Greenway may be extended to Yagers Spring and other news from Luray

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Redwell-Isabella_Furnace
Located just north of Luray, the Redwell-Isabella Furnace Historic District bounds approximately nine acres in Page County, on the west bank of Hawksbill Creek, a tributary of the South Fork of the Shenandoah River. (Photo credit: David Edwards/DHR, 2021)

By Randy Arrington

LURAY, Jan. 13 — Plans to extend the Luray-Hawksbill Greenway are moving forward that will not only expand the popular pedestrian attraction, but the project will also highlight a key historical resource that can be credited with the formation of the town.

The Luray Council gave its blessing Monday night for the Hawksbill Greenway Foundation to create an action plan for extending the north loop of the existing greenway about 900 feet to reach Yagers Spring and the Redwell-Isabella Furnace Historical District.

Representing the foundation, Bill Dudley told the council that in addition to extending the walking trail 900 feet, two bridges would be needed for the Phase V expansion — one across the Hawksbill Creek and a small bridge just below the dam. However, Dudley also noted there were a couple of options for the route as the foundation is in the preliminary stages of the project and wanted to get council’s approval before moving forward with studies. The town owns the property required for the expansion — a key element, considering right-of-way issues with a previously planned expansion on the southern end of the greenway (connecting to schools and Ralph Dean Park).

Dudley, a daily user of the greenway, also emphasized the significance of the historical interpretation planned for the site. Local historian Rod Graves of Luray Caverns plans to help the foundation with the historical aspect of the project, and he shared the site’s significance with the council on Monday night.

“Luray would not have been a town if it had not been for that industrial site,” Graves said.

The Redwell-Isabella Furnace first fired on Sept. 27, 1787. Most of its iron activities would be shut down by 1841, but ore fired at the site was used for national defense, as well as construction efforts at the University of Virginia and Monticello, according to Graves. Isabella Furnace, as it was later known, also helped provide the materials that created the first structures in Luray.

Graves calls the area an “archeological gem” and in 2005 he helped get the Redwell-Isabella Furnace Historic District recognized by the Virginia Department of Historic Places.

“I am so excited about this project,” Graves told the council. “I’ve been studying it since I was 12 years old…it had a grist mill, there was a whole community out there before Luray was a community.” He added that major archeological studies could be done there and noted a state official in the field stated the site could have “national significance.”

The historical district sits on nine acres just north of Luray on the west bank of Hawksbill Creek. The VDHP website states the “steeply-to-gently sloping site consists of pasture, woodlots, and the oblong pool of Yager Spring, the power source for the furnace and later mills. Derrick Pennybacker is believed to have established the Redwell Furnace in 1787, making it the county’s oldest iron furnace.” After it stopped firing iron ore in 1841, it was “subsequently, a forge, flour mill, and woolen factory operated at the location into the late 19th century.”

“If the effort is not made to preserve that, or tell that story…that information runs the risk of being lost,” Councilman Jason Pettit said on Monday.

Council members discussed security issues surrounding the project — not only protecting the “historical integrity of the place,” which contains two circa 1800 buildings, but also the environmental integrity of Yagers Spring, which pumps millions of gallons of water into the Hawksbill Creek each day.

The district includes a cemetery, a stone foundation, the furnace bridge mound, the Isabella Furnace Office — a two-story stone building with Georgian interior detail — and the Yager Spring House. The property also contains a two-story stone structure with a large fireplace for cooking and a later 1965 stone-and-frame addition.

“I think it’s doable if we take proper measures,” Police Chief “Bow” Cook told the council with regard to safety concerns along the new trail and historical site.

Once the Foundation puts together an action plan, according to Dudley, they will present it to the council.

Before too long, Luray’s “hidden gem” may not be so hidden.

“Everybody knows how I feel about this project,” Mayor Jerry Dofflemyer said at Monday’s meeting. “I’ve been dreaming about it for years.”

In other business during its Jan. 10 meeting, the Luray Council took the following actions:

• Unanimously approved a request from Courtney Rentals LLC for a Special Use Permit to operate a lodging house at 209 Woodland Avenue following a public hearing that drew no speakers. The property is zoned R3 for high-density residential use. Both staff and the planning commission recommended approval with the following conditions — no more than six guests at one time; off-street parking required for all guests; one sign allowed not exceeding four feet on any side; meals may only be provided to guests; and a town business license must be obtained.

• Unanimously approved a Code Amendment to “Section 10-1 License Taxes” related to the Town’s alcohol license taxes to conform with the rates established by Virginia Code 4.1-233.1. The Town Attorney determined that the Town’s current rates exceed those permitted by state code and confirmed that the Town did not need to conduct
a public hearing or give public notice to reduce rates to conform with state requirements. The Town’s business license applications will be adjusted to reflect the correct rates.

• Heard a report on the Town’s annual audit from Saidee Begoon of Robinson, Farmer and Cox. The Town of Luray currently has about $17.5 million in overall assets, with $1.6 million unrestricted and $15.7 million in capital assets. The Town showed a fund balance of $2.3 million — up about $529,000 over FY20. The report was well-received by the council and showed the Town on solid financial footing.

• Discussed requests from the Police Department and the Recreation Department related to the allocation of ARPA funds. The Recreation Department submitted nearly $3 million in requests for 26 various projects, while the Police Department submitted a list of nine priorities totaling nearly $700,000. Some of those items have been approved, such as the replacement of Imagination Station at Ralph Dean Park and new vehicles for police. The Town of Luray has about $5 million in total anticipated ARPA funds over the next four years. Previous meetings have been held to discuss requests and priorities related to water and sewer operations, as well as other capital projects that qualify for ARPA funds. Discussion of ARPA funding will continue at the council’s Jan. 25 work session.

• Discussed an upcoming joint meeting among the three towns and the county at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 3 at the Stanley Fire Hall. Council member Stephanie Lillard was chosen as Luray’s representative to attend.

• Discussed the potential placement of the third electronic message board at Lake Arrowhead. No decision was made and other potential locations were discussed. However, the discussion also spilled over into dealing with ever-growing crowds at Lake Arrowhead on peak weekends. The council agreed to continue the discussion at a future work session.

• Entered into a closed session to discuss “the potential acquisition of property for a new park”, according to the motion made by Councilman Jerry Schiro. When the council came out of closed session, no action was taken.

The Luray Council’s Jan. 10 meeting may be viewed on YouTube at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cpXmZ5gWNos

A copy of the agenda and council packet from the Jan. 10 meeting may be viewed at: https://www.townofluray.com/assets/tol_011022.pdf

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