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“Down Home In Strasburg"
vistas, hospitable townsfolk and traditional values define this northern
Shenandoah Valley community.
hospitable townsfolk and traditional values define this northern Shenandoah
Paul Lutheran Church is the town's oldest congregation. Established
in 1747 by German settlers, its current building was erected in
On a warm
spring day in Strasburg, a woman wearing a lime-green sweater skips down the
steps of St. Paul Lutheran Church on Washington Street. Her short blonde
hair bobs perkily as her eyes meet those of a passing stranger.
“How are you today?” she asks. “Looks like spring
is here.” The stranger smiles.
“Enjoy the day,” she adds.
A block over on King Street, a waitress at the Hi
Neighbor Restaurant sees a familiar customer walk in the door.
“Hi, Don,” she says. “Iced tea, as usual?” The
man nods, picks up a newspaper from the Formica lunch counter and sits down
at a booth with red Naugahyde benches. It is Saint Patrick’s Day and he
orders the lunch special — corned
beef and cabbage.
Strasburg is a town that harkens back to another time,
a time when neighbors knew each other, old-fashioned values still ruled and
life was simpler. It is quintessential small-town America.
Nestled at the foot of Massanutten Mountain, at the
north end of the Shenandoah Valley, Strasburg has remained virtually
unchanged for decades. Originally an agricultural community, most residents
were farmers, though some worked for the railroad and in the limestone
quarries nearby. It wasn’t until after World War II that industry brought
new jobs. Today most of Strasburg’s residents work in factories on the
fringes of the town. The Perry Judd plant prints more than a hundred
different magazine titles. The Lear Corporation factory turns out
injection-molded parts for the automotive industry.
Cadden is a lifelong resident of Strasburg. She loves it lovely
views and quiet lifestyle.
Though only 80 miles from Washington, D.C., it has not
become a bedroom community for D.C.-area commuters, as have so many other
small towns on the outskirts of the nation’s capital. Most of
Strasburg’s citizens live and work in or around the town. Most admit they
are lucky to be so close to Washington, yet still able to maintain their
A Great Place to Unwind
Strasburg is the place to go for people who need to get
away from the rat race of modern life for a little while. It is a place to
slow down and recharge your batteries. It is unpretentious and real.
Though it makes only a modest attempt at promoting
itself, there is much to experience in Strasburg. It all starts on King
Street, the town’s main drag, where a walk down its half-mile strip of
shops is like strolling through a Norman Rockwell painting.
Antiquers will love the town’s numerous antique
shops. History buffs will appreciate its rich colonial and Civil War
history. Old timers will enjoy seeing a slice of what made America great in
the old days. And children will learn much about what a sense of community
is all about.
“Friends go back a long way around here,” says
Virginia Cadden, a lifelong Strasburg resident with roots that go several
generations deep. “You might go six miles down the road and find someone
who’s your cousin Mary’s son. There’s always some connection here.”
If you’re not family, it doesn’t matter. Strasburg
people seem to welcome everyone with friendship and hospitality. The town
got 30 inches of snow during the big blizzard of this past winter. With its
proximity to Interstates 66 and 81, many motorists pulled off at Strasburg
to wait out the storm. When all of the hotel rooms in town were booked, a
local family took a stranded motorist home with them to spend the night.
Cadden says the scenery and way of life make Strasburg
appealing to residents and visitors.
“Every place you look is just gorgeous if you get the
right sun on it,” she says with a twinkle. “And you’re within driving
distance of everything in Washington. Yet you can come back to your own
little nest here.”
Scenery and Strasburg definitely go hand in hand.
Everywhere you go Massanutten Mountain is within view. A drive through the
surrounding countryside is a treat for the eyes. There’s the Shenandoah
River, ambling past the town like an old friend. You can see for miles
across the valley, across rolling pastures and historic battlefields.
Architecture enthusiasts will get an eyeful. Many of
the homes in town have a classic look. There are many examples of tin-roofed
farmhouses, and even Georgian colonial and neoclassical styles.
A Living History
Like many of the towns that dot Virginia’s Shenandoah
Valley, Strasburg was originally settled by German farmers who migrated
south from Pennsylvania in search of more farmland. Originally settled in
1761 as Stauferstadt, the town sprung up along the banks of the Shenandoah
River where the bottomland was fertile.
Later Strasburg became a center for the production of
earthenware pottery. So extensive was the industry that Strasburg became
known as “Pot Town.” The pottery produced there was strictly
utilitarian; its lines were simple and its colors mostly muted blues and
grays. Today existing pieces of Strasburg pottery are quite collectible.
Virginia Cadden’s ancestors were part of that
history. They farmed wheat, milled it and shipped it down the Shenandoah to
the Potomac River and on to Washington. Her home, Spengler Hall, sits high
above the Shenandoah with a spectacular view of the river and Massanutten
“My great-great grandfather built this home in
1820,” she recalls. “The mill where they ground the wheat is now the Old
Old Mill Restaurant's stone walls and mill wheel date back to
Strasburg's days as a farm town.
Cadden is somewhat of an expert on town history. She
talks easily about how the Union army occupied her home during the Civil
War, and how one of its most notable figures, General Philip Sheridan, still
haunts the place. On occasion, shelves of china have crashed to the floor,
and marble tabletops have shattered for no apparent reason. With a
mischievous smile she says she thinks it was Sheridan still cursing at one
of the other generals he once found dining in the house while his men were
The rolling fields around Strasburg were the stomping
grounds of Stonewall Jackson and Jubal Early. Several important battles were
fought nearby — the Battle of Cedar Creek and the Battle of Fisher’s
Hill. Many locals are Civil War re-enactors, and some participated in the
recent film, “Gods and Generals.”
In what became known as the “Great Train Raid of
1861,” Jackson captured Union locomotives at Martinsburg, W. Va., and had
them pulled by 40 horse teams across the roads to Strasburg. There they were
set on rails again and sent south for the Confederate cause. The event is
recounted in detail at the Strasburg Museum, located in a building that was
once one of Strasburg’s earthenware factories, and later the town’s
For a small town, Strasburg has more than its share of
historical museums (there are five). The Stonewall Jackson Museum and Museum
of American Presidents are two of the most popular.
Keeping the Small-Town Charm
Grove Plantation, just north of town on the way to Middletown, is a
two-century-old building that stands near Cedar Creek
Today Strasburg is at a turning point, according to its
town manager, Kevin Fauber. There is pressure for growth.
“There’s been a steady increase in the
population,” he says. “Last year was our busiest year for building
permits. People are looking at our area for housing projects.”
Fauber says the challenge will be to allow growth while
keeping the small-town flavor for which Strasburg is known. Mayor Rich
Orndoff, Jr., agrees that losing that local charm would be tragic.
“We know we have to grow. We can’t stifle it,” he
says. “But we have to do it smartly without taking out the charm and
beauty. We know what a treasure we have here. It’s a very special
Back at the Hi Neighbor Restaurant, the big issues of
growth give way to the simple pleasures of small-town life. A sign on the
wall says, “Ram Pride,” a theme echoed all over town. The Rams are the
town’s high school football team. Everywhere you go in Strasburg you find
purple banners proclaiming the beloved Rams.
Hi Neighbor waitress Crystal Sibert explains a local
favorite called “Puddin’ Meat.”
“It’s made out of hog liver that comes from a local
slaughterhouse,” she says. “Some people eat it plain, and others like it
At the other end of the spectrum is the Hotel
Strasburg, an elegant reminder of the town’s southern past. Built at the
turn of the century as a hospital, the building was later converted to a
hotel. Today it maintains its Victorian style with individually decorated
rooms and lovely antique decor. And all the antiques are for sale, so those
who find an irresistible treasure adorning their room can take it home with
The Hotel Strasburg is a popular spot for visitors
looking for a quiet romantic getaway and good food. Its restaurant is one of
the best in the region. The hotel is one of Strasburg’s centerpiece
businesses, and is worth a visit just to see the classic decor and sample
Rutherford, owner of the Hotel Strasburg, and Brandy Combs, hold
down the front desk at the hotel, which is one of Strasburg's
lovliest attractions and best places to eat.
“Strasburg is small-town America,” says
Gary Rutherford, owner of the Hotel Strasburg. “People driving up and down
Interstate 81 see the sign for the hotel and say, ‘I wonder what Strasburg
is like’. And when they take the exit they say, ‘Hey, what a neat
In the Depot Lounge, located just off the hotel’s
main lobby, locals gather to discuss politics, land development and, of
course, the Rams. The place is a favorite gathering spot, and a great place
to sit, eat a sandwich and listen to local gossip. Like most of Strasburg
eateries, it features Route 11 brand home-cooked potato chips, prepared and
packaged just five miles away in Middletown.
On the docket for discussion today — the town’s
annual Mayfest (May 16-18). This year the town has hired a hot ’50s/’60s
dance band to kick off the event Friday evening. Saturday there’s a parade
through downtown Strasburg, and then they’ll close down King Street for
crafters and food vendors. Call the Chamber of Commerce for more
information, (540) 465-3187.
Mayfest is a big deal in Strasburg. Its origins date
back to a school Maypole festival in the early 1900s. Flower-strewing girls
wearing white dresses with sashes representing the 13 Confederate states
once marched past the Hotel Strasburg to a nearby cemetery. There 136
Confederate soldiers are buried in a mass grave.
All Are Welcome
Strasburg has a refreshing attitude about itself. It
doesn’t try to be anything more than it is. The people and the way of life
are real. It is not afraid of change, but most people hope it keeps what it
Richard Seelbach, owner of Bygones Antiques and
Collectibles, is a newcomer to Strasburg. He arrived two years ago, restored
a historic building to its original grandeur and then opened his shop on the
ground floor. He lives upstairs.
“People were so welcoming to me,” he says.
“It’s a very accepting small town. You don’t always find that in other