By ZANN MINER
Published: December 15, 2008
Culpeper Star Exponent
Ah, Stevensburg, the once flourishing crossroads of young America! Our path will leave present-day Route 3 with a left turn onto York Road (Route 600) just after the rock quarry; immediately on the left is St. Stevens Baptist Church.
Stevensburg may seem insignificant now, but once upon a time she had a promising future and still today possesses a sparkling history and remains near and dear to many.
We will spend at least a few days exploring the village and the surrounding properties.
It will be far too inconvenient for you to return home each day but lodging can be found at Zimmerman’s Tavern, believed to have been popular with Thomas Jefferson, just down the street at Miss Betty Wales Tavern or perhaps, the good folks at Salubria will have a spare bed.
The village, well established by the mid-1700s at the busy intersection of Kirtley and Carolina roads, was known by the name of York and for a time was the largest community in Culpeper County.
Included amongst the early settlers of York was the Zimmerman family, of Spotswood’s Germania (Germanna) settlement.
But the German colonists were not the only ones to recognize the potential for commercial and agricultural productivity. It was the new frontier, a significant westward route, a hub for travel and excellent farmland.
The possibilities for growth and economic gain attracted wealthy land speculators as well.
In 1782, on 50 acres owned by William Bradley, a town was established by the Virginia Legislature and named for Revolutionary War hero and Culpeper citizen, Gen. Edward Stevens.
The town was laid out in half acre lots with a “convenient” system of streets.
Most early towns consisted of a primary street commonly referred to as “Front” or the name of the founder as in Culpeper’s “Coleman”, a secondary street often called simply “Back” street and one or two connecting side streets.
In Stevensburg the original primary street is functional and known today as York Road or Route 600. Back Street is not passable and barely recognizable.
However, Spring Street one of the original connecting side streets, exists near the site of Wale’s Tavern. Who knows what a stroll along these ancient paths might reveal?
Purchasers of these original lots were required to build a 16-foot-square dwelling “fit for habitation within three years.”
At this writing, it is not clear how many of the lots were sold, but within 18 years 21 investors had purchased one or more lots.
The application of some simple math and the assumption that the building requirement was enforced allows us conclude that within 25 years there were as many as 21 houses in the town of Stevensburg.
Even if some of the purchasers reneged on the house construction mandate, one can quickly envision the profile of the growing burg.
Some of the lots were used for the dual purpose of a commercial and residential structure. Within walking distance of the heart of town and the traffic congested intersection were two taverns, two stores, a post office, blacksmith shop, tannery and Masonic Hall.
Nearby were the sources for municipal water at Bradley’s and Yowell’s spring, the latter being the suspected location and reason for the notorious Wicked Bottom.
The banks of Mountain Run, less than a mile north of the town would support the commercial operations of a mill and an ammunitions factory.
The rapidly growing population and the evidence of an increasing number of wealthy families gave rise to the establishment of several schools not the least of which was the Stevensburg Academy.
It was at this educational institution that Dr. John Wharton established a medical school.
Stevensburg was certainly not without religious influence. The Rev. John Thompson, minister of St. Mark’s Parish (1740-1772) lived just a short distance away at Salubria circa 1745 and served parishioners at Little Fork.
The Quakers established the Southland Meeting with a house of worship and a cemetery as early as 1788 and would remain in Stevensburg until the 1820s.
Over the years, the Baptists would have the greatest influence in Stevensburg, beginning with the Mt. Pony Church in 1774 and the founding of the Stevensburg Baptist Church in 1833.
Surrounding the town of Stevensburg were large plantations owned and operated by those who would be recorded as the founding fathers of Culpeper County. Some were mentioned last week and others such as Salubria, Rose Hill, and the Norman Place will be examined in the future.
Until next, be well.
Note: All properties mentioned are privately owned and not currently available for public lodging
Zann Miner, former director of the Museum of Culpeper History, can be reached at email@example.com or send her mail at the Star-Exponent, 471 James Madison Highway, Culpeper Va., 22701.