Up the Brocks Gap Road

Looking north up Brocks Gap from the Brocks Gap Service Station

A few weeks ago I traced my mother’s earliest known ancestor to Brocks Gap, VA. On his marriage license in 1841, only his mother is listed. For a couple to be married in VA in those times, one adult had to attest that both the intended were at least 21. Thursday I went to see the area where he was born and raised.

To start with, Rockingham County, VA is in now northwest Virginia, on the border with West Virginia. It is the second most-northern sharp point of the western border of Virginia. Rockingham County is rather large, with the county seat Harrisonburg in the southern part of the county. About 10-12 miles north up the valley lie the towns of Broadway and Timberville. Brocks Gap starts about five miles west of Broadway and runs NE into West Virginia. There is a Brocks Gap Road (known as VA 259). I drove it from Broadway up almost to the WV line. The road itself is an old one, built as early as the 1800s, although the current version probably has a lesser grade that the original.

Brocks Gap is full of small farms and houses. There are a few towns (crossroads, really) – I stopped at the Fulks Run Elementary, Brocks Gap Service Station, and took my picture with a road sign as cars drove by. Once the road turned into the George Washington National Forest, I turned off west on the Bergton Road. I wound back a couple miles before it turned to a narrow one-lane road. I stopped at the Martin Luther Lutheran Church, took pictures of the church (which has a cemetery on the hill above), then backtracked to the Bergton Grocery and Grill. Actually, it’s an old-fashioned country store, complete with a wood-burning stove, wooden plank floorboards, and various goods for sale in the shelves. There were others there, almost all drove pickups and all the men were in camoflauge hunting gear (one of the gals too). They were sitting just inside the front door waiting on (and then eating their food). There is little else to Bergton. I could have gone back further on the road, but I think my genetics stopped me. It wasn’t until I visited the local history museum in Timberville (more on that later) that I learned more about where I was. Bergton was originally known as Dovesville, in honor of the family that owned the store and mill. Frederick Dove was settling his affairs before his death and sold both to a German immigrant family in 1837. The Postmaster General wanted the name changed to avoid confusion with a Covesville; two tries later and it was named Bergton. Many of the early settlers are buried in that church cemetery where I stopped (although the original church was replaced by Martin Luther Lutheran). Even though I cannot confirm it, I think some of my ancestors are buried there. I think this is as close to a return to my roots as I’ll be able to get.

From Bergton, I drove back to Broadway and then up to Timberville (about a mile separates the two). I stopped in the Plains District Memorial Museum, a museum founded by a former mayor to celebrate the area’s heritage. The museum takes whatever donations people are willing to make. I mentioned that I was there researching my mother’s family and the lady found a genealogy in their cabinet. It was compiled in 1980. The author grew up in Brocks Gap and, when he was quite young, began compiling oral histories of the oldest residents in the area. He likely interviewed the generation born about the same time as my ancestor. They shared their memories and family recollections, which made for a rambling narrative. I looked through it, which is how I learned about Dovesville/Bergton. I couldn’t find my ancestor in the genealogy, but my mother’s family name did seem to be spread throughout the Brocks Gap area.

Looking east from Martin Luther Lutheran Church towards Bergton, VA and east into Brocks Gap

Looking west down Bergton Rd. Cemetery to left is next to original Phanuel’s Church (and current Martin Luther Lutheran Church).

Martin Luther Lutheran Church – the successor church to Phanuel’s Church. The original church stood up on the hill next to the cemetery.

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