Fading History

By: Val Thompson Email
By: Val Thompson Email

John Lewis' name can be seen everywhere in Augusta County. Lewis is immortalized on highway signs, monuments, street signs, and roadside markers. Lewis was one of the earliest European settlers in what became Augusta County, and is widely recognized as the man who chose the site for Staunton. Finding his name is easy, but finding him is not.

"I think they think he's buried in Gypsy Hill Park, because there's the big monument there," says John Moore, who owns the land that holds Lewis' gravesite. But Lewis is not buried in Gypsy Hill Park. For the past seventy years, Moore's family has owned the property, but it doesn't get a whole lot of visitors.

"It's not particularly accessible," Moore says.

"From New Hope Road, you can get to it. It's a very small little narrow road, and then you have to park and then you have to go through a gate, and then you have to cross a creek and then you have to walk up a hill."

It's almost like following a treasure map. By the time you get down a small path, you're kind of in the middle of nowhere and you may think you've taken a wrong turn, but then, you find a small sign that points to the grave.

From the sign, you still have a ways to go. After you hop the fence, you have to wade through a small creek. Then, you negotiate past the cows, who seem less than excited to see you. Once at the top of the hill, you spot the gated grave, but you still need to burst through bushes to see it up close. Once you make it through, it is definitely worth the journey. But some in the valley are saying, it could be accessible

"I think it would be a good advertisement for the locality," says George Cochran, a John Lewis descendant.

"I think it would attract a great many visitors."

Cochran is the great-great-great-great grandson of John Lewis. Experts say most of the interest in the grave site comes from thousands of Lewis descendants around the country. Cochran remembers visiting the grave site as a boy, 80 years ago.

"It was pretty well overgrown at that time," says Cochran. "It was there, and you knew it was there. But it had not been publicized very extensively."

But publicizing sites like the grave is a complicated process.

"The fact that it's on private land, on a working farm, makes it a little difficult to get to," says Staunton historian, Katharine Brown. "And you have to appreciate that farmers don't necessarily welcome hordes of tourists, coming into the field and bothering their cattle."

"Some people aren't terribly respectful of resources like that," says Frank Strassler, with the Historic Staunton Foundation. "It ends up being either a party spot or it ends of being a target for a vandal, something like that. And the private property owner doesn't want to have to deal with things like that."

John Moore says he's open to ideas to make the site more reachable.

"There might be a scenario where there could be places where people could park, and walk up to it," Moore says.

"I think it would be good at some point, if the setting could be approved to a certain extent, and I think someday it will be."

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