A Self Guided Tour of Hottel-Keller Historical sites in Shenandoah County

This guide has been adapted from "A Historical Tour" with Historian Rev. Dr. B. Paul Huddle and includes material from additional sources. Originally published in The Voice, Summer 2007.
Photo by Paul Stoneburner. Taken December 31, 1957.

Woodstock, Virginia was chartered in 1761, by an act of the Virginia Assembly on land obtained by Jacob Mueller in a land grant from Thomas Lord Fairfax, in 1752. Before it was chartered, the town was known as Muellerstadt (Miller-Town). George Washington sponsored the Town’s charter in the Virginia House of Burgess.
Woodstock is the County Seat of Shenandoah County, formerly called Dunmore County after the Virginia Governor, Lord Dunmore. Dunmore County was defined from Frederick County. Thus many of the earlier historical documents for research were found in the Frederick County court records, but were transferred to Shenandoah in latter years.
Frederick County was organized in 1743 along with Augusta County as the population increased in Virginia. By 1738 Pioneers in the newly opening lands of Virginia’s northwest were urging the definitions of counties there, and Frederick and Augusta were defined west of the Blue Ridge contingent upon the documentations of a reasonable number of tithables. In the Case of Frederick, this was not demonstrated until 1743. These counties were originally part of Orange County.
The decision of the English Parliament to reopen portions of the frontier to settlement produced further county formation beginning in 1772, when Berkeley (now in West Virginia) and Dunmore were formed from Frederick. Dunmore became Shenandoah County in 1778 it seems, as a result of the American Revolution and the prejudice against the English. Dunmore was an English Governor.
Let us begin our tour at the south end of Woodstock and work north toward Strasburg.
Massanutten Military Academy is located on the west side of Main Street (US 11) at the south end of Woodstock. For a century this “Prep School” has given a well-rounded education to young men, and in later years, also young women, from around the United States and the world. It stresses academic training in a military setting.
One who attended was Katherine Hottel, 1311x-a, Pg. 454 in the 1930 History. She graduated, and later became a teacher there, and married Major (later Lt. Col.) Guy Anderson Benchoff, who was then a member of the faculty, and later became the Commandant. Their home was just across the street, on the corner, and is still standing.
The Old Court House (100 Block, North Main Street) in Woodstock was built of native limestone in 1795 to replace the original log building and is the oldest courthouse now in use west of the Blue Ridge. Thomas Marshall Sr., Father of Chief Justice John Marshall, was the first Clerk of the Court here, beginning in 1776. Latter in 1778 his son, Thomas Marshall, Jr. became the Clerk of the Court. When the Court was in session, he stayed in the “Marshall House,” now the Woodstock Museum(104 S. Muhlenberg St.). It is believed that Thomas Jefferson designed the current Court House. The Courthouse Bell was ordered in 1809 and was cast in Pennsylvania.

Peter Muhlenberg
Image courtesy of Wikipedia

The bust of Peter Muhlenberg stands in front of the courthouse. He was a famous clergyman who came to Woodstock in 1772 to serve both the Lutheran and Anglican people here. He was ordained a Lutheran Minister in 1768. In 1772, on a trip to England, he was ordained a priest in the Anglican Church. He soon became a strong patriot, and the County’s representative in the Virginia House of Burgess.

On Sunday, January 21, 1776, the Rev. Muhlenberg started the service in the Woodstock Anglican Church as usual. For his sermon he took from the text of the third chapter of Ecclesiastes, which starts with “To every thing there is a season.” When he came to verse eight he declaimed, “There is a time for all things, a time to preach and a time to pray, but those times have past. There is a time to fight and that time has now come.” He removed his clerical robe and stood before his congregation dressed as a Colonel of the Continental Army, having been commissioned by George Washington.

Volunteers were recruited outside the church and he left shortly for the Revolution with 300 recruits. By the war’s end he had become a Major General, and he decided to continue in politics, rather than resume his ministry. He sold his house in Woodstock in 1784.

The Keller House (147 N. Main St) is no longer standing. It was located on the west side of Main Street north of the courthouse. This was one of the oldest houses in Woodstock and was the home of Jacob B Keller, #828y-f, Pg. 946, and his wife Ann Hoover. They were married in 1879. He was the Chief of Police and they operated their home as a boarding house. You will find a parking lot for Dellinger Funeral Home where the house once stood. The house was disassembled and rebuilt in Little Washington, VA.

The French Mill is located on Water Street in Woodstock. George H. Hottel, 1478-f, pg. 203, built the mill in 1888. The mill was later owned and operated by Martin Van Buren French. Mr. French was the grandfather of Orrin French our long time legal counsel and HKMI member.

The Toll Gate House (401 N. Main St) is located on the northwest corner of Main and North Streets in Woodstock. A Tollgate was operated here until 1918. This was one of 12 Tollgates between Winchester and Harrisonburg. The current U.S. Route 11 was formerly the Valley Turnpike and before that it was known as Indian Road, because it was originally an Indian Trail. In 1838 a Turnpike Company was formed to develop a better road and tollgates were placed about every 5 miles and a toll charge of 5 cents was collected. Locals broke up limestone with “knapping,” or chipping, hammers and sold gravel by the basket to the Turnpike Company for the construction and maintenance of the road. After being operated for 80 years as a Toll Road, the State took over maintenance in 1918. It continued as the main route through the valley until the 1960s when Interstate 81 was completed.

The Half-Way House (22597 Valley Pike) is located a few miles north of Woodstock on US 11 at the intersection of Artz Rd. The present house at this site was built in 1830. The original building, destroyed by fire, was built with stonewalls and log uprights. The original building was in use prior to the Revolutionary War as a Tavern, known as an “Ordinary.” It was called the Half-Way House by travelers because it was halfway between Lexington, VA and Alexandria, VA.

The Stonewall Mill is located on Artz Rd. about a half mile off US 11. The ruins of this mill are well cared for on this picturesque site along the Shenandoah River. It was built between 1830-1832 about 50 years before the French Mill. Powered by water turbine, it was operated by Henry Hottel, 1477-1, Pg. 201, a great –grandson of Charles Hottel. Henry Hottel and his brothers were millers for many years, and Henry’s sons, George and Luther, succeeded him in operating Stonewall Mill. It was the same son, George, who also built and operated the French Mill. Flour was hauled on river flat boats, and by wagons when roads were passable. During the Civil War the mill was burned by Union troops under General Sheridan in 1864. After the fire, the walls remained standing. Henry installed a gristmill in one corner of the remains, while the main mill was being rebuilt. The mill survived into the mid 20th Century when it was partially demolished. Now only portions of two walls remain.

Riverholm (720 Artz Rd.) is located on the east side of the Shenandoah River across from the Stonewall Mill. A low water bridge crosses the River to this National Bicentennial Farm. It was designated as a National Bicentennial Farm in 1977 for being in the same family for over 200 years. There are only a few such farms in Shenandoah County and around 51 in the whole state of VA. It continues to be owned by The Artz family. They are direct descendants of George Hottel. According to family history, the house was built by Daniel Hottel, 3x-h, Pg. 726 a son of George Hottel.

Toms Brook United Methodist Church is located on the west side of U.S. 11 at the south end of Toms Brook. At this site stood the original St. Peter’s Church. St. Peter’s was of log construction and was organized from what was once part of the Lutheran congregation of the Frieden’s Church at Mt. Olive.

St. Peter’s Lutheran Church is located a short distance north of the United Methodist Church. It is to this location that the congregation moved after leaving their log church building nearby. It was built and dedicated in 1904 and the congregation recently celebrated its 200th anniversary. Many past and present members of HKMI have belonged to this church, or are buried in the nearby Toms Brook Cemetery.

Beside the Church is a white frame house the home of the late Virginia and Billy Hottel, 547x-b, Pg. 473. Billy Hottel was HKMI’s Corporate Secretary until his death in 1993. He was instrumental in the reorganization of HKMI in 1982. Tradition has it that part of the lumber used in constructing the house came from the old Frieden’s Church. Across from the Church is the rebuilt Toms Brook Fire hall where the early Annual Meetings of HKMI were held.

Charles Hottel, we are told, first patented land in Augusta County and therefore did not acquire land adjacent to the other family members in 1750. Later Charles received a warrant around 1749 for 204 acres near the mouth of Stoney Creek in Shenandoah Co., ” where he now lives.” Charles received grants totaling 1,235 acres between 1749 and 1766. I would appear that he eventually made his home on a land grant for 346 acres, dated 2 August 1766. Court records (land records and a probated will) indicate that the house was located southwest of Toms Brook just off Harrisville Rd. At the south end of Tom Brook take Brook Creek Rd. west, turn left on Harrisville Rd. and proceed to the top of the hill. At the top of the hill the road makes a sharp right turn. Between this turn and I-18, there is a private lane to your left. Down this lane once stood the Charles Hottel home along with the family cemetery. The Charles Hottel house was destroyed by fire long ago. Charles and his wife were buried in the cemetery plot near the house, but those graves were not properly marked, so its exact location is not now known.

St. John’s Reformed Church is in nearby Harrisville, on Harrisville Rd. west of Toms Brook. St. John (now the St. John United Church of Christ) was formed when the Reformed congregation withdrew from the Freiden’s church to join others in Toms Brook and later building St. John’s at Harrisville. It is believed that it now stands on land once owned by Charles.

Baker’s Store is located on Back Rd. in the center of Mt. Olive. It was opened in October of 1860 by Ephraim Baker the uncle of William J. Keller, Jr., (“Bill Jake”). During Bill Jake’s lifetime, the store, with the Post Office, was operated by his uncle, William H. Baker. This was a community “gathering-place,” and a favorite hang –out for Bill Jake, who often ate his lunch there and swapped tales with his friends.

The Frieden’s Church Monument is located just south of Mt. Olive on Back Rd., Rt. 623. The Monument is in the proximity of the Frieden’s church site and was erected in 1945 by the Hottel-Keller Memorial Association, the forerunner of HKMI. The land for the Frieden’s church, and school, was given in 1822 by the co-founders of the church, Henry Keller, 37-h, Pg. 1031 and John George “The Tanner” Hottel, 755x-a, Pg. 506. The Church, a so-called “Union” church, not uncommon at the time, was consecrated on Sunday the 24th day of November 1824 for the use of Lutheran and German Reformed Congregations. The Frieden’s Church record for both the Lutheran and the German Reformed Congregations is in the possession of HKMI and has been professionally restored. These congregations worshiped together until 1868 when the building became unsuitable for use. The Reformed congregation withdrew to form St. John’s and the Lutherans formed two churches, St. Matthew’s on Sand Ridge Rd. at Mt. Olive and St. Peter’s in Toms Brook.

From the Frieden’s Church Monument is a lane leading to the George Hottel Homeand site of many Hottel Keller Reunions, as well as Church socials and picnics. This lane is not in current use and we use an alternative route from the Keller Homestead to reach the house. In recent years, it has been the site of picnics during the Annual Meeting. Bill Jake bought this house and part of the original George Hottel land, but in 1964 the George Hottel house was destroyed by arson, with the loss of many valuable family possessions. The ruins and land is part of what was bequeathed to HKMI by Bill Jake.

Stone pillars marking the entrance to the Keller Homestead
Photo by George Mouchet, taken 2007

The Keller Homestead is located a short distance south of the Frieden’s Monument on Back Rd., Rt. 623. It’s entrance is marked buy two stone pillars. Each has a marble plaque, one with the inscription ” Hottel-Keller Memorial, Inc.” and the other, “Keller Homestead, Est. 1760.” In 1750, George Keller, husband of Barbara Hottel, 2y-e, Pg. 819, patented 400 acres via a Land Grant from Thomas Lord Fairfax. In the same way, John Hottel, the father, patented 341 acres across the road to the east, and George Hottel patented 253 acres immediately north of this land. During his life, George Hottel added land until he owned 2,369 acres at his death. The Keller Homestead presently consists of 391 acres and has continued in the possession of direct descendants until Bill Jake Keller bequeathed it to HKMI at his death on 14 March 1984.

The present Keller House was built in the early 1800s by Henry Keller, the youngest son of George and Barbara Keller. The original house stood west of the present house and further up the mountain. Sometime in September 1864 during the Civil War, the original barn was burnt by Union Troops just preceding the Battle of Toms Brook.

The Site of John Hottel’s house is located on Brook Creek Rd. that begins on the other side of the road at the entrance to the Keller homestead. About a mile down this road leading to Toms Brook at its intersection with Sand Ridge Rd. stands the Fravel house. The John Hottel House once stood in back of the Fravel house, so close that it was almost connected to it. The Fravel connection came about when Mary Ann Catherine Hottel, 923x-g, Pg. 543, great-great granddaughter of John Hottel, married William Fravel.

On Sand Ridge Rd. between the Fravel house and the St. Matthews Lutheran Church are two cemeteries. The Keller Memorial Cemetery where William J Keller, Sr., his wife, Ida Baker Keller and their son, William J. Keller, Jr. (Bill Jake) lie in rest. Just beyond and below the Keller Memorial Cemetery (North) is the Old Keller Cemetery. There you will find the Monument to John Hottel, a gift from one of our HKMI founder’s and benefactors, the late John T. Hottel, 554x-d, Pf. 474 whose son Emerson J. Hottel was the Treasurer of HKMI for many years.

The Monument was unveiled and dedicated on 11 September 1982, the 250th Anniversary of John Hottel’s arrival at the Port of Philadelphia, 11 September 1732. Many of the first several generations of his descendents were buried here, but many of the markers are not engraved, or have become illegible. The Daughters of the American Revolution have marked the gravesites of two Revolutionary Soldiers, John Jacob Hottel, 3x-d, Pg. 505, son of George Hottel and Joseph Hottel, 3-h, Pg., 168 son of Charles Hottel.

St. Mathews Lutheran Church is located on Sand Ridge Rd. just up the road from the cemeteries on a hill overlooking the Homestead. St. Mathews is one of the two Lutheran congregations to be formed from the Friedens Church. It has a long association with the Hottels and Kellers and recently celebrated its 200th anniversary as a congregation. During the Battle of Toms Brook in 1864, Union troops set up artillery on this hill facing the Confederates on Spiker hill across Toms Brook to the West, but were forced to move and relocated behind the Homestead, finding the hill exposed to Confederate artillery.

Fisher’s Hill is located west of U.S. 11 on Rt. 601 south of Strasburg, VA. At Fisher’s Hill is the Keller Store that was operated for over 50 years by Silas M. Keller, 1672y-e, Pg. 1060. Mr. Keller was the father of the Keller Sisters who twice, 50 years apart, entertained and sang at the Annual Meetings, once in 1934 and again in 1984. The Keller Store was not only a store but also a Post Office. It was built about 1920 by Silas’ father, John Henry Keller, 1627y-j, Pg. 1060; both John Henry and Silas served as Postmasters.

Across from the store is the Keller House, which was the home of many Keller generations, including John Henry and Silas. The house is no longer in the family and has been modernized.

Next to the Keller house is the Keller Mill built in 1777 by the Stoners and later operated by John Henry Keller, Silas’ father and then by John Henry’s son, George Martin Keller. George Martin’s son, John Henry, continued the tradition. The mill then continued to be operated by his two sons, Charles and George, until 1959 for a total of 4 generations by the Keller family. Across from the Keller house is what may have been an Old Fort that was converted into a barn. Dr. Daniel Bly believes that the Mill was built before 1772 and was also connected with the Pifer/Baker families.

Confederate prisoners of war captured by Union forces at Fisher’s Hill
Photo from Library of Congress

Fisher’s Hill Battlefield Civil War Site is located west of Fisher’s Hill on Rt. 601. Fisher’s Hill, Toms Brook, Cedar Creek and the 3rd Battle of Winchester are sites of decisive Union victories in September and October of 1864 during the Civil War. In 1864 Grant sent General Phil Sheridan to the Valley to block Confederate General Jubal Early in Early’s effort to flank Washington and take pressure off General Lee who was pinned down at Petersburg. In a campaign of aggressive destruction of crops, barns, mills and rail facilities, Sheridan defeated Early, lay waste and denied access to the Valley by the Confederacy for the remainder of the War. These battles, along with the Battle of Atlanta, ensured Lincoln’s re-election and marked the final turn in the War, leading to Appomattox six months later.

Located further west on Rt. 601 is a restored colonial home that served as a Civil War Field Hospital during the Valley Campaign during the Civil War. As the front lines moved, one-way and then another, it was used by both Union and Confederate surgeons.

This home was owned by Abraham H. Barbe, (born 14 Sept. 1817, died 14 Feb. 1905). Mr. Barbe served in the Confederate Army and, later in the war, as a civilian. So the story goes, he had an interesting encounter with the Union General, Gen. Banks. His neighbors revealed that he was hiding a brand new buggy. At the General’s orders, he had to surrender it with the promise of Post War Payment. Learning that Barbe was a leather tanner by trade, the General gave him all the animal hides in his camp, which more than paid for the buggy. Since he had no way to haul the hides, the General was even kind enough to have them delivered to Barbe’s home. The General was not aware, however, that most of Barbe’s finished products eventually found their way into Confederate hands