Bounded on the east by the Blue Ridge Mountains and on the west by Massanutten Mountain, Page County is divided by the meandering South Fork of the Shenandoah River that flows north the thirty-mile length of the county. The deep soils of the river's adjoining bottomlands were used by Native Americans long before the arrival of European settlers in the early eighteenth century. Many of the V-shaped fish traps visible in the shallows of the river were constructed by the indigenous population and continued to be used by later settlers.
Immigrants from present-day Germany and Switzerland comprised the 1720s Massanutten settlement, establishing many of the county's productive farms that remain in the hands of their descendants. Although settlers of Scots-Irish and English heritage also came to the county in the eighteenth century, Germans remained the dominant cultural group. Several surviving houses, barns, and churches illustrate the pervasive influence of German vernacular traditions, and a good number of the Valley's most important German American farmsteads are in Page County. Some buildings retain European features little changed by their American setting, but most are transitional buildings that include such Anglo-American features as three-bay symmetrical fenestration and exterior-end chimneys.
Page County was established in 1831 from portions of Shenandoah and Rockingham counties. Luray, a market and service center laid out in 1812, was designated the county seat. Even before the arrival of the railroad and the industrialization that accompanied it, the county had such small-scale industries as mills, tanneries, distilleries, iron furnaces, and forges. The completion in 1881 of the Shenandoah Valley Railroad line through Page Valley spurred development in Luray and led to the establishment of the railyard and shops-dominated town of Shenandoah. Tall metal-truss bridges and stone-faced tunnels and abutments are among the engineering works that tell of the railroad's powerful presence in the county over many decades.
Spectacular mountain scenery, relatively cool summer nights, and attractions such as the Luray Caverns (PG8) led to Luray's reputation as a tourist destination by the late nineteenth century. Special excursion trains from Washington, D.C., brought visitors by the hundreds to Page County, and by the early twentieth century, automobile-bound travelers could stop at any number of local roadside businesses including tourist camps, motels, filling stations, and restaurants. The creation of Shenandoah National Park and the Skyline Drive in the 1930s, though it displaced many families from their mountain farms, only enhanced the county's reputation as a recreational and scenic destination. The one-story brick former Norfolk and Western Passenger Station (1906, Charles S. Churchill; 18 Campbell Street), a blend of Queen Anne and Tudor Revival, has been renovated as a visitors' center. Recreation and agriculture remain the county's principal industries, so much that the restoration of old farmhouses and construction of new vacation homes in the county seem at times to be outpaced by the erection of the vast automated complexes used in modern commercial poultry production.
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