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Rockingham County, Virginia
VAGenWeb Project

Towns in Rockingham County

Page 5


Dayton is likely one of the oldest "inland" towns in the county. Probably the first house was the one built of stone by the Harrisons, and still standing in fine condition at the northeast end of the town, on the west side of the Warm Springs and Harrisonburg Pike. It is now occupied by the Burtner family. Capt. John A. Herring, whose ancestors were some of the first settlers of the community, says:

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It was once surrounded by palisades, and in times of Indian invasion the people around went there with their families for protection. There is a tradition that there was an underground passage dug to the creek [Cook’s Creek] nearby, for water, in case of a siege.

A writer in the Rockingham Register of January 5, 1894, says that this old house was sold early in the 19th century by Dr. Peachy Harrison to Maj. John Allebaugh.

Prior to the Revolution there was an Episcopal chapel in what is now the north section of the Dayton cemetery; and up the creek a short distance, on the ground now covered by Silver Lake, was "Old Erection" of the Presbyterians. In March, 1833, Dayton was established by law. Rifeville and Rifetown were earlier names. In 1854 John Stinespring was proprietor of Dayton Hotel. Dayton’s stirring experiences in 1864 are narrated elsewhere. In 1903 and 1911 the town was visited by destructive fires, but the enterprising spirit of her people seems akin to the phenix (sic) essence. Dayton is probably the largest town south of Mason and Dixon’s line without a single colored citizen; and likely has the largest business carried on through its postoffice of any town of its size in the country. The latter condition is due to its publishing houses and schools, referred to elsewhere.

The present (1912) population of Dayton is about 600, and its municipal officers are the following:
Mayor - J.W. Keiter.
Clerk - Henry Beery.
Assessor - J.H.S. Good.
Sergeant - J.A. Shifflett.
Councilmen - P.X. Heatwole, J.W. Heatwole, J.H. Rhodes, J.W. Rhodes, J.N. Shrum, J.A. Stone, G.P. Arey.


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The beautiful town on the North River, three miles southwest of Dayton, was first called Dinkletown, after one of the first families in the community, then Bridgeport, because it was a flatboat port at a bridge, and finally Bridgewater, because, doubtless, the bridge continued to be a necessity although the place ceased to be a port.

According to Mr. S.G. Dinkle, John Dinkle about 1810 put up a carding machine, a sawmill, and a grist mill on the north side of the river, about a quarter of a mile  below the bridge.

The grist mill was replaced by a flouring mill about 1835. According to Mr. Dinkle and Mr. S.H.W. Byrd, this flouring mill burned in 1855, and was replaced immediately by the mill now standing there. On February 7, 1835, the town was established by law, on 20 acres of land belonging to John and Jacob Dinkle. The trustees were Jacob Dinkle, Michael Wise, Jesse Hoover, John Dinkle, Sr., and John Dumore. Quoting from the Act: "Liberty st. shall be laid off & established 20 ft; Main st. 55 ft. wide: Grove st. 20 ft. wide & Center alley 12 ft. wide." The old town hall, standing on the west side of Main Street, below the intersection of Commerce Street, is said to have been formerly a church. Mr. S.H.W. Byrd calls attention to the fact that Bridgewater was established by law the same year as Milwaukee, Wis. In 1892 Capt. Philander Herring testified that the town had had no barroom or liquor saloon of any kind since 1854. It had had none since 1892. In 1868 a company was formed and chartered to build an observatory on Round Hill, just west of town; but this splendid project seems to have failed. In 1873, the period of railroad fevers, Bridgewater and vicinity were on a "boom." In the Register of May 9 (1873) it was reported that no less than 33 flouring mills 2 wool mills, and a number of sawmills were to be found within a radius of five miles of the place. On February 23, 1880, a considerable section of the town was laid waste by fire. In 1904 the corporate limits of the town were extended to their present ample proportions.

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Now, a word concerning the Bridgewater bridges. For most of this acknowledgment is made to Mr. S.H.W. Byrd. First, there was an old bridge on posts, low, near the water. In 1853 another bridge was built by Abram S. Williams. This was burned by the Confederates in 1862. The third bridge was erected in 1866 - completed in October - by John W. Woods. It had a support in the middle. On September 29, 1870, the northern half of this bridge was swept away by the great flood.

The fourth bridge was completed in December, 1870, by Col. Wm. F. Pifer. This, too, had a center support. It was washed away November 24, 1877. The present bridge was finished by Wm. H. Grove in April 1878. It crosses at a single colossal leap of 240 feet or more, and is said to be the longest single-span wooden bridge in the world.

The population of Bridgewater (1912) is about 1000. The town officers are the following:
Mayor - H.C. Hale.
Recorder - S.H.W. Byrd.
Treasurer - O.W. Miller.
Assessor - E.A. Dinkle
Sergeant - J.W. Walters
Councilmen - J.H. Wine, W.H. Miller, C.B. Kiser, L.V. Miller, O.W. Wine, B.H. Beydler.

When the above officers were elected, June 11, 1912, the town voted a bond issue of $25,000 for a water and sewer system.


Text from "A History of Rockingham County Virginia" by John W. Wayland, Ph.D. - Published 1912
Photos from old postcards

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