Rockingham County is centrally located in the historic and scenic Shenandoah Valley in west-central Virginia. Harrisonburg, the county seat, is an important educational, industrial, retail, commercial, and governmental center. The Rockingham County-Harrisonburg area has long been considered a single labor market area. The two jurisdictions share similar characteristics and are economically interrelated. This overview, therefore, has been prepared using data and information for both localities.
Rockingham County is bounded on the west by the Allegheny Mountains and on the east by the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Surrounded by the Virginia counties of Augusta, Albemarle, Greene, Page, and Shenandoah, and by the West Virginia counties of Pendleton and Hardy, Rockingham County is situated at the headwaters of the Shenandoah River.
Formed from Augusta County in 1778 and named for the Marquis of Rockingham, a British statesman sympathetic with the American Revolution, Rockingham County is the third largest county in Virginia, encompassing 853 square miles of diverse terrain. There are five election districts and seven incorporated towns within the County. The Ashby District includes the towns of Bridgewater, Dayton, and Mt. Crawford. The towns of Elkton and Grottoes are located in the Stonewall District, while Timberville and Broadway are both situated in the Plains District. Harrisonburg is the only independent city.
The Rockingham County-Harrisonburg area lies primarily within the Valley and Ridge Physiographic Province, which is characterized by gently rolling and hilly valleys, as well as gradual mountain slopes.
The eastern edge of the County is within the Blue Ridge Physiographic Province, which is distinguished by sharp mountain peaks. The Massanutten ridge splits the wide valley and provides a dramatic backdrop to much of the County. The highest elevation in the County is 4,381 feet at Flagpole Knob on the western edge of the County in the Allegheny Mountains. By contrast, elevations in the valley range from 900 feet near the Page County line adjacent to the South Fork of the Shenandoah River, to approximately 1,500 feet.
Soils in the valley range from carbonate and shale soils to alluvial soils along the rivers and streams. Colluvial soils derived from the weathering of sandstone and shale are found in the foothills paralleling the valley. The mountain areas are covered with shallow, rocky, excessively drained soils. The predominant geology underlying the Rockingham County-Harrisonburg area is a complex formation of limestone, calcareous shale, and dolomite, with smaller amounts of sandstone and conglomerate also present.