Know thy Queen: Fast facts and Stauntonalia
Poking around in Staunton's historic closet yields some interesting and downright strange tidbits. Here are just a few examples, plus a few answers to those pesky frequently asked questions.
Why is Staunton pronounced "Stanton" when it looks like it should be "Stawnton"?
Sorry to start with a red herring, but no one really knows. The town received its name in honor of Lady Rebecca Staunton, wife of colonial Virginia governor William Gooch. Descendants pronounce the family name "Stawnton." Some speculate it's due to the twangy dialect of the Valley's early Scots-Irish and German immigrants.
Why so much "Beverley" this and "Beverley" that?
In 1736, wealthy Essex County plantation owner William Beverley, along with three partners, received a 118,541-acre "patent" west of the Blue Ridge to be called Beverley Manor. A proviso of the patent was that Beverley had to settle the area, so he became essentially a beneficent feudal lord to those who moved to the area surrounding what is today Staunton.
Now you know:
*Several law books originally owned by Thomas Jefferson and currently on display at Monticello turned up in the attic of the old Stuart House on Church Street. The home's original owner, Judge Archibald Stuart, was a friend of our man T.J.
*When Staunton's Western Lunatic Asylum, later known as Western State, opened in 1828, it was one of only five mental institutions in the U.S.
*Mayor John Avoli reports that a descendant of Vlad the Impaler, better known as Count Dracula, is buried in Staunton's National Cemetery ("We call it the Yankee cemetery," says Avoli), killed at Cross Keys as a mercenary soldier fighting for the boys in blue during the Civil War.
*The popular City Council-Mayor-City Manager form of municipal government originated in Staunton in 1908.
*You probably know Staunton is the birthplace of Woodrow Wilson, but you probably don't know he lived there less than a year. (His first.)
*The first MGM star to appear in a talkie, Billy Haines, was a native of Staunton. Born the very first day of 1900 on New Street, Haines gained an international reputation as an interior designer following his film career. Want to know more? Ask tourism chief Sergei Troubetzkoy, who says, "I'm probably the most knowledgeable person about Billy Haines on the planet."
*Prolific period architect T.J. Collins moved to Staunton from Washington, D.C. in 1890 and proceeded to design or remodel 200 buildings around town. Collins also entered a competition to design the President's House in D.C. and came in second to James Hoban, who won with his plan for The White House.
*Over 1,000 of Staunton's buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.