Shenandoah Valley

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Shenandoah Valley
Shenandoah River, aerial.jpg
A view across the Shenandoah Valley
Floor elevation500–1,500 feet (150–460 m)
Long-axis directionNortheast to southwest
Location Virginia, Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia
Population centers Winchester
Martinsburg, West Virginia
Borders on Blue Ridge Mountains (east)
Ridge and Valley Appalachians (west)
Potomac River (north)
James River (south)
Traversed byUS 50.svgUS 33.svgUS 250.svgI-64.svgUS 11.svgI-81.svg US 50 / US 33 / US 250 / I-64 / US 11 / I-81
Map of the Shenandoah Valley Shenandoah watershed.png
Map of the Shenandoah Valley
The Shenandoah Valley in autumn ShenandoahValley Bear'sDen.jpg
The Shenandoah Valley in autumn
A poultry farm with the Blue Ridge Mountains in background HPIM1096.jpg
A poultry farm with the Blue Ridge Mountains in background
A farm in the fertile Shenandoah Valley Shenandoah valley farm 0163.jpg
A farm in the fertile Shenandoah Valley

The Shenandoah Valley /ˌʃɛnənˈdə/ is a geographic valley and cultural region of western Virginia and the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia in the United States. The valley is bounded to the east by the Blue Ridge Mountains, to the west by the eastern front of the Ridge-and-Valley Appalachians (excluding Massanutten Mountain), to the north by the Potomac River and to the south by the James River. The cultural region covers a larger area that includes all of the valley plus the Virginia highlands to the west, and the Roanoke Valley to the south. It is physiographically located within the Ridge and Valley province and is a portion of the Great Appalachian Valley.

Valley Low area between hills, often with a river running through it.

A valley is a low area between hills or mountains typically with a river running through it. In geology, a valley or dale is a depression that is longer than it is wide. The terms U-shaped and V-shaped are descriptive terms of geography to characterize the form of valleys. Most valleys belong to one of these two main types or a mixture of them, at least with respect to the cross section of the slopes or hillsides.

Virginia State of the United States of America

Virginia, officially the Commonwealth of Virginia, is a state in the Southeastern and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States located between the Atlantic Coast and the Appalachian Mountains. The geography and climate of the Commonwealth are shaped by the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Chesapeake Bay, which provide habitat for much of its flora and fauna. The capital of the Commonwealth is Richmond; Virginia Beach is the most populous city, and Fairfax County is the most populous political subdivision. The Commonwealth's estimated population as of 2018 is over 8.5 million.

Blue Ridge Mountains mountain range

The Blue Ridge Mountains are a physiographic province of the larger Appalachian Mountains range. The mountain range is located in the eastern United States, and extends 550 miles southwest from southern Pennsylvania through Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia. This province consists of northern and southern physiographic regions, which divide near the Roanoke River gap. To the west of the Blue Ridge, between it and the bulk of the Appalachians, lies the Great Appalachian Valley, bordered on the west by the Ridge and Valley province of the Appalachian range.



Named for the river that stretches much of its length, the Shenandoah Valley encompasses eight counties in Virginia and two counties in West Virginia.

Shenandoah River river in Virginia and West Virginia, United States

The Shenandoah River is a tributary of the Potomac River, 55.6 miles (89.5 km) long with two forks approximately 100 miles (160 km) long each, in the U.S. states of Virginia and West Virginia. The principal tributary of the Potomac, the river and its tributaries drain the central and lower Shenandoah Valley and the Page Valley in the Appalachians on the west side of the Blue Ridge Mountains, in northwestern Virginia and the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia.

Frederick County, Virginia County in the United States

Frederick County is located in the Commonwealth of Virginia. As of the 2010 census, the population was 78,305. Its county seat is Winchester. The county was formed in 1743 by the splitting of Orange County. It is Virginia's northernmost county.

Clarke County, Virginia County in the United States

Clarke County is a county in the Commonwealth of Virginia. As of the 2010 census, the population was 14,034. Its county seat is Berryville. Clarke County is included in the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV Metropolitan Statistical Area.

Warren County, Virginia County in the United States

Warren County is a U.S. county located in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The 2010 census places Warren County within the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV Metropolitan Statistical Area with a population of 37,575. The county seat is Front Royal.

The antebellum composition included four additional counties that are now in West Virginia. [1]

Morgan County, West Virginia County in the United States

Morgan County is a county located in the U.S. state of West Virginia. As of the 2010 census, the population was 17,541. Its county seat is Berkeley Springs. The county was formed in 1820 from parts of Hampshire and Berkeley Counties and named in honor of General Daniel Morgan, prominent soldier of the American Revolutionary War.

Hampshire County, West Virginia County in the United States

Hampshire County is a county in the U.S. state of West Virginia. As of the 2010 census, the population was 23,964. Its county seat is Romney, West Virginia's oldest town (1762). The county was created by the Virginia General Assembly in 1754, from parts of Frederick and Augusta Counties (Virginia) and is the state's oldest county. The county lies in both West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle and Potomac Highlands regions.

Hardy County, West Virginia County in the United States

Hardy County is a county in the U.S. state of West Virginia. As of the 2010 census, the population was 14,025. Its county seat is Moorefield. The county was created from Hampshire County in 1786 and named for Samuel Hardy, a distinguished Virginian.

The cultural region includes five more counties in Virginia:[ citation needed ]

Between the Roanoke Valley in the south and Harpers Ferry in the north, where the Shenandoah River joins the Potomac, the Valley cultural region contains 10 independent cities:

The central section of the Shenandoah Valley is split in half by the Massanutten Mountain range, with the smaller associated Page Valley lying to its east and the Fort Valley within the mountain range.

Notable caves

The Shenandoah Valley contains a number of geologically and historically significant limestone caves:


The word Shenandoah is of unknown Native American origin. It has been described as being derived from the Anglicization of Native American terms, resulting in words such as Gerando, Gerundo, Genantua, Shendo and Sherando. The meaning of these words is of some question. Schin-han-dowi, the "River Through the Spruces"; On-an-da-goa, the "River of High Mountains" or "Silver-Water"; and an Iroquois word for "Big Meadow", have all been proposed by Native American etymologists. The most popular, romanticized belief is that the name comes from a Native American expression for "Beautiful Daughter of the Stars". [2]

Another legend relates that the name is derived from the name of the Iroquoian chief Sherando (Sherando was also the name of his people), who fought against the Algonquian Chief Opechancanough , ruler of the Powhatan Confederacy (1618–1644). Opechancanough liked the interior country so much that he sent his son Sheewa-a-nee from the Tidewater with a large party to colonize the valley. Sheewa-a-nee drove Sherando back to his former territory near the Great Lakes. According to this account, descendants of Sheewanee's party became the Shawnee. According to tradition, another branch of Iroquoians, the Senedo, lived in present-day Shenandoah County. They were exterminated by "Southern Indians" (Catawba or Cherokee) before the arrival of white settlers. [3] [4]

Another story dates to the American Revolutionary War. Throughout the war, Chief Skenandoa of the Oneida, an Iroquois nation based in New York, persuaded many of the tribe to side with the colonials against the British. Four Iroquois nations became British allies, and caused many fatalities and damage in the frontier settlements west of Albany. Skenandoa led 250 warriors against the British and Iroquois allies. According to Oneida oral tradition, during the harsh winter of 1777–1778 at Valley Forge, where the colonials suffered, Chief Skenando provided aid to the soldiers. The Oneida delivered bushels of dry corn to the troops to help them survive. Polly Cooper, an Oneida woman, stayed some time with the troops to teach them how to cook the corn properly and care for the sick. General Washington gave her a shawl in thanks, which is displayed at Shako:wi, the museum of the Oneida Nation near Syracuse, New York. Many Oneida believe that after the war, George Washington named the Shenandoah River and valley after his ally. [5] [6]


Shenandoah Valley, oil on canvas, William Louis Sonntag, Sr., 1859-1860. Virginia Historical Society Shenandoah Valley William Louis Sonntag.jpeg
Shenandoah Valley, oil on canvas, William Louis Sonntag, Sr., 1859–1860. Virginia Historical Society

First European explorers

Despite the valley's potential for productive farmland, colonial settlement from the east was long delayed by the barrier of the Blue Ridge Mountains. These were crossed by explorers John Lederer at Manassas Gap in 1671, Batts and Fallam the same year, and Cadwallader Jones in 1682. The Swiss Franz Ludwig Michel and Christoph von Graffenried explored and mapped the Valley in 1706 and 1712, respectively. Von Graffenried reported that the Indians of Senantona (Shenandoah) had been alarmed by news of the recent Tuscarora War in North Carolina.

18th century

Governor Alexander Spotswood's legendary Knights of the Golden Horseshoe Expedition of 1716 crossed the Blue Ridge at Swift Run Gap and reached the river at Elkton, Virginia. Settlers did not immediately follow, but someone who heard the reports and later became the first permanent settler in the Valley was Adam Miller (Mueller), who in 1727 staked out claims on the south fork of the Shenandoah River, near the line that now divides Rockingham County from Page County. [7]

The Great Wagon Road (later called the Valley Pike or Valley Turnpike) began as the Great Warriors Trail or Indian Road, a Native road through common hunting grounds shared by several tribes settled around the periphery, which included Iroquoian, Siouan and Algonquian-language family tribes. Known native settlements within the Valley were few, but included the Shawnee occupying the region around Winchester, and Tuscarora around what is now Martinsburg, West Virginia. In the late 1720s and 1730s, Quakers and Mennonites began to move in from Pennsylvania. They were tolerated by the natives, while "Long Knives" (English settlers from coastal Virginia colony) were less welcomed. During these same decades, the valley route continued to be used by war parties of Seneca (Iroquois) and Lenape en route from New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey to attack the distant Catawba in the Carolinas, with whom they were at war. The Catawba in turn pursued the war parties northward, often overtaking them by the time they reached the Potomac. Several fierce battles were fought among the warring nations in the Valley region, as attested by the earliest European-American settlers. [8]

Later colonists called this route the Great Wagon Road; it became the major thoroughfare for immigrants' moving by wagons from Pennsylvania and northern Virginia into the backcountry of the South. The Valley Turnpike Company improved the road by paving it with macadam prior to the Civil War and set up toll gates to collect fees to pay for the improvements. After the advent of motor vehicles, the road was refined and paved appropriately for their use. In the 20th century, the road was acquired by the Commonwealth of Virginia, which incorporated it into the state highway system as U.S. Route 11. For much of its length, the newer Interstate 81, constructed in the 1960s, parallels the old Valley Pike.

Along with the first German settlers, known as "Shenandoah Deitsch", many Scotch-Irish immigrants came south in the 1730s from Pennsylvania into the valley, via the Potomac River. The Scotch-Irish comprised the largest group of non-English immigrants from the British Isles before the Revolutionary War, and most migrated into the backcountry of the South. [9] This was in contrast to the chiefly English immigrants who had settled the Virginia Tidewater and Carolina Piedmont regions.

Governor Spotswood had arranged the Treaty of Albany with the Iroquois (Six Nations) in 1721, whereby they had agreed not to come east of the Blue Ridge in their raiding parties on tribes farther to the South. In 1736, the Iroquois began to object, claiming that they still legally owned the land to the west of the Blue Ridge; this led to a skirmish with Valley settlers in 1743. The Iroquois were on the verge of declaring war on the Virginia Colony as a result, when Governor Gooch paid them the sum of 100 pounds sterling for any settled land in the Valley that was claimed by them. The following year at the Treaty of Lancaster, the Iroquois sold all their remaining claim to the Valley for 200 pounds in gold. [10]

The few Shawnees who still resided in the Valley abruptly headed westward in 1754, having been approached the year before by emissaries from their kindred beyond the Alleghenies. [11]

19th century

The Shenandoah Valley was known as the breadbasket of the Confederacy during the Civil War and was seen as a backdoor for Confederate raids on Maryland, Washington, and Pennsylvania. Because of its strategic importance it was the scene of three major campaigns. The first was the Valley Campaign of 1862, in which Confederate General Stonewall Jackson defended the valley against three numerically superior Union armies. The final two were the Valley Campaigns of 1864. First, in the summer of 1864, Confederate General Jubal Early cleared the valley of its Union occupiers and then proceeded to raid Maryland, Pennsylvania, and D.C. Then during the autumn, Union General Philip Sheridan was sent to drive Early from the valley and once-and-for-all destroy its use to the Confederates by putting it to the torch using scorched-earth tactics. The valley, especially in the lower northern section, was also the scene of bitter partisan fighting as the region's inhabitants were deeply divided over loyalties, and Confederate partisan John Mosby and his Rangers frequently operated in the area.

20th century

In the late 20th century, the valley's vineyards began to reach maturity. They constituted the new industry of the Shenandoah Valley American Viticultural Area.

21st century

In 2018, a series of strikes and protests were held in Dayton's Cargill plant. [12] [13]


Transportation in the Shenandoah Valley consists mainly of road and rail and contains several metropolitan area transit authorities. The main north-south road transportation is Interstate 81, which parallels the old Valley Turnpike (U.S. Route 11) and the ancient Great Path of the Native Americans through its course in the valley. In the lower (northern) valley, on the eastern side, U.S. Route 340 also runs north-south, starting from Waynesboro in the south, running through the Page Valley to Front Royal, and on to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, where it exits the valley into Maryland. Major east-west roads cross the valley as well, providing access to the Piedmont and the Allegheny Mountains. Starting from the north, these routes include U.S. Route 50, U.S. Route 522, Interstate 66, U.S. Route 33, U.S. Route 250, Interstate 64, and U.S. Route 60.

CSX Transportation operates several rail lines through the valley, including the old Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, the old Manassas Gap Railroad and the old Virginia Central Railroad. There are also more modern lines that run the length of the valley parallel to the Valley Pike and U.S. 340. The rail lines are primarily used for freight transportation, though Maryland Area Rail Commuter (MARC) trains utilize the old B&O line from stations in Martinsburg, Duffields, and Harper's Ferry to Washington Union Station and vice versa.

Several localities in the valley operate public transportation systems, including Front Royal Area Transit (FRAT), which provides weekday transit for the town of Front Royal; Page County Transit, providing weekday transit for the town of Luray and weekday service between Luray and Front Royal; and Winchester Transit, which provides weekday transit for the city of Winchester. In addition, Shenandoah Valley Commuter Bus Service offers weekday commuter bus service from the northern Shenandoah Valley, including Shenandoah County and Warren County, to Northern Virginia (Arlington County and Fairfax County) and Washington. Origination points in Shenandoah County include Woodstock. Origination points in Warren County include Front Royal and Linden.

The Shenandoah Valley serves as the setting for the 1965 film Shenandoah and its 1974 musical adaptation. Both stories follow the Anderson family during the Civil War. An associated song by James Stewart entitled, "The Legend of Shenandoah" was a very minor hit in 1965, reaching #133 on the Billboard Bubbling Under the Hot 100 chart. One of the most famous cultural references to the area does not mention the valley itself — West Virginia's state song, "Take Me Home, Country Roads" by John Denver, simply contains the words "Shenandoah River" in the first verse.

It is also featured in the fifth season of The 100 .

See also

Related Research Articles

Winchester, Virginia Independent city in Virginia, United States

Winchester is an independent city located in the northern portion of the Commonwealth of Virginia in the United States. As of the 2010 census, the population was 26,203. As of 2015, its population is an estimated 27,284. It is the county seat of Frederick County, although the two are separate jurisdictions. The Bureau of Economic Analysis combines the city of Winchester with surrounding Frederick County for statistical purposes.

Rockingham County, Virginia County in the United States

Rockingham County is a county located in the U.S. state of Virginia. As of the 2010 census, the population was 76,314. Its county seat is the independent city of Harrisonburg.

Luray, Virginia Town in Virginia, United States

Luray is a town in and the county seat of Page County, Virginia, United States, in the Shenandoah Valley in the northern part of the commonwealth. The population was 4,895 at the 2010 census.

Great Appalachian Valley

The Great Valley, also called the Great Appalachian Valley or Great Valley Region, is one of the major landform features of eastern North America. It is a gigantic trough—a chain of valley lowlands—and the central feature of the Appalachian Mountain system. The trough stretches about 1,200 miles (1,900 km) from Quebec to Alabama and has been an important north-south route of travel since prehistoric times.

Allegheny Mountains mountain range

The Allegheny Mountain Range, informally the Alleghenies and also spelled Alleghany and Allegany, is part of the vast Appalachian Mountain Range of the Eastern United States and Canada and posed a significant barrier to land travel in less technologically advanced eras. The barrier range has a northeast–southwest orientation and runs for about 400 miles (640 km) from north-central Pennsylvania, through western Maryland and eastern West Virginia, to southwestern Virginia.

The Page Valley is a small valley geographically and culturally associated with the Shenandoah Valley. The valley is located between the Massanutten and Blue Ridge mountain ranges in western Virginia.

Valley Pike highway in Virginia

Valley Pike or Valley Turnpike is the traditional name given for the Indian trail and roadway which now approximates as U.S. Route 11 in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

Ashby Gap

Ashby Gap, more commonly known as Ashby's Gap is a wind gap in the Blue Ridge Mountains on the border of Clarke County, Loudoun County and Fauquier County in Virginia. The gap is traversed by U.S. Route 50. The Appalachian trail also passes across the gap.

Loudoun Valley valley

The Loudoun Valley is a small, but historically significant valley in the Blue Ridge Mountains located in Loudoun County in Northern Virginia in the United States.

Loudoun County in the Civil War —Loudoun County, Virginia, was destined to be an area of significant military activity during the American Civil War. Located on Virginia's northern frontier, the Potomac River, Loudoun County became a borderland after Virginia's secession from the Union in early 1861. Loudoun County's numerous Potomac bridges, ferries and fords made it an ideal location for the Union and Confederate armies to cross into and out of Virginia. Likewise, the county's several gaps in the Blue Ridge Mountains that connected the Piedmont to the Shenandoah Valley and Winchester were of considerable strategic importance. The opposing armies would traverse the county several times throughout the war leading to several small battles, most notably the Battle of Balls Bluff.

Great Indian Warpath

The Great Indian Warpath (GIW)—also known as the Great Indian War and Trading Path, or the Seneca Trail—was that part of the network of trails in eastern North America developed and used by Native Americans which ran through the Great Appalachian Valley. The system of footpaths extended from what is now upper New York to deep within Alabama. Various Indians traded and made war along the trails, including the Catawba, numerous Algonquian tribes, the Cherokee, and the Iroquois Confederacy. The British traders' name for the route was derived from combining its name among the northeastern Algonquian tribes, Mishimayagat or "Great Trail", with that of the Shawnee and Delaware, Athawominee or "Path where they go armed".

The Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike was built in the U.S. state of the Commonwealth of Virginia during the second quarter of the 19th century to provide a roadway from Staunton, Virginia and the upper Shenandoah Valley to the Ohio River at present-day Parkersburg, West Virginia. Engineered by Claudius Crozet through the mountainous terrain, it was a toll road partially funded by the Virginia Board of Public Works. Control of this road became crucial during the American Civil War.

The Valley Connector Regional Shuttle and Commuter Bus is a public transportation service provided by S & W Tours, LLC and Valley Connector, Inc. that provided weekday commuter bus service in the United States from northern Shenandoah Valley to Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. Commuter bus service was terminated on January 31, 2011. The termination happened due to declining passenger revenues.

Six Nations land cessions

The Six Nations land cessions were a series of land cessions by the Iroquois "Six Nations" and Delaware Indians in the late 17th and 18th centuries in which the Indians ceded nearly all of their vast conquered lands as well as ancestral land within and adjacent to the northern British colonies of North America. The land cessions covered most or all of the modern states of New York, Pennsylvania, western Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia, Kentucky, northeastern Ohio and extended marginally into northern Tennessee and North Carolina. The lands were bordered to the west by the Algonquin tribal lands of Ohio Country, Cherokee lands to the south, and Creek and other southeastern tribal lands to the southeast.

The Carolina Road or the "Old Carolina Road" are names for various sections of the Great Wagon Road and other routes in colonial America. "The 'Old Carolina Road', extending from Lancaster, Pennsylvania to the Yadkin Valley, was one of the most heavily traveled roads in eighteenth century America." Parts of the 180 mile long Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area scenic byway follows the Old Carolina Road through Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia.


  1. Sheehan-Dean, Aaron, Why Confederates Fought, Family and Nation in Civil War Virginia, Univ. of North Carolina Press, 2007, pg. 26
  2. Julia Davis, "The Shenandoah", Rivers of America, New York: Farrar & Rinehart, Inc., 1945, pp. 20–21
  3. Carrie Hunter Willis and Etta Belle Walker, 1937, Legends of the Skyline Drive and the Great Valley of Virginia, pp. 15–16.
  4. Doddridge, p. 31.
  5. "Cultural Heritage: American Revolution", 5 July 2010, Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin
  6. "The Revolutionary War", 5 July 2010, Oneida Indian Nation
  7. John W. Wayland, Ph.d., 1912, A History of Rockingham County, Virginia p. 33–37
  8. Joseph Doddridge, 1850, A History of the Valley of Virginia p. 1–46
  9. David Hackett Fischer, Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America , New York: Oxford University Press, 1989, pp.605–608
  10. Joseph Solomon Walton, 1900, Conrad Weiser and the Indian Policy of Colonial Pennsylvania p. 76-121.
  11. Doddridge, p.44–45
  12. Barnett, Marina (November 21, 2017). "Community Solidarity with Poultry Workers call for changes at Cargill". WHSV-TV . Gray Television . Retrieved May 13, 2018.
  13. Wood, Victoria (April 5, 2018). "Nine protesters arrested outside Cargill in Dayton". WHSV-TV. Gray Television. Retrieved May 12, 2018.

Coordinates: 38°29′N78°51′W / 38.483°N 78.850°W / 38.483; -78.850