Arriving in the Shenandoah Valley more than two hundred years ago, the Mennonites and Brethren have changed little from the early days of their settlement. Living off the land, building their own homes and quietly worshiping Jesus Christ, these uncomplicated and unassuming people have largely gone unnoticed all this time.
Indeed it is precisely their placid way of life that has long been a source of speculation for those who have chosen to live in a more contemporary fashion. For years the Shenandoah Mennonites chose to live in relative obscurity, but recognizing that people are simply curious, The Valley Brethren-Mennonite Heritage Center (VBMHC) began welcoming visitors to their 14-acre campus on June 18, 2006.
The goal of the Mennonites is to maintain an existence that includes service, pacifism, international understanding and disaster relief work, all while continuing a life of simplicity and tradition. This will become obvious within minutes of visiting the center and taking a tour. Talk with the people; they are quite welcoming, and forthcoming about both themselves and their way of living.
It is difficult not to take notice of the architecture upon entering the Heritage Center located at 1921 Heritage Center Way in Harrisonburg, Virginia. The Burkholder-Myers House, built in 1854 by Bishop Martin Burkholder is the oldest building on the campus. It is adjacent to the Whitmore School and Cove Mennonite Church, built in 1904, serving both as meetinghouse and one-room schoolhouse. Both buildings were donated by Mennonite families and were relocated from their original locations.
Typical of houses built in the mid 1800s, the Wash House is a simple 2-story structure with a fireplace that when heated can also function as a place to wash clothes and make soap. It, at one time, was also used to boil fat for pressing into lard used for cooking.
There is a historic mill that was built around 1800, that was miraculously unscathed when during the Civil War the Union Troops burned acres and acres in the Shenandoah Valley.
There are many more buildings to see, stories to be heard and tours to be given that illustrate the life and simplicity of the Brethren and Mennonites. For more information, please call (540) 438-1275. For photographs, videos of previous tours and past celebratory events, visit their website, which is: http://www.vbmhc.org.
Hours of operation are Wednesday thru Saturday, 10:00 – 5:00. They are closed on Sundays and on holidays. Visit and learn more about these likeable and industrious people.