Harrisonburg, Virginia

Harrisonburg is an independent city in the Shenandoah Valley region of the Commonwealth of Virginia in the United States. It is also the county seat of the surrounding Rockingham County,[8] although the two are separate jurisdictions. As of the 2010 census, the population was 48,914,[9] with a census-estimated 2018 population of 54,033.[5] The Bureau of Economic Analysis combines the city of Harrisonburg with Rockingham County for statistical purposes into the Harrisonburg, Virginia Metropolitan Statistical Area, which has a 2011 estimated population of 126,562.[10]

Harrisonburg, Virginia
City of Harrisonburg
Rockingham County Courthouse in Court Square in downtown Harrisonburg

The Friendly City, Rocktown, H'burg, The Burg, Friendly by Nature
Coordinates: 38°26′58″N 78°52′08″W
Country United States
State Virginia
CountyNone (Independent city)
Founded byThomas Harrison
Named forThomas Harrison
  TypeCouncil-manager government
  City ManagerEric Campbell[1]
  MayorDeanna R. Reed (D)[2]
  City Council[3]
  House DelegateTony Wilt (R)
  State SenatorMark Obenshain (R)
  Total17.39 sq mi (45.0 km2)
  Land17.34 sq mi (44.9 km2)
  Water0.05 sq mi (0.1 km2)
1,325 ft (404 m)
  Density2,800/sq mi (1,100/km2)
Time zoneUTC-5 (EST)
  Summer (DST)UTC-4 (EDT)
ZIP Codes
22801–22803, 22807
Area code(s)540
FIPS code51-35624[6]
GNIS feature ID1498489[7]

Harrisonburg is home to James Madison University (JMU), a public research university with an enrollment of over 20,000 students,[11] and Eastern Mennonite University (EMU), a private, Mennonite-affiliated liberal arts university. Although the city has no historical association with President James Madison, JMU was nonetheless named in his honor as Madison College in 1938 and renamed as James Madison University in 1977.[12] EMU largely owes it existence to the sizable Mennonite population in the Shenandoah Valley, to which many Pennsylvania Dutch settlers arrived beginning in the mid-18th century in search of rich, unsettled farmland.[13]

The city has become a bastion of ethnic and linguistic diversity in recent years. Over 1,900 refugees have been settled in Harrisonburg since 2002.[14] As of 2014, Hispanics or Latinos of any race comprise 19% of the city's population.[15] Harrisonburg City Public Schools (HCPS) students speak 55 languages in addition to English, with Spanish, Arabic, and Kurdish being the most common languages spoken.[16] Over one-third of HCPS students are English as a second language (ESL) learners.[17] Language learning software company Rosetta Stone was founded in Harrisonburg in 1992,[18] and the multilingual "Welcome Your Neighbors" yard sign originated in Harrisonburg in 2016.[14]


The earliest documented English exploration of the area prior to settlement was the "Knights of the Golden Horseshoe Expedition", led by Lt. Gov. Alexander Spotswood, who reached Elkton, and whose rangers continued and in 1716 likely passed through what is now Harrisonburg.

Harrisonburg, previously known as "Rocktown", was named for Thomas Harrison, a son of English settlers.[20] In 1737, Harrison settled in the Shenandoah Valley, eventually laying claim to over 12,000 acres (4,900 ha) situated at the intersection of the Spotswood Trail and the main Native American road through the valley.[21]

In 1779, Harrison deeded 2.5 acres (1.0 ha) of his land to the "public good" for the construction of a courthouse. In 1780, Harrison deeded an additional 50 acres (20 ha).[22] This is the area now known as "Historic Downtown Harrisonburg."

In 1849, trustees chartered a mayor–council form of government, although Harrisonburg was not officially incorporated as an independent city until 1916. Today, a council–manager government administers Harrisonburg.[23]

On June 6, 1862, an American Civil War skirmish took place at Good's Farm, Chestnut Ridge near Harrisonburg between the forces of the Union and the forces of the Confederacy at which the C.S. Army Brigadier General, Turner Ashby (1828–1862), was killed.


When the slaves of the Shenandoah Valley were freed in 1865, they set up near modern-day Harrisonburg a town called Newtown.[24] This settlement was eventually annexed by the independent city of Harrisonburg some years later, probably around 1892. Today, the old city of Newtown is still the home of the majority of Harrisonburg's predominantly black churches, such as First Baptist and Bethel AME. The modern Boys and Girls Club of Harrisonburg is located in the old Lucy Simms schoolhouse used for the black students in the days of segregation.[25]

A large portion of this black neighborhood was dismantled in the 1960s when – in the name of urban renewal – the city government used federal redevelopment funds from the Housing Act of 1949 to force black families out of their homes and then bulldozed the neighborhood. This effort, called "Project R4", focused on the city blocks east of Main, north of Gay, west of Broad, and south of Johnson. According to Bob Sullivan, an intern working in the city planner's office in 1958, the city planner at the time, David Clark had to convince the city council that Harrisonburg even had slums. Newtown, a low socioeconomic status housing area, was declared a slum. Federal law mandated that the city needed to have a referendum on the issue before R4 could begin. The vote was close with 1,024 votes in favor and 978 against R4. After the vote, the Harrisonburg Redevelopment and Housing Authority was formed. All of the members were white men. The project began and, due to eminent domain, the government could force the people of Newtown to sell their homes. They were offered rock bottom prices for their homes. Many people couldn't afford a new home and had to move into public housing projects and become dependent on the government. Likewise, many of the businesses of Newtown that were bought out could not afford to reestablish themselves. Kline's, a white-owned business, was actually one of the few businesses in the area that was able to reopen. The city later sold the land to commercial developers.[26]


In early 2002, the Harrisonburg community discussed the possibility of creating a pedestrian mall downtown. Public meetings were held to discuss the merits and drawbacks of pursuing such a plan. Ultimately, the community decided to keep its Main Street open to traffic. From these discussions, however, a strong voice emerged from the community in support of downtown revitalization.

On July 1, 2003, Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with the mission of rejuvenating the downtown district.[27]

In 2004, downtown was designated as the Harrisonburg Downtown Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places and a designated Virginia Main Street Community,[28] with the neighboring Old Town Historic District residential community gaining historic district status in 2007. Several vacant buildings have been renovated and repurposed for new uses, such as the Hardesty-Higgins House and City Exchange, used for the Harrisonburg Tourist Center and high-end loft apartments, respectively.

In 2008, downtown Harrisonburg spent over $1 million in cosmetic and sidewalk infrastructure improvements (also called streetscaping and wayfinding projects). The City Council appropriated $500,000 for custom street signs to be used as "wayfinding signs" directing visitors to areas of interest around the city. Another $500,000 were used to upgrade street lighting, sidewalks, and landscaping along Main Street and Court Square.[29]

In 2014, Downtown Harrisonburg was named a Great American Main Street by the National Main Street Association and downtown was designated the first culinary district in the commonwealth of Virginia.

Norfolk Southern also owns a small railyard in Harrisonburg. The Chesapeake and Western corridor from Elkton to Harrisonburg has very high volumes of grain and ethanol. The railroad serves two major grain elevators inside the city limits. In May 2017 Norfolk Southern 51T derailed in Harrisonburg spilling corn into Blacks Run. No one was injured.

Shenandoah Valley Railroad interchanges with the NS on south side of Harrisonburg and with CSX and Buckingham Branch Railroad in North Staunton.


Harrisonburg has won several awards[30] in recent years, including "#6 Favorite Town in America" by Travel + Leisure in 2016,[31] the "#15 Best City to Raise an Outdoor Kid" by Backpacker in 2009,[32] and the "#3 Happiest Mountain Town" by Blue Ridge Country Magazine in 2016.[33]

Harrisonburg holds the title of "Virginia's first Culinary District" (awarded in 2014).[34] The "Taste of Downtown" (TOD) week-long event takes place annually to showcase local breweries and restaurants.[35] Often referred to as "Restaurant Week," the TOD event offers a chance for culinary businesses in downtown Harrisonburg to create specials, collaborations, and try out new menus.[36]

The creative class of Harrisonburg has grown alongside the revitalization of the downtown district. The designation of "first Arts & Cultural District in Virginia" was awarded to Downtown Harrisonburg in 2001.[37] Contributing to Harrisonburg's cultural capital are a collection of education and art centers, residencies, studios, and artist-facilitated businesses, programs, and collectives.

Some of these programs include:

  • Larkin Arts, a community art center that opened in 2012 and has four symbiotic components: an art supply store, a fine arts gallery, a school with three classrooms, and five private studio spaces.[38][39]
  • Old Furnace Artist Residency (OFAR)[40] and SLAG Mag: Artist residency and arts&culture quarterly zine focused on community engagement and social practice projects started in 2013.[41]
  • The Super Gr8 Film Festival, founded in 2009. The 2013 festival featured more than 50 locally produced films, and all of the films in the festival were shot using vintage cameras and Super 8 film.[42]
  • Arts Council of the Valley, including the Darrin-McHone Gallery and Court Square Theater, provides facilities and funding for various arts programs and projects.[43]
  • OASIS Fine Art and Craft, opened in 2000, is a cooperative gallery of over 35 local artists and artisans exhibiting and selling their work. It offers fine hand-crafted pottery, jewelry, fiber art, wood, metal, glass, wearable art, paintings, and photography.[44]
  • The Virginia Quilt Museum, established in 1995, is dedicated to preserving, celebrating, and nurturing Virginia's quilting heritage. It features a permanent collection of nearly 300 quilts, a Civil War Gallery, antique and toy sewing machines, and rotating exhibits from across the United States.[45]

Historic sites

In addition to the Hardesty-Higgins House, Thomas Harrison House, Harrisonburg Downtown Historic District, and Old Town Historic District, the Anthony Hockman House, Rockingham County Courthouse, Lucy F. Simms School, Whitesel Brothers, and Joshua Wilton House are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[46]


According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 17.4 square miles (45.1 km2), of which 17.3 square miles (44.8 km2) is land and 0.1 square miles (0.3 km2) (0.3%) is water.[47]


Historical population
Est. 201854,033[5]10.5%
U.S. Decennial Census[48]
1790-1960[49] 1900-1990[50]
1990-2000[51] 2010-2012[9]

As of the census[52] of 2010, 48,914 people, 15,988 households, and 7,515 families resided in the city. The population density was 2,811.1/mi2 (1087.0/km²). The 15,988 housing units averaged 918.9/mi2 (355.3/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 78.4% White, 6.4% Black or African American, 0.3% Native American, 3.5% Asian, 0.1% Pacific Islander, 8.2% from other races, and 3.1% from two or more races. Hispanics or Latinos of any race were 15.7% of the population, up from 8.85% according to the census of 2000.

Of the 15,988 households, 22.1% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 32.7% were married couples living together, 10.1% had a female householder with no husband present, and 53.0% were not families. About 27.3% of all households were made up of individuals, and 17.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.59, and the average family size was 3.06.

In the city, the population was distributed as 15.0% under the age of 18, 48.9% from 18 to 24, 21.2% from 25 to 44, 13.2% from 45 to 64, and 9.3% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 22.8 years. For every 100 females, there were 87.3 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $37,850, and for a family was $53,642. The per capita income for the city was $16,992. About 11.5% of families and 31.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 19.6% of those under age 18 and 9.5% of those age 65 or over.


Presidential Elections Results[53]
Year Republican Democratic Third Parties
2016 34.8% 6,262 56.8% 10,212 8.4% 1,513
2012 42.1% 6,565 55.5% 8,654 2.4% 374
2008 41.2% 6,048 57.5% 8,444 1.3% 183
2004 55.9% 6,165 42.9% 4,726 1.3% 139
2000 57.7% 5,741 35.0% 3,482 7.4% 735
1996 55.3% 4,945 37.4% 3,346 7.2% 646
1992 51.2% 4,935 35.4% 3,414 13.3% 1,283
1988 64.9% 5,376 33.8% 2,799 1.4% 113
1984 68.2% 5,221 31.1% 2,384 0.7% 56
1980 58.5% 3,388 32.7% 1,896 8.8% 512
1976 63.0% 3,376 33.7% 1,803 3.3% 179
1972 77.3% 3,626 21.1% 992 1.6% 75
1968 65.7% 2,859 23.8% 1,036 10.5% 457
1964 50.7% 1,820 49.2% 1,765 0.1% 5
1960 72.0% 2,172 27.7% 836 0.2% 7
1956 78.3% 2,265 19.7% 571 2.0% 57
1952 77.8% 2,238 22.1% 635 0.1% 3
1948 58.6% 1,377 31.9% 751 9.5% 224
1944 50.0% 1,302 49.7% 1,292 0.3% 8
1940 40.3% 1,000 58.9% 1,462 0.8% 19
1936 38.9% 894 60.5% 1,390 0.6% 13
1932 39.3% 665 58.8% 995 1.9% 32
1928 62.7% 1,037 37.3% 616
1924 49.7% 631 49.1% 624 1.2% 15
1920 53.9% 704 45.5% 594 0.7% 9
1916 47.6% 319 51.6% 346 0.8% 5

Like most of the Shenandoah Valley, Harrisonburg has traditionally been a Republican stronghold. It was one of the first areas of Virginia where old-line Southern Democrats began splitting their tickets. The city went Republican at every presidential election from 1948 to 2004. In 2008, however, Barack Obama carried the city by a margin of 16 percent—exceeding the margin by which George W. Bush carried it four years earlier. The city has gone Democratic in every presidential election since then, and has become one of the few Democratic mainstays in one of the more conservative parts of Virginia.


School systems

Serving about 4,400 students (K–12), Harrisonburg City Public Schools comprises six elementary schools, two middle schools, and a high school. Eastern Mennonite School, a private school, serves grades K–12 with an enrollment of about 386 students.[54]

Higher education

High schools

Middle schools

  • Skyline Middle School
  • Thomas Harrison Middle School

Elementary schools

  • Bluestone Elementary
  • Smithland Elementary
  • Spotswood Elementary
  • Stone Spring Elementary
  • Waterman Elementary
  • W.H. Keister Elementary

Private schools

Points of interest

  • Hardesty-Higgins House Visitor Center
  • Edith J. Carrier Arboretum
  • Downtown Harrisonburg
  • Harrisonburg's Old Post Office Mural (Now US Bankruptcy Court)
  • Virginia Quilt Museum - located downtown and dedicated to preserving, celebrating, and nurturing Virginia's quilting heritage. The museum was established in 1995 and features a permanent collection of nearly 300 quilts, a Civil War Gallery, antique and toy sewing machines, and rotating exhibits from across the United States.[45]


  • The Alpine Loop Gran Fondo road-cycling event hosted by professional cyclist Jeremiah Bishop starts and finishes in downtown Harrisonburg.[55]
  • The annual Harrisonburg International Festival celebrates international foods, dance, music, and folk art.[56]
  • Valley Fourth - Downtown Harrisonburg's Fourth of July celebrations that bring in over 12,000 people. The festival includes a morning run, food trucks, beer and music garden, kids' area, art market, craft and clothing vendors, and fireworks.
  • Christmas/Holiday Parade- dates vary.
  • Taste of Downtown - food event, yearly in March.
  • MACROCK - an independent music conference held in the downtown area of Harrisonburg, Virginia the first weekend of April annually since 1997
  • Skeleton Festival - This event blends aspects of Halloween and Dia de los Muertos in a big, community celebration. Activities kick off with trick-or-treating at downtown businesses and culminate with a fun, all-ages party at the Turner Pavilion & Park. The festival features kid, dog, and adult costume contests; face painting; fire dancing; food trucks; live music; a community ofrenda; video art; "trunk or treating"; wacky shacks, goober blobs and whisker biscuits. www.skeletonfestival.com
  • Rocktown Beer & Music Festival- This event is very well attended each Spring. It features over 75 different beers and ciders. The band lineup changes each year and food is supplied by some of the local downtown restaurants. www.rocktownfestival.com



The climate in this area is characterized by hot, humid summers and generally cool to cold winters. Harrisonburg has a humid subtropical climate, Cfa on climate maps according to the Köppen climate classification, but has four clearly defined seasons that vary significantly, if not having brief changes from summer to winter.[57] The USDA hardiness zone is 6b, which means average minimum winter temperature of −5 to 0 °F (−21 to −18 °C).

Notable people




See also

References and notes

  1. "City Manager Eric Campbell". Harrisonburgva.gov. August 24, 2017. Retrieved September 30, 2017.
  2. 2017–2021;
  3. "City Council | City of Harrisonburg, VA". Harrisonburgva.gov. August 24, 2017. Retrieved September 30, 2017.
  4. "2017 U.S. Gazetteer Files". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved March 28, 2019.
  5. "Population and Housing Unit Estimates". Retrieved July 18, 2019.
  6. "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved January 31, 2008.
  7. "Harrisonburg – Populated Place". Geographic Names Information System. USGS. Retrieved May 8, 2008.
  8. "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Retrieved June 7, 2011.
  9. "State & County QuickFacts". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on January 6, 2014. Retrieved January 6, 2014.
  10. "Table 1. Annual Estimates of the Population of Metropolitan and Micropolitan Statistical Areas: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2011". 2011 Population Estimates. United States Census Bureau, Population Division. April 20, 2009. Archived from the original (CSV) on April 27, 2012. Retrieved June 4, 2012.
  11. "JMU Facts & Figures". James Madison University. Retrieved September 15, 2015.
  12. "JMU Historical Timeline". JMU Centennial Office. Retrieved December 5, 2006.
  13. Schum, Guy (February 14, 2012). "The Plain People". Virginialiving.com. Retrieved September 30, 2017.
  14. "Where Did Those 'We're Glad You're Our Neighbor' Signs Come From?". WAMU.org. Retrieved September 30, 2017.
  15. USA (April 1, 2000). "Pew Research Center Hispanic Trends". Pewhispanic.org. Archived from the original on September 30, 2017. Retrieved September 30, 2017.
  16. "ESL Students in HCPS". Harrisonburg.k12.va.us. Archived from the original on June 1, 2017. Retrieved September 30, 2017.
  17. "Harrisonburg City Schools - English as a Second Language". Harrisonburg.k12.va.us. Archived from the original on June 1, 2017. Retrieved September 30, 2017.
  18. "Rosetta Stone History". Rosettastone.com. Retrieved September 30, 2017.
  19. Kane, Joseph Nathan, Aiken, Charles Curry (2004). The American Counties. Scarecrow Press. p. 130. ISBN 0-8108-5036-2.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  20. Harrison, J. Houston (1935). Settlers by the Long Grey Trail J.K. Ruebush. p 214-249
  21. Julian Smith, 2007, Moon Virginia p. 246
  22. "A Brief History of Harrisonburg". Harrisonburgva.gov. Retrieved September 30, 2017.
  23. "Government Structure of Harrisonburg". Harrisonburgva.gov. April 8, 2016. Retrieved September 30, 2017.
  24. Stephens City, Virginia was also called Newtown at this time.
  25. "Welcome [landing page]". Celebrating Simms: The story of the Lucy F. Simms School. James Madison University & the Shenandoah Valley Black Heritage Center in association with Billo Harper. Retrieved January 29, 2019.
  26. "Remembering Project R4". Eightyone.info. Retrieved September 30, 2017.
  27. Bolsinger, Andrew Scot (October 28, 2002). "Downtown". Daily News-Record. Harrisonburg, VA. Retrieved July 3, 2009.
  28. "Harrisonburg Downtown Historic District". Virginia Main Street Community: A National Register of Historic Places Travel Itinerary. National Park Service. Retrieved July 3, 2009.
  29. Creswell, Kelly (August 14, 2007). "Harrisonburg Streetscape". WHSV TV 3. Gray Television, Inc. Retrieved July 3, 2009.
  30. "Awards and Recognitions". City of Harrisonburg, VA. July 10, 2013. Retrieved October 27, 2016.
  31. "America's Favorite Towns". Travel + Leisure. Retrieved October 27, 2016.
  32. "The Best Cities to Raise an Outdoor Kid: The Winning 25 - Page 3 of 6 - Backpacker". Backpacker. July 1, 2009. Retrieved October 27, 2016.
  33. "The Top 61 Happiest Mountain Towns in the Blue Ridge". BlueRidgeCountry.com. Retrieved October 27, 2016.
  34. Hellman, Reed (August 14, 2017). "'Farm to table' means just that in Virginia's first Culinary District". Recreation News. Retrieved January 29, 2019.
  35. "Annual Events". Downtown Harrisonburg. Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance. Retrieved January 29, 2019.
  36. "Taste of Downtown". Downtown Harrisonburg. Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance. Retrieved January 29, 2019.
  37. "Main Street vibe". Harrisonburg, VA: Friendly by Nature. Harrisonburg Tourism. Retrieved January 29, 2019.
  38. SCCF. "SCCF OUT & ABOUT: LARKIN ARTS, HARRISONBURG". Archived from the original on April 14, 2014. Retrieved April 13, 2014.
  39. Stacy, Sarah. "Larkin Arts hosts second annual juried art show". DNR Harrisonburg. Archived from the original on April 13, 2014.
  40. "2014 Open Engagement Program". Open Engagement.
  41. Jenner, Andrew. "Visiting With the Old Furnace Artist Residency". Old South High. Old South High. Archived from the original on July 29, 2014. Retrieved April 30, 2014.
  42. Jenkins, Jermiah. "Lurid Pictures + Super Gr8 Film Fest = Awesome Harrisonburg". Old South High. Archived from the original on June 29, 2014. Retrieved July 29, 2014.
  43. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on April 16, 2014. Retrieved April 13, 2014.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  44. "Home - OASIS Fine Art & Craft". Oasisfineartandcraft.org. Retrieved September 30, 2017.
  45. "Virginia Quilt Museum". VQM.
  46. "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.
  47. "US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990". United States Census Bureau. February 12, 2011. Retrieved April 23, 2011.
  48. "U.S. Decennial Census". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on May 12, 2015. Retrieved January 6, 2014.
  49. "Historical Census Browser". University of Virginia Library. Retrieved January 6, 2014.
  50. "Population of Counties by Decennial Census: 1900 to 1990". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved January 6, 2014.
  51. "Census 2000 PHC-T-4. Ranking Tables for Counties: 1990 and 2000" (PDF). United States Census Bureau. Retrieved January 6, 2014.
  52. "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved April 30, 2016.
  53. David Leip. "Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections". Uselectionatlas.org. Retrieved September 30, 2017.
  54. Eastern Mennonite School profile Archived July 28, 2013, at the Wayback Machine.
  55. "Alpine Loop Gran Fondo". Retrieved February 6, 2014.
  56. "Harrisonburg International Festival". Retrieved February 6, 2014.
  57. "Climate Summary for Harrisonburg, Virginia". Weatherbase.com. Retrieved September 30, 2017.
  58. "Tom Lough Olympic Results". sports-reference.com. Retrieved August 18, 2012.
  59. Samatar, Sofia (2018). From The White Mosque CMW Journal, vol. 10, no. 4. Retrieved 2019-16-01.
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