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popmom

If you are familiar w James Madison/Harrisonburg area...

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My daughter has an interview scheduled with JMU in Feb. (grad school) I'm driving her there. I know nothing about the area. Where should we stay? Any sights to see while we're in the area?

 

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There are several hotels, holiday inn type places, near the campus. We stayed there for my niece’s HS graduation last summer. I didn’t see much to do in the area. I just remember driving through tons of hills with not much on ‘em before coming upon Harrisonburg proper.  I think there’s an arboretum and a quilt museum.

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I drove up with my daughter for an unofficial swim visit about 4 years ago.  We stayed at The Village Inn, the only non-chain hotel we found on the school's website. I do not recommend it, unfortunately.  There are scads of chain hotels adjacent to campus, and any of those would be fine.  They are literally all clustered in one spot, near restaurants and closer to campus than the Village Inn.  I do not recommend Village Inn because they did nothing but gripe about JMU to us.  It was bizarre--they would have nearly no reason for existing (there is nothing in Harrisonburg besides JMU and a small Mennonite college that they clearly preferred) if it weren't for JMU, and the guy behind the desk, as well as the people in the restaurant at breakfast, went out of their way to trash talk it.  Also, Village Inn is directly across the road from a dairy farm.  I loved rural Virginia and thought the area was beautiful, but if the smell of a dairy farm would bother you, stay closer to town.

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I don't know it super well, but the area is very pretty and I know there are some lovely hikes and so forth. Some of the towns around there, like Staunton, are maybe more quaint and touristy.

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I grew up there, my father is a full professor in the Chemistry/Biochem department, and my mother was the science liaison for many years, although she finally retired for about the third time last year, and maybe this time it will stick.  DD visited both JMU and EMU last summer, and you can find my visit reports in the past threads. 

My parents coordinated the JSHS and ISEF preliminary fairs, and used the Jamison Inn for their out of town students/room blocks. They have also used the Hampton Inn. Both are fairly close to campus and have walkable commerce (the Village inn, mentioned above, is ANCIENT-as in, when my parents came to JMU to interview in 1976, that was where the University put them up). 

Harrisonburg is a nice community in a lot of ways. It is a predominantly Mennonite, farming community. Combined with the universities, it gives the whole area a kind of hippy vibe. It is very easy to do farm to table, the Farmer's markets are wonderful, there are a lot of great restaurants, and overall, it's a very "Green" community. It's also a very accepting one, because as a denomination, Mennonites are pretty live and let live. The general conference has a refugee resettlement program, and Harrisonburg city schools have more languages spoken than any other school system in the state. If you saw the "No matter what language you speak, we're glad you're our neighbor" signs from a few years back, those originated in Harrisonburg. The downtown (easily accessible from the older side of campus) has the farmers market, lots of small, local businesses, lots of churches, an amazing ice cream shop (Kline's), and a great food co-op. Community events are common. Downtown has a few small museums, too. 

Like many relatively small cities with about as many college students as regular residents, there is definitely some town vs gown conflict, and if you talk to anyone who is a long-time Harrisonburg resident (or used to be) they probably have a mental picture of a time before JMU took over everything, and Harrisonburg was better than it is now. JMU has taken over a lot of city buildings and whole blocks that used to be residential, and as it has grown to be as big of a school as it is, that has changed the city. College students are kind of a necessary evil in a lot of ways, but that doesn't mean people like seeing the school they attended, the hospital their children were born in, the houses they grew up in and played at, and the skating rink they got their first kiss at all taken over by the university-especially since the city has had a tendency to give up city owned property without really considering the fact that it means that a large number of kids who had less than a mile walk to the high school suddenly had to be bused or have parents drive way out to the edges of town to the "new" high school", vs building a 2nd high school and leaving the first one active for the folks who actually lived IN town. About the only thing that gets as much conflict as the university (and is also a love/hate relationship) is the fact that Northern VA and the DC suburbs are creeping ever closer. 

 

Mennonites are a singing faith, and music is a BIG part of Harrisonburg culture. Both colleges have big music programs, and there are many, many community music and fine arts groups, and performing opportunities. Both schools have scholarships for performing arts for non-majors, although competition is high, and a lot of students end up at JMU because they want to do music, in particular, in addition to their major. My father has commented that for many years the best recruiter the chem department had was the band program. 

 

As a school as a whole, there is a lot to recommend JMU. One thing JMU has had going for it is that, back in the 1970's, when Madison College became JMU and started expanding, they hired a lot of just out of grad school post doc assistant and associate professors. While the standard academic progression would have been to spend a year or two there and then move up, for the most part, these young folks thought Harrisonburg was a good place to raise a family. As a result, they stayed. And, since most of these folks were just out of post docs and wanted to be PI's of their own labs, they worked with who they had-the undergraduates. As these folks moved up the ladder, they hired new faculty who also had a commitment to research and working with undergrads. The result is that almost EVERY student at JMU does research or some sort of practicum experience/internship. JMU is one of a handful of schools in DD's particular interest area that regularly have undergrads presenting at major national conferences (including having undergraduate posters and papers at the recent World Congress, although most were presented in absentia for award consideration due to travel costs). 

 

Harrisonburg is in the Shenandoah Valley. It's a beautiful place, but it is NOT flat. And as spread out as the campus is, that means you better be ready to walk uphill to class, both ways. JMU would be a hard campus to navigate if you have any sort of mobility issue, not because they don't try to be accessible, but because it is just plain hilly. If you go not far out of town, you're into the mountains. Skiing is fairly close, there are beautiful hiking trails, and a lot of nature. Feb will likely be just before Spring really starts taking hold, depending on how warm it is this year-some years, they can still make snow and winter sports still hold, some years not. 

 

Winter tends to be a little chilly and get a decent amount of snow, but usually they clear roads pretty fast. It's rare for JMU to close classes, even when the local schools do, so that's something to keep in mind when picking housing. Summer gets downright hot, although never quite as pounding as DC, mostly, I suspect, due to more trees and shade than anything else. 

 

 

Edited by dmmetler
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Here's my campus visit report from last summer. We were looking at undergrad rather than grad programs. 

 

 

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I was just there a few weeks with my kids for skiing. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express. We checked out the college while we were there, but spent most of our time at the ski resort, so I really can’t recommend things to see beyond that. We were impressed with how nice the area was. Very pretty surrounded by all the mountains.

Edited by Mom0012

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Thanks for the help! I had searched google, but I couldn't judge how far away that cluster of hotels was from campus. (east of the interstate) The campus is on both sides of the interstate though--I think.

Dmmetler, thanks for that insight. I'll share this with my daughter.

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4 hours ago, dmmetler said:

Here's my campus visit report from last summer. We were looking at undergrad rather than grad programs. 

 

 

Would you say that the area is dog friendly? Do you know if there are any bans on breeds like pit bulls? My daughter has a tiny chi mix and a large pit mix. How difficult do you think it would be for her to find housing? Do you have any suggestions on a neighborhood? Thanks!

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I don't know of any dog bans, and it's pretty animal friendly. You'll still find some businesses that have horse and buggy parking 🙂, and some of the downtown business will have pet watering stations in the summer. There are a lot of apartments close to campus and downtown that would be on the bus lines to campus. Depending on her major, she may want to look on that side of campus-a grad student in science would want to be on a different side of I-81 than one majoring in nursing or performing arts.  If she is OK driving or biking a few miles daily (and except for I-81, it's fairly easy to bike, except for the hills-and there is a pedestrian underpass for the interstate) and wants to share a house, she may want to look in Parkview, or the areas not far from Waterman School and Westover park. Both were popular among university families about 40 years ago, and now have a lot of other adults who are aging in place, many of whom are willing to rent rooms, particularly to grad students, seminary-and many of those houses were built for multigenerational families or larger families, so have apartments with separate entrances, etc.  I think the same may be true near Spottswood, which would be closer to the science side of campus, but I know fewer people who live over there, so I don't know how many houses have turned over.

 

 

 

 

 

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All I know is that if you want pie, get off at exit 222 and go to Mrs Rowe's.  A stop there is the reason my friends and I have a Pie Club.  

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14 minutes ago, KungFuPanda said:

All I know is that if you want pie, get off at exit 222 and go to Mrs Rowe's.  A stop there is the reason my friends and I have a Pie Club.  

Good to know! thx! What about Sorghum? Any good sources for that? My grandmother buys her sorghum from a Mennonite community in TN, but she doesn't share lol. It's really good though. 

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4 minutes ago, popmom said:

Good to know! thx! What about Sorghum? Any good sources for that? My grandmother buys her sorghum from a Mennonite community in TN, but she doesn't share lol. It's really good though. 

 

The grain?  I've never used it.  Maybe plant some?

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1 minute ago, KungFuPanda said:

 

The grain?  I've never used it.  Maybe plant some?

Ha! No lol--the syrup. I want the syrup.

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For Sorghum, Dayton Farmer's Market (which is indoor and year-round with permanent slots, more like a flea market with food-the cheese shop has a lot of bulk products and local products, and would be my most likely place to look. The bakery there is really good, too). the Saturday downtown Farmer's Market (but only if it's the right season. I know that you can get local maple syrup, honey, etc there), or the Friendly City food co-op, which is conviently near Klines, the can't miss ice cream shop. Also near Glen's Fair Price, which still rightfully qualifies as the Valley's most unusual store, although it has moved to more spacious quarters than it had in my youth (and, alas, no longer has the almost magical, rarely open toy section on the second floor). 

 

I used to recommend Red Front, but sadly the family that owned it sold it, and now it is just a regular IGA. It used tohave a lot of really awesome local products and amazing baked goods.  

 

If you want homeschool stuff, check out Gift and Thrift down by EMU. It's the Mennonite missions thrift store and has a good education section. You can also visit the CLE company store, on the same street. 

 

If anyone is doing Barbequed chicken, trust me, you want to try it. Especially if it is Ed Shirkey's recipe (Ed died probably 20 years ago, but his chicken rub lives on). Also, if anyone visits near Easter and the West Side Baptist youth are selling candy eggs outside the grocery store, they are awesome. 

Edited by dmmetler

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On 1/27/2020 at 3:17 PM, kathyintx said:

She should definitely ask about her breed of dog because some places do ban certain breeds like pit bulls.  Our kids' apartment (all 5 went to JMU) did.  But even there, it totally seemed to depend on the current manager - and managers came and went fairly quickly.  

One of my dd's lives in California and rents an apartment where the tennants are not allowed to have any animals over a certain weight - 30 lbs maybe?  Can't remember.  I guess they figure that knocks out all the bigger breeds like pit bulls, malamutes, etc.

Anyway, one thing I've alway appreciated about JMU is their landscaping.  I know that has nothing to do with the education/degree, but I love the fact that they have a virtual army of grounds people who keep the place immaculate and plant gorgeous flowers all over.  🙂 It gives the whole place a very happy feel.  lol

Also, the arboretum is nice.  My kids go there and walk/run, and even wade in the pond when it floods.  😉  They also love it when the tunnel under the interstate floods.

One thing I do NOT like about JMU is I-81 cutting such a gorgeous campus in half.  And the NOISE.  Sooooo many trucks.  And wrecks.  Just be careful driving it, especially when JMU lets out for breaks.  It's flooded with tons of kids driving home (mostly heading North).  Combine that with all those zillions of trucks ....  Maybe plan to drive before or after the big exodus/arrival times.

I also like the Dayton Farmer's Market.  Lots of beautiful artsy stuff along with good food.  

Oh, and be sure to smell the air before you rent.  Our kids' apartment is near some kind of factory that smells like dog food at different times.  It can be very annoying.

I tend to think of JMU as out in the middle of nowhere, yet close to tons of stuff.  Lots of American history, D.C., Lexington, UVA, Skyline Drive, hiking all over (if you can stand the gnats in the warmer months), etc. 

Plus, they have bears up on Skyline Drive.  I love bears.  🙂 

 

 

I missed this before--thank you for sharing! 

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The landscaping was a Ron Carrier thing. He took over right when JMU was becoming JMU, vs being a small college mostly known for nursing and teaching, and one thing he pushed for was "we have a beautiful campus, let's use it". Which is why buildings on the quad are bluestone, even though by the 1980's, it was hard to get matching stone, why there are so many flowers, etc. The fraternities were largely chased farther off campus or into dorms, so you didn't have the houses in various states of repair right across from the quad, And I think it worked-along with the expansion of programs, it helped make the campus a place people wanted to go. Although it did cause conflict at times the the facility Senate, who felt that replacing annuals multiple times a year was perhaps not the best place to spend large sums of money. But, overall, Carrier was proven right-a focus on marketing the college allowed the school to grow and to attract more students and excellent faculty, and a big part of that was capitalizing on the fact that it is a beautiful area, and the original campus was, like most VA colleges, just plain attractive. 

 

I find it humorous when visiting schools with DD to see the number that are obviously trying to imitate the old VA schools in structure-withiut thinking about the fact that the big limestone and granite  buildings came about because it's an area with lots of rocks, the green quad is easy when it rains quite a bit, etc. It's a lot harder to get that look in Nevada!

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