Welcome To KEY TO THE CITY's Page For
Jefferson County, West Virginia
Chamber of Commerce.
Charles Town celebrated its 200th birthday with a three-day event beginning on West Virginia Day, June 20, 1986. Charles Town was established formally on January 4, 1787, by an Act of the General Assembly of Virginia. It was named for Col. Charles Washington, youngest brother of the first president, and was originally laid out on eighty acres of land provided by him. The land was part of the Happy Retreat plantation owned by Charles Washington. The main streets of Charles Town are named for members of the Washington family - George, Samuel, Lawrence, Mildred, and Charles. The main thoroughfare running through the town is Washington Street.
Oldest of the Washington homes is Harewood, believed to have been started in the mid 1750's. It was built by Samuel Washington, a younger brother of George Washington. Dolly Paine Todd married James Madison, our fourth President, at Harewood.
Five other Washington family homes were built near Charles Town. These include Claymont Court and Blakely, built about 3 miles southwest of the town. The two homes were built around 1820 and face each other across meadowland and the waters of Bullskin Run. Cedar Lawn was built in 1825 by John Thorton Washington, a grandnephew of the first President. Locust Hill was built in 1840 as a wedding gift for Lucy Washington. Unfortunately, the house burned down in the 1960's. Finally, there is Beallair that was the home of Col. Lewis Washington, a great, grand nephew of President Washington.
Cherry Tavern was the first business set up in Charles Town. It was established by Captain Cherry. This was followed soon after by historic Holl's Tavern. Both were dismantled many years ago.
In 1795 Charles Town Academy was founded to teach basics as well as Latin and Greek, with expansion to include French, English, geography, astronomy and philosophy as enrollment grew. While educational institutions often included the word public in their titles, schools were maintained by subscription-what each family paid--and donations. A similar academy in Charles Town was later established to teach girls and included many of the same subjects as boys were taught. Some families employed tutors or sent their children to Professors who were free lance educators teaching from their lodgings or church facilities.
In 1801, Jefferson county was established. It was formed out of the eastern section of Berkeley county. The first meeting of Jefferson county officials was held in Charles Town later that year.
The Jefferson County Courthouse, in downtown Charles Town, was built in 1836. It was damaged by shellfire during the Civil War but was extensively remodeled and is still in use today. It was the scene of the famous trial of abolitionist John Brown who was tried for treason in 1859.
During the Civil War there were two major battles of Charles Town. The first occurred on May 28, 1862. Some 1,500 Confederate troops under General Charles Winder, who were taking part in General "Stonewall" Jackson's Shenandoah Valley Campaign, met an equal force of Union soldiers at Charles Town and routed them. The second battle of Charles Town took place on October 18, 1863. The Confederate military was forced to resort to artillery to dislodge the Union troops. Though the Union troops were defeated, many of the buildings in Charles Town were severely damaged or destroyed.
Charles Town is also the home of William L. Wilson, the Postmaster General in President Cleveland's cabinet who established the first rural free delivery service in America between Charles Town, Uvilla, and Halltown in 1896.
In 1922, William Blizzard, a leader of striking coal miners, was charged with treason and murder for engaging in warfare against state and federal troops in Mingo and Logan counties. He was tried in the Jefferson county courthouse in Charles Town. The trials of William Blizzard and John Brown are two of only three treason trials held in the United States prior to World War II.
Horse racing has been an integral part of Charles Town for over 200 years. Since 1786, horse shows have been held regularly by the Charles Town Horse Show Association on property adjacent to Charles Town. The famous Charles Town Race Track opened in 1933 and is still in operation today. In 1999 it underwent a major renovation and now includes a large addition containing over 200 video slot machines. Now known as Charles Town Races & Slots, it attracts many visitors each week from the nearby Baltimore and Washington D.C. metropolitan areas.
There are many other historic sites and building located in Charles Town such as Charles Washington Hall, Tiffin House, the Old Opera House, the Presbyterian Church, Zion Episcopal Church, and the location of the gallows where John Brown was hung, to name just a few.
Information is from the Charles Town Bicentennial, 1786-1986, available from the Old Charles Town Library
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