Taken on a warm March afternoon, this is the train station’s sign for Staunton. A simple piece of wood circa-1902 with the words, “Staunton, Virginia. Altitude 1395 feet”. The simple sign goes along with the simple city. All is simple, homely, filled with history, and a great place to live.
The city of Staunton is an independent city in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the surrounding county is Augusta County; whose governmental facilities are in Verona, and the seat, Staunton. By the time of the U.S. 2010’s census, the city held 23,743 residents, and the county is in the Staunton-Waynesboro Statistical Area which has a total populations of 118,502. The city is nestled between the Shenandoah National Park, Monongahela National Forest, and is 40 mils west of Charlottesville. The city’s notoriety is mainly in being the birthplace of the 28th United States President, Woodrow Wilson, one of the first all-women’s universities in the U.S.: Mary Baldwin‘s, and home to the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind.
Historically, the 20 sq. mile region of what is now Staunton was originally settled in 1732 by a John Lewis and his family. From what I have read, John Lewis was born in Donegal County, Ireland, United Kingdom in 1678 and died in Belefont, Augusta County, Commonwealth of Virginia on 01Feb1762. His namesake is well known by his children and ancestors. His headstone reads: Here lay the remains of John Lewis, who slew the Irish Lord (whatever that means), settled Augusta County, located the Town of Staunton, and furnished five sons to fight the battles of the American Revelation…”
The town proper was laid-out by the son of John Lewis, Thomas Lewis while working on the surveying William Beverley’s grant of land in 1736 of 118,000 acres, or 40,000 hectares. The original name for Staunton was Beverley’s Mill, but it was later renamed to Staunton in honor of Lady Rebecca Staunton Gooch; the wife of Royal Lt. Governor Sir William Gooch. The town served as the regional capital of the Northwest Territory which included West Virginia between the years 1738-1771, and was the United Kingdom’s most western courthouse. From its inception, Staunton’s reputation as an isolated trading powerhouse grew considerably and by the time of the American Civil War, had a history of helping British colonial aspects grow and thrive, and helped American towns grow and thrive, and was a gateway for exporting commercial goods.
Staunton’s role in the Confederate States’ plight for freedom was not undocumented. Staunton’s mills produced carriages, wagons, boots, shoes, clothing, and blankets for the CSA Army, and was a hub of trade coming from all over America. Staunton was occupied on 02May1862 by Union forces before being evacuated after the Battle of Harrisonburg, but later re-occupied on 06Jun1864in which the mills, factories, railroad station, warehouses, and certain houses were burned to the ground. The years following the Civil War, Staunton became an independent city on 10Jul1902.
The Staunton Train Station is now ran by Amtrak and after the first station burning down the station was re-built by Chesapeake & Ohio Railway in 1886, and today’s Amtrak’s waiting area is the former signal house. In 1890 the station was all but destroyed by a run away C&O train in 1890, and renovated by architect Thomas Jasper Collins in the Bungalow style in 1902. The modern-day station is the original 1902 station, but had been refurbished in 1989. T.J. Collins and his son were so successful in their run of renovating to historical accuracy over 200 buildings in Staunton’s city limits and surrounding regions that the movie, Of Gods And Generals was filmed there in 2002-2003.
Staunton’s culture is unique to itself as well. The American Shakespeare Center is in Staunton , and the theatre club focuses on the works of Shakespeare and his time’s contemporaries. However, Staunton is not just big in the theatrics, but also in the film industry. Not only was Of Gods and Generals filmed there, but so too was Hearts in Atlantis(2001), and portions of the series Assault at West Point: The Court-Martial of Johnson Whittaker(1994) and also Evan Almighty(2007). Staunton’s music industry is also alive too, and it held the Staunton Music Festival in February, 2017.
Staunton is also home to the dark side of American society with the Western State Hospital formerly known as Western State Asylum, and Western State Lunatic Hospital. Founded in 1828 the original plan was a great place for patients to be. Patients were treated with dignity and respect, and allowed to roam freely and plant gardens, but in the early 1900’s that led to overcrowding and mistreatment. Not only were patients mistreated, but they were abused and forcibly sterilized beginning in 1924. Today, Western State Hospital’s 24 building campus is registered on the national historic district list.
In conclusion, with a hot and humid summer, and a cool winter, Staunton is a beautiful place to live. Well over 200 buildings have been restored to their historical eminence. When there the traveler gets a feeling of openness; the city’s layout to the West acts as a gateway. I could not help the feeling of adventure as I stoop on main street. It’s as if an unknown source was pulling me to continue West. Get up, get out, and inspire adventures beginning in the little city of Staunton.
“Unfortunately, it is human nature for us to only learn and grow from a place of emptiness. It is hard to learn when we are winning and on top of the world”~Yehuda Berg