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Posted December 6, 2010 | comments Leave a comment

Fort Valley residents release book after years of research

Jeanette Ritenour looks through a box
Jeanette Ritenour looks through a box of old school files in an outbuilding behind her Fort Valley home. Ritenour has been researching the history of Fort Valley for years, and has co-authored a book with fellow Fort Valley residents Jim and Meg Trott. Rich Cooley/Daily

James and Margaret Trott
James Trott and his wife Margaret stand inside the Fort Valley Museum at Fort Valley Road and Dry Run Road. The couple have co-authored a book on the history of Fort Valley with Jeanette Ritenour. Rich Cooley/Daily

"Welcome to Fort Valley"
Book cover for the book, "Welcome to Fort Valley," written by Jeanette Conner Ritenour, James Harris Trott, and his wife Margaret Akers Trott. Rich Cooley/Daily

By Jessica Wiant - jwiant@nvdaily.com

FORT VALLEY - Sparked by the front porch stories her stepfather told about the old days and the encouragement of a neighbor, Jeanette Ritenour, of Fort Valley, has spent decades researching and collecting the history of her home place.

Her work -- copying down information from tombstones and courthouse records and interviewing her relatives and friends -- has benefited books about Shenandoah's cemeteries and marriages, but now will truly get its time in the spotlight.

"Welcome to Fort Valley: The History and Culture of Virginia's 'Valley Within a Valley,'" the first publication of the Fort Valley Museum, weighing in at more than 4 pounds a copy, is finally finished.

For Ritenour, 83, the book represents nearly a lifetime of collecting history.

She recalls that after moving onto her husband's home place in the 1970s and getting him off to work every day, she spent her time heading out to cemeteries with neighbor Mazie Cullers, filling in her own family's history.

Later, she says, she took up the task of copying all of Fort Valley's marriage records -- driving daily to the courthouse and going in with the staff for the day.

"And I wore out a car, too," she says.

Oddly enough, Ritenour jokes that she never liked history in school, but learned to love it hearing her stepfather, Orie Munch, talk about the past.

"Orie used to hold court there on his porch," friend and co-author Jim Trott says.

And so began an ongoing hobby of gathering up all the local history she could.

"I still can't leave the newspaper alone. Everything about Fort Valley, I cut it out," she says.
People are losing too many things to the past, Ritenour says, and no one else had ever done a comprehensive book about the valley.

"People didn't even talk about it," she says.

The process of turning all of her work into a book began in the spring of 2004, when Ritenour enlisted the help of fellow Fort Valley residents Trott and his wife, Meg.

The "valley within a valley" is fairly isolated, lying in the middle of the Massanutten Mountain range between the north and south forks of the Shenandoah River, stretching about 21 miles in length, Mrs. Trott explains.

Acting president of the Fort Valley Museum and veteran history teacher, Mrs. Trott says she organized and added to Ritenour's work in order to complete the book.

Her husband wrote the chapter about the Civil War, as neither lady is too interested in war, she says.

Organizing the book involved physically rearranging all of Ritenour's research into boxes or piles for chapters -- "like shuffling cards," she says.

Lots of people gave help and advice along the way, they all say, from the design of the cover to the layout of the pages.

The final product covers all aspects of life in Fort Valley, from its earliest settlers and geography to the organizations and clubs in the 20th century.

Some of the most prevalent family names appear in the book -- names like Ritenour, Munch, Burner and McClanahan. More information was available for some families than for others.

Chapter 5 is dedicated entirely to the valley's old country stores, Mrs. Trott says.

And of course some of the valley's most prominent locations and legends -- like the now-gone Burner's White Sulphur Springs, later called Seven Fountains Resort; the fort's three iron furnaces; and the story that George Washington picked out the valley as a final retreat location in the case of a British victory -- are fleshed out in the book.

All told, there are eight chapters, 1,100 footnotes and 559 illustrations, including old photographs and maps.

Though the book took longer than anyone planned, its authors agree that now is a good time for it. Besides being just in time for holiday gifts, the book comes at a time when they feel the Fort Valley community is tighter than ever, Mrs. Trott says.

Many residents are excited for the release of the book, she adds.

The authors hope the book will spark people's imaginations, and inspire others to take up where they left off, as they all agree that once the book is out, more information will come forward.

For Ritenour, especially, though the bulk of the work is finally done, it's hard to feel it's finished.

"I don't think it's sunk in with me yet," she says. "I still feel that there's something out there we've got to do."

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