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Harrisonburg, Virginia
City of Harrisonburg
Rockingham County Courthouse in Court Square in downtown Harrisonburg
Rockingham County Courthouse in Court Square in downtown Harrisonburg
Official seal of Harrisonburg, Virginia
The Friendly City, Rocktown, H'burg, The Burg, Friendly by Nature
Location of Harrisonburg in the Commonwealth of Virginia
Location of Harrisonburg in the Commonwealth of Virginia
Harrisonburg, Virginia is located in Shenandoah Valley
Harrisonburg, Virginia
Harrisonburg, Virginia
Location in Shenandoah Valley
Harrisonburg, Virginia is located in Virginia
Harrisonburg, Virginia
Harrisonburg, Virginia
Location in Virginia
Harrisonburg, Virginia is located in the United States
Harrisonburg, Virginia
Harrisonburg, Virginia
Location in the United States
Country  United States
State  Virginia
County None (Independent city)
Founded 1779
Incorporated 1916
Founded by Thomas Harrison
Named for Thomas Harrison
 • Type Council-manager government
 • Total 17.39 sq mi (45.04 km2)
 • Land 17.34 sq mi (44.91 km2)
 • Water 0.05 sq mi (0.13 km2)
1,325 ft (404 m)
 • Total 51,814
 • Density 2,979.5/sq mi (1,150.40/km2)
Time zone UTC-5 (EST)
 • Summer (DST) UTC-4 (EDT)
ZIP Codes
22801–22803, 22807
Area code(s) 540
FIPS code 51-35624
GNIS feature ID 1498489

Harrisonburg is an independent city in the Shenandoah Valley region of the Commonwealth of Virginia in the United States. It is also the county seat of the surrounding Rockingham County, although the two are separate jurisdictions. As of the 2020 census, the population was 51,814. The Bureau of Economic Analysis combines the city of Harrisonburg with Rockingham County for statistical purposes into the Harrisonburg, Virginia Metropolitan Statistical Area, which has a 2011 estimated population of 126,562.

Harrisonburg is home to James Madison University (JMU), a public research university with an enrollment of over 20,000 students, and Eastern Mennonite University (EMU), a private, Mennonite-affiliated liberal arts university. Although the city has no historical association with President James Madison, JMU was nonetheless named in his honor as Madison College in 1938 and renamed as James Madison University in 1977. EMU largely owes its existence to the sizable Mennonite population in the Shenandoah Valley, to which many Pennsylvania Dutch settlers arrived beginning in the mid-18th century in search of rich, unsettled farmland.

The city has become a bastion of ethnic and linguistic diversity in recent years. Over 1,900 refugees have been settled in Harrisonburg since 2002. As of 2014, Hispanics or Latinos of any race make up 19% of the city's population. Harrisonburg City Public Schools (HCPS) students speak 55 languages in addition to English, with Spanish, Arabic, and Kurdish being the most common languages spoken. Over one-third of HCPS students are English as a second language (ESL) learners. Language learning software company Rosetta Stone was founded in Harrisonburg in 1992, and the multilingual "Welcome Your Neighbors" yard sign originated in Harrisonburg in 2016.


Historical marker Harrisonburg, Virginia A33
Harrisonburg was named for Thomas Harrison (1704–1785), an early settler.

The earliest documented English exploration of the area prior to settlement was the "Knights of the Golden Horseshoe Expedition", led by Lt. Gov. Alexander Spotswood, who reached Elkton, and whose rangers continued and in 1716 likely passed through what is now Harrisonburg.

Harrisonburg, previously known as "Rocktown", was named for Thomas Harrison, a son of English settlers. In 1737, Harrison settled in the Shenandoah Valley, eventually laying claim to over 12,000 acres (4,900 ha) situated at the intersection of the Spotswood Trail and the main Native American road through the valley.

In 1779, Harrison deeded 2.5 acres (1.0 ha) of his land to the "public good" for the construction of a courthouse. In 1780, Harrison deeded an additional 50 acres (20 ha). This is the area now known as "Historic Downtown Harrisonburg."

In 1849, trustees chartered a mayor–council form of government, although Harrisonburg was not officially incorporated as an independent city until 1916. Today, a council–manager government administers Harrisonburg.

On June 6, 1862, an American Civil War skirmish took place at Good's Farm, Chestnut Ridge near Harrisonburg between the forces of the Union and the forces of the Confederacy at which the C.S. Army Brigadier General, Turner Ashby (1828–1862), was killed.


I 81 harrisonburg
Interstate 81, a main roadway in Harrisonburg

When the slaves of the Shenandoah Valley were freed in 1865, they set up near modern-day Harrisonburg a town called Newtown. This settlement was eventually annexed by the independent city of Harrisonburg some years later, probably around 1892. Today, the old city of Newtown is still the home of the majority of Harrisonburg's predominantly black churches, such as First Baptist and Bethel AME. The modern Boys and Girls Club of Harrisonburg is located in the old Lucy Simms schoolhouse used for the black students in the days of segregation.

A large portion of this black neighborhood was dismantled in the 1960s when – in the name of urban renewal – the city government used federal redevelopment funds from the Housing Act of 1949 to force black families out of their homes and then bulldozed the neighborhood. This effort, called "Project R4", focused on the city blocks east of Main, north of Gay, west of Broad, and south of Johnson. According to Bob Sullivan, an intern working in the city planner's office in 1958, the city planner at the time, David Clark had to convince the city council that Harrisonburg even had slums. Newtown, a low socioeconomic status housing area, was declared a slum. Federal law mandated that the city needed to have a referendum on the issue before R4 could begin. The vote was close with 1,024 votes in favor and 978 against R4. After the vote, the Harrisonburg Redevelopment and Housing Authority was formed. All of the members were white men. The project began and, due to eminent domain, the government could force the people of Newtown to sell their homes. They were offered rock bottom prices for their homes. Many people couldn't afford a new home and had to move into public housing projects and become dependent on the government. Likewise, many of the businesses of Newtown that were bought out could not afford to reestablish themselves. Kline's, a white-owned business, was actually one of the few businesses in the area that was able to reopen. The city later sold the land to commercial developers.

Downtown Renaissance

In early 2002, the Harrisonburg community discussed the possibility of creating a pedestrian mall downtown. Public meetings were held to discuss the merits and drawbacks of pursuing such a plan. Ultimately, the community decided to keep its Main Street open to traffic. From these discussions, however, a strong voice emerged from the community in support of downtown revitalization.

On July 1, 2003, Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with the mission of rejuvenating the downtown district.

In 2004, downtown was designated as the Harrisonburg Downtown Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places and a designated Virginia Main Street Community, with the neighboring Old Town Historic District residential community gaining historic district status in 2007. Several vacant buildings have been renovated and repurposed for new uses, such as the Hardesty-Higgins House and City Exchange, used for the Harrisonburg Tourist Center and high-end loft apartments, respectively.

In 2008, downtown Harrisonburg spent over $1 million in cosmetic and sidewalk infrastructure improvements (also called streetscaping and wayfinding projects). The City Council appropriated $500,000 for custom street signs to be used as "wayfinding signs" directing visitors to areas of interest around the city. Another $500,000 were used to upgrade street lighting, sidewalks, and landscaping along Main Street and Court Square.

In 2014, Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance was named a Great American Main Street by the National Main Street Association and downtown was designated the first culinary district in the commonwealth of Virginia.


Larkin Arts
Larkin Arts

Harrisonburg has won several awards in recent years, including "#6 Favorite Town in America" by Travel + Leisure in 2016, the "#15 Best City to Raise an Outdoor Kid" by Backpacker in 2009, and the "#3 Happiest Mountain Town" by Blue Ridge Country Magazine in 2016.

The creative class of Harrisonburg has grown alongside the revitalization of the downtown district. Contributing to Harrisonburg's cultural capital are a collection of education and art centers, residencies, studios, and artist-facilitated businesses, programs, and collectives.

Some of these programs include: Larkin Arts, a community art center that opened in 2012 and has four symbiotic components: an art supply store, a fine arts gallery, a school with three classrooms, and five private studio spaces.

Old Furnace Artist Residency (OFAR) and SLAG Mag: Artist residency and arts&culture quarterly zine focused on community engagement and social practice projects started in 2013.

Harrisonburg's Little Free Library
A Little Free Library in Harrisonburg

The Super Gr8 Film Festival, founded in 2009. The 2013 festival featured more than 50 locally produced films, and all of the films in the festival were shot using vintage cameras and Super 8 film.

Arts Council of the Valley, including the Darrin-McHone Gallery and Court Square Theater, provides facilities and funding for various arts programs and projects.

OASIS Fine Art and Craft, opened in 2000, is a cooperative gallery of over 35 local artists and artisans exhibiting and selling their work. It offers fine hand-crafted pottery, jewelry, fiber art, wood, metal, glass, wearable art, paintings, and photography.

The Virginia Quilt Museum, established in 1995, is dedicated to preserving, celebrating, and nurturing Virginia's quilting heritage. It features a permanent collection of nearly 300 quilts, a Civil War Gallery, antique and toy sewing machines, and rotating exhibits from across the United States.

Historic sites

In addition to the Thomas Harrison House, Harrisonburg Downtown Historic District, and Old Town Historic District, the Anthony Hockman House, Rockingham County Courthouse, Lucy F. Simms School, Whitesel Brothers, and Joshua Wilton House are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 17.4 square miles (45.1 km2), of which 17.3 square miles (44.8 km2) is land and 0.1 square miles (0.3 km2) (0.3%) is water.


Historical population
Census Pop.
1860 1,023
1870 2,036 99.0%
1880 2,831 39.0%
1890 2,792 −1.4%
1900 3,521 26.1%
1910 4,879 38.6%
1920 5,875 20.4%
1930 7,232 23.1%
1940 8,768 21.2%
1950 10,810 23.3%
1960 11,916 10.2%
1970 14,605 22.6%
1980 19,671 34.7%
1990 30,707 56.1%
2000 40,468 31.8%
2010 48,914 20.9%
2020 51,814 5.9%
U.S. Decennial Census
1790-1960 1900-1990
1990-2000 2010 2020

2020 census

Harrisonburg city, Virginia - Demographic Profile
(NH = Non-Hispanic)
Race / Ethnicity Pop 2010 Pop 2020 % 2010 % 2020
White alone (NH) 35,391 31,454 72.35% 60.71%
Black or African American alone (NH) 2,911 3,906 5.95% 7.54%
Native American or Alaska Native alone (NH) 67 71 0.14% 0.14%
Asian alone (NH) 1,705 2,089 3.49% 4.03%
Pacific Islander alone (NH) 54 20 0.11% 0.04%
Some Other Race alone (NH) 112 196 0.23% 0.38%
Mixed Race/Multi-Racial (NH) 1,009 2,033 2.06% 3.92%
Hispanic or Latino (any race) 7,665 12,045 15.67% 23.25%
Total 48,914 51,814 100.00% 100.00%

Note: the US Census treats Hispanic/Latino as an ethnic category. This table excludes Latinos from the racial categories and assigns them to a separate category. Hispanics/Latinos can be of any race.

2010 Census

USA Harrisonburg city, Virginia age pyramid
This graph, using information from the 2000 federal census, illustrates the uneven distribution of age due to the two universities in Harrisonburg

As of the census of 2010, 48,914 people, 15,988 households, and 7,515 families resided in the city. The population density was 2,811.1/mi2 (1087.0/km2). The 15,988 housing units averaged 918.9/mi2 (355.3/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 78.4% White, 6.4% Black or African American, 0.3% Native American, 3.5% Asian, 0.1% Pacific Islander, 8.2% from other races, and 3.1% from two or more races. Hispanics or Latinos of any race were 15.7% of the population, up from 8.85% according to the census of 2000.

Of the 15,988 households, 22.1% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 32.7% were married couples living together, 10.1% had a female householder with no husband present, and 53.0% were not families. About 27.3% of all households were made up of individuals, and 17.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.59, and the average family size was 3.06.

In the city, the population was distributed as 15.0% under the age of 18, 48.9% from 18 to 24, 21.2% from 25 to 44, 13.2% from 45 to 64, and 9.3% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 22.8 years. For every 100 females, there were 87.3 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $37,850, and for a family was $53,642. The per capita income for the city was $16,992. About 11.5% of families and 31.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 19.6% of those under age 18 and 9.5% of those age 65 or over.

Points of interest

  • Edith J. Carrier Arboretum
  • Downtown Harrisonburg
  • Harrisonburg's Old Post Office Mural (Now US Bankruptcy Court)
  • Virginia Quilt Museum - located downtown and dedicated to preserving, celebrating, and nurturing Virginia's quilting heritage. The museum was established in 1995 and features a permanent collection of nearly 300 quilts, a Civil War Gallery, antique and toy sewing machines, and rotating exhibits from across the United States.


  • The Alpine Loop Gran Fondo road-cycling event hosted by professional cyclist Jeremiah Bishop starts and finishes in downtown Harrisonburg.
  • The annual Harrisonburg International Festival celebrates international foods, dance, music, and folk art.
  • Valley Fourth - Downtown Harrisonburg's 4 July celebrations that bring in over 12,000 people. The festival includes a morning run, food trucks, beer and music garden, kids' area, art market, craft and clothing vendors, and fireworks.
  • Christmas/Holiday Parade- dates vary.
  • Taste of Downtown - food event, yearly in March.
  • Skeleton Festival - This event blends aspects of Halloween and Dia de los Muertos in a big, community celebration. Activities kick off with trick-or-treating at downtown businesses and culminate with a fun, all-ages party at the Turner Pavilion & Park. The festival features kid, dog, and adult costume contests; face painting; fire dancing; food trucks; live music; a community ofrenda; video art; “trunk or treating”; wacky shacks, goober blobs and whisker biscuits.
  • Rocktown Beer & Music Festival- This event is very well attended each Spring. It features over 75 different beers and ciders. The band lineup changes each year and food is supplied by some of the local downtown restaurants.


The climate in this area is characterized by brief hot, humid summers and generally mild to severe cool winters. Harrisonburg has a humid subtropical climate, Cfa on climate maps according to the Köppen climate classification but has clear 4 seasons that vary significantly, if not having brief changes from summer to winter. The USDA hardiness zone is 6b, which means average minimum winter temperature of -5F to 0F.



School systems

Serving about 4,400 students (K–12), Harrisonburg City Public Schools comprises six elementary schools, two middle schools, and a high school. Eastern Mennonite School, a private school, serves grades K–12 with an enrollment of about 386 students.

Higher education

  • James Madison University (public)
  • Eastern Mennonite University (private, Mennonite-affiliated)
  • National College (private, for-profit)
  • American National University (private, for-profit)

High schools

  • Harrisonburg High School

Middle schools

  • Skyline Middle School
  • Thomas Harrison Middle School

Elementary schools

  • Bluestone Elementary
  • Smithland Elementary
  • Spotswood Elementary
  • Stone Spring Elementary
  • Waterman Elementary
  • W.H. Keister Elementary

Other schools

  • Elon W. Rhodes Early Learning Center
  • Great Oak Academy

Technical Schools

  • Massanutten Technical Center
  • Massanutten Regional Governors School

Private schools

  • Blue Ridge Christian School
  • Eastern Mennonite School
  • Redeemer Classical School (K–8)

Notable people


  • David Avison, American photographer and physicist
  • Brian Bocock, former MLB player
  • Pasco Bowman II, Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit (1983–1999)
  • Nelson Chittum, former MLB player
  • James H. Cravens, U.S. Representative from Indiana (1841–1843)
  • Clement Conger, White House Curator (1970–1990)
  • Dell Curry, former NBA player; father of NBA players Stephen Curry and Seth Curry
  • Donald DePoy, fifth-generation bluegrass musician, music educator, and music event organizer
  • Page Dunlap, former LPGA Tour member and 1986 winner of the individual NCAA Division I Women's Golf Championship
  • Dan Forest, 34th Lieutenant Governor of North Carolina (2013–present)
  • Alan Knicely, former MLB player
  • Tom Lough, former modern pentathlete and competitor in the 1968 Summer Olympics
  • Old Crow Medicine Show, Americana string band
  • John Paul Jr., U.S. Representative from Virginia (1922-1923); U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia (1929-1932); Judge for the Western District of Virginia (1932-1958), whose school desegregation rulings set off Massive Resistance by Virginia officials
  • Thomas F. Riley, Brigadier general in the Marine Corps, later served as Orange County Supervisor 1974-1994
  • Jeremiah Sullivan, Justice of the Indiana Supreme Court
  • Kaitlyn Vincie, Fox NASCAR reporter and NASCAR Race Hub presenter
  • Happy the Man, progressive rock band



Images for kids

See also

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