Rockingham - Harrisonburg Chapter of
The Izaak Walton League of America

A Brief History

The Rockingham-Harrisonburg Chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America had its beginning in February, 1948. It was chartered on February 4th of that year. Lester Hoover is credited with originating the idea of starting an IWLA Chapter in the area. Lester had visited the Staunton-Augusta Chapter previous to this and had attended a national IWLA convention.

He returned full of enthusiasm for the work of the IWLA and, at his insistence, a meeting was set up and interested individuals were invited to this organizational meeting. This meeting was held in the old Harrisonburg Baptist Church, then located on East Market Street. Mr. Hoover was elected President, Frank Switzer, Treasurer, and J. L. Deter, Secretary. There were 33 charter members. These members, in addition to the above officers, were Harry G. M. Jopson, Porter R. Graves, W. W. Wharton, Ralph L. Vaughn, F. J. Paxton, H. M. Bowman, Linden A. Kipps, F. Barth Garber, Jr., Charles C. Wright, J. D. Bowman, C. N. Priode, G. C. Andes, Charles W. Devier, G. W. Ralston, A. B. Heltzel, H. B. Slaven, G. C. Gordon, Ralph W. Taliaferro, J. G. Lucas, Jr., W. E. Rosenberger, Norris L. Bradford, N. W. Trenary, Royal D. Kincheloe, Raymond E. Carr, John F. Stowell, George D. Conrad, J. E. Simmers, Cecil R. Cody, and J. Robert Switzer.

Since the chapter owned no property and had no permanent home, meetings were held anywhere a place could be found to get a group together. After the Valley Creamery was built, most meetings were held there, since Marion Weaver, Owner and Manager, was an active and enthusiastic member. Meals were served at the meetings by nearby church groups. Those members who participated still talk about how good and bountiful the meals were.

An organization known as "Peak Retreat Incorporated" (PRI) was formed in May of 1952. This organization was to play a major role in the history of the Rockingham-Harrisonburg Chapter of the IWLA. It was formed for the purpose of acquiring title to a 92 acre tract of land about where the Gerundo Campground is now located, East of Harrisonburg along US 33. The unique thing about this organization was the statement in its "Certificate of Incorporation" which stated that "the purposes for which the corporation is formed are as follows: to protect and conserve the woods, waters, wildlife, scenic beauty, all natural resources and public health and to restore, encourage, perpetuate and promote opportunities for outdoor recreation." While PRI had no formal connection with the local IWLA Chapter, most of the individuals involved were also members of the IWLA. Apparently, all members of the IWLA were given an opportunity to become members of PRI. They had a strong feeling that if the Rockingham-Harrisonburg Chapter was to grow and prosper, it needed a home and the PRI just might be the answer. Accordingly, at a meeting of the Directors on May 20, 1955 the following motion was adopted: "Be it resolved that the cash assets of PRI as of May 19, 1955, in the amount of $1,976.52 be proportionately divided among the membership; and that the real assets of said corporation be conveyed gratuitously to the Rockingham-Harrisonburg Chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America when said organization has been incorporated and, that Peak Retreat, Inc. then be dissolved as a corporation." This resolution was passed unanimously at a meeting of the membership on June 8, 1955, although a few expressed the idea of developing a country club on the property. The Chapter was incorporated soon afterward and the land was deeded to the IWLA. A considerable amount of work was done in the area preparing a site for a chapter home and a small lake. In the meantime, the Virginia Commission of Game and Inland Fisheries had indicated that the area around Harrisonburg and Rockingham County had been given top priority for a public fishing lake if a suitable site could be found. Such a site was located by Commission personnel where Lake Shenandoah is now. The Commission agreed to build the lake providing the land could be acquired and title given to the Commission. The purchase price of the site was approximately $20,000.00, a sum seemingly beyond the reach of local folks. At a meeting of the IWLA, when the price of $20,000.00 was first mentioned, the membership seemed ready to give up – assuming that it was unrealistic to even think about raising this amount of money. Lester Hoover, always the optimist, said, "We can do it." Thus was born the Chapter's most ambitious project – to raise $20,000.00 to purchase the site for Lake Shenandoah. With the help of the community and just about everybody in Rockingham County, Harrisonburg and the small towns throughout the vicinity – including local businesses and civic organizations, the required funds were raised to purchase the site for Lake Shenandoah. Contributions ranging in amounts from $.50 to $3,000.00 resulted in Lake Shenandoah – the first and only public fishing lake at that time anywhere near Harrisonburg.

After the lake was completed in 1956, the barn at the edge of the lake was up for sale. This being much closer than the Peak Retreat property and on the perimeter of the newly constructed Lake Shenandoah. IWLA membership took steps to purchase the barn and the lot on which the barn stood with visions of remodeling the barn for a Chapter home. The land which the Chapter owned (Peak Retreat Property) was sold and the chapter acquired title to the barn property on March 10, 1958. Thus, the Rockingham-Harrisonburg Chapter of the IWLA became the owner of its new home.

The next phase of the operation – that of converting the barn to a respectable chapter home - presented real problems. Non-interest bearing bonds of $50 and $100 were bought by the membership to provide the money needed for building material and help that could not be provided by the members. Many man hours of labor were contributed by Chapter members and much material was given toward building improvements by local business concerns. The "remodeling" of the barn included the construction of a first class small caliber indoor range for use by the membership. Many of the bonds issued to the members to provide money to remodel the barn were cancelled by those members and the money contributed to the chapter.

No one will ever know how much "blood, sweat and tears" went into the conversion of the barn to a first class chapter home. Individual members, contractors, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, and others spent days and in some cases, weeks working on the barn – particularly during their slack time (winter, etc.) – all for free.

One of the first projects undertaken by the Chapter was to conduct a fishing rodeo for children in Rockingham County, Harrisonburg and vicinity. This was before the days of Lake Shenandoah, so a bus was rented by the Chapter to transport the kids to a pond belonging to H. M. Bowman. Later the rodeo was held near Singers Glen on the property of James Summers. This project was continued for three to four years and the rodeo has been held annually at Lake Shenandoah since its completion in 1956.

For a number of years, the Virginia Penninsula Sportsman's Association at Newport News had sponsored a State-wide Big Game Trophy contest. In 1949, the Game Commission concluded it would be appropriate to divide the State into two regions - East of the Blue Ridge and West of the Blue Ridge – for the purpose of the contest. The Staunton-Augusta IWLA Chapter initially sponsored the Western regional contest and regional winners met in the Richmond offices of the Game Commission to determine the State winners. The Staunton-Augusta Chapter for some reason fell by the wayside and the sponsorship of the western contest was taken over by the Rockingham-Harrisonburg IWLA Chapter in the fall of 1950. It has sponsored it continually since then, with the State contest being sponsored every other year.

The Virginia Penninsula Sportsman's Association (VPSA) sponsors the State contest during alternate years, along with their eastern regional contest.

Many organizations besides the IWLA use the barn as their meeting place. During the summer months, a number of wedding receptions are held there and an occasional wedding is held on the lawn in front of the barn next to the lake.

To the present-day members of the chapter, it may seem that all that has gone before "just happened". It didn't. The hard work, dedication and belief in the objectives of the IWLA by those early members of the Chapter brought the Chapter to its present point of development. The contribution of the time and resource of the present day membership to a like degree will insure that the chapter will move forward in its efforts toward preserving "the purity of waters, the clarity of air and the wise stewardship of the land and its resources…"

Today, the major chapter project continues to be the Western Regional & State Big Game Trophy Show which has grown to the point it attracts people from all over the State. Other activities include the Annual Fishing Rodeo held in conjunction with the National Hunting & Fishing Day.

The barn is also available for local events on a rental basis. This is a link to the Barn Rental Agreement that must be completed.

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