Saturday, January 26, 2008

What's the Harrisonburg/Rocktown Connection?

There's not much on the web about the origin of the name, but prior to the founding of Harrisonburg, the area was known as "Rocktown," by the settlers passing through along the Wilderness Road, a migration route originally called the "Great Warrior Path" by the Native Americans who traveled it. It seems that the name was in use throughout the 1700's and up until at least 1818, and then it seems to have been lost for a while. There's been a fairly recent resurgence of the use of "Rocktown" in Harrisonburg; while I don't recall ever hearing the name before I left in 1994, it's now the name of a weekly paper in the city, a music venue, a yard shop, a gift shop, a radical info shop, etc.

According to a Mobile Gas Travel website, the area was called Rocktown because of the massive amounts of limestone that forms the basis of much of the city and surrounding area. I haven't been able to find any other document that confirms this, but it seems obvious enough and was my first guess. The county around the independent city of Harrisonburg is Rockingham County, which was named after the Marquis de Rockingham, an English statesman friendly to the area. But the founding of Rockingham Co. occurred long after people started calling Harrisonburg "Rocktown."

I've used Rocktown in the working title of this documentary because I wanted to call up the spirit of the place and it's origins, as a tiny settlement arranged around some natural springs, when things were simpler and there wasn't a Wal*Mart Superstore in every direction (there are two within the city and eight within a 45 mile radius).

1 comment:

finnegan said...

"I don't recall ever hearing the name before I left in 1994."

Interesting observation. I think you're right. I don't remember hearing it before then, either. It's become the trendy other name.

Just one small, nitpicky correction: Rocktown Weekly is indeed a weekly, but it's not alternative. "Supplemental weekly" would be more accurate, as it is essentially a supplement to the DNR.