The Massanuttten Mountains were formed millions of years ago when huge moving sections of the earth’s crust collided with each other. This collision of plates caused the earth’s crust to wrinkle thus forming the Massanutten Mountains. The landscape of the mountains has developed by erosion of the different rock types (sandstone, quartzite, and shale) over millions of years.
These effects created a unique bowl at the southern end of the Massanutten Mountains. This area, called the “Kettle”, and the surrounding mountain ridges are the location of Massanutten Village. The end of this mountain range called the “Peak” is 2920 feet above sea level.
The history of this area, known as the Shenandoah Valley, dates to the early history of this country. It is believed the first white man to view the Shenandoah Valley was a German explorer, John Lederer, around 1670. However, the extensive Indian population limited any further exploration of this “Indian country” for fifty years.
In 1716, Governor Alexander Spotswood and the Knights of the Golden Horseshoe explored the Virginia wilderness and viewed the Valley from Swift Run in the Blue Ridge Mountains, which now overlooks the town of Elkton.
The first permanent settlement in the Valley was established in 1727, near New Market, by Germans of Mennonite and Lutheran faith from Pennsylvania. This settlement was called “Massanutten”, the Indian word for “Great Mountain Yonder”.
George Washington was commissioned by Lord Fairfax to survey the Shenandoah Valley in 1746. After the survey by Washington the land inside the Kettle and around the Peak fell into the hands of various settlers. During the Civil War this area was also an excellent hiding place for large forces from both sides.
History of Massanutten Village
After the Civil War ended, a Confederate officer, General Roller, settled in Harrisonburg and opened shop as a lawyer. If a client could not make payment, Roller took a lien on his property, usually foreclosing a short time later. In this way the Roller Estate grew to quite sizable holdings. He sold bits and pieces of the estate, except for the land along the Peak and Kettle which was not very desirable.
In the late 1800’s a new industry began in the Valley, tourism. City people were encouraged to come to the Valley as a respite from the crowded, dusty city conditions and poorly maintained water sources and waste disposal.
A young McGaheysville entrepreneur, named Gerald T. Hopkins, built a health resort known as Rockingham Springs just below the Peak. In 1889, Rockingham Springs was being advertised as a wonderful second home community for the whole family to spend summers, enjoying nature and building good stamina.
Located on a 1,000 acre tract of land owned by G.T., the resort featured a large yellow pine building which served as the Rockingham Springs Hotel, and several smaller buildings used by longer term guests, with accommodations for about 100. For reasons yet unclear, the popularity of the health resort business fell dramatically at the turn of the century. The Rockingham Springs resort fell into disrepair and was closed by 1915. The property was sold off in pieces until only about 300 acres remained.
History of Massanutten Resort
In 1968, John L. Hopkins, II, sat at a table in rural McGaheysville, in the kitchen of his great-grandfather’s house. He gazed out the window that frames a spectacular view of the Massanutten Peak, and contemplated the woes of being a farmer caught in the middle of a four-year-long drought. With the 300 family acres and the purchase of the Roller Estate which included 2,100 acres, J.L. and a silent partner spent the next three years scouting out property, gathering information, and picking up investors.
Three years later, May 26, 1971, the development of 5,200 acres in Massanutten, by a group of ten investors was announced at a luncheon held at Spotswood Country Club in Harrisonburg. Now, thirty years later, Massanutten Village is a thriving four-season resort and community of over 900 single family homes, 1000 timesharing units, and a multi-million dollar ski business.
There’s been a lot of “water over the dam” in that time, a lot of pieces that have fallen into place, and a few pieces that have fallen out of place, but the history of the development of Massanutten is as exciting to study as its future looks to be. Massanutten’s rather undramatic beginnings from a kitchen window view are best described as a chronology with a generous amount of details, cupfuls of facts, and a healthy dash of wonder at the enormity of the project John L. only vaguely realized in his mind’s eye that day at his window.
Reprinted and adapted from “Twenty Years of History.. .Massanutten and More” by June M. Brinkman