Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star, June 20, 2014
Jean Rice found herself drawn to a strip of land off State Route 3, also known as Germanna Highway, in Orange County near the Rapidan River.
Again and again she drove past the site of the original 18th century Germanna fort and settlement without knowing its history or realizing the profound meaning it had for her family.
Each time she found herself taking the time to admire the beauty of that particular stretch of road near Germanna Ford.
Once she passed by the building off Route 3 adjacent to GCC’s Locust Grove Campus that houses the offices of the Memorial Foundation of the Germanna Colonies in Virginia, wondering what it was.
She made a mental note to ask her daughter, Sheryl Williamson, who works in the counseling office at the college at its Fredericksburg Area Campus in Spotsylvania.
Like most Americans, they knew little about their family going more than a few generations back.
It turns out that their roots are deep in the soil of Orange County off the Rapidan River, on the land that held a strange fascination for Rice.
She and her brother, Robert Burns, have done some genealogy work and learned that an ancestor, Jans Jacob Holtzclaw, arrived when the Germanna fort and settlement was founded in 1714 by Alexander Spotswood, the governor of the Virginia colony.
Named for the British Queen Anne, it was populated by German miners brought there by Spotswood to operate his iron works.
Germanna Community College takes its name from the group of settlers at Germanna Ford on the Rapidan.
In 1956, descendants of the original settlers at Germanna Ford organized the Memorial Foundation of Germanna Colonies in Virginia, Inc.
In 1966, the Virginia legislature created a community college system.
A site selection committee recommended that the College be located in the center of its service region.
In 1969, the Memorial Foundation of Germanna Colonies donated 100 acres of property along the Rapidan to the state for a community college.
The College Board unanimously chose the name Germanna Community College to recognize the gift and the history associated with it.
Spotswood’s settlement brought Jean Rice and Sheryl Williamson’s ancestor to America and provided work.
Hundreds of years later, donation of land from the site led to work for descendant Sheryl.
Williamson grew up in South Carolina before moving to Spotsylvania County in 1998 and taking a job at Germanna’s Locust Grove Campus in 2001.
She had moved to the area from Columbia, S.C. when her husband Butch was hired by Rappahannock Electric Cooperative.
Later, totally by chance, her sister, Sharon Freeman, moved from South Carolina to Madison County, which is also close to the Germanna settlement site, when her husband got a job in the area.
Sheryl Williamson invited her mother and grandmother to move here to live with her in 2010.
All of this took place with no knowledge that they were descendants of the original Germanna settlers.
The 300th anniversary of the establishment of the settlement will be celebrated July 17-20, and 90-year-old Elizabeth Burns, Sheryl Williamson’s grandmother, plans to attend, along with her daughter, granddaughter and great-granddaughter, Caroline Williamson.
“It was strange,” Jean Rice says, “that I’d always find myself driving out that way, every time looking around at that spot and saying, ‘Oh, it’s so beautiful here.’ “