Shepherdstown (History)

Shepherdstown is a town in Jefferson County, West Virginia, United States, located along the Potomac River. It is the arguably the oldest town in the state, having been chartered in 1762 by Colonial Virginia‘s General Assembly.[6] Its status as the oldest town in West Virginia is only contested by Romney, which was chartered in the same year.

The town’s population was 1,734 at the 2010 United States Census. The town is home to Shepherd University.

View eastward down German Street.

Shepherdstown Bridge over the Potomac River, viewed from the Maryland side, with the bed of the C&O Canal visible in the foreground.



Geography [edit]

Shepherdstown is located at


39°25′55″N 77°48′22″W / 39.43194°N 77.80611°W / 39.43194; -77.80611 (39.432005, -77.806108)[7], along the Potomac River in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 0.37 square miles (0.96 km2), all of it land.[1]

Demographics [edit]

Historical populations
Census Pop.
1880 1,533
1890 1,515 −1.2%
1900 1,184 −21.8%
1910 1,070 −9.6%
1920 1,063 −0.7%
1930 888 −16.5%
1940 945 6.4%
1950 1,173 24.1%
1960 1,328 13.2%
1970 1,688 27.1%
1980 1,791 6.1%
1990 1,287 −28.1%
2000 803 −37.6%
2010 1,734 115.9%
Est. 2011 1,749 0.9%
U.S. Decennial Census 2011 estimate

2010 census [edit]

As of the census[2] of 2010, there were 1,734 people, 518 households, and 192 families residing in the town. The population density was 4,686.5 inhabitants per square mile (1,809.5 /km2). There were 583 housing units at an average density of 1,575.7 per square mile (608.4 /km2). The racial makeup of the town was 85.5% White, 9.5% African American, 0.1% Native American, 1.3% Asian, 0.1% Pacific Islander, 1.0% from other races, and 2.5% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.9% of the population.

There were 518 households out of which 15.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 24.5% were married couples living together, 9.5% had a female householder with no husband present, 3.1% had a male householder with no wife present, and 62.9% were non-families. 33.2% of all households were made up of individuals and 9.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.15 and the average family size was 2.79.

The median age in the town was 21.9 years. 7.6% of residents were under the age of 18; 55.7% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 15% were from 25 to 44; 14.1% were from 45 to 64; and 7.6% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the town was 46.5% male and 53.5% female.

2000 census [edit]

As of the 2000 census, excluding Shepherd University’s resident student population, there were 803 people, 410 households, and 168 families residing in the town. The population density was 2,217.7 inhabitants per square mile (861.2/km²). There were 454 housing units at an average density of 1,253.8 per square mile (486.9/km²). The racial makeup of the town was 80.20% White, 17.19% African American, 0.50% Native American, 0.87% Asian, 0.12% Pacific Islander, and 1.12% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 0.87% of the population.

There were 410 households out of which 13.9% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 28.8% were married couples living together, 9.8% had a female householder with no husband present, and 58.8% were non-families. 41.5% of all households were made up of individuals and 12.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 1.96 and the average family size was 2.72.

In the town the population was spread out with 12.5% under the age of 18, 19.9% from 18 to 24, 25.7% from 25 to 44, 25.9% from 45 to 64, and 16.1% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 40 years. For every 100 females there were 100.8 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 95.3 males.

The median income for a household in the town was $40,750, and the median income for a family was $55,000. Males had a median income of $35,833 versus $30,139 for females. The per capita income for the town was $28,539. About 7.5% of families and 15.3% of the population were below the poverty line, including 8.1% of those under age 18 and 1.5% of those age 65 or over.

Geology [edit]

Bedrock exposures of Cambrian-aged Conococheague limestone and dolomite are frequent in the town, and form cliffs between the settled area and the Potomac River.

History [edit]

Colonial settlers began their migration into the northern end of the Shenandoah Valley in the early 18th century. Many crossed the Potomac River at Pack Horse Ford, about one mile (2 km) down river from the site of Shepherdstown. The Colony of Virginia began issuing Valley land grants in the 1730s. In 1734, Thomas Shepherd was granted 222 acres (898,000 m²) on the south side of the Potomac (then called the Potowmack), along the Falling Spring Branch (now known as the Town Run). From that tract he selected 50 acres (202,000 m²) and laid out a town. Naming his town Mecklenburg, he petitioned the Virginia General Assembly for a charter, which was granted in 1762. Thomas Shepherd was the sole trustee, owning the town and being responsible for its government. A second charter, which allowed for self-government, was granted by the Commonwealth of Virginina in 1794. In 1798, the corporate limits were extended and the name was changed to Shepherd’s Town. After the American Civil War, the town’s name was officially contracted to Shepherdstown.

More than six natural springs feed Town Run before it enters the south end of town. It never floods, nor runs dry; it meanders through backyards, under houses, across alleys and beneath five streets. This setting was conducive to millers, tanners, potters, smiths and other artisans. As a result, by 1775, the town boasted 1,000 inhabitants.

In 1775, General George Washington issued a call for “Virginia Volunteer Riflemen.” Captain Hugh Stephenson filled the ranks of his company here. The troops departed from “Morgan’s Spring,” about one-half mile (1 km) south of the town limits, on July 16, 1775. This famous “Beeline March to Cambridge” covered 600 miles (1000 km) in 24 days. Thirty-eight Revolutionary veterans are buried in the surrounding area.

On December 3, 1787, James Rumsey conducted a successful trial of his new invention, the steamboat, in the Potomac at the north end of Princess Street. The first newspaper, The Potomac Guardian and Berkley Advertiser, and book, The Christian Panoply, in what is now West Virginia, were published here (1790s). The Shepherdstown Public Library has a copy of the book.

Shepherdstown was the birthplace of Robert Lucas (1781), the future governor of Ohio and territorial governor of Iowa.

The portion of the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal along the Maryland side of the Potomac River across from Shepherdstown was built during the 1830s. Shepherdstown is the only town in what is now the state of West Virginia to have a canal lock named for it. Lock No. 38 is the “Shepherdstown Lock.”

Two free schools were built in the town in 1848. One still stands, on the southeast corner of Princess and New Streets. When West Virginia became the 35th state (in 1863), these became the oldest free schoolhouses in the state.

The Hamtramck Guard (The Shepherdstown Light Infantry) was dispatched to nearby Harpers Ferry to subdue John Brown‘s raid on the federal armory (October 1859). At the outbreak of the Civil War, this group became Company B, 2nd Virginia Infantry, Army of Northern Virginia. They become part of the famous “Stonewall Brigade.”

After the nearby Battle of Antietam in Maryland, September 17, 1862, General Robert E. Lee‘s infantry crossed the Potomac at Pack Horse Ford. The town was overwhelmed with 5,000 to 8,000 casualties of that battle. Every house, building, church, alley, and street was filled with the wounded and dying. The Battle of Shepherdstown (also known as the Battle of Boteler’s Ford or Cement Mill) occurred on September 20, 1862, during Lee’s retreat. More than 100 Confederate soldiers died here and were buried in Elmwood Cemetery. Elmwood’s hallowed ground contains the graves of 285 Confederate veterans, and offers its own self-guided walking tour. The graveyard is located five blocks south of the 4-way stop on Route 480.

From 1865-1871, Shepherdstown served as the county seat of Jefferson County due to war damage to the courthouse in Charles Town. The Town Hall (northeast corner of German and King streets) housed the courthouse until it was moved back to Charles Town.

In 1872, the Town Hall Building was chartered as a “Classical and Scientific Institute.” The building was then leased to the state and Shepherd College was born. The East Campus occupies about one-third of the town proper, and the West Campus occupies a large area just northwest of the corporate limits.

The clay soil in the area was conducive to brick making. By the late 1790s, there were several commercial brickyards, and kilns could be built with little difficulty. In many instances, bricks were “burnt” at the construction sites. They were plentiful and cheaper than nails. Roofing material affected the market value and the insurance premiums of the brick structures. Those covered with tile were much more valuable then those topped with wooden shingles. Fires starting in the shingles destroyed many brick homes, mills, stores and outbuildings.

The Shepherdstown Historic District was established and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, with a boundary expansion to include the entire town in 1987.

On January 3, 2000, Shepherdstown was the site of the Peace Talks between Israel and Syria where both sides were urged to make the hard choices needed to end a half-century of conflict.[8]

In 2012 the town celebrates its 250th Anniversary.

Currently [edit]

At present, many of the town’s historical buildings on German Street are home to quaint little shops and cafés. The town is also home to many local artistic and theatrical groups, many of which are affiliated with Shepherd University or operated by youth groups. Shepherdstown also boasts an active nightlife of fine dining and live music. Monthly contra dances are sponsored by Shepherdstown Music and Dance.

The patriarch of the Shepherd family, Henry P. Shepherd, died July 4, 2007 at Bellevue, the family home. He is survived by an older sister, Elizabeth, still resident in Shepherdstown, as well as a younger brother Thomas, resident of Massachusetts, and dozens of nieces, nephews and grandchildren.

A large number of people rightfully claim descendancy from Thomas Shepherd.

Sites on the National Register of Historic Places [edit]

Site Year Built Address Listed
Boidstones Place (Greenbrakes Farm) Shepherd Grade 1999
Cold Spring 1793 CR 17 1973
Elmwood 1797 CR 17 1973
Falling Spring-Morgan’s Grove WV 480 1989
Fruit Hill (Robinson-Andrews-Hoxton House) Shepherd Grade 1988
Captain William Lucas and Robert Lucas House (Linden Spring) 1793 CR 31 1982
James Marshall House (Marshall Hall) Shepherd Grade 1988
Morgan’s Grove WV 480, WV 230, Morgan’s Grove Road 1999
Morgan-Bedinger-Dandridge House (Rosebrake) WV 48 1983
Rockland 1897 WV 480 1990
Rose Hill Farm (James-Marshall-Snyder Farm) Off WV 48 1990
Rumsey Hall (Entler Hotel) late 18th century German & Princess Streets 1973
Shepherd’s Mill (Thomas Shepherd’s Grist Mill) High Street 1971
Van Swearingen-Shepherd House (Bellevue) Shepherd Grade 1983

Notable residents [edit]

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  • Robert Lucas (1781–1853), born in Shepherdstown, was a governor in Ohio 1832–1836 and Iowa 1838–1841
  • John James Abert, (1788–1863), born in Shepherdstown, was a topographical engineer and founder of the National Institute of Science[9]
  • Danske Dandridge (1854–1914), poet, writer, and historian
  • Edwin Gray Lee (1837–1870), born at Leeland, near Shepherdstown, Confederate brigadier general, lawyer, and relative of Robert E. Lee.
  • Frances Meehan Latterell (1920–2008), plant pathologist, retired in Shepherdstown
  • Danielle Corsetto (b. 1981), artist, caricaturist, and creator of the webcomic Girls with Slingshots
  • Peter Tompkins, (1919–2007), was an American journalist, World War II Office of Strategic Services (OSS) spy in Rome, and best-selling occult author.
  • Courtney Cummz (b. 1981), American Pornographic Actress

References [edit]

  1. ^ a b “US Gazetteer files 2010”. United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2013-01-24.
  2. ^ a b “American FactFinder”. United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2013-01-24.
  3. ^ “Population Estimates”. United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2013-01-24.
  4. ^ “American FactFinder”. United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
  5. ^ “US Board on Geographic Names”. United States Geological Survey. 2007-10-25. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
  6. ^ Price, Jim. “History of Shepherdstown”.
  7. ^ “US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990”. United States Census Bureau. 2011-02-12. Retrieved 2011-04-23.
  8. ^
  9. ^ Who Was Who in America, Historical Volume, 1607-1896. Chicago: Marquis Who’s Who. 1963.

External links [edit]

Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Shepherdstown, West Virginia

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