In 1968, John L. Hopkins, II, sat at a table in rural McGaheysville, in the kitchen of his great-grandfather's house. He gazed out the window that frames a spectacular view of the Massanutten Peak, and contemplated the woes of being a farmer caught in the middle of a four-year-long drought.
Three years later, May 26, 1971, the development of 5,200 acres in Massanutten, by a group of ten investors, was announced at a luncheon held at Spotswood Country Club in Harrisonburg. And now, forty years later, Massanutten Village is a thriving four-season resort and community of over 1,000 single family homes, 1300 timesharing units, and a multi-million dollar ski business.
There's been a lot of 'water over the dam' in that time, a lot of pieces that have fallen into place, and a few pieces that have fallen out of place, but the history of the development of Massanutten is as exciting to study as its future looks to be. Massanutten's rather undramatic beginnings from a kitchen window view are best described as a chronology with a generous amount of detail, cupfuls of facts, and a healthy dash of wonder at the enormity of the project John L. only vaguely realized in his mind's eye that day at his window.
Let's take a look back at the history of the resort:
In the cities, during the 1800's, where it was crowded and dusty, there were poorly maintained water sources and waste management. This led to disease and caused the city dwellers to look to the valley for respite. Gerard T. Hopkins saw an opportunity in sharing the valley and built a health resort, Rockingham Springs, just below the peak. His great-grandson revived the philosophy over 100 years later and built a new resort...Massanutten.
When Rockingham Springs was opened in 1875, it was advertised heavily in Baltimore, Washington and Richmond through a brochure describing its 'restful delights' and a complete chemical analysis of the spring waters attesting to the 'restorative powers' found in five natural springs. These advertisements helped develop Rockingham Springs into becoming a 'wonderful second home community' for families to spend their summers.
The resort featured a hotel in one building and a few smaller buildings for longer-term guests with an occupancy of about 100. There was also a bath house, laundry house, ice house, and a stable. Guests arrived in Harrisonburg by train and were brought to the resort by horse and carriage. Meals were scheduled and the food served was from G.T.'s Cave Hill Farm. There was no liquor allowed. Religious services were held every Sunday.
Some of the entertainment for guests to enjoy included jousting, a band hired on a regular basis, croquet, hunting, fishing, horseback riding and nature hikes. Most guests came for the main attraction which was the Springs water.
When the popularity of the health resort waned, Rockingham Springs Resort fell into disrepair and was closed in 1915. After the demise of the resort, the hotel was disassembled and all but about 300 acres of the land was gradually sold. J.L. Hopkins, G.T.'s great-grandson, had the idea to reopen the resort in 1968. There was a need for state parks at the time, but Massanutten was looked over because of the disinterest in winter sports. At this time, John Grattan, trustee for the Roller Estate, decided to sell about 2,100 acres of land. This land included the Kettle and the Peak of Massanutten. He bought the land with the help of a silent partner for $155 an acre, or a total of $325,000.
From 1968 to 1971, J.L worked to sell the development idea to other friends for investment purposes. He also worked to gather information and scout out property. Most people thought the newly acquired Kettle and Peak land tracts were part of the George Washington National Forest and not privately owned. J.L. also sought out investors who saw the potential in the development of Massanutten and took out an option for a KOA campground franchise. MRH, Inc. was formed as the investors were brought together. Over the next three years, over 100 signatures were obtained on right-of-ways, leases and deeds (one deed was sent to Vietnam and another required 31 signatures). MRH, Inc. paid just over $1.5 million for a total of 5,339 acres of land, or about $288 per acre. Phoenix, Arizona based Del E. Webb Corp. was approached to see if they would have interest in the development project in 1971 because of their 'planned community' development experience.
On May 26, 1971 a press conference was held at Spotswood Country Club to announce the joint venture in the development of a new resort to be called Massanutten, covering 5,300 acres and projecting $50 million in developer sales. MRH, Inc. changed their name to Massanutten, Inc. and formed a joint venture with Webb Corp. known as Massanutten Development Company. Much of the uproar resulting from the announcement of the project came from environmentalists. There were also to be problems with zoning codes as well as citizens worried about traffic, schools, and other concerns.
By October 1, 1971, the sales office for the Massanutten property was opened on Route 646 (now a private residence). By the summer of 1972, there were six slopes cleared and a 650 car, multi level parking area completed. Work had begun on paving the road to the upcoming ski area. In 1973 the final touches were put on the outdoor swimming pool and two tennis courts in the Rockwood Park area of the Kettle. The ski area was finally opened on February 10, 1973 after five nights of snowmaking.
In 1977, the project was sold to Dale Stancil, J.R. Costin, Henry Clark and Stephen Bradshaw. The new owners were known as Massanutten Village, Inc. The partners decided in 1978 to begin a timeshare, or interval ownership, program to be called Mountainside Villas.
Though Massanutten went bankrupt at one point, Great Eastern Resort Associates came to the rescue. This was a partnership formed in August 1984 by C. Dice Hammer and Jim Lambert. In November they decided to form Great Eastern Resort Corp. (a management subsidiary to Great Eastern Resort Management) to be primarily involved in the acquisition, development and financing of Massanutten. Union National Bank accepted the development group's offer of $3 million, and upon confirmation of the sale of Massanutten, Great Eastern began the construction projects to which they had committed in the bankruptcy settlement as well as other projects to take care of the years of property neglect.
Reprinted from 'Twenty Years of History...Massanutten and More' by June M. Brinkman.