During the year 2001, were making our way around Virginia, each
issue visiting a small town and meeting some of the folks who make up the heart of
electric co-op country. On this years seventh stop, well be...
Down Home in New Market by Nancy Sorrills,
hometown hospitalitycombine to make
this towna sure bet for
From ballfields to battlefields, there are plenty of
reasons to get off the interstate and stay for a while in New Market,
explains Mayor Ripley Click.
Without a moment’s hesitation he listshistory, recreation, scenery, entertainment, and a gentle hometown
atmosphere as positive aspects guaranteed to please visitors and locals
Historic downtown New Market is lined with quaint shops.
“I don’t think there’s just one thing. It’s a
combination of the citizens, who are nice, good, hard-working folks, the
historical aspects of the town and the beauty of the surrounding area. I
don’t think you will find a more scenic place in the world than right
here, and yet there is proximity to larger metropolitan areas,” he says.
The town, located in the Shenandoah Valley at the southern end of
Shenandoah County, is less than two hours from Washington, DC, and two
hours from Richmond.
Despite being one of Virginia’s smaller
incorporated municipalities — there were 1,637 residents on census day
April 1, 2000 — the town is progressive, according to Click. “In the
past nine or 10 years we have undertaken some major projects as far as
utilities, wastewater treatment, and water filtration. We are working on
ensuring ourselves of an adequate water supply.”
Community involvement and communication are the keys.
Despite the small number of residents, there is a town council, boards and
commissions, a police force, a volunteer fire department and a volunteer
rescue squad. There is even a monthly town newsletter that garnered a
Virginia Municipal League Achievement Award.
Charlie Tharpe relaxes with his daughter, Rebecca Swanson, and
grandaughter, Annie Swanson, outside of Rebecca’s video store.
Fueling the economy of New Market are tourists. Some
come to enjoy nature at nearby Shenandoah National Park while others go
underground — to the caverns, that is. Two caverns, Endless and
Shenandoah, are located just minutes outside of the town limits, while
Luray Caverns is nearby. Each of the three offers a unique hook to bring
visitors to their doorsteps.
Many visitors come for the history of the area, which
stretches back well over 250 years. Most of the mid-18th century settlers
who put down roots in this land between two mountain ranges were
German-speakers having come originally from Europe, then to Pennsylvania
and finally southwestward into Virginia via the Great Wagon Road. New
Market was situated at a crossroads along that wagon road. Later, after
the road was upgraded and improved, it was known as the Valley Pike and
was the main thoroughfare through the town. Today that road is called U.S.
The road brought commerce and growth, so much so that
in 1796 the town was chartered as New Market through an act in the
Virginia General Assembly. One of the earliest businesses in the area was
a trading post operated by famous frontiersman John Sevier, who is given
credit for founding the town. Sevier’s career shifted from merchant to
politician after he moved west to Tennessee and became the first governor
of that newly formed state.
Mayor Ripley Click pauses in front of the town’s government building.
Yet another early New Market business was the Henkel
Press, a printing company that catered to the German-speaking population
of the region. Today, Henkel books command a pretty penny among
collectors. Chances are, however, that if you are interested in acquiring
one, Mike Lewis will have it at his downtown business, Paper Treasures.
Lewis started in the used- and rare-book business 15 years ago in a
12-by-12-foot room. Today more than 50,000 books and nearly a
quarter-million other paper items — postcards, prints, comic books, and
advertisements — fill the rambling building that was once a Ford
“People see stuff in here that they’ve never seen
before,” he says while looking at a Henkel catechism book dated 1816.
“We supplement our used books with local history titles. This is a
pretty fascinating area for local history,” he says, adding that his
business thrives during rainy days in the summer when people who come to
the area to enjoy the great outdoors can’t get out and hike or bike.
Steptoe, Jr., shown with customer Keith Tondrick, has been at the same
shop for 40 years.
Lewis is not exaggerating when he speaks of the vast
amount of history that exudes from New Market. Downtown is a collection of
mostly 19th-century buildings erected when main streets, not malls, were
filled with hustle and bustle. New Market’s time-capsule collection of
buildings is so special that in 1972 the entire town was placed on the
National Register of Historic Places. In the early 1990s, overlay
ordinances were established to ensure that the historic integrity of the
district remains for future generations.
A number of businesses, both old and new, anchor the
downtown area. The town library is located in the Henkel House, built by
Dr. Solomon Henkel in 1802. On the other side of the street, James Steptoe, Jr., goes about his business providing haircuts and
shaves just as he has done for over 40 years, and as his family has done
in the same building for 80 years.
There’s nothing fancy about his barber shop. On the
exterior the gray peeling paint and the red-and-white barber pole speak of
time and tradition, while on the inside the equipment still includes an
old-fashioned leather strop. There are no appointments in this barber shop
where generations of residents have come in for a shave and a haircut.
Treasures, a used- and rare-book store with over 50,000 books and nearly a
quarter-million other paper items, opened 15 years ago in a 12 x 12-foot
“I was born and raised in New Market. At first I
was too poor to get away. I took over my father’s business after he died
in 1960 and now I stay out of pride and because you couldn’t find a
better place to live than New Market. It’s special. The people are
friendly and they all know each other,” says the 69-year-old barber.
A stroll down the main street reveals a variety of
businesses in addition to Steptoe’s barber shop. There are several
restaurants offering local cuisine, antique shops overflowing with
eclectic Americana, and even a museum, Bedrooms of America Museum and
Pottery. Not all of the businesses cater to the tourist. Rebecca Swanson
opened her video store four years ago in response to requests from the
local populace. “We did a survey and quite a few people wanted this.
People are good here. This is a good town,” she said.
Another newcomer to New Market is June Fournier, who recently acquired a cabin just outside of town.
She and her Pekinese, Amy, enjoy sitting at a sidewalk table outside the
Coffee Mouse. “I like this town. It’s fun to come downtown and watch
the activity,” explains Fournier.
Coach Mo Weber
stands outside Rebel Park, New Market’s state-of-the-art baseball field.
Locals like the Taylor family can also stroll a few
blocks off the main drag and enjoy the New Market Community Park, built
with funding from public and private sources including the Virginia
Outdoor Fund and the people of New Market. A pool, ball courts, ball
diamonds, playground equipment, fitness trails, and picnic shelters are
all found there. The Taylor children — Benjamin, Rebekah, and Jonah — as well
as their mother Tracy make
regular use of the facilities. “It’s the most beautiful park in the
world,” exclaims four-year-old Rebekah, while seven-year-old Benjamin
points to a bent tree with a crook perfect for climbing and sitting as his
favorite aspect of the park.
A Summertime Staple
For those who would rather watch a ballgame than play
one, there’s Rebel Park, home of the New Market Rebels. Valley League
baseball has been a summertime staple in the Shenandoah Valley for four
decades. The eight-team NCAA-sanctioned conference is one of only nine
wooden-bat leagues in the country. More than a few Big Leaguers made a
stop in the Valley League before moving on to the limelight of Major
In New Market, however, the Rebels represent a unique
endeavor in the sports world — a not-for-profit baseball team. “We are
the smallest town in the league and the only one that doesn’t have a
newspaper or TV or radio,” says head coach Mo
Weber. A self-described baseball nut who claims that if it wasn’t
for his wife baseball would be number one in his life, Weber coached in
New Market in 1978. He returned again in 1990 and 1991, and then after
retiring as the head coach of the College of William and Mary baseball
squad, he returned to stay in 1996.
family — (l-r) Rebekah, Jonah, Tracy and Benjamin, enjoy a day at New
Market Community Park.
“We have the best lights in the league. They are
brand new, on 80-foot poles, and cost $140,000. We also have a new press
box and a new 36-foot-by-10-foot scoreboard,” he says, while giving an
impromptu tour of the gleaming facility with stands that will hold close
to 1,000 people. Even Mother Nature has conspired to enhance the field, as
Massanutten Mountain looms close beyond the outfield.
On game nights, which run from early June until early
August, an entire volunteer corps shows up to run the complex. “We sell
a lot of hotdogs and hamburgers and they are good. It’s all volunteer
help and we turn all the money back into the facility,” Weber adds.
The battles on the New Market ballfield pale in
comparison to the battle that came to the crossroads hamlet nearly a
century and a half ago during the Civil War.
For New Market, May 15, 1864, is a date that will
always be remembered as a time when Union and Confederate forces struggled
for control of the Shenandoah Valley, also known as the Breadbasket of the
“New Market had seen the effects of war before
1864. The Valley Pike had been an avenue of military movement. Many of the
area’s sons and husbands and uncles had gone off to fight while the
women kept things together on the farms and fed them. There was a
familiarity to war already,” explains Scott
Harris, the director of the New Market Battlefield State Historical
War on Its Doorstep
Then on May 14 Union forces moved in and “brought
war onto the doorstep.” The next day the Confederate forces arrived and
the town found itself in the middle of a battle. “The townspeople saw
artillery shells landing in the streets and bullets shattering their
windows. One family tore up the floorboards and hid their baby there. The
Bushong family took to the basement because the battle was literally in
their backyard,” Harris says. Victory for the day went to the South
after the teenaged Cadet Corps from Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in
Lexington rushed into the fray and turned the tide. Afterward, every
available space in the town became a hospital and many of the dead were
buried in local cemeteries.
At right is New Market Battlefield Director Scott
The war moved on to other places, but the day’s
bloody clash and the boyish heroism of the VMI Cadets were forever
connected with New Market. In 1967 the battlefield was opened to the
public, and in 1970 the associated Hall of Valor Museum was opened. Almost
2 million visitors have stopped by since and many make it a point to
attend the annual battle reenactment held each May.
“The battlefield is not only part of New Market’s
past, but it is very much a part of its present and future. We have a
mission to preserve and commemorate, but we are also a cultural and
economic resource for the town,” says Harris in reference to the 40,000
or so travelers who come to the battlefield each year.
Harris sees New Market as a community that has
retained its sense of place and its relationship to its physical
surroundings and its heritage. To Mayor Click, it’s even simpler than
that. “It’s the greatest little town in the state of Virginia,” he
There are three motels and two bed and breakfasts in
New Market, and two motels and one bed and breakfast nearby. There is also
a campground just outside the town.
If you are hungry, make sure you stop at the Southern
Kitchen Restaurant, which drips with simple Virginia hospitality. The
business has been operated by the Newland
family since 1955.
Golfers don’t even have to leave the city limits to
test their skills at the 27-hole, PGA-sanctioned Shenvalee Golf Course (540-740-3181), while hikers have nearby Shenandoah
National Park for communing with nature.
History buffs won’t want to miss the Hall of Valor Museum and New Market Battlefield Historical Park
(540-740-3101 or www.vmi.edu/museum/nm). In addition to the museum, the Bushong
family farm is used to interpret the lives of one 19th-century family that
saw their home surrounded by war. The farmhouse and the battlefield park
are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
won’t want to miss the Hall of Valor Museum.
Two other military museums can be found at New Market.
The Museum of the American Cavalry (540-740-3959) tells the story of
the cavalry from Jamestown to 1946, while the New
Market Battlefield Military Museum (540-740-8065) interprets the
history of American servicemen from 1776 to the present. Downtown New
Market is host to the Bedrooms of America Museum and Pottery (540-740-3512). The museum,
housed in a historic structure, features 11 bedrooms furnished in the
style of different periods of history.
It’s easy to find history in New Market and several
walking or driving tours of the historic districts are available free to
visitors. To obtain a brochure in advance of your visit, contact the New Market Chamber of Commerce at 540-740-3212.
No visit is complete without a visit to Paper Treasures, where 250,000 items from books to postcards to
records are waiting to be discovered. If objects are more to your liking,
then visit the 8,000-square-foot Nickelodeon
Antique Mall. Both businesses are in the historic downtown.
Going underground is easy for visitors to New Market.
Three caverns, each with their own claim to fame, are nearby. Shenandoah Caverns (540-477-3115) is four miles north. It includes
an elevator to take visitors to and from the caverns. Endless Caverns (540-740-8065) is one of the largest and most
natural of the state’s caves. A little further away is Luray Caverns (540-743-4531) which features the world’s only
Just south of New Market and only a few yards off of
U.S. Rt. 11 (the old Valley Pike) is the longest remaining covered bridge
in Virginia. Meems Bottom Covered
Bridge was built in 1892 to span the Shenandoah River. It is 200 feet
long. Also south of New Market is Art
Studio Pottery, featuring a variety of clay pieces, all original works
of art (540-896-4400).