The first settlers in the area now known as Bridgewater arrived in the 1740’s and were of Scotch-Irish descent. They were soon followed by German settlers. The area became known as McGill’s Ford around 1759 because John and William McGill owned approximately 350 acres on either side of the North River. Several early families built mills along the North River and the settlement came to be known as Bridgeport since it was a port for flatboats to ship products down the river.
Around 1800, John and Jacob Dinkle arrived with their families and started a sawmill, a gristmill, a cording mill, and a stave mill. Jacob Dinkle’s tavern, built in 1815 on South Main Street, and John Dinkle’s two-story brick house, built around 1820 on Wynant Place, are still standing. The settlement soon became known as Dinkletown.
On February 7, 1835, the settlement was chartered as the Town of Bridgewater. The name was derived from its proximity to the North River and the bridge that was built there in 1820. The original land area within the town was approximately twenty acres.
Bridgewater grew as a location of trade during the 1800’s due to its proximity to major transportation routes. The Warm Springs-Harrisonburg Turnpike passed through Bridgewater and North River was navigable by flatboats as far upstream as the town. By 1850, Bridgewater had two gristmills, two cabinet shops, several general stores, a tavern, and a hotel. Bridgewater College was formed and chartered to grant degrees in 1880.
The town also continued to grow in land area. After an election held by local citizens, the area known as “Old Town” annexed the area known as “New Town” in 1854. A new Town charter was granted in 1884 which extended the boundaries to include an additional 100 acres on the southeast side of town. The new charter also provided that a mayor and six councilmen be elected to govern town affairs. Annexation initiatives took place in 1895 adding approximately 300 acres on the southeast, northeast, and southwest sides of town. Further annexations took place during the 1980’s and 1990’s adding land to the east and north.
The Town of Bridgewater presently encompasses approximately 2.4775 square miles. The Town continues to serve as an area for trade and commerce with government and professional offices, banks, restaurants, and a variety of retail establishments. The Town also is an employment center with several major industries located within its borders. Bridgewater College, a private educational institution, Bridgewater Home, a private nursing care facility, and the Bridgewater Retirement Village are also located within the Town.
The Town of Bridgewater is located along the northern edge of the North River near the southern border of Rockingham County. The City of Harrisonburg, the county seat, is located approximately five miles to the northeast. Other nearby urban areas include the City of Staunton (25 miles southwest), the City of Charlottesville (60 miles southeast), and the City of Winchester (75 miles northeast). The Washington D.C. and Richmond metropolitan areas are within a two and one-half hour drive.
Six Town Council members and the Mayor form the governing body of the Town of Bridgewater. The Mayor and all Council members are elected at large. The Town Superintendent oversees the day-to-day management of town operations and coordinates long-range planning and budgeting activities.
A seven member Planning Commission appointed by Town Council oversees planning activities within the town and reviews requests for rezoning and amendments to Town ordinances pertaining to zoning and land development activities. A court-appointed Board of Zoning Appeals considers requests for variances from Zoning Ordinance requirements.