YOUR HOMETOWN — Harrisonburg: Rocktown Reminiscence

‘Remembering Downtown’ Group Pitches Plan For A Harrisonburg Homecoming

Posted: April 24, 2013

Daily News-Record

Rhonda Lentz holds a photo showing how this present-day view of Main Street looking northward appeared 100 years ago. The building behind Lentz, now known as Dave’s Taverna, was the Dinner Bell Restaurant in the 1950s and The Elbow Room from the 1960s through the mid-1980s. Photo by Nikki Fox / DN-R.
Rhonda Lentz, standing in front of Gitchell’s Photography, holds a photo of the storefront taken decades ago, when the store was known as Gitchell’s Studio and Camera Shop. Photo by Nikki Fox / DN-R.
HARRISONBURG — Lew Taylor planned to just take himself down memory lane.

Now, his creation may lead to an annual celebration for all of Harrisonburg to remember.

At more than 2,000 members strong, the Facebook group “Remembering Downtown Harrisonburg,” which Taylor created more than a year ago, is gaining momentum for a regular presence beyond the Internet.

Taylor, a city native who now lives in Massachusetts, is hopeful that he can talk Harrisonburg officials into sponsoring a yearly homecoming weekend, including Rockingham County in the event, too. Financial support, the free use of a public building and inclusion in the Parks and Recreation Department’s newsletter announcing the event are all possibilities, group members say.

The group has the physical numbers to prove it could be a worthy investment, too — more than 100 people attended a get-together in the city in March 2012 and close to 500 turned out for a second one in September, said Taylor, 67.

“We have members who are in their 90s,” including his mother, Taylor said. “And people in every other age group. I would love to see the city get behind this with some funding to help make it a huge event each year that would bring people back to share their memories of growing up in what has to be one of the, at that time, greatest small cities in America.”

The reason for the group’s popularity is simple: All of the members share a fondness for the Harrisonburg of old, and they have endless pictures to share to jog their memories.

“This thing just exploded,” said Rhonda Lentz, 66, a lifelong Harrisonburg resident.

She enjoys reminiscing about the nightspot called the Elbow Room — where Dave’s Downtown Taverna is now — and how Tom Petty once visited for a few drinks after a concert at James Madison University.

Lentz also often has a laugh recounting a fight that once occurred at Bar-B-Q Ranch on U.S. 11. Two men were arrested and, after punished with a fine, one defendant paid the other man’s fine because he didn’t have enough money.

Taylor basks in the memories from school, Harrisonburg Turks baseball and the Bar-B-Q Ranch, among others. He occasionally visits the city to see his mother and attend board meetings of the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Historical Society.

Taylor plans to approach Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance about the homecoming idea. Eddie Bumbaugh, executive director of the revitalization group, said he is happy to hear what Taylor has in mind.

But as the Facebook group shows, such a conversation could last forever.

“It’s kind of, sort of endless as to what the options are out there,” Lentz said.

Contact Preston Knight at 574-6272 or

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