Murder of Young Susie Ferrell Shocked Shepherdstown and the Country

125 Years Ago: Murder of Young Susie Ferrell Shocked Shepherdstown and the Country

Shepherdstown doesn’t often make national news, but back in January of 1892, a crime committed here made headlines – well, at least bold-face type—in several newspapers across the country.  Harry Smootz, a local boy some 28 years old, became enamored of Susie Ferrell, described by newspapers as a “bright, pretty and popular young lady,” some five years younger than Smootz.

Susie had rejected him and his proposals of marriage, but Smootz became obsessed and stalked her.  There was snow on the ground on January 22, and Susie and a friend  were going to enjoy some sledding,  Smootz, with gun in hand, approached the pair as they walked on New Street. Susie, fearful of what might happen, told her fried to run for help.

Smootz grabbed Susie and fired the gun, killing her instantly.

The Christian Clise House on New Street, where Susie Ferrell’s body was taken.

Several townsfolk, having heard the shots, ran to the scene. They carried Susie’s lifeless body into the nearest house.

Smootz, meanwhile, then ran a couple of blocks to the Entler Hotel, where he met up with his brother, Charles, and told him and several others that he had killed Susie Ferrell. The witnesses took his gun and called for the authorities.

Arrested by Constable John Maddex, he was taken to the home of Shepherdstown’s Mayor W.N. Lemen’s and the deputy sheriff, Col. William A. Morgan, was sent for.

News of the murder had spread through town and, within minutes, an angry crowd of several hundred persons had gathered outside the mayor’s home. Col. Morgan, addressed the crowd telling them not to interfere.

A paddy wagon pulled up to the house and Smootz was whisked away to the jail in Charles Town.

“This is one of the most law-abiding communities in the Valley,” wrote the Roanoke Times, “but it was hard for the crowd to see him carrried to the county jail.”

For several days after the murder, there was fear of a lynch mob attacking the jail, and Smootz was taken to safe keeping under guard to Summit Point for the night, and later to Charleston, for several days, until feelings calmed down.

Smootz was tried in June of 1892.  The prosecuting attorney called the murder “the most atrocious crime ever committed in the county.” After five days of testimony, it took the jury a little over an hour to reach a verdict of “murder in the first degree.”

The judge sentenced Smootz to be hung on October 7, 1892.

On the morning of September 21st, Smootz was discovered in his cell, dead from an overdose of morphine. How he obtained the drug was never discovered,

“There is a general feeling over the county that Smootz’s suicide puts a satisfactory close to the terrible tragedy,” reported the Baltimore Sun.

Not quite. That’s not really the end of the story.

Some residents of Shepherdstown claim that Susie’s spirit still haunts New Street where she was murdered.  In 2016, the television series, Ghosts of Shepherdstown, dramatized the murder—albeit taking some artistic license—and supposedly helped both Susie and Smootz cross over, if not to another plane, then perhaps to another episode.

Holiday Traditions: From Germany to German Street: Belsnickle

belsnickelAt Christmas time, in the front parlor of the Historic Shepherdstown Museum you’ll find a sleigh near the fireplace. The sleigh, with its animated figures, was donated to the museum by Keith Knost about 1998. It depicts a modern-day Santa Claus, but with a nod to a traditional German and Shenandoah Valley character known as Belsnickle, roughly translated as St. Nicholas in fur.

Belsnickle, usually ragged and disheveled, wears a hat, a long, heavy coat of fur and sometimes a mask with a long tongue. In addition to his bag of goodies, he carries a switch to “punish” naughty children. According to the tradition, during Advent, and especially closer to Christmas, he would make his way from home to home, rapping on the door or window with his stick. Once inside, the children of the family would have to answer a question for him or sing some type of song. In exchange he would toss candies onto the floor. If the children jumped too quickly for the treats, they might end up getting struck with Belsnickel’s switch.

belsnickelsIn later years during Christmas time in the Shenandoah Valley, groups known as Belsnicklers would dress in costume and go door to door, carrying lanterns, singing and carrying on. Neighbors would offer them cakes, cookies and maybe wine and cider. Belsnicklers were popular in Shepherdstown in the 1880’s and 1890’s, according to the late James Price, Shepherdstown’s historian emeritus.

The January 5th, 1922, Shepherdstown Register recounts an evening of Belsnickling:

The masqueraders were a lively feature of holiday week. The young men exercised great ingenuity in devising striking costumes… and they had a lot of fun.  Masked and arrayed in fancy costumes these jolly fellows would make their rounds. It was accustomed to serve suitable refreshments to the masqueraders at the homes where they visited, and so cake and wine and cider and candy and nuts would be set out. They usually wound up the evening at Uncle Billy Lambright’s store where the girls would congregate and wait for the end of the night’s fun.

Belsnickling faded out sometime in the 1950s, but many older residents still remember the tradition fondly.

2016 Shepherdstown Library Ornaments Are Selling Fast!

With the holidays right around the corner, are you looking for a stocking stuffer, hostess gift, or something to make your tree sparkle?  Then look no further!  The Historic Shepherdstown Commission is introducing their second annual holiday ornament, The Old Market House, also known as the Shepherdstown Library.

            The Old Market House was chosen as this year’s ornament because it is the iconic symbol of Shepherdstown.  The design itself was chosen based on a photograph by Al Freund, a frequent photographer of the Shepherdstown Library. With help from Tom Pollard Designs, that photograph was turned into the impressive ornament that you see.

            The first Historic Shepherdstown ornament, depicting McMurran Hall, was issued last year. If you did not purchase the 2015 ornament, a few remain.  Each ornament is $20.00 or you may purchase both for $35.00.  Ornaments may be purchased at the multiple locations:

  Shepherdstown Museum during Christmas in Shepherdstown (Saturdays, 11-5; Sundays, 1-4)

Historic Shepherdstown office at the Entler, 129 E. German St., Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, 9:30-5:30

Four Seasons Books

Shepherd University Bookstore

Hair Graphics Beauty Salon

            It is our hope that this will become a family tradition and that you will be as excited to see the unveiling of each new ornament as we are.   Whether you live in Shepherdstown, have a connection to Shepherdstown, went to college at Shepherd University, or just love the quaint feel of this community – we hope you will support this endeavor. The proceeds go to support Historic Shepherdstown Museum programs.


Holiday Traditions: From Germany to German Street

The Christmas Tree

Shepherdstown kicked off the holiday season on November 25 with the lighting of the tree in front of McMurran Hall.

While Mrs. Claus, the Grinch and Santa on a firetruck are more recent additions to Shepherdstown’s public holiday events, the town tree has been a Christmas tradition since 1921 when the Shepherdstown Register reported that:

A handsome cedar tree some forty feet in height was cut from the cliffs north of town…. When the tree was lighted up Christmas Eve, everybody pronounced it beautiful. Electric lights of various colors were shining brightly in the foliage, and reflections from the ornaments added to its brilliancy. Above the tree a golden star cast a mellow glow and was significantly beautiful.

christmas_treeThe story of the Christmas tree goes back to 17th century Germany where the first Christmas trees were decorated with edible things, such as gingerbread and gold covered apples. Then glass makers made special small ornaments similar to some of the decorations used today. Several cities in the United States with German connections lay claim to our country’s first Christmas tree: Windsor Locks, Connecticut, claims that a Hessian soldier put up a Christmas tree in 1777 while imprisoned there during the Revolutionary War. But the first documented use of the Christmas tree took place in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in 1821.

entler_tree_2016The large number of German settlers in Shepherdstown brought their traditions with them and likely decorated fir trees at Christmas time.  The Entlers may have had a tree, not unlike the tree at the Historic Shepherdstown Museum, decorated with candles, straw ornaments and glass balls.

Special holiday events are scheduled for every weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas in Shepherdstown.  Visit the Historic Shepherdstown Museum which is open every weekend during the Christmas season.



The Colorful History of Stone Row on New Street


The four houses that make up Stone Row on New Street were once the site of one of the first breweries in what is now the State of West Virginia. Marc Briod, a board member of Historic Shepherdstown Commission and a resident of one of the units, writes about the history of the building. 

Philip Shutt’s Brew House and Family

Philip Shutt built his limestone brew house on New Street about 1792.  No doubt he chose the location in order to be next to Town Run, a spring-fed stream that flows along the southwest side of the property.  All good beer requires good water, and spring water is especially prized.  Shutt’s Cream Beer soon became popular with locals, and later with Irish laborers who helped build the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal during the early 1830s.

Philip-the-Brewer arrived in Shepherdstown (then called Mecklenburg) during the late 1780s, a newly married adventurer from Bucks County, Pennsylvania.   It is likely he came originally from a region near Zweibrucken, Germany.  He may have served with the British as a Hessian mercenary during the War of Independence.  If so, he apparently changed his name from Schutz to Shutt, perhaps to have a fresh start with an altered identity.

Armed with money in his pocket, youthful ambition, and a supportive bride at his side, Shutt must have decided that Mecklenburg would be a fine place to build a log home and stone brewery on New Street, open a tavern on German Street (now the Mecklenburg Inn) and raise a family.  In 1796 three of his properties were insured by the Richmond Fire Insurance Company.  Some stones used to build his brewery may have been quarried straight from New Street and hauled into place just a few yards away. The resulting gaps in the street were then filled in with gravel and dirt.

Slavery was common in Shepherdstown until the Civil War.  Census records show that Shutt usually kept one or two slaves as well as three or four large animals.  He is said to have offered his horse, “Young Nebuchadnezzar,” for stud service out on the street — until residents complained about spoiling the innocence of children.

Philip and his wife, Anna Maria, were active in the life of the town.  Both served as elders at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, and Philip was the treasurer for nearly 30 years, until 1827.  He was elected twice to the town Court of Trustees, in 1797 and 1813.  During his first term the town’s name was changed from Mecklenburg to Shepherd’s Town in honor of its deceased founder, Thomas Shepherd.  Trustee town meetings were occasionally held at Shutt’s tavern.

Anna Maria gave birth to five children during the 1890s, three boys and two girls, all christened at the Lutheran Church.  Philip died in 1833, around age 73.  His oldest child, Elizabeth, moved with her husband to Sagamon County, Illinois.  His son, Jacob, moved there as well.  Both families then flourished in the town of Springfield, including Jacob’s two sons, George, a “bon vivant” lawyer who lived very near the home of Abraham Lincoln, and William, who later became mayor of Springfield.

Stone Row:  1830 through the Civil War

During the late 1830s Shutt’s Brew House went into decline.  The oldest son, Johannes, died in 1818.  In 1835, sons George and Philip, Jr. took their brother, Jacob, to court over an inheritance dispute.  Shortly thereafter George died, perhaps through suicide.  Mary, the youngest daughter, married Thomas Fawcett, a local plasterer, who added a brick second story and partitioned the building into separate dwelling units.  Soon this long masonry structure became known as “Stone Row.”

Stone Row continued its colorful history long after passing from the hands of the Shutt family.  A famous incident occurred during the Civil War.  Redmond Burke was a notorious Confederate scout for General J.E.B. Stuart.  Sometimes he visited young Virginia McGlincy, who lived with her family in one of the four dwelling units.  Apparently she was a collaborator who was spying for Burke. They may also have had a romantic relationship.  But Burke carried a price on his head.  So when the Union garrison at Sharpsburg learned of his whereabouts they went straight to the McGlincy residence and demanded entrance.  It was a dark night, and Burke, a small man, was hidden above a little trapdoor in the ceiling of the second floor.  At first Virginia refused entrance to the soldiers, even whacking at them with an ax handle.  So they backed off and enlisted help from old Mr. Fawcett who lived next door.  He carried a lamp, which she promptly smashed.  Only after surrounding the place and fixing their bayonets were the soldiers allowed entry.  They found no trace of Burke.  But a few days later they returned to town on a new tip and descended upon his mother’s house on Duke Street, where they shot and killed him as he tried to escape.  Redmond Burke is buried in Elmwood Cemetery.

Another Stone Row story comes as well from the Civil War era.  John Wesley Culp was a young boarder in one of those same dwelling units.  He worked for the Hoffman Carriage Company nearby, and became good friends with John, another Stone Row resident.  Both men joined the Confederate army and fought at Antietam, but were captured by Union forces and imprisoned at Fort McHenry.  John then wrote a letter to his wife, Mary, saying that he and Wesley could be released on parole if they would pledge an oath to never again take up arms against the Union.  He said he felt conflicted about what to do and wanted her advice.   She wrote back that he should remain loyal to the Rebel cause and remain in prison.  “You were born in the South.  You have lived in the South throughout your whole life.  Swearing to that oath would be living a lie. Rot in prison, but don’t sign the oath. Your wife Mary.”   She sent a different letter to Wesley that hinted they might be romantically involved.   “You were born in the North.  You have family in the North.  Swear the oath, kiss the book and hurry on home.  Mary.”  Obviously she had no way of knowing whether Wesley and John would share the contents of those letters, so she had to be discreet.

The following year Culp left town again, this time to fight with Confederate forces at Gettysburg.  Ironically, Gettysburg was his boyhood home and the site of his ancestral farm.  As fate would have it, Wesley was killed on or near “Culp’s Hill” by a bullet to the forehead.   Legend says that Union officers allowed only one Confederate soldier to be buried there.  Many believe that soldier was John Wesley Culp, presumably in honor of his familial ties to the soil.  Legend also has it that Mary was at first seen walking the streets of Shepherdstown, heavy with child.  But after receiving the news of Culp’s death she was no longer pregnant.  Today the muffled cries of a newborn baby are said to be heard coming from subterranean stairs beneath Stone Row.

Stone Row: Recent History

More recently part of Stone Row was restored by Walter Washington, a descendant of George Washington’s older brother, Samuel.  In 1987, Walter purchased one of the dwelling units and worked on its restoration until 1991. Today he remains active in the effort to preserve early homes and landmarks of Jefferson County.  He currently resides at “Harewood” (as of 2016), his ancestral home, which was built by Samuel Washington near Charlestown.

Throughout its history Stone Row has undergone many physical transformations.   The original stone structure was a long single story with two smaller stone buildings behind, each with a massive fireplace.  Later, the four separate townhomes shared half a fireplace.  The brick second story was added in the 1830s.  During the late 1800s several stone buildings in the back were tied into the main structure, resulting in two larger rooms with handsome interior stone walls.  By the early 1900s Stone Row had acquired four stoops with Victorian style porches in front of each entrance.  Before 1950 the stone exterior was covered over with paint or stucco, requiring no pointing and little maintenance.  For a while part of the building stood vacant and served as storage.  But renovation began in the 1970s.  The final section of stucco siding was removed in 2003, revealing the full scope of Shutt’s original stonework.  In 1998 thick concrete slabs covering Town Run were cut and dragged away. They had originally supported firetrucks parked beside the old fire hall (built in 1912). Today the lively dappled stream, once known as “Falling Springs,” is again clearly visible to passers-by.

Stone Row is Stop 38 on the walking tour of Shepherdstown.



Keep up with the Joneses …

Or at least Jones Mill, on Saturday afternoon, September 24 at from 4:30 to 7:00, when Historic Shepherdstown Commission and Museum holds its fall fund raiser on the grounds of the Thomas Swearingen House at the Jones Mill Historic District. Come out and spend an afternoon on the front lawn, with food, refreshments and live music.

The property is the site of the first mill in what is now the State of West Virginia. In 1734, two years before Thomas Shepherd came to the area, Josiah Jones had built a mill on Rocky Marsh Run. The original mill building is long gone, perhaps destroyed in a fire in 1811, but the foundation and the half-mile-long mill run and tale races remain. The current mill structure dates from the turn of the 19th Century and is said to have generated electricity for the nearby town of Scrabble through the early 1950’s.

Thomas Swearingen acquired the mill in 1748. He or his oldest son, also named Thomas, built a three-bay, two-story stone house near the mill around 1760. The first Thomas is well known in the history of Shepherdstown for having established a ferry across the Potomac in 1755 near the current James Rumsey Bridge, and for getting more votes than George Washington for a seat in the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1757. Son Thomas was a major in the Revolutionary War.

The three-bay, two-story house is built of local stone and was grand in its time and place. The east chimney, which extends only half way out, is somewhat unique. The woodwork and moldings inside the house are original.

Come out and enjoy a taste of history and good food with old and new friends.

The Jones Mill Historic District and the Thomas Swearingen House are located on Dam 4 Road in the town of Scrabble.

Michael Rode the Boat


… down German Street in Shepherdstown’s Fourth of July Parade.

Michael Langmyer also catalogued the Museum’s photograph collection, led museum tours, entertained school groups, conducted oral history interviews, transcribed existing ones, took photos, moved furniture, developed web pages, assisted genealogists, and learned a lot about managing and developing a museum during his 10-month internship with Historic Shepherdstown and Museum.

Michael came to the Museum through AmeriCorps, a national volunteer program and the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia, which seeks to promote historic preservation, economic development and heritage tourism in the State.

A 2016 graduate of Shepherd University, he is now on his way to the University of Kentucky, where he’ll be working on a Master’s Degree in Historic Preservation.

Enthusiastic, reliable, persistent, ready with a quip or to lend a hand, Michael left an impression on his Historic Shepherdstown friends and co-workers, who said goodbye to him at a lunch on July 29th, his last day at the office.

“My time as an AmeriCorps member has been nothing but an adventure and a journey, and I would have had it no other way.”

We wish him much success in the future.

Photo of Peter Fischer presenting a portrait of Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg

The Hanging of the Queen

Preserve WV history as an AmeriCorps Member

Recruitment for Americorps Members for 2016-17 through Preserve WV is now open to all adults 18 and older. We’ll be so sorry to see current Member Michael Langmyer go, but he’s going off to do graduate work in historic preservation at the University of Kentucky and we knew we could only keep him for a year. Are you interested in preserving WV history through Americorps? Apply today!


Our Own Ghost of Shepherdstown

If you watched the television series, Ghosts of Shepherdstown, you know all about the spirits of Confederate soldiers that haunt the basements, attics and streets of Shepherdstown.  But did you know that the Historic Shepherdstown Museum has its own phantom?

It all started back in 1808.

Peyton Bull Smith and Joseph Holmes, sons of prominent Winchester, Virginia, families, were boyhood friends. Smith had just graduated from the College of William and Mary and set up a law practice in Winchester with Holmes as an associate. After an evening of drinking, a minor argument ensued between the two. Smith called Holmes a “damned fool” and Holmes challenged his colleague to a duel.

The site selected for the duel was in Maryland, across the Potomac River from Shepherdstown. The two faced each other at daybreak on Tuesday, November 3, 1809. Witnesses stated that only one shot was fired – by Holmes. Peyton Bull Smith, mortally wounded was carried back to the Entler Hotel (the Globe Tavern at the time), where he was placed in an upstairs chamber. Later historians wrote that he died in Room One, the location of which is unclear

Mrs. Brown, the innkeeper of the tavern, clipped a lock of Peyton’s hair and sent it to his mother in Winchester.

Over the years, strange noises and moans, the sound of footsteps and items being moved around have been heard during the night time hours in the Entler Hotel. Many think this could be the ghost of Peyton Bull Smith, or perhaps one of the other spirits that reportedly haunt the building.

Over the years, strange noises and moans, the sound of footsteps and items being moved around have been heard during the night time hours in the Entler Hotel. Many think this could be the ghost of Peyton Bull Smith, or perhaps one of the other spirits that reportedly haunt the building.