Virginia Mennonite Conference Archives shelves, Harrisonburg, Virginia

A hundred and seventy-five years worth of materials are stored in these archives. Like a detective, the historian searches through these boxes for the stuff of history: letters, journals, diaries, receipts, advertisements, photos, and scrapbooks.

Agricultural Heritage

Cloverhill going north looking west

Mennonites migrated into the Shenandoah Valley as early as the 1730s, though not until after the Revolutionary War did the trickle turn into a steady migration from points north.  Most 18th century Mennonites farmed, whereas in the twentieth century many diversified their economic pursuits into other areas of work.  The farming heritage in the western part of Rockingham County near Clover Hill, Virginia, with the Allegheny Mountains as a backdrop, is still strong and deep.

Red Wing Roots


Trent Wagler explained that Red Wing is an old traditional mountain tune, which the Steel Wheels band has updated and added new lyrics to for their shows today.  Wagler learned the song from his grandfather over thirty years ago.  A nice tribute to the past with an eye towards making meaning out of the present. Congrats to the Steel Wheels who are making great music!

Massanutten Mountain 2013


Mennonite Bishop Lewis J. Heatwole wrote an article for the Daily News Record, Harrisonburg, Virginia, in 1921, in which he explained the meaning of the word Massanutten.  From his research he concluded that Massanutten is from two Indian words for “ground” and “potato,” which when put together mean “Potato Ground.”  Today the old peak still towers over the valley, easily seen from a jumbo jet descending on a Washington, D.C. airport from the south, and visible from about any point in the Shenandoah Valley.  The encroachments of civilization have not dimmed the spectacle and grandeur of a mountain that has provided a visual feast for ancient Indians and modern travelers.

Jacob Geil, 1746-1794, born in Germany, died in Broadway, Virginia, tombstone 1913, photo in 2013

Jacob Geil only lived in the Shenandoah Valley for 11 years, buying a farm in the Broadway area in 1783, just after the Revolutionary War ended. His descendants in the Valley, though, are numerous. The farm where he is buried is being developed with houses and local historians will need to figure out what to do with Geil’s tombstone.  When the Historian visited the site on June 18, 2013, the weeds were tall all around, rabbits scampered away, a groundhog stood to investigate about ten feet away, and the corn was four feet tall.  Clearly something needs to be done with this marker.  But what?