Monday, January 31, 2011

Downtown Historic District

First settled in 1732, the city of Staunton (pronounced STAN-ton) is named for Lady Rebecca Staunton, who was the wife of Virginia’s Colonial Governor William Gooch. He named the town after his English wife.

Staunton is in the heart of Virginia’s storied Shenandoah Valley and at one time was the geographical center of the state, which once stretched westward all the way to the Mississippi River and encompassed parts of what is now West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Illinois and Pennsylvania. Given its central location and fertile setting, it quickly developed into an early center for trade and commerce, particularly for the export of agricultural products.

Its importance was cemented in 1854 with the arrival of the Virginia Central Railroad, and its heyday was as a railroad town. Staunton became a center of banking, manufacturing and retail trade in the mid-nineteenth century. In 1856, future President Woodrow Wilson was born to a local Presbyterian minister and his wife. Wilson's restored birthplace and Presidential Library and Museum attract thousands of tourists. The city was largely spared from destruction during the Civil War, a significant factor in the remarkable number of historic structures that have been preserved in the downtown area. Staunton, which has experienced a remarkable renaissance in recent years, is an intriguing, often quirky choice for tourists who are looking for attractions a bit more off the beaten path. This blog will introduce a few of them to you.

Illustration of Staunton, circa 1851 (click to enlarge).

Architect T.J. Collins came to Staunton from Washington, DC, in 1891 and in a mere twenty years designed or remodeled over two hundred buildings, most of which exist today. Collins designed the gatehouse (photo below), bridge, tower, tombs and other structures at Thornrose Cemetery, which contains more than 1,770 graves of Confederate soldiers.

Note: Photos on this blog from Staunton's web site and from links displayed on web site.

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