Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, domain of Stonewall Jackson, Harry F. Byrd and other archetypes of the Virginia soul, lies presently embroiled in its greatest controversy since the Civil War Battle of Cross Keys.
The Adolph Coors Co. of Golden, Colo., famous for light beer and conservative politics, has invaded the area with plans to build a massive brewery and industrial complex on the banks of the Shenandoah River next to Shenandoah National Park.
Debate over the project has risen steadily over the past few months, placing antibeer Mennonites against pro-growth merchants, agrarian poultry processors against a wage-hungry labor force and environmental preservationists against industrial developers.
"By the time this thing comes to a zoning vote," said Rockingham Country planning officer Larry Jennings, the man in the middle, "I'll be coming to work in an armored car."
Already the dispute has spawned more letters to the editor of the Daily News-Record here than any controversy within memory.
Pro-Coors locals, some of whom sport Coors-labeled lapel buttons and baseball hats, say the majority of the county supports Coors' efforts to bring $500 million in investment and 6,000 jobs to the area over the next 15 years.
The antis, united in an organization called the Rockingham Concerned Citizens, say they aren't so sure.
"A lot of us aren't too keen on becoming the Milwaukee of the Shenandoah Valley," said Eugene Souder, a part-time Mennonite minister from nearby Grottoes."We kind of prefer being the turkey capital of the world."
Heart of the controversy is Rockingham County, a hatchet-shaped locality of 871 square miles and some 60,000 people stretching from the Skyline Drive to the West Virginia border about 120 miles southwest of Washington.
Originally settled by Scotch-Irish and German farmers, Rockingham has prospered in recent decades with a stable economy balanced between agriculture and industry.
While 60 odd industrial plants in the county manufacture everything from auto mufflers to shoes, most are small operations and poultry farming and processing still dominate the area. Rockingham produces more turkeys annually than any county in the nation.
Coors opponents - and even some of its supporters - worry that the Coors brewery might upset the economic and social balance that has kept crime and unemployment traditionally low and kept the county-and much of the Shenandoah Valley itself-a Norman Rockwell land of church and family-centered small towns and farms.
"This fight is not just about money or what the land will look like," Souder said. "Its about the way we live."
The Coors plant would be located east of here along U.S. 340 where the Shenandoah River meanders lazily among willow trees and picturesque barns on land farmed almost continually since the 1700s.
The site is near the scene of a bloody encounter between Union and Confederate troops 116 years ago that left 972 soldiers dead or wounded, scattered Union forces and allowed Stonewall Jackson to maintain control of the Valley.
Coors spokesmen have indicated their massive facility would include not only a brewery but factories for making cans, bottles, cartons and other ancillary products used in the manufacture and distribution of beer.
With eventual employment targeted at around 6,000 persons, it would become the largest employer in the Shenandoah Valley and one of the largest in the state.
In addition to the 200 acres of the plant site itself, Coors either has or will take options on another 2,000 or so adjoining acres, according to D. P. Davis, an architect who heads the Rockingham Industrial Authority and has worked with Coors representatives.
Most of the extra land, Davis said, will be leased back to farmers to grow the barley, malt and hops used in the Coors brewing process. But it will also serve as a buffer.
In Golden, where Coors has been brewing for more than a century, "they learned their lesson," Davis said. "They located in a very narrow valley and ran out of land."
That brewery, which bills itself as the nation's largest, presently produces every drop of Coors, the nation's fifth largest selling beer.
A Rockingham brewery would provide long-rumored access to profitable Eastern markets for Coors, which is already the best-selling beer in the West.
Davis, who has helped bring industry to Rockingham for 25 years, said he was first contacted by Coors representatives last summer, "but I didn't know who they were."
Like many industries shopping for a new location, Coors had employed a site selection firm, which was working with such requirements as water availability and railway access. The firm, Davis said, contacted the Virginia governor's office which in turn contacted him.
"I worked with them for several months before I knew the identity of the firm they represented, Davis said, "but that's not unusual. Once a prospective industry gets options on its land assembled and discloses its identity, I feel we can always stop them at the rezoning process if they're not our kind of industry."
The Rockingham Concerned Citizens, however, say the secrecy with which Coors moved into this basically conservative area is part of what they object to.
"It was announced here in January on a visit by Gov. (John) Dalton before we knew what had happened," Sauder said.
The opponents say they are also concerned about the impact of Coor's rumored $8-an-hour wage scale on the area's $4-an-hour labor market; about the morality of having a brewery in this church-oriented community, and about the potential loss of prime farmland through uncontrolled growth.
"Industry is like poison ivy-the more you scratch, the more it itches," wrote Arch A. Murphy in a letter to the Daily News-Record here. "Industry creates its own need. The only way the job problem will be solved is for people to start being satisfied with enough and go back to the land and produce it."
Some say they are also concerned about involvement of Coors' executives in right-wing politics, which has included financial contributions to the John Birch Society and the application of lie detector tests about political beliefs to prospective Coors employes. Coors spokesmen say the tests are used nowadays to check employe honesty.
Souder, however, says the real heart of opposition to Coors is based on the question of industrializing a basically and traditionally agricultural county.
Industrialization of such an area," says a Concerned Citizens brochure "is like the song says-paving Paradise and making it a parking lot."
Jennings, however, worries that the real issues of the Coors' case aren't being debated.
"From a planning standpoint, it's not really the brewery itself that's the issue, it's the growth that will come with it. Where will we put that? Can we control it? Can the community handle it psychologically? . . .
"Maybe we can if everybody understands what's involved. But I worry sometimes that the entire county may make a decision on this without fully appreciating the potential impact a project this size could have on the county."
Davis, a Coors backer, voices a similar concern. "The real issue is the size of this project," he said.
"It would dwarf everything else we have. I keep telling myself it's not one industry, really, but several-the can factory, the bottling plant and so forth, which we would welcome if they came in one at a time. But it does give me pause."
Davis, however, points out that Coors is widely known as an environmentally minded company, which has consistently developed technology to anticipate and exceed pollution control laws.
From the development of the recyclable aluminum can in 1959 to the elimination of the tab in 1973, the company has been a pioneer in environmental protection.
"The Miller Brewing Co. came through here a few years ago and looked at essentially the same site," Davis said, "But they wanted the county to build a very expensive sewage treatment plant for them to take care of their waste.
"We wouldn't do it and they went on down to North Carolina," where Davis says Coors is eyeing an alternate site. "Coors assumed right off they would build their own treatment plant and their record shows they mean what they say," Davis said.
He and other Coors partisans say the brewery will actually help the area's farmers by buying grain and selling wet brewers grain, a cheap and nutritious cattle feed.
"But in this area," he sighs, "it would be easier if they were making ice cream."
Souder, his opponent, says that's not necessarily so. "We'd oppose a project like this," he said, "if they were making Wheaties." CAPTION: Illustration, no caption; Picture, Gov. John Dalton sported a Coors' cap during visit to Rockingham County to announce brewery's plans. AP; Map, no caption, By Richard Furno-The Washington Post