The Shenandoah

The Shenandoah Valley encompasses the drainage of the Shenandoah River in Virginia and West Virginia from the Blue Ridge Mountains on the east to the Appalachians on the west, and from the Potomac on the north, south to the James River.  It includes Frederick, Warren, and Shenandoah counties in the north, and Botetourt, Roanoke, and Montgomery counties in the south.  The valley is split lengthwise by the Massanutten, a free-standing mountain range which separates the North Fork from the South Fork of the river.  The two forks merge at Riverton.  Currently, the income generated from farming and agriculture is approximately equal to the income from tourism.

In 1731 a prosperous German named Jost Hite along with his partner Robert McKay obtained settlement rights to 140,000 acres in the northern Shenandoah, and in 1732 Hite and sixteen families settled in and around present-day Winchester.  In the 1790's Hite’s grandson, Isaac Hite Jr., built the Belle Grove Plantation in Middletown, now a Historic Landmark.  Later Jacob Santmyers, born in 1817, was the miller for the plantation. More recently, Cousin Ron's daughter was the Historian at Belle Grove. Jost Hite’s descendants still gather at Belle Grove for reunions. The migration route known as the Great Wagon Road was also called the Valley Pike in the Shenandoah, and followed what is now State Route 11, roughly parallel to Interstate 81.

The earliest record of our family in the Shenandoah is the marriage of Johannes Zentmeyer, the son of Bernhard b.1740, to Barbara Windle of Shenandoah County in 1789.  The couple was next noted as having a child in Botetourt County in 1792, and buying land on Mudlick Creek in present-day Cave Spring in 1797.  Johannes and Barbara moved on to a farm in Montgomery County near present-day Floyd as early as 1800.  It should be noted here that an early published account placing Johannes at the New River Lutheran settlement near present-day Blacksburg in 1749, notwithstanding the fact that he had not yet been born, has been categorically disproven, as well as statements of Johannes being “from Germany,” although Johannes' father was indeed born in Germany.  

In 1794 Johannes’ brother Jacob Santmyer married Jane Knaps in Frederick County, not far from where they lived in the Fork District. This area lies between the South Fork of the Shenandoah and the eastern end of the Massanutten near Cousin Ron’s home in Front Royal, Virginia.  At some point after Jacob’s father Bernhard b.1740 lost his farm in York County Pennsylvania, Bernhard moved into the Fork District probably to live with his son Jacob.  Bernhard was recorded there as St. Moyers.  Jacob and Bernhard are buried in an unmarked hilltop family cemetery there called Santmyers Cemetery.

Christopher’s first-born son John Zentmeyer married Catherine Welsh around 1796 and migrated to Brownsville, Virginia, (currently known as Browntown) about ten miles south of  Jacob Santmyer's farm in the Fork District.  In Brownsville, John Zentmeyer was known as Santmyer.  The timing of this migration appears to be around 1820, and there is evidence for return trips to Franklin County.  

Jacob and Johannes’ brother George followed soon thereafter.  In 1797 George married Elizabeth Dunn in Frederick County, Virginia.  The couple had four children in Virginia before moving into Warren County, Ohio after 1805.

Around 1800 Magdelena Zentmeyer, the sister of Bernhard, Christopher, and Jacob, along with her husband Johannes Lauman who she had married in 1769 in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, moved to Middletown, the site of Belle Grove Plantation.