Staunton is a principal city of the Staunton-Waynesboro Metropolitan Statistical Area, which had a 2010 population of 118,502.
Staunton is known for being the birthplace of Woodrow Wilson, the 28th U.S. president, and the home of Mary Baldwin University, historically a women's college. The city is also home to Stuart Hall, a private co-ed preparatory school, as well as the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind.
The area was first settled in 1732 by John Lewis and family. In 1736, William Beverley, a wealthy planter and merchant from Essex County, was granted by the Crown over 118,000 acres (48,000 hectares) in what would become Augusta County. Surveyor Thomas Lewis in 1746 laid out the first town plat for Beverley of what was originally called Beverley's Mill Place. Founded in 1747, it was renamed in honor of Lady Rebecca Staunton, wife to Royal Lieutenant-Governor Sir William Gooch. Because the town was located at the geographical center of the colony (which then included West Virginia), Staunton served between 1738 and 1771 as regional capital for what was known as the Northwest Territory, with the westernmost courthouse in British North America prior to the Revolution. By 1760, Staunton was one of the major "remote trading centers in the backcountry" which coordinated the transportation of the vast amounts of grain and tobacco then being produced in response to the change of Britain from a net exporter of produce to an importer. Staunton thus played a crucial role in the mid 18th century expansion of the economies of the American Colonies which, in turn, contributed to the success of the American Revolution. It served as capital of Virginia in June 1781, when state legislators fled Richmond and then Charlottesville to avoid capture by the British.
Like most of colonial America, slavery was present in Staunton. For instance, in 1815, a slave named Henry ran away from John G. Wright's Staunton plantation. Wright placed an ad in the Daily National Intelligencer in Washington, D.C. seeking Henry's return. It notes that Henry was an excellent cook and was widely travelled, having been as far as the West Indies.
In August 1855, President Franklin Pierce visited Staunton. He gave a speech at the Virginia Hotel, in which he stated that his "feelings revolted from the idea of a dissolution of the union." He said that "[i]t would be the Iliad of innumerable woes, from the contemplation of which he shrank."
Located along the Valley Pike, Staunton developed as a trade, transportation and industrial center, particularly after the Virginia Central Railroad arrived in 1854. Factories made carriages, wagons, boots and shoes, clothing and blankets. In 1860, the Staunton Military Academy was founded. By 1860, Staunton had at least one pro-union, pro-slavery (the Staunton Spectator) and at least one pro-secession, pro-slavery newspaper (the Staunton Vindicator). The Spectator ran editorials before the war urging its citizens to vote for union, while the Vindicator ran, e.g., stories reporting on "unruly" slaves mutilating themselves to escape being sold.
On May 23, 1861, shortly after the firing on Fort Sumter began the American Civil War, Virginians voted on whether to ratify articles of secession from the Union and join the Confederate States. The articles were overwhelmingly approved throughout the Commonwealth, even in the majority of the counties that would later become West Virginia. The vote in Stanton was 3300 in favor of secession, with only 6 opposed. During the war, the town became an important Shenandoah Valley manufacturing center, a staging area, and a supply depot for the Confederacy. On May 2, 1862, Union General John C. Frémont occupied Staunton while on his way to a rendezvous with General Nathaniel P. Banks to pursue Stonewall Jackson's forces. They met at the Battle of Cross Keys, fought near Harrisonburg, Virginia on June 6–7, 1862. By October 1862 Staunton was back in Confederate hands, occupied by the 2nd South Carolina infantry.
On June 6, 1864, Union Major General David Hunter arrived with 10,000 troops to cut supply, communication and railway lines useful to the Confederacy. The next day, they destroyed the railroad station, warehouses, houses, factories and mills. Union soldiers looted the stores and warehouses and confiscated supplies.
On July 10, 1902, Staunton became an independent city.
In 1908, Staunton created the city manager form of government. Charles E. Ashburner was hired by Staunton as the nation's first city manager.
Staunton is also home to the former Western State Asylum, a hospital for the mentally ill, which originally began operations in 1828. The hospital was renamed Western State Hospital in 1894.
In its early days, the facility was a resort-style asylum. It had terraced gardens where patients could plant flowers and take walks, roof walks to provide mountain views, and many architectural details to create an atmosphere that would aid in the healing process. However, by the mid 19th Century, this utopian model of care had vanished, replaced by overcrowding in the facility and the warehousing of patients. Techniques such as "ankle and wrist restraints, physical coercion, and straitjackets" were used. After the passage of the Eugenical Sterilization Act of 1924 in Virginia, patients were forcibly sterilized at Western State until the law authorizing the practice was repealed in the 1970s. Later, electroshock therapy and lobotomies were practiced at the facility.
When Western State vacated the property and moved its adult patients to its present site near Interstate 81, the facility was renamed the Staunton Correctional Center and turned into a medium-security men's penitentiary. The prison closed in 2003, and the site was left vacant for several years. In 2005, the state of Virginia gave the original property to the Staunton Industrial Authority. It is now a condominium complex called The Villages at Staunton.
A separate complex, The DeJarnette State Sanatoruim, was constructed in 1932 and acted as a location for patients with the ability to pay for their treatment. DeJarnette was the superintendent of the sanatorium from its opening until his retirement in 1947.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 20 square miles (52 km2), virtually all of which is land. Staunton is located in the Shenandoah Valley in between the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains of the Appalachian Mountains. It is drained by Lewis Creek. Lewis Creek flows into the Shenandoah River, which flows into the Potomac, and eventually to the Chesapeake Bay.
The climate in this area is characterized by hot, humid summers and generally mild to cool winters. According to the Köppen Climate Classification system, Staunton has a humid subtropical climate, abbreviated "Cfa" on climate maps.
Staunton operates under a council-manager form of government. In 1908, Staunton was the first city in the United States to give an appointed employee authority over city affairs through statute. In 1912, Sumter, S.C., was the first U.S. city to implement the council-manager form of city government. The city of Staunton refers to itself on its website as the "birthplace of President Woodrow Wilson, and the city manager form of government."
Staunton is part of Virginia's 6th congressional district.
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As of the census of 2000, there were 23,853 people, 9,676 households, and 5,766 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,210.3 people per square mile (467.3/km²). There were 10,427 housing units at an average density of 529.1 per square mile (204.3/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 83.29% White, 13.95% Black or African American, 0.22% Native American, 0.46% Asian, 0.01% Pacific Islander, 0.52% from other races, and 1.55% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.11% of the population.
There were 9,676 households out of which 24.9% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 44.4% were married couples living together, 11.7% had a female householder with no husband present, and 40.4% were non-families. 34.7% of all households were made up of individuals and 14.3% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.19 and the average family size was 2.81.
In the city, the population was spread out with 19.8% under the age of 18, 10.2% from 18 to 24, 27.8% from 25 to 44, 24.1% from 45 to 64, and 18.0% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 40 years. For every 100 females there were 89.1 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 87.0 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $32,941, and the median income for a family was $44,422. Males had a median income of $30,153 versus $22,079 for females. The per capita income for the city was $19,161. About 7.7% of families and 11.7% of the population were below the poverty line, including 15.9% of those under age 18 and 10.7% of those age 65 or over.
As of 2008, Staunton was suffering one of Virginia's "most severe population declines", with the immigration rate and the birth rate failing to make up for the emigration rate and the death rate. The population declined almost 4% between 2000 and 2007, according to a study done by Charles Spar of the University of Virginia.
In 2011, Tim Heaphy, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia stated that Staunton, along with other small cities in his district, had "pockets of... gang and drug activity." As late as 2006, the city had an active set of the Bloods. According to Augusta County Sheriff Randy Fisher, the Bloods, Crips, Latin Kings and MS-13 are active in the area.
Staunton is home to the American Shakespeare Center, a theatrical company centered at the Blackfriars Playhouse, a replica of Shakespeare's Blackfriars Theatre.Daniel Heifetz, a summer music school and festival dedicated to the artistic growth and career development of some of the world’s most talented and promising classical musicians. The Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library is open for visitors, as well as the Museum of American Frontier Culture, which provides insight into life in early America.
The Staunton Music Festival – celebrating its 20th year in 2017 – features multiple concerts each day, with programs of music from the Renaissance to the present. The festival takes place during the early part of August annually. All performances take place at historic venues in downtown Staunton.
Staunton is also the center of numerous galleries and art schools, including The Dwell Collective and the widely regarded Beverley Street Studio School, and its associated Co-Art Gallery. In addition Staunton is home to the Hypnagogia Film Collective, a collection of avant-garde experimental filmmakers.
Staunton is home to the Statler Brothers, country music legends who until 1994 performed free concerts at the annual Fourth of July celebration, accompanied by other country music artists. Statler Brothers members Don Reid, Harold Reid, and Phil Balsley grew up and still reside in the city. Lew DeWitt was also a notable member of the Statlers who grew up in Staunton, VA.
Folksinger Phil Ochs attended Staunton Military Academy between 1956 and 1958, where he played clarinet in the marching band. His exposure to the country music played on local radio, quite different from what he was used to hearing in his home state of Ohio, was a significant influence on his decision to become a singer.
Downtown Staunton and Sherwood Avenue were used in the American Civil War film Gods and Generals. The local Shenandoah Valley Railroad as well as a number of nearby houses were used in filming of Hearts in Atlantis. In 1993, a portion of the Showtime production of Assault at West Point: The Court-Martial of Johnson Whittaker was filmed here. In the summer of 2006, some scenes for the movie Evan Almighty were also filmed in Staunton. Some scenes for Familiar Strangers were also filmed in Staunton in 2007.
Staunton is home to nearly 200 buildings designed by architect Thomas Jasper Collins (1844–1925), who worked in various styles during the Victorian era. His firm, T. J. Collins & Sons, is still in business.
The city was once home to about ten hotels, but only one of them is still in operation - the Stonewall Jackson Hotel. This hotel was renovated in the early 2000s, and is now in operation as both a hotel and a conference center. The Ingleside Resort is also still in operation. During World War II it was used by the INS as a detention center for enemy aliens held under Executive Order 9066. Some of the hotels that are no longer in operation are The Virginia Hotel, the Eakleton Hotel, the Valley Hotel, the American Hotel and the Hotel Beverley. All of these buildings are still standing except for the Virginia Hotel, which was demolished in 1930 to make way for a planned addition to the Stonewall Jackson Hotel which was never built. The New Street Parking Garage now stands on the site. Among the houses in Staunton on the National Register of Historic Places is The Oaks, at 437 East Beverley Street. An 1840s structure, it was modified and enlarged in 1888 by famed Civil War cartographer Jedediah Hotchkiss. Also on the National Register is "Waverley Hill", a Georgian revival house designed in 1929 by renowned architect William Bottomley with a landscape designed by Arthur Shurcliff.
In 1894, Staunton fielded a baseball team in the original Virginia League: The Hayseeds. In 1914, the city fielded a team in the Virginia Mountain League: The Staunton Lunatics. The Lunatics moved to Harrisonburg in July 1914, just before the league disbanded. From 1939 to 1942, the city fielded a team in the second Virginia League: the Staunton Presidents. Staunton currently has no minor league baseball, but the Staunton Braves represent the city in the Valley Baseball League, a collegiate summer baseball league that plays in the Shenandoah Valley.
Amtrak provides service to Staunton under the Cardinal route. The route serves Staunton's downtown train station. It also serves as the closest station for the nearby cities of Harrisonburg and Lexington. The Buckingham Branch also has a small railyard.
Staunton had a municipal bus system during the 20th century, known as the Staunton Transit Service, but it was dissolved in 1989. In 1944, World War II veteran S. Melvin Johnson wrote to Truman Gibson, assistant to William H. Hastie, advisor to Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, regarding segregated seating on the Staunton Transit Service and stating that returning African-American soldiers would not stand for such conditions. This letter was an indication of the role that African-American veterans would later play in the American civil rights movement. In 1946, after the United States Supreme Court decision Irene Morgan v. Commonwealth of Virginia, which found that Virginia's segregated seating law was unconstitutional with respect to interstate bus routes, Ethel New, a black woman from Lynch, Kentucky, was arrested for violating the law because she had purchased an intrastate ticket. New suffered a miscarriage subsequent to her arrest and sued Greyhound Lines and the arresting officer in Staunton. In September 1947, meeting in Staunton, the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals upheld the all-white jury's verdict exonerating both the bus line and the officer.
Currently, the Staunton Trolley provides fixed-route bus service throughout Staunton. It includes three routes - the Red Route, the Green Route and the Silver Route. The Green Route connects to the City's Amtrak station. The Coordinated Area Transportation Services (CATS) operates a demand-response service throughout the Staunton area, as well as a fixed shuttle service between the downtown areas of Staunton and Waynesboro.
The city is located very close to the intersection of I-81 and I-64. VA-262 provides a partial beltway around the city. US-11 passes through the city.
The nearest commercial airport is Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport in Weyers Cave, Virginia.
Staunton City Schools is the school district of the city.
Black Virginians were largely barred from education until Reconstruction. The first school in Staunton which allowed African-Americans to attend was established by the Freedmen's Bureau under the supervision of the commanding general of the occupying Union army in late 1865. Arrangements were made to bring in women from the North as teachers, and the jury rooms of the Augusta County Courthouse, located at 1 E. Johnson Street, were to be used as classrooms. The court protested this plan, however, and it is possible that another location was found.
In 1964 the Staunton chapter of the NAACP threatened the city with a lawsuit if they did not immediately desegregate the public schools. The City School Board, headed by Thomas W. Dixon, declined to take further action, contending that the schools were already desegregated as ten black children had been allowed to attend previously all-white schools. Attorneys for the city of Staunton submitted a plan for the desegregation of its public schools in 1965 by eliminating all negro schools in time for the 1967-68 school year, which was approved by the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. However, the implementation of this plan was delayed to such an extent that a group of African-American parents brought suit in the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia against the city. This case, Bell v. School Board of Staunton, was decided on January 5, 1966, with the court stating that the delay was a violation of the rights of the students under the Fourteenth Amendment and ordering that the schools and their faculty be desegregated in time for the 1966-67 school year.
The Staunton city school district is one of 21 in Virginia which take elementary school students out of class for Bible lessons on a voluntary basis, a practice known as Weekday Religious Education. Although the U.S. Supreme Court ended taxpayer funded religious education in 1948 in McCollum v. Board of Education, four years later they opened the door to privately funded voluntary classes held during school hours but away from school premises in Zorach v. Clauson. In 2005, a group of parents in Staunton asked the school board to halt the practice. However, the challenge was unsuccessful, and the Bible classes are no longer being taught as of April 2017