Forged in Print: The Shenandoah Iron Works’ Riverside

masthead“Who hath despised the day of small things?” read the motto of the Riverside, a company newspaper published in Shenandoah Iron Works (SIW), located in Page County, Virginia. To be sure, even the small things were important in what was then a remote and rustic company town, including a simple, little newspaper printed monthly for the people who lived in and worked for Shenandoah Iron Works.

Rockingham Register Dec. 8, 1881

Excerpt from an article on the history of the Shenandoah Iron Works, from the Rockingham Register, Dec. 8, 1881, available digitally on access.newspaperarchive.com

Thanks to a cooperative partnership with the Huntington Library in Pasadena, California, the Library of Virginia has one issue of the very rare Riverside available in its Virginia Chronicle database, which now contains over 900,000 digitized newspaper pages.

Shenandoah Furnace was built in 1836, though what ultimately became the Shenandoah Iron Works was conceived after brothers Daniel and Henry Forrer purchased 34,483 acres of land from Samuel Gibbens in 1837. Soon after acquiring the land, the Brothers established a post office and named the town Shenandoah Iron Works.  Two more furnaces, Catherine and No. 2, as well as a forge, were added to the iron works where pig iron and tools were produced.

After the Civil War, the Forrer brothers, financially scarred by the devaluation of Confederate currency, sold the operation to a group of Pennsylvania industrialists. “The scale of its operations as measured in the production of pig iron, blooms, iron manufacturers and numbers of employees made Shenandoah one of the foremost industrial establishments in the northern and central Shenandoah Valley,” wrote Charles Ballard in his history of the SIW, “This industry and the community clustered around it evolved from an antebellum iron plantation into a postbellum company town.(The Shenandoah Iron Works, 1836-1907, p.1)”

SIW reached the height of its prosperity during the 1880s, with nearly 400 employees on the payroll. Evidence of that prosperity could be found in the production of its company newspaper, Riverside. Published by “Master” Clinton Boude, the September 1880 issue reported on festivals, the condition of public roads, construction of the Shenandoah Valley Rail Road, local items of interest, and who had married or died most recently. The last page, page four, contained local business ads and a medicinal remedy to “stop that cough!”  Prominent names, like Milnes, Walker and Stanley, could be found throughout as well.

Alexandria Gazette 18 Feb 1887

From the Alexandria Gazette, Feb. 18, 1887, available on Virginia Chronicle.

Even though just one issue of the Riverside is known to exist, it offers historical insight into what was important to SIW’s residents. Communal events, like picnics, festivals and musical performances, were a major topic of discussion in the paper, highlighting the central role of community gatherings at the time.

Rockdale Enterprise

Article about the Rockdale Enterprise, printed in the the Jeffersonian Republican, Mar. 2, 1881, available on Virginia Chronicle

The duration of Riverside’s publication span is unknown, but at least seven issues were printed based on the numbering of the September 1880 issue. Lester Cappon’s Virginia Newspapers lists another title, Rockdale Enterprise, as being published at Shenandoah Iron Works from 1881-1882 by Spindle, France & Milnes, but the Library has no issues and the Newspaper Project has never run across it in its extensive search for local newspapers throughout the state.

In 1884, an Act of the Virginia General Assembly incorporated SIW and it was renamed Milnes, in honor of William Milnes, one of the Pennsylvania Industrialists who purchased it after the war. Milnes was renamed Shenandoah in 1890 and the Shenandoah Iron Works, after various incarnations, finally closed in 1907.

Visit Virginia Chronicle to see the complete copy of the rare Riverside, or check out one of the many other historical publications available there as well.

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