Staunton Virginia History
Known as the “Queen City of the Shenandoah Valley,” the picturesque city of Staunton is undergoing a renaissance of restoration
Situated among rolling hills between the Blue Ridge and Allegheny mountains, Staunton boasts five distinct historical districts
that reflect 250 years of architectural heritage.
Nearly 24,000 residents enjoy the combination of old and new as this modern city continues to grow and prosper as it begins the
Some of the best minor league baseball is played here in the Valley League.
Downtown Staunton is replete with thriving businesses, unique shopping and fine dining. A wealth of distinctive buildings in
Stuart Addition, Gospel Hill, Newtown, Beverley and The Wharf are being restored and walking tours through these historical districts are a
favorite local and tourist attraction.
Modern Staunton is a transportation hub with a superior telecommunication infrastructure, which lies in the heart of Virginia’s
education and technology corridor.
There are nine regional colleges and universities nearby and Staunton City Schools has twice been named a “Blue Ribbon School
System” by Expansion magazine. SCS serves more than 2,800 students.
The city is also an oasis of public and national parks and scenic campgrounds from Gypsy Hill Park to the Blue Ridge Parkway to
the George Washington/Jefferson National Forest.
Staunton residents enjoy a rich tapestry of homes built on and around prominent hills in diverse neighborhoods throughout the
Staunton is an independent city within the confines of Augusta County in the commonwealth of Virginia.
The population was 23,853 at the 2000 censusu.
It is the county seat of Augusta County.
The Bureau of Economic Analysis combines the city of Staunton (along with nearby Waynesboro) with Augusta county for statistical
The city was originally named Augusta Courthouse and was the westernmost courthouse in British North America prior to the
In 1908, Staunton was the first city in the world to adopt a city manager form of government, an outgrowth of the Progressive
movement, which has been repeated in many locations since.
It is known for being the birthplace of the 28th U.S. President, Woodrow Wilson and the home of Mary Baldwin College, a women's
college that features a number of unique programs, including the Virginia Women's Institute for Leadership and the Program for the Exceptionally
Staunton is also home to the older of the two campuses of the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind. (The newer campus is in
From its earliest settlement, Staunton has been the county seat and center of commercial activity for Augusta County.
It has also been a center of education and arts.
Countless schools have been located here and a number of historic institutions are still in existence after more than a century
including: Stuart Hall, a college preparatory school; Mary Baldwin College, founded by the Presbyterian Church; and Virginia School for the Deaf
and the Blind.
The revitalized Victorian downtown attracts tourists to the city year round. Soon a Blackfriar’s theater, built by Shenandoah
Shakespeare, and the Smith History and Art Center will be completed.
The latter, an alliance of the Augusta County Historical Society, Historic Staunton and the Staunton-Augusta Art Center, will be
housed in the restored Eakleton Hotel.
Two large museums, the Woodrow Wilson Birthplace and the Museum of American Frontier Culture; and three smaller museums, the
Jumbo Museum, the Statler Brothers Museum and the 116th Infantry Regiment Museum, help thousands of people delve into the area’s history.
Two parks, Montgomery Hall and Gypsy Hill are also open for recreational activities and athletic competitions.
A combination of Scotch-Irish, German and English settlers forged a trail southward from Pennsylvania into a new frontier called
the Shenandoah Valley in the 1720s and 1730s.
One of those first settlers was John Lewis, from the northern part of Ireland.
He settled his family on a land grant just a few miles outside of what became Staunton (pronounced Stanton).
The man controlling much of the area’s settlement was a wealthy Tidewater farmer named William Beverley who obtained a land grant
of more than 118,000 acres from Virginia’s Governor William Gooch.
Beverley built a mill along a stream in what is now Staunton and settlers were soon putting down roots at Beverley’s Mill
A courthouse and the parish church, now Trinity Episcopal, were soon built. Staunton marks its birthday in 1747. The town, which
was also the government seat for Augusta County, was renamed in honor of Lady Rebecca Staunton, the wife of Governor Gooch.
Several historical events have occurred in Staunton. For several weeks in June 1781 the city served as the state capital and the
legislature met at Trinity Episcopal Church, called Augusta Parish Church at that time.
The leaders of the fledgling state wound up in Staunton after fleeing from Richmond to Charlottesville and then to Staunton to
avoid being captured by the British.
On Dec. 28, 1856 at the Presbyterian Manse on Coalter Street, a future U.S. President was born.
Thomas Woodrow Wilson was the son of the minister at Staunton’s Presbyterian Church. Staunton was incorporated in 1871.
In 1908, recognizing that better organization was needed for the city’s government, a city manager was chosen - the first in the
Located in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley, historic Staunton, Virginia is one of the oldest communities in Virginia that is
west of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
In 1732, Scots-Irish settler John Lewis and his family became the first Europeans to settle in the area, and a Courthouse for
Augusta County was built here in 1745.
Augusta County at that time stretched westwards to the Mississippi River.
The states of Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, most of West Virginia and a portion of western Pennsylvania (including what is
now Pittsburgh) were carved out of Augusta County.
Lots and streets were laid out in 1747 for the town of Staunton (pronounced STAN-ton), named after Lady Rebecca Staunton, the
wife of the popular Colonial Governor William Gooch (for whom Goochland County, Virginia is named).
Before West Virginia split from Virginia to become independent, Staunton was geographically in the center of the state.
Strategically located at the intersection of the Great Wagon Road (later known as the Valley Turnpike) and early roads to the
west, Staunton developed as a major center for trade.
This was greatly enhanced with the arrival in 1854 of the Virginia Central Railroad.
This railroad would later play a key role during the Civil War when the Shenandoah Valley served as the "Breadbasket of the
During the war years, Valley-produced goods (primarily wheat) were transported via this railroad to General Robert E. Lee's
forces in the eastern part of the state.
Staunton has had a long association with education beginning in 1791 when The Staunton Academy was established as one of the
first private boy's schools in the Shenandoah Valley.
In 1828, Western State Lunatic Asylum was established in Staunton as one of the earliest institutions of its kind in the
Western State Hospital was founded in January 1825 by an Act of the General Assembly becoming the second mental health facility
for the Commonwealth of Virginia.
A Court of Directors was commissioned by the Governor to select and purchase "a site near the town of Staunton in Augusta County
to the West of the Blue Ridge Mountains and to thereupon construct an appropriate asylum for the receipt of patients."
The original building (which is still standing and registered as a National Historical Landmark) was opened on July 24, 1828,
with Mr. Samuel Woodward designated as Keeper, and his wife, Mary Woodward assigned as Matron.
A visiting physician, Dr. William Boyes of Staunton, provided care for patients admitted during the early years of the hospital.
The first patient was admitted the morning of July 24, 1828. He was a teacher whose diagnosis was "hard study."
A second patient was admitted that afternoon from Goochland County, Virginia, but remained only a few months at the facility
before he escaped.
The first woman arrived on July 25, and was admitted with a diagnosis of "Religious Excitement."
Shortly after the facility opened, it was filled with patients and the Court of Directors implemented an admissions screening
process to limit admissions to only those patients "who were either dangerous to society from their violence, or those who were offensive to its
moral sense by their indecency and to those cases of derangement where there is reasonable ground to hope that the afflicted may be
The first director of the hospital, Dr. Francis T. Stribling, was appointed in 1840. He served the hospital until his death in
Dr. Stribling embraced the concept of "Moral Therapy" and was one of the thirteen founders of the American Psychiatric
Association. In 1905, a physician who began working at Western State in 1889 as a medical intern was appointed Director of the facility.
Dr. Joseph DeJarnette served as Director from 1905 until 1943, 38 years, which represents the longest tenure of any of the
sixteen facility directors serving the facility since its opening. The facility’s name was changed in 1894 from Western Lunatic Asylum to Western
The facility continued to increase in size through the 1950’s and 1960’s with the opening of a second site in 1949-1950.
The facility’s patient population eventually increased to above 3,000 at two sites. Beginning with the Commonwealth’s move toward
deinstitutionalization in the early 1970’s, the population declined substantially until, by the late 1970’s, it stood at approximately 1,350.
Further reductions were realized over the last fifteen years as hospital programs were related to sister facilities and the
communities. A more restrictive criteria for admissions and improved prescreening programs have also been implemented.
Substantial improvements in psychopharmacology and community treatment modalities along with earlier intervention have also
contributed to reduced census.
In 1978 the University of Virginia (UVA) expanded its affiliation with the hospital providing for joint faculty appointments and
the assignment of psychiatric residents and medical students to the facility for training.
This program continued to expand with particular highlights in 1985 with the appointment of Dr. Spradlin as the Facility Director
at Western State.
In 1990, the hospital received the first National Award from the American Psychiatric Association as the exemplary program in
Collaborative Services between a public mental health facility and a university.
Western State Hospital has extensive affiliations with colleges and universities involved in all of the major professional groups
Various staff at Western State Hospital had joint faculty appointments with a number of institutions of higher education; staff
with the Department of Psychiatric Medicine interdigitate with hospital programs for the provision of services and educational supervision.
The Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind (VSDB), which is also still operating in Staunton, was the first state-supported
school of its kind in the United States.
Stuart Hall and Mary Baldwin College are two schools that survive from the first half of the 19th century when many similar
institutions began operating in Staunton.
Mary Baldwin College was established in 1842 as Augusta Female Seminary and Stuart Hall was established in 1844 as Virginia
Staunton Military Academy (SMA) opened in Staunton during the 1870's and continued to operate for nearly a century. The 1870's
also saw the first schools for the African-American community and the birth of the Staunton Public School system.
Staunton's educational heritage continues today with Shenandoah Shakespeare, an internationally recognized theatrical troupe that
is currently constructing the first of two historically accurate Shakespearean theatres.
The world's first reproduction of the Blackfriars Playhouse is scheduled to open during 2001 and will be followed by a
reproduction of the second Globe Theatre.
Physical evidence of Staunton's rich heritage can be found throughout the community. Staunton boasts five National Historic
Districts that are packed with extraordinary architecture from the 18th, 19t and 20th centuries.
The greatest concentration of historic architecture is from the boom period from the 1870's into the early part of the 20th
century. Staunton's hilly landscape greatly adds to the visual feast of the city.
In 1890, a young architect, Thomas Jasper Collins, moved from Washington, DC to Staunton and over the course of the next twenty
years, he designed or remodeled nearly 200 buildings in Staunton, most of which survive.
His sons were also successful architects, and the firm T.J. Collins & Sons continues to operate in Staunton to this day.
Many of the architectural drawings for buildings designed by the firm survive, and represents one of the most extraordinary
collections of architectural documentation for any American community.
These drawings have recently been given to the Historic Staunton Foundation, and they will eventually be on display at the
Staunton Center for Historic and Art, a project that is currently underway in downtown Staunton.
The Staunton Center for History and Art is a joint project of the Historic Staunton Foundation, the Augusta County Historical
Society and the Staunton-Augusta Art Center.
The new facility will be housed in the former Eakleton Hotel building, built during the 1890s to the designs of T.J. Collins.
In 1908, Staunton became the first city in the world to adopt the city manager form of government. President-elect Woodrow Wilson
visited the city where he had been born in 1856 and he spent the night in the room in which he had been born.
In recent years, Staunton has become a center for the visual and performing arts, with an extraordinary arts community that
supports many musical events and theatrical productions throughout the year.
Staunton has a nationally recognized art school and nationally known playwrights' retreat, as well as to a growing collection of
high quality art galleries.
Staunton is home to many acclaimed artists who excel as painters, sculptors, potters, furniture makers, glassblowers,
metalworkers, jewelers and artists who work with mixed media.
As it begins the 21st century, Staunton is experiencing a true Renaissance.
One of the most exciting periods in Staunton's history is witnessing the restoration of many of its historic buildings in both
residential and commercial neighborhoods.
Downtown Staunton is thriving as one of the most viable downtown areas in Virginia, with new shops and restaurants added to an
already healthy collection of places to dine, shop and stay.
The Blackfriars Playhouse, the new Staunton-Augusta Center for History and Art and a new municipal parking garage, are all
breathing new vitality into the heart of the city.
The Staunton-Augusta Farmers' Market, now in its 8th year, is one of the most successful farmers' markets in Virginia, averaging
31 vendors per week.
The Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport that serves Staunton has recently added new service to link with Dulles International
AMTRAK train "The Cardinal" still stops in Staunton on its run between Washington, DC and Chicago.
It is an exciting time to be in Staunton, "The Queen City of the Shenandoah Valley."
Staunton has one architectural advantage over most of other small towns in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia: it escaped the
Civil War unscathed.
Many of its 18th and early 19th century homes and buildings still stand and are wonderfully preserved.
Scottish-Irish immigrant John Lewis and his family built the area's first homestead in 1732, and most of Staunton's early
settlers were Scots-Irish.
Staunton's early history reads like a catalog of small town America, from organizing its first volunteer fire department (with
one female member) in 1790, to incorporating with a population of 800 in 1801, to the location of the Augusta Female Seminary, now Mary Baldwin
College, in 1842.
The arrival of the Virginia Central Railroad in 1854 made Staunton a transportation hub for all of western Virginia.
Two years later, Woodrow Wilson arrived in Staunton, born to the local Presbyterian minister and his wife. Wilson's homecoming as
president-elect in 1912 was the most elaborate celebration in Staunton's history.
Staunton's fine collection of historic preservation areas includes the Gospel Hill Historic District, so named in the late 1790s
when religious meetings were held at its blacksmith shop.
Its elegant homes include examples of Victorian, Greek Revival, and Federal styles.
The Downtown Historic District is a compact 19th-century "Main Street," with buildings that date from Staunton's boom years
between 1860 and 1920, and a fine concentrations of Victorian-era architecture.
Its Wharf Historic District harks to the days when the railroad changed Staunton from a rural village to a center of commerce,
with strong and sturdy warehouses.
Since 1972 the Wharf Historic District has been on the National Register of Historic Places, and its depot and other preserved
buildings house restaurants, antique shops and specialty boutiques.
Staunton played a pivotal role during the Civil War years when the Shenandoah Valley served as the "Breadbasket of the
While most of the battles were being fought north or west of the town, it was the presence of the Virginia Central Railroad that
provided a vital link between the Valley and eastern Virginia, making Staunton an important supply depot for the Confederacy.
On the eve of the Civil War, Staunton was a prosperous town of 4,000 inhabitants located at what was then the center of the state
(this would soon change when Virginia split into two states, creating West Virginia).
Staunton had three banks, two newspapers, and some eighty businesses that included factories to produce carriages and wagons,
boots and shoes, clothing and blankets.
The town's streets and many of the homes were illuminated by gas, and a magnetic telegraph line linked the community with
Staunton was also a major transportation hub, served by five stagecoach lines, many fine roads such as the Valley Turnpike, and
the Virginia Central Railroad, which provided direct access to Richmond, the State Capitol.
The Western Lunatic Asylum (now Western State Hospital), the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind, Virginia Female Institute
(the present Stuart Hall School), Augusta Female Seminary (the present Mary Baldwin College) were all operating in Staunton.
Other schools in Staunton at the time, but which no longer survive, included the Wesleyan Female Institute, Staunton Female
Seminary, and the Staunton Academy.
Although slavery existed in the area, it was on a smaller scale than what was prevalent east of the Blue Ridge mountains, and the
economy was therefore less dependent on slave labor.
Staunton had a small free-black population, some of whom possessed valuable real estate and operated successful businesses.
Before the outbreak of war, the majority of the residents of Staunton and Augusta County were in favor of preserving the
Thoughts of seceding from the Union would not become commonly popular in the Shenandoah Valley until the shelling of Fort Sumter
and the subsequent call for 70,000 Virginia volunteers by President Abraham Lincoln.
It was at this point that Virginia voted to secede from the Union.
On April 17, 1861, Staunton civic and political leader John D. Imboden left Richmond for Staunton, armed with the news from the
Stauntonians already had received the news, however, via the telegraph, so a crowd of local citizens was on hand to meet Imboden
at the railroad station.
About one hundred of those who met him were members of The Staunton Artillery, most of whom had enlisted earlier that day, and
they soon left by train for Harper's Ferry, with Imboden as their leader.
Staunton was designated a center for the mobilization and training of troops for the Confederate States of America.
Arsenals and warehouses were established in Staunton to aid in the war effort. Local military companies such as The Staunton
Artillery were mustered, many attached to the Fifth Virginia Regiment which became part of the legendary Stonewall Brigade, led by Stonewall
Early during the war, students at the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind (VSDB) were moved-out to make room for a military
The VSDB students transferred to the Virginia Female Institute (now known as Stuart Hall School) for the duration of the war.
Union troops, commanded by Union Major General David H. Hunter, entered Staunton on June 6, 1864. They established headquarters
at The Virginia Hotel (which stood on the northeast corner of Greenville Avenue at New Street).
It was here that Hunter met with Staunton's Mayor Nicholas K. Trout , members of the town council and other prominent
Hunter agreed to spare much of the town, with the exception of industries and supplies useful to the Confederates for the war
On June 7, some 10,000 Union soldiers began destruction of the railroad station, warehouses, factories and mills in Staunton.
Shops were looted, supplies confiscated, and the office of The Spectator newspaper was destroyed.
The publisher of The Vindicator, Staunton's other newspaper, successfully hid his printing press from the Union forces.
Within hours after Union troops left on the 10th of June, a new issue of the Vindicator was published.
Among the Union officers who were in Staunton for at least a portion of this time included future U.S. Presidents Rutherford B.
Hayes and William McKinley.
An interesting side note is the fact that the first southern-born United States President, elected after the Civil War, would be
Staunton's own native son, Woodrow Wilson.