Welcome To KEY TO THE CITY's Page For
Jefferson County, West Virginia
Chamber of Commerce.
The small community of Shepherdstown may be the oldest town in the state of West Virginia. Shepherdstown is situated on a bluff overlooking the Potomac River, and archeological evidence indicates Native Americans camped in and around the area long before the Europeans. Several major battles between warring tribes are said to have occurred at a ford a few miles downstream.
The first permanent English settlement in the present county was attempted in the Shepherdstown area in 1719, but no records were kept of the settlers' names. In 1727, several German immigrant families founded the town of New Mecklenburg, renamed Shepherdstown in 1798 in honor of Captain Thomas and Elizabeth Shepherd. Thomas Shepherd had received a patent on October 3, 1734 for much of the land in that area and he was the town's leading citizen until his death in 1776. Other early settlers included John and Isaac Van Meter who obtained grants to large tracts of land in the county in 1730. Descendants of European settlers may have migrated here as early as 1719. Once known as Potomoke, it eventually became known as Mecklenburg in the 1730s and was chartered in 1762 by the Virginia General Assembly. It was renamed Shepherd's Town in 1798 in honor of Thomas Shepherd, an early settler. After the Civil War, the communities name was officially recognized as Shepherdstown. Shepherdstown claims to be the oldest town in the state. Both Shepherdstown (then know as Mecklenburg) and Romney (in Hampshire County) were chartered by the Virginia General Assembly on December 23, 1762. However, Romney claims that it is the oldest town in the state because its earliest settlers arrived before Shepherdstown's earliest settlers arrived. In 1762, the General Assembly also authorized the community to host a bi-annual agricultural and mechanical fair "for the sale and vending of cattle, victuals, provisions, goods, wares and merchandise." Like many small communities, it had a variety of cottage industries including a local gunsmith who made long rifles. After "Redcoats" and "Minutemen" clashed at Lexington and Concord, local settlers began drilling in the lot behind what is now the Entler Hotel. They were organized into a company led by Hugh Stephenson. Beginning July 16, 1775, they participated in what would become known as the "Beeline March" to Boston, Massachusetts. They marched nearly 600 miles in 24 days -- a tremendous feat given the condition of roads in those days. Shepherdstown also was the home of James Rumsey, the first man to propose using steam instead of wind to propel vessels. He built a steamer and sailed it on the Potomac River in the presence of George Washington and others on December 3, 1787, 20 years before Robert Fulton, who is generally regarded as the inventor of the steam boat, made his first successful steam voyage. In 1791, The Potowmack Guardian and Berkeley Advertiser, western Virginia's first newspaper, was first published in Shepherdstown, by Nathaniel Willis. Publication ceased in 1799 when he moved to Martinsburg and began publishing the Martinsburg Gazette. With its economy closely linked to local agriculture growth, change came slowly to the small community. The community was briefly considered as a site for the National Capital. That may have come to pass if it were possible for 19th century sea-going vessels to sail up the Potomac River. As it was, the community experienced a small boom with the construction of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal along the north bank of the Potomac in the 1830s, giving local farmers access to Washington markets. The canal was the cause of some acrimony during the Civil War. According to one account, Rebel sympathizers from the Shepherdstown area snipped at canal boat men and workers at the Antietam Iron Works at the mouth of Antietam Creek, Maryland. Sharpsburg area residents retaliated by placing a very old cannon near the Ferry Hill estate and bombarding the town with whatever projectiles were handy. Truces were made and broken and the shelling stopped after Rebels reportedly captured the cannon and dumped it in the Potomac River. The greatest crisis the town experienced occurred September 17, 1862, when hundreds of wounded Confederates from the Battle of Antietam flooded into town. It wasn't long before there wasn't a single building in the community that wasn't converted into a field hospital. Many of the men who didn't survive that battle are buried in the town's cemetery. Three days after Federals and Confederates tangled at Antietam, rebels repelled a half-hearted attempt by the Yankees to pursue them in a brief but bloody battle on the bluffs overlooking Pack Horse Ford. (The ford also is known as Swearingen's and Blackford's ford.) Just months before the end of the Civil War, the Jefferson County seat was moved to Shepherdstown. In June 1866, a new courthouse was built in the town by Rezin D. Shepherd, a descendant of Thomas Shepherd. The structure was reportedly placed on the site of Shepherd's Fort. What followed was a protracted political battle over which community would be the county seat -- Shepherdstown or Charles Town. The battles raged in the courts and the state legislature, and finally, in 1871 the state Supreme Court declared Charles Town as the county seat. Dejected but not defeated, the Shepherdstown community leaders found a way to make use of its now empty courthouse. In 1872 they incorporated "a classical and Scientific Institute" and named it Shepherd College. A year later, they persuaded the state of West Virginia to use it as a "normal school" -- a teacher's college. Its name was officially changed to Shepherd College State Normal School in 1872 and then to Shepherd State Teachers College in 1931. In 1943 it was renamed Shepherd College and in 2004 it became Shepherd University.
More history may be found on this page http://www.lib.shepherdstown.wv.us/sin/shephistory.html
Loads of historical links may be found on this page.
Contemporary American Theater Festival
Held each year in July at Shepherd College
Upper Potomac Dulcimer Fest
Held in the Fall, usually the second weekend of September. A three day Spring festival is held in Harper's Ferry, usually around the end of March.
George Tyler Moore Civil War Center
Shepherdstown, WV 25443
The history of the Civil War in Shepherdstown.
The Rumsey Monument
This monument honoring James Rumsey, inventor of the steam ship, was built on Princess Street.
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