There are places where history is so evident that its presence is near dimensional. Like height, width, and depth its existence is both natural and conspicuous. These places do not invoke a sense of nostalgia, the living have no direct involvement with events there. They, instead, invoke a sense of relevance. They stand as witness to peoples and events of significant bearing, and a special few hold relevance across multiple eras. Shepherdstown, WV occupies the center of such a place.
In 2015, I was given the opportunity to write several articles about historic sites in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle. Though I had never visited, researching the history proved easy. Because the area’s history stretches back to the colonial period, and it figured prominently in many of our nation’s early story, there is ample written material about the region’s development. The more I researched the more my wife and I wanted to visit. Our window of opportunity for travel was small, we only had two days to spend. Going online we found what looked like a nice place to stay, she booked the room, and off we went.
We chose to stay at the Thomas Shepherd Inn in Shepherdstown. Occupying a structure constructed in 1868, the Inn has served as a parsonage and a doctor’s office. It was a great decision. Proprietors, Dave and Lauren Duh, are exceptional hosts. The Inn is both clean and charming. It is a great representation of historic Shepherdstown. On Sunday morning, we shared a breakfast table with several other guests. The food was delicious and the company was enjoyable. If you plan on visiting Shepherdstown, West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle, or Central Maryland, I highly recommend you stay at the Thomas Shepherd Inn.
Upon entering the city of Shepherdstown, it is clear that historic preservation is engrained in local culture. The town’s main street, West German Street, features many great places to visit. I recommend you visit Shepherdstown Visitors Center online for a map of the many shops and restaurants. Our first stop was the Entler Hotel/ Historical Shepherdstown and Museum. Housed in the restored Entler Hotel, museum exhibits catalog Shepherdstown’s history from the Colonial Era to modern times. Some of the more memorable exhibits (you will have your own list) include Sheetz long rifles and a functioning replica of James Rumsey’s 1787 steamship. Shepherdstown is home to many historic structures and walking the streets is a great way to enjoy the town. We also visited the Rumsey Monument and Morgan’s Grove Park. Morgan’s Grove is served as the rendezvous point for Hugh Stephenson’s company of riflemen that marched from Shepherdstown to Boston. In an event that came to be known as “The Bee Line March” Stephenson’s men covered a distance of 600 miles in 24 days. Revolutionary War General Horatio Gates called the area home.
We also drove to Boteler’s Ford. Though most people are familiar with the Battle of Antietam, fewer are familiar with the Battle of Shepherdstown. Antietam, the third battle in Robert E. Lee’s Maryland Campaign, produced a much needed Union victory. A victory that provided President Lincoln the victory he felt he needed to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. However, the Union victory was somewhat hollow. General McClellan’s hesitation after Antietam allowed Lee to escape by crossing the Potomac at Boteler’s Ford, just outside Shepherdstown. Lee had been trapped by the river and its narrow fords, if McClellan had pursued Lee immediately after Antietam, he may have ended the career of Robert E. Lee and shorten the war in the East. When McClellan finally decided to chase Lee, the last battle of the Maryland Campaign occurred at Boteler’s Ford. The Battle of Shepherdstown, as it came to be known, was a Confederate victory that insured Lee’s escape. McClellan was sacked for his timidity and the war dragged on. In an effort to preserve the battlefield, property surrounding Boteler’s Ford and the battlefield site has now been added to Antietam National Park.
After Sunday morning breakfast, we drove to Antietam. If you are interested in Civil War history, Antietam is a must visit. It was the bloodiest single day battle of the war and the Park Service has done an excellent job of telling the story. Walking and driving lanes are well marked, indicating the battle’s progress and the significance of each engagement. Over one hundred memorials commemorate the soldiers who fought and died. The park is not without controversy. Confederate monuments are scarce, just four out of more than 100, and there now is a moratorium on the placement of new monuments. Many question the existence of monuments dedicated to Confederates. Some wonder if it is possible to recognize a historic reality without memorializing insurrection and slavery.
There are many other places of historical significance in close proximity to Shepherdstown. Some of the other sites include, but are not limited to, Antietam National Park which is only six miles to the north. Charles Town, WV, founded by George Washington’s younger brother Charles, lays eleven miles to the south. Martinsburg, WV, site of many historical events like the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 is just nine miles to the west. Twelve mile southeast is Harper’s Ferry, WV, and its rich Civil War history.
Although experiencing the local history was the purpose of our trip, food and drink were also important components of the trip. We ate lunch at the Blue Moon Café, the food and service was excellent. If you are in the mood for a great sandwich, I recommend either Jesse’s Meato Escondido or the Gobbler. Their selection of regional craft beer is more than sufficient. Dinner at Rathskeller’s in the Bavarian Inn continued our good luck with food. The Duroc Pork Chop is fantastic. Again, both the food and the service was exceptional. We also sampled the Pressed Flour, a bakery that produces excellent pastries. Grapes and Grains sells wines and craft beers, they have a wide selection and the staff was quite helpful.
Shepherdstown, WV is centrally located to many metropolitan areas in the eastern United States. Detroit, Columbus, Cincinnati, Huntington, Charlotte, New York City, and Rochester are all within a seven-hour drive. If you are looking for a weekend trip or want to continue a visit to other nearby locations such as Washington, D.C., Gettysburg, or Hershey, PA please consider visiting Shepherdstown, WV.
I recommend every history buff download the Clio app on their iPhone or Android device. I have had the privilege of writing many articles for Clio. It is the brainchild of one of my former professors at Marshall University, Dr. David Trowbridge. Clio utilizes a mobile device’s GPS to locate historic sites relative to the users position. It provides directions, a backstory, images, links, and other useful information about the historic site. Just search “The Clio” in your app store. If you are travelling, get this app.
New places to visit are always appreciated. I also have a deep interest in the Civil War and am currently writing a book based on a diary by one of the members of the Mississippi Ram Boats. So guess I’m in a slightly different direction, but need to know everything I can about the war in general.