The village was legally established in 1793, and was on the main stagecoach route between Staunton and Lexington. Brownsburg flourished and was said to be one of the most important trade centers for the county and surrounding counties. It was a hub of activity and contained about twenty houses, three stores, shoemak- ers, tailors, a saddle maker, blacksmiths, and two mills, to mention a few. It was also known for its classical school, the Brownsburg Academy.
With the coming of the railroad nearby, and later U.S. 11 highway, Brownsburg began a decline until the late 20th century when restoration of its homes and buildings began and over time has produced the charm- ing village we know today.
Rockbridge County, named for the Natural Bridge of Virginia, was formed from Augusta and Botetourt counties in 1778. Brownsburg was established soon thereafter in 1793. Brown was a common name among the area’s early settlers, and the village was most likely named for Reverend John Brown, who was the first pastor of the nearby New Providence Presbyterian Church. The area is predominately agricultural, and the village is an excellent example of a 19th Century rural center.
As noted in The Virginia Landmarks Register, “Brownsburg was laid out on the lands of Robert Wardlaw and Samuel McChesney along a main stage line (For more information about the Wardlaws, see www.clanwardlaw.com). By 1835, the community was a hub of activity, containing about twenty dwellings, a mill, three stores, two shoe factories, three wheelwrights, two blacksmith shops, two tailors, a tanyard, a saddlery, a cabinetmaker, a carpenter, and a hatter.”
Brownsburg saw action during the American Civil War just prior to “Hunter’s Raid” on Lexington in June 1864. General David Hunter had been ordered by Ulysses Grant to cut off the Shenandoah Valley, which was a valuable supply corridor to General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. After destroying Confederate warehouses in Staunton, Hunter began marching towards Lexington in several columns. Union General George Crook’s column traveled from Newport to Brownsburg on the Brownsburg Turnpike, and the June 9 entry in a local resident’s diary stated “The Yankees are encamped at Brownsburg.” The local Confederate force under General John McCausland skirmished with Crook’s forces, then fell back towards Lexington in an attempt to protect the city and the Virginia Military Institute.
The town was also known in the 19th Century for a series of fine private schools. The Brownsburg Academy, a private Presbyterian high school for young men, was built with funds raised by local residents. The Academy operated as a private institution from 1850 to 1877, and its building was used for classes, religious services, and public meetings.
The mainstream of Valley activity bypassed Brownsburg when the Valley Branch of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was constructed several miles to the east of the village in 1880. An exception occurred in the late 19th Century when the Wilburn Saddle, a type reminiscent of the cavalry officer’s saddle and used throughout the Valley of Virginia, was manufactured in Brownsburg.
More recently, two major transportation routes, U.S. Route 11 and Interstate 81, like the B&O Railroad, were located east of the community. As a result, Brownsburg has remained settled in appearance for the past 100 years, and has retained most of its early-19th Century dwellings and supporting structures. Today the village is primarily a residential community.