What historical documents tell us about the site

The first written record of the land containing the Parnassus Site is a 1748 deed. A blacksmith named William King obtained a 400-acre tract along Moffett's Branch from the colonial government but resold it only a few years later, presumably for a quick profit. By 1751 John Nicholl had bought the 400 acres and was cultivating a mix of grain crops and raising livestock. After the elder John Nicholl died in 1774, his wife and children remained on the property as farmers. A 1755 inventory of assets accompanying Nicholl's will included hemp, hay, wheat, oats, barley, rye, and flax.

The family also owned 28 head of cattle, 11 hogs, 22 sheep, and nine horses. In the 1780s the farm passed through the ownership of Andrew Nicholl of Greenbrier County and later James Rankin, who owned some slaves.

Just before the Revolutionary War, Germans from Pennsylvania and the northern part of the Shenandoah valley began settling in Augusta County. In 1790, Adam Rusmeisel bought 150 acres that contained the Parnassus Site from the Nicholl heirs. He and his family farmed the land for the next 40 years. In the local German landholding tradition, several generations of Rusmeisels may have resided in separate households on the property simultaneously. One of the Rusmeisel dwellings is the first structure documented in the same location as the Parnassus Site. An 1831 turnpike survey map by Claudius Crozet shows the name "Rusmeisel's" next to a structure along the surveyed route. The Warm Springs-Harrisonburg Turnpike was the predecessor of the current Route 42 located next to the site.

Decorated bone handle of fork from earlier structure [2.75 inches long].Thomas Holt bought Christian Rusmeisel's 205-acre property in 1834 and steadily prospered during his fourteen years of ownership. Improvements (indicating structures) on the property increased in value from $150 to $1,000. Perhaps the original Rusmeisel dwelling was enlarged as part of these improvements. At the same time the surrounding community was growing, and a meeting house built in 1834 for religious and civic activities formed the core of the new village of Parnassus.

A Staunton merchant bought the Holts' farm in 1848 but waited four years before moving onto the land. William Kyle's ownership of the property raises some intriguing questions. The tax assessment of 1851-1852 shows a dramatic drop of $300 that may mark demolition of the dwelling. In 1853, Kyle conveyed the farm in trust to Benjamin Points for the use of his wife Felicia, sold his mercantile business, and built a substantial house worth $975 to as much as $2,000. Conveying the farm in trust at the same time as Kyle's mercantile interests were failing aroused the suspicions of his creditors. David Baylor's suit against Kyle resulted in an auction of the Kyle farm in the middle of the Civil War in 1863.

Both sides of a U.S. 3 cent coin (1853) found in the later structure at the site, which burned in the 1880's. Issued from 1851 to 1873, these are the smallest of American silver coins [0.6 inches in diameter].By 1864 Union troops could have marched along the turnpike only a stone's throw from the Parnassus Site on their way to large encampments at nearby Staunton. The tax records do not indicate any major damage during the war, but rather steady assessments around $1,500. 

William McFall's ownership of the property from 1864 to 1879 parallels the sharp decline in agriculture after the Civil War. Although nearby towns such as Staunton and Waynesboro recovered quickly, surrounding agricultural communities struggled through this period. McFall first sold 125 acres to J. A. Hamrick in 1870. The following year McFall may have sold a quarter acre containing the main dwelling to Frank Harlow. An 1885 county atlas shows the label "Frank Harlow" next to a structure that appears to be on the Parnassus Site. Just west of the house is "Frank Harlow's Saddle Shop." McFall sold the remaining 128 acres of his original farm to J. A. Hamrick in 1879 and went bankrupt about the same time.

Historical documents concerning the Parnassus Site become more sketchy at this point. Although the 1885 county map clearly shows Frank Harlow's name on the property, he is curiously absent from the deed and tax books examined so far. Archaeological evidence points to a devastating fire in the house that William Kyle built.

The McFall farm was reunited when James Buckley bought 36 acres from the Harlow family in 1905, after buying the Hamrick property in 1902. The property was passed through the Hevener and Peterson families from 1909 to 1921. Since then the two tracts have been owned by three generations of the Fairburn family.