Established in 1778 and formed from Augusta County, the county was named for Charles Watson-Wentworth, the 2nd Marquess of Rockingham, an ally of the colonists in their disputes with Great Britain. Two years after the county's formation, the Virginia General Assembly established Harrisonburg as the seat. Rockingham is bounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains on the east and the Allegheny Mountains on the west. The county is bisected by U.S. 11, roughly following the path of the old Valley Turnpike and its predecessor the colonial Great Wagon Road, and the adjacent I-81. A large portion of the eastern part of the county falls within the Shenandoah National Park and much of the western side is in the George Washington National Forest. East of Harrisonburg and running northward is Massanutten Mountain. To its east flows the South Fork of the Shenandoah River, the county's major waterway, and west of it flows the North Fork.
Rockingham County remains one of the most prosperous agricultural regions in the Valley. In the early eighteenth century, German and Scots-Irish immigrants began to establish farms in the area's fertile lands along the Great Wagon Road. By the early nineteenth century, a number of small towns and villages had emerged at key trading centers along the South Fork of the Shenandoah River, the Valley Turnpike, and the major east–west road (U.S. 33) from the Blue Ridge Mountains to West Virginia. Evidence of the county's success abounds, from the gingerbread decoration added to town and farm houses in the late nineteenth century, to the commodious and well-tended farmsteads operated by old-order Mennonite families west of Harrisonburg, and to the expansive metal-built commercial poultry houses dotting the rural landscape. Easy accessibility to the national park and forest and the presence of I–81 have made tourism an important part of the county's economy.
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