Part of the charm of living in Virginia is the rich history that surrounds us. The founding fathers and many of the first colonists who helped build the foundation of our nation lived in the very same cities and towns that we now occupy. If you are looking for a day trip or an interesting afternoon activity, start by exploring the history right next door!
In Harrisonburg, there are historic landmarks, sites, and homes all around us! Historic Downtown Harrisonburg is packed with notable places that date from 1779 to the present. A handful of the antebellum houses of the time remain and have been “revitalized” in recent years to become the vibrant downtown that we know today.
Among these original buildings is the Hardesty-Higgins House. Harrisonburg’s first mayor, Isaac Hardesty, was built by the physician Henry Higgins. Construction on the house began in 1848 and was completed by 1853. Isaac Hardesty was responsible for incorporating the town of Harrisonburg and lived in the house with his wife and two children. He left the house to support the Union at the beginning of the Civil War.
After Hardesty left, the Strayer sisters occupied the house and hosted Union General Nathaniel Banks. Once the war was over, the house was used as an inn and the home of Virginia Craftsman handcrafted furniture from the 1920s–80s. In recent years, the house has been fully renovated and serves as the Visitor’s Center and museum.
The Joshua Wilton House was completed after the war in 1888, built by its namesake who was also one of the most influential members of Harrisonburg’s past. Wilton established the Harrisonburg Foundry, served as the President of the First National Bank and a member of the City Council, and was on the board of trustees for the Rockingham Hospital, just a few of his many accomplishments.
The house took 8 years to build, and Wilton worked with craftsmen from all over the country to complete the beautiful home. His family occupied the home for over 40 years when it was sold to the Shank family, who resided there for another 40 years. In the 1970s, the house was home to the TKE fraternity house until it was purchased by the Macher family who converted it into an apartment building. In 1986, it was lovingly restored to Wilton’s original vision of grandeur by the Moore family and turned the home into a fine dining restaurant and bed and breakfast. Joshua Wilton house now offers pristine inn rooms and a restaurant featuring an extensive wine list, classically French-trained chefs, and farm-to-table ingredients.
Some of the historic homes in our area have very interesting stories. The Stonewall Jackson Inn is a unique mansion in the style of a traditional New England cottage that is unlike any other historic home in the area. The gorgeous estate includes 2 acres of meticulously landscaped gardens and flowerbeds. It is widely believed that the home was built by a sea captain for the young debutante from the valley whom he married. The entryways and stairwells were certainly built to be wide enough for a lady in hoop skirts to pass easily, and the nautical touches and speaking tubes in the house further justify the origins of this belief.
Other houses are notable due to their beauty and architecture. The Anthony Hockman House was built by its namesake, one of Harrisonburg’s local builders, in 1871. The elaborately ornamented Italianate residence is an excellent example of the period, displaying the enthusiasm for architecture in small towns during the late 19th century. While the frame exhibits the traditional symmetry of early country and townhouses, it also incorporates fancy ornamentation both inside and out. The house stands out due to the multi-windowed cupola and concave curved pyramidal roof that makes it an easily recognizable landmark. Inside are elaborately stenciled decorations on the dining room ceiling.
These are just a few of the many historic homes you can find in and near Harrisonburg – you can step right outside your front door into history.