Historic Shepherdstown newsletter – March 2022

Dear Supporter of Historic Shepherdstown

Welcome to Spring! Historic Shepherdstown Commission and Museum has a lot of exciting news to share with you. We have scheduled the date for the Spring Opening Reception and the reopening of the Historic Shepherdstown Museum; we have set the lineup for our annual speaker series; we have received grants from two different organizations, one for a new exhibit that will open in May and the other to have the Museum’s S. Howell Brown 1852 Map of Jefferson County Virginia conserved; we are the subject of Hood College’s Public Relations Campaigns class; and our annual membership drive is also ongoing.

Spring Opening Reception and Museum Reopening

The Spring Opening Reception is back! It will be held on Friday, April 22, from 5-7 p.m. at the Entler Hotel, 129 East German Street. Invitations are being mailed to members from 2021 and 2022 who live within driving distance of Shepherdstown. Any member who lives farther away but will be in the area that weekend is also welcome to RSVP and attend. The event will be spread out between the Reception Room and the Entler porches and garden. It will feature hors d’oeuvres and desserts from Carol Sanders. Please RVSP by April 12 to Historic Shepherdstown at [email protected], or call 304-876-0910. We are looking forward to seeing you again.

The Museum will reopen on Saturday, April 23, at noon. Hours this year will be Saturdays from noon to 4 p.m. and Sundays from 1 to 3 p.m. Anyone who is interested in volunteering as a docent is urged to contact Historic Shepherdstown at [email protected]. We will be opening a new exhibit“African American Educational Opportunities in Jefferson County, WV, Before and After Brown v. Board of Education, 1954” the weekend of May 14-15. More information about that exhibit and the grant that is helping to fund it can be found later in this newsletter.

Annual Speaker Series

Our annual Speaker Series presentations begin in April and continue in May, September and October. All of the presentations will be held on Wednesdays at 7 p.m., and they are free and open to the public.

The Speaker Series will be held in the auditorium at Shepherd University’s Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education. Announcements about Zoom availability will be made closer to each talk.

On April 13, archaeologist Edward McMullen will discuss “Archaeological Excavations Above the Falls: Life Before Shepherdstown.” Ed is a professional archaeologist currently working in cultural resource management throughout Northern Virginia and the surrounding region for Thunderbird Archeology, Wetlands Studies and Solutions, Inc.

He has worked extensively identifying and excavating Chesapeake Native/Indigenous sites within Virginia and Maryland. He has a particular interest in Mid-Atlantic Indigenous history and has gained experience excavating, writing reports, and working with clients and agencies to preserve or mitigate cultural resources. His Master’s Thesis focused on excavation methodologies within the Chesapeake Bay region, while providing a paleoenvironmental narrative from the Paleoindian to Late Woodland cultural periods.

On May 11: Shepherdstown Opera House owners Steve and Harriet Pearson will discuss “The Shepherdstown Opera House: A Place of Many Dates.” May is Historic Preservation Month, and Historic Shepherdstown Commission’s annual Historic Preservation Awards also will be presented.

For generations, the Shepherdstown Opera House was the place in town to go out for a date. That’s all Steve and Harriet Pearson had in mind in 2017 when they first heard live music at the Opera House. Little did they know that this historic venue would soon become the stage for the next chapter of their adventures.

Between them the long-married couple had already raised two kids, run a few businesses (and a law practice), and travelled the globe.

Drawn by the culture and beauty of Shepherdstown and surrounding region — and the proximity to Washington, D.C. where Harriet still worked – they had decided to become more involved in the community and eventually relocate here.

So, when they learned that the Opera House was in need of new ownership, the Pearsons made the commitment to restore the building and revive the performance space for the 21st century. The next three years saw many ups and downs in the restoration project including catastrophic flooding of the theater (in 2018) and pandemic-induced delays and uncertainties (2020-21).

Harriet and Steve look forward to re-opening the Shepherdstown Opera House in Summer 2022 and continuing a tradition dating back to 1910 of presenting a broad variety of entertainment for all ages on both stage and screen.

On September 14: Dr. Keith Alexander, associate professor of history at Shepherd University, will present “Living Libraries: Using Oral History to Preserve the Past.” Dr. Alexander’s students conducted the oral interviews that are the basis for a new exhibit “African American Educational Opportunities in Jefferson County, WV, Before and After Brown v. Board of Education, 1954” which will open at Historic Shepherdstown Museum in mid-May. The annual meeting for Historic Shepherdstown Commission will precede Dr. Alexander’s talk.

October 12: Historic Shepherdstown Commission will host a public forum entitled “Looking at the History and Future of the Shepherdstown Riverfront.” This event will be a panel presentation and community discussion.

West Virginia Humanities Council grant

HSC has received a $1,500 mini grant from the West Virginia Humanities Council to help fund a new Museum exhibit that will focus on educational opportunities for African American students in Jefferson County in the era before and after the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision.

The new permanent exhibit at Historic Shepherdstown Museum, African American Educational Opportunities in Jefferson County, WV, Before and After Brown v. Board of Education1954” will open May 14. Despite the 1954 high court ruling, schools in Jefferson County remained largely segregated into the 1960s. The exhibit is based on oral histories collected by students of Dr. Keith Alexander, associate professor of history at Shepherd University.

This exhibit builds on Historic Shepherdstown Museum’s effort to fulfill its mission to preserve Shepherdstown’s heritage and the contributions of its citizens by telling the story of all of the people of the community. Only through the actual words of the Black residents can visitors begin to understand the complex lives of African Americans in Jefferson County during the mid-20th century.

Former Historic Shepherdstown Commission President Eleanor Finn proposed the oral history project to Dr. Alexander, and she also spearheaded “Busy Sundays,” Phase I of the Museum’s African American exhibit. “Busy Sundays” opened in 2016 and focuses on leisure time and church activities of Shepherdstown’s Black community. It features photos, quotes and artifacts from members of the Shepherdstown Red Sox, a local all-Black baseball team, and photos and information about the Brothers of Harmony, a well-known local gospel choir.

Oral history is a recognized research technique that gathers information from people with personal experience of historically significant events. In September, Dr. Alexander will discuss the importance of oral history as part of Historic Shepherdstown’s annual Speaker Series.

“African American Educational Opportunities in Jefferson County, WV, Before and After Brown v. Board of Education, 1954”is being presented with financial assistance from the West Virginia Humanities Council, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations do not necessarily represent those of the West Virginia Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Americana Corner Grant

Historic Shepherdstown Commission has received a $7,000 grant from Americana Corner to conserve and restore the Museum’s copy of S. Howell Brown’s 1852 Map of Jefferson County, Virginia. The map was donated to the Museum in 1992 by Mary Hartzell Dobbins.

According to Jefferson County historian P. Douglas Perks, who wrote an article about the map for The Spirit of Jefferson newspaper, one of the features that distinguishes this map from earlier maps of the county is “the inclusion not only of every landowner’s name but also the farm’s boundaries, what Brown referred to as ‘Farm Limits.’” As Perks noted, “It is one thing to read a property’s metes and bounds in a deed or to see the boundaries on a plat, but it is another to be able to go to a map and see precisely where the property is located. That is the luxury afforded by S. Howell Brown to his subscribers in 1852, and to both historians and researchers today.”

The 1852 map of Jefferson County is an important historical document that captures all of those details and more less than a decade before the start of the Civil War. Within just a few years, abolitionist John Brown would conduct his raid on Harpers Ferry and subsequently be hanged in Charles Town. The federal armory in Harpers Ferry would be burned and the town would change hands many times during the course of the war. Federal troops took over parts of the county and burned some of the local plantations. And finally, the war itself resulted in the 1871 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Virginia v. West Virginia to include Jefferson and Berkeley counties in West Virginia. Among other things, Brown recorded the changes to ownership and boundaries of properties in a later 1883 map of Jefferson County, West Virginia.

The Museum plans to make the conserved map the centerpiece of a new exhibit in the Historic Shepherdstown Museum of maps of Shepherdstown and Jefferson County, which will open in the spring of 2023.  Maps are important historical documents and the new exhibit will allow visitors to the museum an opportunity to better understand how the town and the county in which it is located have evolved. The exhibit will include maps of both Shepherdstown and Jefferson County.

Among other maps, the Museum owns what is believed to be the earliest plat map of the layout of Thomas Shepherd’s Town. Paper conservation dated the map to the 1790s. At the time, the town was known as Mechlenburgh, and that is how the plat map is labeled. Among other things, the map locates two grist mills, a spring that is now known as Town Run, and the pathway to the ferry that crossed the Potomac River to Maryland. It provides original names of all of the streets, most of which still exist, as well as the layout of the plats of the town. The map shows how much of the original town still exists in the format laid out by Thomas Shepherd. But those who examine the map can also see important changes, such as the disappearance of most of Market Street. That street is now part of the campus of Shepherd University and has been replaced by university buildings.

Americana Corner was founded by Tom Hand in 2020 as an online resource to help others rediscover America’s incredible founding and first century of expansion. From the American Revolution to the settlement of the American West, from the Declaration of Independence to the Emancipation Proclamation, and from George Washington to Abraham Lincoln, Americana Corner contains positive stories of the great events, founding documents, and inspirational leaders who helped create and shape our country. Perhaps most importantly, Tom discusses why these events and people from so long ago still matter to us today. The Americana Grant Program assists organizations that tell the story of our nation’s wonderful past and rekindle a love for American history in all its splendor. Americana Corner can be found online at americanacorner.com.

Students are studying Historic Shepherdstown Commission and Museum

Students from Hood College’s Public Relations Campaigns course have selected Historic Shepherdstown and Museum as their Spring 2022 subject. Public Relations Campaigns is a 400-level course for Communication Arts and Integrated Marketing Communication majors. The students, all juniors and seniors, are completing a situational analysis for us and they will be writing blog posts for our website. They visited the town, toured the Museum, and interviewed Kimo Williams, owner of KimoPics, who is one of the tenants in the Entler. They will be evaluating our social media, gauging our level of recognition within the community, and offering suggestions for improving our communications and outreach.

Annual Membership Drive

Finally, we want to thank everyone who has joined or rejoined Historic Shepherdstown Commission during its annual membership drive. There is still plenty of time to become a member. You can contact our administrator, Teresa McLaughlin, 304-876-0910, or by email at  [email protected], to ask for a membership form or you can join online through our website, historicshepherdstown, https://historicshepherdstown.com.

We are looking forward to reconnecting with members in person at our Spring Opening Reception on April 22. Don’t forget to RSVP if you plan to attend.


Donna Bertazzoni
President, Historic Shepherdstown Commission Board of Directors