Living in Shepherdstown
West Virginia’s oldest town fuses historic charm with modern appeal.
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As a gateway from the Washington, D.C., metro area to the rest of the state, Shepherdstown successfully straddles the line between urban and country. It embodies simple chic—a well-cultured, close-knit, modern Mayberry that welcomes the creative and eclectic as well as the traditional. Visit this happy “snow globe” in any season and experience a truly uncommon enclave.
History and Revitalization
Colonial settlers began migrating to the Shenandoah Valley in the early 1700s and when the Colony of Virginia started issuing land grants, Thomas Shepherd was given 222 acres on the south bank of the Potomac River. He laid out a grid, which is now the downtown area, and after petitioning the Virginia assembly, Mecklenburg was given a charter in 1762. Shepherd governed the municipality until his death in 1776. At that time the residents decided to govern themselves and honor their founding father by changing the town’s name to Shepherd’s Town.
Besides being an important historical dot on the maps of the American Revolutionary and Civil Wars, the town also claims industrial events like James Rumsey’s successful demonstration of the first steamboat which occurred on the Potomac in December of 1787. Unfortunately Rumsey’s untimely death resulted in little attention and credit for the invention, but Shepherdstownians keep that name alive with tributes like Rumsey’s Tavern located in the Clarion Hotel & Conference Center as well as the Rumsey Monument, just a short five-minute walk past downtown, which offers a breathtaking view of Maryland, old train trusses, and the river itself. The Potomac also played a large role in early settlers’ means of living. The waterway, as well as the springs feeding it, set the perfect conditions for all sorts of crafts like tanning, milling, and metal smithing. Additionally, the rich clay soil lead to the logical industry uprising of brick making, and one will notice the exceptional amount of old brick on most of the town’s buildings.
One such structure, The Entler Hotel, remains a Shepherdstown landmark and is the home of the Historic Shepherdstown Museum, several businesses, and a small events center for gallery openings, weddings, and social gatherings. It was this very building which is said to have furthered the town’s interest in preserving its great history and after going through several incarnations since its construction in the 1700s—a tavern, hotel, men’s dormitory, and warehouse for Shepherd University maintenance crews—the building became unfit to occupy. Concerned citizens banded together to buy the property from the university for one dollar in 1972 and saved it from demolition. Director of Historic Shepherdstown Cindy Schott says, “Renovating the Entler Hotel sparked other town renovations—a lot of citizens’ blood, sweat, and tears went into changing the face of Shepherdstown into what we love today.”
Live & Learn
Education has always been a priority in Shepherdstown. Two free schools were built there in 1848—one still stands on the corner of Princess and New Streets—and when West Virginia became the 35th state of the Union in 1863, the two schools became the oldest in the state while Shepherdstown claimed the title of West Virginia’s oldest town and served as the Jefferson County seat until it was moved to Charles Town in 1871. Residents didn’t take long to figure out what should be done with the abandoned courthouse. The very next year the building was chartered as a “Classical and Scientific Institute” making the architecturally striking structure, currently McMurran Hall, the birthplace of what is now Shepherd University—an award-wining liberal arts college. The town and the school have been inextricably linked ever since.
Shepherd University may just be one of West Virginia’s best kept secrets. For the fifth year in a row, it’s been named one of the best colleges and universities in the southeast by the Princeton Review and designated as the top-ranked West Virginia public baccalaureate institution for the second year in a row by U.S. News & World Report. And prospective students are starting to take notice. Enrollment for the fall 2009 semester hit record highs due to program distinction, increased retention, and higher graduation rates.
And students as well as residents enjoy the addition of facilities like the expanded Scarborough Library and the College Center which houses everything from a bowling alley to a concert friendly coffee house. Furthermore, Shepherdstown is staying healthy with the newly opened $21.6 million Wellness Center featuring the most technologically advanced fitness equipment, a 25-yard pool, and an elevated indoor jogging track.
But Shepherd students aren’t just taking care of themselves. Early in 2009, largely due to the efforts of Director of Student Community Service Holly Frye, Shepherd was named to the Presidential Honor Roll for Community Service which is the highest federal recognition a school can achieve for its commitment to service-learning and civic engagement. “It was at Shepherd that I really understood the value of investing my time in helping others,” says Kathleen Waitz Noland, 2006 education alumnae and Morgantown native, on the importance of extra-curricular good works. “I feel like this town took care of me and became my home as a student—it was important to me, and should be important to current students to give back.”
In celebration of their 20th season, the Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF) is raffling off a contemporary theater getaway weekend. The Grand Prize includes two tickets to all five shows, two nights lodging at the Bavarian Inn, Dinner for two at Stone Soup Bistro, and a behind the scenes tour—a great opportunity to experience Shepherdstown. Winners will be announced March 1, 2010.