Stonewall Camped Here

Brown Gap Fire Road

You may have noticed that the old road through Brown Gap [MP 82] is called Browns Gap Road east of Skyline Drive and Madison Run Road west of the Drive.

Long ago, the gap itself had two names—it was Brown’s Gap to the people east of the mountain crest and Madison’s Gap to people living west of it. In both cases, the gap bore the name of a local land holder.

One of the oldest east-west trails in Virginia crossed the Blue Ridge at this point, and that trail became the route of the Brown’s Gap Turnpike, which was begun in 1805 and completed the following year. Brightberry Brown was in charge of construction of the eastern leg, and William Jarman was in charge of the western leg. Legend has it that when the road was finished, a fistfight erupted between the two crews as each insisted that their section was the best constructed.

The turnpike played a role in both local and national affairs. For generations, Shenandoah Valley farmers followed this route across the Blue Ridge to Charlottesville, and in 1862, Stonewall Jackson marched his army across the mountains through Brown’s Gap at the start of his famous Shenandoah Valley Campaign, giving the impression that he was headed for Richmond. But once on the other side, he loaded his troops on the train and returned to the Valley via the railroad tunnel at Rockfish Gap.

The mountain people benefited from the turnpike, too. It was their link to the outside world. They had better access to medical care and education than people living in the isolated hollows, and they were better informed.

The road through Browns Gap (the federal government discourages apostrophes in place names) linked the Valley and the Piedmont until the 1930s when the Park was established. Today, VA-810 is still known as the Brown’s (or Browns) Gap Turnpike, though the route became an ordinary county road rather than a privately owned turnpike in 1867.

Much of the information in this article is from Shenandoah Secrets: The Story of the Park’s Hidden Past, by Carolyn and Jack Reeder)

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