While many settlers came to the Valley from areas to the north along the Great Wagon Road those traveling from the east had to find a way to cross the Blue Ridge Mountains. In Augusta County Jarman Gap was the most convenient place to cross. A few miles west of the mountains where the South River threaded through the Valley became a convenient stop for travelers. What started out as a roadside stop would grow into a city known as Waynesboro.
One of the first establishments in what would later become Waynesboro was the tavern run by the Tees family. A popular stop for travelers according to local lore the tavern hosted such colonial dignitaries such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. The little village that grew around the tavern became known as Teesville.
In 1797 the town that had developed adopted the name “Waynesboro” after the Revolutionary War hero Mad Anthony Wayne. It was recognized by an act of the state’s legislature in 1801 and was later incorporated in 1834. Waynesboro remained an important stop for east and west traffic and a train connecting Charlottesville and Staunton passed through the town in the 1850s.
Though Waynesboro was spared the destruction that other valley towns experienced in the Civil War a battle was fought outside the city in early 1865 that marked the end of Confederate control of the Shenandoah Valley. Following the war a north/south train line passed through Waynesboro, making the city an important center of trade and industry.
By the late 19th century the second half of what is present day Waynesboro was forming on the eastern side of the South River. It was a planned town called “Basic City.” What followed was a rivalry between the two towns until they were consolidated under the Waynesboro name in 1923.
In the 20th century Waynesboro experienced tremendous growth in industry with factories turning out farm and forestry equipment. The first car made in the state was built in Waynesboro. By the time of World War II DuPont and General Electric both ran large factories in the town. Though these companies have changed hands over the years, high tech manufacturing is still an important part of Waynesboro’s economy. Invista, once a division of DuPont is the city’s largest employer.
In 1948 Waynesboro became an independent city. While a modern city, Waynesboro has worked hard to preserve its history. In the downtown area are several original buildings from the early 19th century that are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Downtown Waynesboro has become a center for the local arts and music scene, including the museum and gallery for artist P. Buckley Moss. Recent efforts at a community revitalization have resulted in the re-opening of the historic Wayne Theater as a community arts and events center.
One of the fixtures of downtown life is the Fishburne Military Academy. Founded in 1879 as a co-educational private school its focus shifted to all-male military education. Its Gothic Revival barracks dominate the hill west of downtown. Today, with just under 200 cadets, it is one of the oldest military schools in the country.
Waynesboro’s proximity to the Blue Ridge Mountains puts it right in the heart of an outdoor mecca. The mountains hold the Shenandoah National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway and Waynesboro is often a stop for hikers on the Appalachian Trail.
The South River that flows through town has gotten national attention as a fly fishing spot. Waynesboro celebrates this with their annual River Fest and Fly Fishing Festival. The city has also become famous for the annual Soap Box Derby race held on its streets.
Present day Waynesboro has a population of just over 21,000 and the city limits encompass 15 square miles. The city’s public school system has six schools. The city government is run by the council-manager system. The city stays connected to the rest of the country and the world through the proximate interstate system and a nearby regional airport.
The city of Waynesboro has come a long way from that little tavern on the other side of the mountain. What was once a stop by the road has become a place to live, work and play.