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McGaheysville (pronounced McGackeesville), Virginia,
is a community that has new restaurants, new shops, and soon a new water
park combined with an old, small-town feeling that locals and visitors
McGahey married an innkeeper and set up a post office, naming it
The earliest records of the settlement that is now
McGaheysville date back to 1716, when Governor Spotswood made a voyage
west of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Surveyor Tobias Randolph McGahey came to the area in
1801 with a Scotch-Irish colony, spent the night at a tavern run by Eva
Conrad, and married the innkeeper a short time later. In 1802 McGahey
established a post office that he called McGaheysville.
Situated between Penn Laird and Massanutten,
McGaheysville is an interesting combination of an old-fashioned community
with a forward-thinking outlook.
While McGaheysville is unincorporated, the county of
Rockingham is working with residents on a comprehensive plan that will
assist the area with the pressures of growth that have recently become
“It was a reason I requested the study, trying to
save the old-time feeling,” said Mike Breeden, who represents
McGaheysville on the Rockingham County Board of Supervisors.
The boundaries of McGaheysville are such (there are
no formal lines, due to the unincorporated status of the area) that
distinguishing what is exactly “McGaheysville” is quite challenging.
Saying “McGaheysville” is an elastic term describing the community
between Massanutten and Penn Laird.
though it's a town hall, since McGaheysville is not incorporated,
there are no town meetings here.
Many buildings and events in McGaheysville are
reflective of a small community. There are churches, a school, a small
post office, and a graveyard. There is a “town hall” building, which
is used for Ruritan meetings, but not town council meetings, since the
community is unincorporated, and they do not have a council.
Several homes in McGaheysville are significantly
older, with some dating back to the 1840s. On a map prepared by the
Virginia Department of Historic Resources, some homes in the area date
from the 1840s to the 1940s.
One of the shops in McGaheysville, Stumps Antique
Mall, was built in 1910 and originally used as a garage for Model T’s,
according to Mitzie O’Neill, manager of the antique mall.
The building was a dance hall, then later a store,
with a soda fountain, hardware, groceries, and a filling station.
“A lot of people got engaged here (when it was a
dance hall),” O’Neill said. “I’ve had people come in and tell me
they got engaged here.”
graveyard is tucked away from the "main road" of
McGaheysville, on a road that eventually turns into a dirt path.
Another important part of McGaheysville is the
volunteer fire department, which hosts bingo weekly and an annual lawn
party, a big event during the summer. Thousands of people show up during
the span of the three-day-long event to eat carnival foods, enjoy live
music, rides and games, and visit with one another.
“... What you see around here, the lawn party,
it’s a family event,” said Jeff Werner, a 14-year resident of
McGaheysville who is a volunteer with the rescue squad. “It’s a large
reunion, the whole community turns out to support the cause (the
McGaheysville Volunteer Fire Company).”
The whole community just might turn out for the
event. The entire population of McGaheysville is approximately 756 people,
or more exactly, 755.89. Since the area is not incorporated, there is not
an official population count, but the approximation is a number derived by
using the 2000 census standard, which is the number of dwelling units
multiplied by 2.69 per household.
The population of McGaheysville might not seem large,
but the area has experienced growth in recent years.
Edith Breeden, who has lived in the McGaheysville
area for 60 years, has noticed the changes coming to the area.
“Right now, they are doing a lot of building,”
she said, noting the new bank, doctor’s offices, and florist that have
moved into PeakView Plaza, which is located beside the Olde Town Center
and across Rte. 33 from the volunteer fire company.
“Even though the area is growing, it’s still a
close-knit community,” Werner said. “It has a comprehensive plan that
channels the growth into proper areas.”
closest thing to a main
drag in McGaheysville is the intersection at Island Ford Road and
Route 33, where the fire department faces the new building that
houses Thunderbird Diner and Ginger SNAPP House.
The draft of a comprehensive plan is coming at a good
time, when restaurants and shops are trickling down Rte. 33 from
Harrisonburg, which is the closest “big town” for McGaheysville
“The plan gives citizens input about how they want
to see McGaheysville look,” Breeden said. “Both sides were
represented, (those) for and against growth.”
There are several reasons that McGaheysville is the
county’s first area with a plan. One of the reasons, from the final
draft of the McGaheysville Area Plan, is that: “(McGaheysville) has been
the subject of substantial recent development activity and development
The plan is going through the approval process.
Breeden anticipates that it will go to the board of supervisors in early
autumn of this year.
“I hope in the end, it gives us good balance
between folks who want to use land for development and those who want
controlled development and green space,” Breeden said.
In early June, a restaurant and an artisan’s
cooperative were added to the McGaheysville mix when the Thunderbird Diner
and the Ginger SNAPP House opened in the Olde Town Center located on the
corner of Island Ford Road and Rte. 33, across from the volunteer fire
Justis, owner of the Ginger SNAPP House - an artisan's cooperative
located in the Olde Town Center, is also an artist.
Sue Justis opened the Ginger SNAPP House in
McGaheysville on July 4.
“The people (of McGaheysville) are curious to know
where you’re from and who you are. The next time they see you, they’re
your best friend. They’ll smile at you and call you by name. They are
friendly and remember you,” Justis said.
Business, she said, has increased significantly since
their relocation from Grottoes.
“We are pleasantly surprised because our sales have
exceeded our expectations during the first month,” she said. “One of
the joys of a business like this is meeting the people of the local area
and across the U.S. who visit our lovely valley.”
Clay Clark, majority owner of Hank’s Smokehouse and
Southern Grillery and Thunderbird Diner along with partners John Strong
and Stacy Rose, said the restaurants offer fare for both the locals and
the tourists of the area.
is always something to do at Massanutten, the four-season resort
located just outside of McGaheysville.
“(We get) the tourist trade with the Smokehouse,
from Massanutten, and then the Thunderbird is for the local trade. The
Thunderbird has home-cooked-style foods at reasonable prices. The
Smokehouse has ribs, steaks, and great seafood.”
Clark estimates the Thunderbird averages 3,500
customers a week, while Hank’s Smokehouse and Southern Grillery averages
“We’ve had great support from locals and tourists
at both locations,” he said. “(The restaurants) don’t compete with
Neighboring four-season resort Massanutten, developed
beginning in 1971, is also considered part of McGaheysville. It is a
village that is home to about 3,405 people, along with seasonal
timeshares. The resort features 14 ski trails, 36 holes of golf, and
various other activities. A new water park is scheduled to open in
mid-October, 2005, according to Joe Grandstaff, marketing director at
Massanutten. The water park is indoor/outdoor, with the indoor section
remaining open year-round.
Still the local place
Despite the development, it’s the small things that
make McGaheysville the place to be for the residents.
“It’s not that many people, for one thing,”
Edith Breeden said. “... It’s a nice, clean town.”
Jeff Werner appreciates the proximity to other towns,
combined with the serenity of the small community.
lots of history in its walls, Stumps Antique Mall has items from
many different time periods to offer to shoppers.
“McGaheysville gives the opportunity to sit back
and enjoy a quiet community life,” he said. “It’s just minutes away
from Harrisonburg and any communities you might need.”
Some people, on the other hand, choose to stay in the
McGaheysville area for their needs. Ginger SNAPP House owner Sue Justis
told a story about a woman who recently visited her store.
“A customer told me the other day, a McGaheysville
resident, that she had not been to Harrisonburg in five weeks. She said
there are enough stores in the area for necessities and such to prevent
her from dealing with the congestion of Harrisonburg.”
Clay Clark, owner of Hank’s and the Thunderbird
Diner, appreciates the natural beauty of the community.
“It’s a beautiful area to be in. I hope we’re
an asset, not a detriment. It’s a beautiful town and a great place to be
in business,” he said.
No matter who you speak with, despite the beautiful
scenery, the local attractions, and the history of the area, the biggest
draw of McGaheysville is the welcoming nature of the people.
“They’ll stop what they’re doing to help
you,” Justis said. “The people embrace you and accept you as a new