Pennsylvania (including what is now Pittsburgh) were carved out of Augusta County.
Lots and streets were laid out in 1747 for the town of Staunton (pronounced STAN-ton), named after Lady Rebecca Staunton, the wife of the popular Colonial Governor William Gooch (for whom Goochland County, Virginia is named). Before West Virginia split from Virginia to become independent, Staunton was geographically in the center of the state. Strategically located at the intersection of the Great Wagon Road (later known as the Valley Turnpike) and early roads to the west, Staunton developed as a major center for trade.
This railroad would later play a key role during the Civil War when the Shenandoah Valley served as the "Breadbasket of the Confederacy." During the war years, Valley-produced goods (primarily wheat) were transported via this railroad to General Robert E. Lee's forces in the eastern part of the state.
Staunton's early history reads like a catalog of small town America, from organizing its first volunteer fire department (with one female member) in 1790, to incorporating with a population of 800 in 1801, to the location of the Augusta Female Seminary, now Mary Baldwin College, in 1842. The arrival of the Virginia Central Railroad in 1854 made Staunton a transportation hub for all of western Virginia. Two years later, Woodrow Wilson arrived in Staunton, born to the local Presbyterian minister and his wife. Wilson s homecoming as president-elect in 1912 was the most elaborate celebration in Staunton s history.
Staunton's fine collection of historic preservation areas includes the Gospel Hill Historic District, so named in the late 1790s when religious meetings were held at its blacksmith shop. Its elegant homes include examples of Victorian, Greek Revival, and Federal styles. The Downtown Historic District is a compact 19th-century "Main Street," with buildings that date from Staunton's boom years between 1860 and 1920, and a fine concentrations of Victorian-era architecture. Its Wharf Historic District harks to the days when the railroad changed Staunton from a rural village to a center of commerce, with strong and sturdy warehouses. Since 1972 the Wharf Historic District has been on the National Register of Historic Places, and its depot and other preserved buildings house restaurants, antique shops and specialty boutiques.