Lexington, Virginia, was the first destination in the Old Dominion on our family trip when I was fourteen. So it started as a special place to me and has continued through the years. Whether I arrive for research or am just passing through, it’s always good to be back in this wonderful town.
This month I want to take to you some of my favorite historical sites through photos and tour notes in our Wednesday blog posts. We’ll start at the Stonewall Jackson House…
So let’s stop and take a look!
If you’re driving south in the Shenandoah Valley or arriving from Richmond, take Interstate 81 south and follow the signs for Lexington Old Town/Historic District via Highway 11. Merge right onto North Main Street and keep right onto North Jefferson Street. Make a left on Washington Street and the Jackson House will be on your left in about one and half blocks.
If you’re entering from another route, use GPS or maps to guide you into town.
- 8 E. Washington Street, Lexington, VA 24450
- Seasons: March thru December, every day 9am to 5pm
- Admission: Ranges from $5.00 to $8.00, while children five and younger enter free
- Check website for most current details: https://www.vmi.edu/museums-and-archives/stonewall-jackson-house/
- If you intend to stay all day in Lexington and do a lot of walking, there is usually parking near Virginia Military Institutes parade field and visitor center and the Jackson House is about a .8 mile walk.
- Be sure to check out the gift shop and book store at the house. They stock a good selection of Jackson books, local Civil War history books, and historic gifts.
- Allow time to explore the garden behind the Jackson House. The staff and volunteers keep a variety of flowers and vegetables growing during the seasons and you might even find period scarecrows and other historical fun!
- The Jackson House has excellent social media – including nice photographs, artifact preservation, upcoming events, and historical “did you knows?” Give them a follow.
Let’s Talk History
I’ve already talked about “Stonewall” and his headquarters down in Winchester, and you’ll find other articles about his military campaigns elsewhere on the blog. Today, I want to talk about Jackson’s early life and his home life.
Thomas Jonathan Jackson was born on January 21, 1824. Orphaned by the age of seven, he lived with uncles, working at their mills and doing other jobs in a western Virginia community. Jackson worked briefly as a constable and teacher before receiving an appointment to West Point in 1842. Four years later, he graduated seventeenth out of fifty-nine cadets. In the following months, he fought in the Mexican-American War, achieving promotion to first lieutenant and recognition for his skill and bravery. Jackson got stationed in U.S. forts in New York and Florida, before he resigned from service in 1851 and looked for a place to settle permanently.
Jackson accepted a teaching position at Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia and gained the title Professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy. Despite its grand sound, Jackson was an uninspiring classroom teacher. The butt of cadet jokes and pranks, he muddled through the lecturers until he could get to the parade ground for artillery drill; there, he excelled and won respect.
Along with trying to settle into his professorship, Jackson had to adjust to civilian life in strict society Lexington. He joined the Presbyterian church and a literary organization and made friends and acquaintances. Jackson started meeting with Dr. Junkin of Washington College to discuss philosophy, but soon fell in love with Dr. Junkin’s youngest daughter, Elinor. Thomas Jackson and Elinor Junkin married in 1853, but tragically “Ellie” died the following year from childbirth complications and her son did not survive. Heartbroken, Jackson withdrew, turning to his faith and religious convictions to help him through the difficult time.
In 1857, Jackson married again – this time a minister’s daughter from North Carolina. With Mary Anna Morrison Jackson, he purchased a house in 1858. Letters between the couple during some of Anna’s absences along with other primary sources give valuable insight to the Jacksons’ home life. Anna loved music, Jackson loved books. Both of them believed order and organization was necessarily for a happy home, though he sometimes to it to an extreme of punctuality. Though they wanted children, that wish met with sadness when their first daughter died about a month after her birth; they did have one daughter who survived, but she was born in 1862 in North Carolina.
In April 1861, Thomas J. Jackson left Lexington, following orders to take the senior class from Virginia Military Institute to Richmond to assist with training the eager Confederate volunteers. When Jackson left his home and Lexington that day, he would not return alive again to the town and house he loved so well. Though he had lived in Lexington for just ten years, the town fully claimed him as their citizen and hero during the war and in memory beyond the conflict.
What We’re Looking At
This brick building was constructed in the early 19th Century. Thomas J. Jackson purchased it as home in 1859 and lived here for two years. During the Civil War, Mrs. Jackson closed the house and moved to North Carolina to live with her family while her husband was away. After Jackson’s death in May 1863, Mary Anna decided to stay with her daughter in North Carolina and rented the home in Lexington for extra income. In the end, she sold the house to the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
Then, the house became a hospital, serving a Rockbridge County’s hospital for almost fifty years. Once a new hospital building opened, the house became a museum about Jackson. In 1979, it was carefully restored to an 1850’s appearance, and continuing research and efforts adds more important details each year. The Stonewall Jackson House is now operated by Virginia Military Institute’s museum system.
As you tour Jackson’s pre-war home with a guide, you’ll discover another side of “Stonewall.” Often his military campaigns are emphasized, but here in Lexington, you’ll have a chance to learn about his life before the Civil War. His roles as teacher, churchman, business entrepreneur, family man, and community leader are emphasized, giving visitor a chance to learn and re-evaluate this man, his beliefs, his town, and his era.
In the coming weeks, I’ll “take” you to some other sites in Lexington, but for now – head farther down Washington Street to the Lexington Visitor Center. This is a great place to pick up maps for the area, ask about dining, and get updates on what’s happening in town.
Request a historic walking tour guide because there is a lot of “unmarked history” in Lexington that is fascinating to discover as you stroll the historic district. Bonus points if you find the Pendleton House and tag @gazette665 in a shout-out on social media!
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