Past and present blend seamlessly in quiet town

Civil War history is a vital element of Shenandoah heritage

May 09, 2004|By Christine DelliBovi | Christine DelliBovi,SUN STAFF

To some, the town of New Market, in the middle of Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, might seem an unlikely place for a Civil War battle. But 140 years ago, its residents were put in the forefront of the South's struggle against the Union forces. Today, New Market is a place where the past and present continue to blend.

The name New Market comes from a town in England of the same name, the location of a famous racetrack. New Market had its own racetrack during its founding years, traces of which can still be seen, according to Arthur L. Hildreth's 1964 study, A Brief History of New Market and Vicinity.

The town was established by law in 1796, Hildreth said, and by 1835, New Market had a population of 700, as well a printing press and a large number of merchants and churches.

The Smith Creek Baptist church, which was torn down in 1918, served as an operating room and hospital for wounded Union soldiers after the Battle of New Market in May 1864, according to Hildreth.

The Shenandoah Valley weekly newspaper was started in New Market beginning in 1868. The printing plant was started by Ambrose Henkel in 1808, and the Henkel Press, as well as The Shenandoah Valley, thrived throughout the 19th century, Hildreth said. The Shenandoah Valle, continued circulation until sometime in the 1930s or 1940s, according to Scott Harris, director of the New Market Battlefield State Historical Park.

The New Market battlefield, which has also been known as the Field of Lost Shoes because many of the Virginia Military Institute cadets' shoes were pulled off their feet in the thick mud, is one of the most prominent pieces of New Market's rich history.

Several old buildings also survive, as well as the town water pump and library, all of which serve as artifacts of New Market's Civil War era.

Some New Marketers, like New Market native and VMI alumnus John Crim, have a strong family heritage tied to New Market. Crim's great-grandmother was one of many New Marketers who tended to the wounded soldiers after the battle.

"After the battle, as it was in many towns, porches, houses, barns, sheds -- anything that could house the wounded was used. In my great-grandmother's house, one of the VMI soldiers died," Crim said.

The battlefield, VMI and the town itself have a history that is still widely celebrated almost a century and a half later.

Although New Market's Civil war history is a large part of its identity today, there is more to the town that just its historical significance.

New Market's population is at about 1,700, according to Mary Alice Burch, president of the Chamber of Commerce. Despite being a small town, New Market has its own airport, as well as a baseball field and a 27-hole golf course.

Besides the yearly re-enactment of the battle, New Marketers also boast a large Fourth of July celebration. "We have one of the best July Fourth celebrations around, and people come from all over. This year we hope to have more concessions, things for children to do, games, and so on," Burch said.

New Market has an aesthetic draw as well.

"There are some beautiful older homes and antiques shops. New Market is a very pretty place to live," Burch said. New Market, along with many towns in the Shenandoah Valley, relies largely on agriculture and tourism. Visitors come to the valley for its physical beauty as well as its historical significance. The support of the tourism industry has helped the valley maintain its historic feel.

"It's my personal opinion that if the Civil War hadn't been as devastating as it was, perhaps the Shenandoah would have become more manufacturing-oriented," said Crim.

Though New Market has moved on to become a modern town, its past still makes up a large part of its present. Crim explained why New Marketers are proud of their history.

"Just the fact that you have this solid 140-year-old connection between a small school and a small town, and people still come from all over just to see the battlefield for that event. There has never been a time that New Market hasn't been proud of its place in history."

Christine DelliBovi is a senior majoring in writing and psychology at Loyola College in Baltimore. This article was written as part of an academic internship at The Sun.

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