Story by Chris Graham
Wayne Bronson knows where the buffalo once roamed through the Shenandoah Valley.
“Sometimes you can stop on the roadside and see the original path cut out by the buffalo herds,” said Bronson, the executive producer of “Road Trip to History,” a 12-part series on the Valley Turnpike, now U.S. 11, that will air nationwide on RFD-TV later this year.
Bronson’s Kearneysville, W.Va.,-based Oak Tree Productions is working with local historical societies up and down the U.S. 11 corridor to chronicle the history of the turnpike and the communities situated along the one-time migratory path that became popular with Native Americans and then later Colonial-era settlers.
“You can travel the road and realize the obvious things – the Civil War history that took place here and that kind of thing. What most people don’t know about is the history of the road. It’s one of the oldest roads in America,” Bronson told The Augusta Free Press.
The turnpike dates to the 1830s – when the Virginia General Assembly agreed to participate in the construction of a road connecting Winchester and Harrisonburg that would be financed largely by tolls assessed on those who used it.
The tolling system remained in place until 1918 – when the state legislature enacted a gasoline tax to finance transportation improvements and maintenance.
The pike was rebuilt during the Great Depression to become the modern-day U.S. 11.
“The idea of the program is different than anything of this nature that you’ve seen before – in that each program is presented by the people who live and work in that particular town,” Bronson said.
“We don’t write a script for them – we basically go in with a film crew, and they tell us about the history of their town and the history of the Great Valley Road and how the two are connected,” Bronson said.
“We’re hoping to get stories from the heart – that people will talk about their history and their culture. And if they say it in their own words, we think it will come more from the heart than if we write it for them and say, ‘Say this,’ ” Bronson said.
The first installment of the “Road Trip to History” series is scheduled to air on RFD-TV in October, Bronson said.