Lecture #2 – Farms, Mills, and Shops

Farms, Mills, and Shops: An Overview of Economic Activity in the Shenandoah Valley, 1750-1850

Guest Speaker:
Ken Koons,
Virginia Military Institute


Part 1
Part 2

Please email questions and comments to our guest speaker,
Professor Ken Koons at koonsKE@vmi.edu


In examining economic activity in the Valley, historians have focused mainly upon agriculture as the main driver of the regional economy. Although their accounts have greatly improved understanding of the historical functioning of the region’s agricultural sector, the concentration on the history of farming has had the effect of obscuring the contributions of manufacturing and the provision of goods and services to the long-term economic vitality of the region. This presentation seeks to correct this imbalance by describing the history of manufacturing in the Shenandoah Valley, from the frontier era through the early Republic and late antebellum period. Topics to be discussed include extractive or light processing industries such as grist mills, sawmills, iron furnaces, and tanneries, as well as the wide array of goods and services provided by artisanal craftsmen who inhabited the villages and towns of the region, e.g., blacksmiths, coopers, wagon makers, harness makers and the like. A main point that will emerge from this presentation is that, historically, the manufacturing sector of the regional economy of the Shenandoah Valley was, by far, the largest and most heavily capitalized in the state of Virginia, and that it contributed significantly to the vitality of the regional farm economy.


Kenneth E. Koons is the General Edwin Cox ’20 Institute Professor of History at Virginia Military Institute, where he has taught since 1982. His signature course is “The History of Everyday Life.” Other courses include “Food and Hunger in History” and a research seminar on the social and economic history of the Shenandoah Valley. His publications focus on commercial wheat farming, manufacturing activity, and slavery and its aftermath in the nineteenth-century Shenandoah Valley. In the realm of public history, Koons has served as a consultant to museums, government agencies, law firms, and various non-profit organizations, on issues relating to the history of agriculture and rural life. He holds a Doctor of Arts Degree in history from Carnegie Mellon University.

This year’s lecture series is brought to you by a generous grant from Virginia Humanities.

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