The Shenandoah Valley is formed by the eastern Blue Ridge Mountains and the western Appalachian range. While many European settlers followed the valley south between the mountains others sought ways to cross the mountains to make their way to Ohio and lands west, with mountain passes providing these opportunities.
One of these roads, following a Native American footpath, passed through the Massanutten Gap in the Massanutten Mountains and crossed the Valley following the North Fork of the Shenandoah River to Brock’s Gap in the Little North Mountain of the Appalachians. The road was an important thoroughfare of east-west settlement and commerce.
Near the road was a place where Linville Creek joins the North Fork of the Shenandoah River. In the early 19th century a man named Conrad Custer built a mill near where the two waters joined. A community that grew up on the east-west thoroughfare near the mill became known as “Old Custer’s Mill.” Many of the settlers in the area were German immigrants of the Dunker faith (later known as the Church of the Brethren). They met in local homes until the Linville Creek church was built in 1828.
In 1854 the first post office that was built in the town was named “The Broadway Depot.” Tradition has it that the town’s name came from its residents that chose “the broad way” over the straight and narrow.
During the Civil War Broadway felt the destructive forces of the Valley Campaign. Custer’s Mill was burnt and homes throughout the town were used as makeshift hospitals. The town was famously home to John Kline, a Dunker pastor and missionary who was jailed for his pacifist beliefs yet continued to travel throughout the North and South during the war. Kline was assassinated just outside of town for suspicions of being a Northern spy.
Broadway recovered and continued to grow after the war. The coming of the railroad brought a boom to the town, drawing industry and turning Broadway into a bustling urban center that included hotels, boarding houses, an opera house and several newspapers by the late 19th century. The town of Broadway was incorporated in 1880.
Today Broadway is home to nearly 3,700 residents. The town is governed by a council-manager system where a six member elected council, headed by a mayor, works in conjunction with a town manager. The town has both volunteer fire and rescue squads and is serviced by reliable cable television, high-speed internet and cell phone providers. There is a public elementary, middle and high school within the town limits. The city of Harrisonburg, the county seat of Rockingham with a population of 40,000, is about 12 miles away with retail, medical and educational services.
The presence of three public schools is a big part of the Broadway community today. Besides drawing hundreds of students and teachers to the town every day the schools also bring sporting events that are supported by the local community.
In the last decade efforts to revitalize Broadway’s Main Street area has drawn unique arts and merchants to the community. The town’s downtown area is once again the center of the community. A branch of the county public library is located there and a farmers market takes place during the summer months.
Today the old wagon road that pioneers followed heading west is VA 259, a modern highway that is still an important east-west route of commerce. Those who travel it today will still encounter Broadway, which continues to be a thriving town on the banks of the North Fork.
- Date established: Area first settled in early 1800s. Town incorporated in 1880.
- Current population: 3,700
- Physical size: 1.82 square miles
- Police force: four officers
- Largest local employer: Rockingham County Public Schools
- Claim to fame: home to a public elementary, middle and high school