Named for a son of English immigrants – Thomas Harrison – Harrisonburg, VA was settled in 1737 or thereabouts. No, I haven’t mistitled this article. You need to know a little history of this place before I can expound on the area’s Columbus Day fetes. Besides, it’s Columbus Day, for goodness sake: “Columbus,” as in Christopher Columbus who “discovered” the Americas in 1492. A history lesson is perfectly within the realm of possibility for this holiday.
So, Christopher Columbus stumbles upon Bermuda in 1492, thereby guaranteeing the genocide of Native Americans who were too busy living their lives to “discover” the land they treated as a shared asset since time immemorial. A little less than 300 years later, a little community called “Rocktown” renamed itself and was formally based “at the intersection of the Spotswood Trail” and the another main highway through the Shenandoah Valley, a Native American trail with a name lost to history.
Now, we jump ahead a little over 300 years to now, and me writing about Columbus Day with a laptop. In the three centuries since Rocktown became Harrisonburg, the United States was founded and pioneers whose primary activity involved agriculture settled the surrounding Shenandoah Valley. 20% of modern Harrisonburg residents cite their ancestry as German with Irish and English following at half that rate each. Apparently, the majority of the German settling in the area were German Anabaptists, specifically the Amish, Brethren, Hutterites and Mennonite.
While the nuances of each sect’s workings aren’t within the scope of this article, everyone is familiar with the stereotypical image of the Amish: black-hatted, bearded, using horse-drawn buggies and eschewing modern conveniences. Stereotypes are almost uniformly based upon the most extreme examples, but yes, there is still horse-drawn buggy traffic on some of the area’s outlying roads. Even if an individual’s beliefs and lifestyle involve a greater acceptance of modern technology and conveniences, a certain degree of conservatism or reticence remains.
With three universities and colleges within spitting distance, there will undoubtedly be celebrations under the excuse of “Columbus Day.” But for an area that is predominantly agricultural and conservative in manner, pigs will fly before German descendants celebrate a lost Italian’s Bahamian beach trip.