Powell's Fort Valley

Location: Near the center of the Shenandoah Valley, commencing behind Signal Knob, near Strasburg and Waterlick on the northeast, it extends almost to New Market Gap on the southwest. The valley is about 23 miles long and about 5 miles wide at the widest point near Cross Roads.

Date: circa 1733


The Indians held the Fort Valley, being held by the different tribes temporarily. One of the temporary Indian towns was located on lands now (1937) owned by Jacob Munch, formerly by Daniel Munch. Another town was located near the present (1937) home of Frank Lichliter. The names Tebo, Klizer and Crick were said to be among the first settlers about the year 1733.

Prior to the settlement by the whites, the Fort was occupied by one man by the name of Powell, from whom it was named. Vast areas now are under Government ownership.

Physical Description

The fort is a valley enclosed by mountains, once called Massanutten, which was said to mean "Indian Basket" and the Fort Valley being shaped like an Indian basket, was called Massanutten by the Indians. It lies within the Shenandoah Valley and has been called "a gem within a gem". It abounds in timber, fertile lands, and many large springs of pure mountain and mineral water, also wild game. It is a beautiful retreat.

Historical Significance

George Washington surveyed the Fort Valley for Lord Fairfax in 1748 or 1749. In the Revolutionary War, as General Washington was overpowered and retreating, he decided to make a final stand against the British in the Fort Valley, behind the rock walls at the mouth of the Fort, near Waterlick, called "Buzzard's Roost". This region was well known to Washington from his Fairfax surveys. While he held the British in check as best he could, he sent General Daniel Morgan and a body of men to build a road into the Fort. This road, across Sherman's Gap, can still be traced out at places, the huge oaks have grown up in the road. Because of a turn in the tide of war, his army never occupied the Fort and the final surrender of the British was at Yorktown instead of in the Fort Valley.

Philip Munch of the Fort was killed at Yorktown, and Dennis O'Ferrall was shot in the hip some time during the war, and the bullet was taken out of his ankle forty years later. The Fort Valley furnished its quota of men in the Mexican War, the War of 1812, the Civil War and the World War. The mountains of the Fort played an important part in the Signal Service from the northern part of the Valley to Richmond. Lord Powell came from England with his granddaughter, who had tuberculosis. He built a house on top of the mountain that his granddaughter might have the benefit of high altitude. He traveled around with the Indians and found gold in the mountains, which are rich in ores. He smelted it and made gold bars which he divided with the Indians for their help. He made several trips back to England, and buried much of the gold, which has been sought for, but never found. This is said to have been buried on Signal Knob, where his granddaughter was buried.

The abutment of the chimney of the Powell cabin has been found, according to tradition. Many different stories are told about Powell, some that he was a refugee and a counterfeiter, others that he was a spy for the Indians. He was said to have been a personal friend of Lord Fairfax.

It is said that a graduate Indian doctor from Oklahoma, the last of his tribe of the Indians that passed through the Shenandoah Valley, recently (1937) stopped at Strasburg in the interest of the "Big gold of Lord Powell" which was buried in the mountains under a big cliff of rocks. It was marked with animal paws on the rocks, but should not be searched for unless a white man were present. He had found a little of the gold, an iron pot with a big key across the top, but in the blasting of the rock in road making, the signs of the rocks have been destroyed, and it was difficult to find the treasure. This story had been handed down from father to son about the "Big gold of Lord Powell, being buried in the Massanutten mountains."

Source: Virginia W.P.A. Historical Inventory Project, 1937

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Created November 8 2001