The name “New Market” will always be associated with the famous Civil War battle fought in a nearby farm field, but New Market is a town whose history neither started nor ended on that day in May 1864.
When the first European settlers came to the Shenandoah Valley they followed foot paths established by Native Americans. Two of these paths, one traveling north-south and the other east-west from a gap in the nearby Massanutten Mountains to a passage in the Allegheny Mountains in the west, crossed near the current location of the town of New Market. At the mid-point of the range the “Massanutten Gap” became a popular crossing. In the late 18th century John Seiver, later a Revolutionary war hero and the first governor of Tennessee, built a tavern and trading post where the paths intersected and a community, known as “Cross Roads,” began to form.
The trading post town grew quickly with factories, shops and river commerce on the local North Fork of the Shenandoah River. The original log structures were replaced by majestic homes constructed out of locally made brick. In 1796 the town was incorporated and chose as its name “New Market,” after the town in England with the same name.
Soldiers from both sides passed through the town during the Civil War. It was on May 15, 1864 that the two armies met in a farm field on the edge of town. Confederate General Breckenridge augmented his force with 257 teenage cadets from the Virginia Military Institute who had marched from Lexington to join the battle. The cadets lead a charge that changed the tide of the battle that drove the Federals north in the Shenandoah Valley. Houses throughout the town would serve as make-shift hospitals.
After the war New Market became home to many schools and academies, including the New Market Polytechnic Institute, which educated local children until the New Market High School opened in the late 1890s. The Shenandoah Valley Academy, which was established in 1908 as a Seventh Day Adventist school, is still open to students.
In 1879 a cave that was named Endless Caverns was discovered just north of town by boys hunting rabbits. The cave was open to the public in the 1920s. Although Endless Caverns was competing for tourists with other commercial caverns in Luray and Mount Jackson it quickly developed a reputation around the region for its natural beauty left close to its original state and its reputation that the cave’s end could not be found.
By the 1920s golf would come to New Market. The Shenvalee started out as a nine-hole course with lodging. Today it has grown into a 27 hole PGA course that features a motel and restaurants.
Today the battlefield town is home to 2,200 people governed by a seven person town council headed by a mayor, who works in cooperation 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 are both public and private school options within five miles, including the Shenandoah Valley Academy just outside the town limits.
New Market is still a cross roads town, the place where U.S. 11 and U.S. 211 meet, the nearby interstate bringing in tourists and commerce. Congress Street, the town’s main street, still showcases homes of the town’s founders, impressive structures constructed out of red locally produced bricks. It positioned right between Harrisonburg, the county seat of neighboring Rockingham County, and Woodstock, the seat of Shenandoah County in which New Market resides. Both towns, each about twenty miles away, offer retail, medical and educational services.
The New Market Battlefield continues to draw visitors. Maintained by the Virginia Military Institute whose cadets so famously fought there the site is also home to the Virginia Museum of the Civil War. Since the turn of the century a reenactment of the battle has been held annually.
It’s hard to hear the name “New Market” without thinking of the battle, but to those who know the area New Market is so much more; a thriving community, a place of industry, and a historic gem in the Shenandoah Valley.
New Market, VA
- Date established: A trading post established in the mid-18th century. Town incorporated in 1796.
- Current population: 2,200
- Physical size: 2 square miles
- Police force: five officers
- Largest local employer: New Market Poultry
- Claim to fame: The Battle of New Market was fought near town in 1864 during the Civil War.
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