Speakers Series: Shenandoah Valley’s Germanic Heritage

Historic Shepherdstown will feature a talk by Karen Good Cooper entitled “Shenandoah Valley’s Germanic Heritage” on June 13 at 7 p.m.

The talk will take place in the auditorium at the Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education on the Shepherd University campus. It is free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be served after the presentation.

With a main street called German Street and a town museum full of German crafts, it’s hard to miss Shepherdstown’s German heritage. Ms. Cooper will provide a broader context in her talk. The Germans brought their own ideas, methods, and customs.  Who were they?  Why did they come?  What happened as they formed their communities and as their children began to move away? Ms. Cooper says the talk is designed to make people think about how the “Shenandoah Deutsch” affected so much of how we behave and how we work together.

Karen Cooper is a 10th generation Shenandoah Valley resident and the head of the Board of Directors for the Shenandoah Germanic Heritage Museum and its parent organization. She graduated from Western Maryland College and has an MA in history from James Madison University. She has been studying local history and genealogy for fifty years and served as the founding president of the Shenandoah County Historical Society.

The 2018 Speakers Series will feature three additional programs:

  • September 12, Matthew Webster, Kate Hughes, Katie McKinney, all of Colonial Williamsburg, and Nicholas Powers, Museum of the Shenandoah Valley,”Artisans in the Lower Shenandoah Valley.”
  • October 10, Dennis Frye, Chief Historian, Harpers Ferry National Historic Park, “Antietam Shadows:  Mystery, Myth & Machination.”
  • November 14, Jerry Thomas, Professor of History Emeritus, Shepherd University, “From the Old South to the New in the Lower Shenandoah Valley:  The Life and Times of Alexander Robinson Boteler, 1815-1892.”

All of the talks will take place at 7 p.m. at the Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education.

For more information, contact the Historic Shepherdstown Commission office at hsc1786@gmail.com or 304-876-0910.


8th Annual Jefferson County Civil War Seminar

The 8th Annual Jefferson County Civil War Seminar will be held on Tuesday, June 19, 2018 in the auditorium of the Robert Byrd Center on the campus of Shepherd University. This popular event is sponsored jointly by the Charles Town Library Civil War Round Table and the Jefferson County Historical Society. As in previous years, all presenters are either members of the round table or local historians with an interest in the Civil War.

This year’s seminar presenters and their topics include:

  • John Bagladi. “WHAT’S IN A NAME? ‘The Battle of …’” On August 21, 1864, thousands of soldiers wearing blue and gray met in combat across western Jefferson County. What was this engagement called? Do you know? Are you sure?
  • Bill Berry. “Harpers Ferry Civilians during the Civil War.” Water and whiskey, two key ingredients in the tragic tale of civilians of Harpers Ferry during the Civil War. The story of the people harassed by both sides with no solution in sight.
  • Steve French. “McNeill’s Rangers in the Gettysburg Campaign.” During the Gettysburg Campaign, Rebel guerrillas and partisans roamed far and wide attacking military targets and gathering plunder. One of these bands, McNeill’s Rangers, fought at the 2nd Battle of Winchester, occupied Hancock, Md. destroyed Baltimore & Ohio property, raided the farms and stores of southern Pa., fought at the July 6 Battle of Williamsport and later skirmished with Federal cavalry around Clear Spring, Md. The talk will give an overview of the role of these so-called “land pirates” in the campaign.
  • Jim Glymph. “The Whitworth Rifle.” The Whitworth rifle was developed in England to be the standard rifle for their infantry.  It had many shortcomings, but it was extremely accurate.  England did not adopt it but a few of them became the deadly tool of the Confederate sharpshooters.
  • Russ Harbaugh. “Will the real Scarlett O’Hara please stand up?” Have you ever wondered if Scarlett O’Hara’s character was based on a real-life person? Russ does, and he thinks she lived in Jefferson County.
  • John Kavaliunas. “Watch on the Potomac: Foreign Observers of the U.S. Civil War.” We think of the American Civil War as a purely domestic event. However, the War was of concern to many in Europe. Regular news reports from the battlefield caught the attention of the public and, in several instances, inspired others, including European princes, aristocrats, and adventurers, to view the conflict first hand or to personally join in the battle.

This presentation will describe some of these foreign observers and their impressions of the War itself.

The seminar begins at 8:45 AM and will conclude at 4:30 PM. Parking is available in the “A” Lot at Shepherd University. There is no charge for the seminar, and the public is invited to attend.

“The Spirit of Elmwood” Tour: The Presbyterian and Methodist Grave Yards

The “Spirit of Elmwood” tour was postponed by the weather and has been re-scheduled for Saturday, June 9th, 2018 starting at 11:00 AM. This year’s tour kicks off a commemoration of the upcoming 150th Anniversary of the establishment of Elmwood Cemetery and is sponsored the cemetery’s Board of Directors. Please drive into the cemetery and you will be directed to parking. The tour will take place in the Presbyterian Grave Yard located in the northeast corner of the cemetery along the Kearneysville Pike.

The “Presbyterian and Methodist Grave Yard” tour will be led by local historian Doug Perks. Perks will discuss the history of both grave yards and highlight some of the men and women buried there who helped shape Shepherdstown’s rich History.

A donation of $15 per person is recommended. All proceeds from this tour will be applied to the restoration of the Superintendent’s House.

The tour will take place in one location in the Presbyterian Grave Yard. Feel free to bring along a chair to sit in while you listen. Be sure to wear comfortable clothing and your walking shoes. Gnats are bothersome this time of year, so don’t forget your favorite remedy.

Tea with Mrs. Entler on June 2, 2018

By Boat to Shepherdstown on the Canal

In 1915, John Pryor Cowan, a journalist with the Pittsburgh Gazette, decided to take a trip to Washington.  He would go, not by car or train, but by canal. He and his wife built their own boat from a kit.  The boat was not very elegant looking, and friends who saw it remarked “That’s some tub.” The name stuck.

The Cowans shipped the Sometub from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Maryland, and on July 15, 1915, they set off on their 184-mile journey.

Cowan said that the Sometub had the distinction of being the first boat with an outboard gasoline engine — even if it only had a top speed of 5 miles per hour — on the canal.  While the boat could go faster than a mule-drawn canal barge, the early outboard motors were not reliable, and the Cowans’ would fail them often.

It took about a week to reach C&O Lock No. 30, the Shepherdstown lock, where the Cowans had planned to visit the Antietam Battlefield.  But their motor died and with night falling and thunder in the distance, they decided to leave their boat with the lock-keeper and instead to seek shelter across the river in Shepherdstown.

In his book, Sometub’s Cruise on the C. & O. Canal, written the following year, Cowan tells of his visit to Shepherdstown:

Fleeing across the bridge over the Potomac we breathlessly climbed the hill and along a dark street [Princess St.] to the center of the town whither we had been directed to the hotel. Suddenly we rounded a corner into an electric-lighted thoroughfare and stood before the entrance of the Rumsey House [Today’s Entler Hotel and Historic Shepherdstown Museum]. Our clothes were wrinkled and we were splashed with mud from head to foot. We still carried our lighted lantern and the crowd at the hotel gazed at us with expressions twixt curiosity and amazement. The proprietor was moved to commiseration.

“Come in here, you-all, right away,” he said.

The next morning, a Sunday, the Cowans woke to the sound of church bells.

It was a restful place to spend Sunday and in the evening we joined the villagers in a stroll through the shady streets and out on the bluff overlooking the Potomac. Here on the edge of the cliffs on a natural base of limestone rock is an imposing shaft lately erected to the memory of James Rumsey, Shepherdstown pioneer and inventor of the steamboat.

Cowan was charmed by Shepherdstown:

Geographically Shepherdstown is in West Virginia, but politically, socially and traditionally it leans toward the Old Dominion. It lies in Jefferson county at the foot of the beautiful Shenandoah valley and is essentially southern. Its whole atmosphere and the sympathy of its people belong distinctly to Piedmont Virginia. It is the Alsace-Lorraine of America.

Next to Alexandria, Shepherdstown is perhaps the oldest important settlement in the Potomac valley. It is one of the few old towns in the country that has not been defaced by too much present day progress. Shepherdstown has always been a substantial prosperous place and does not affect the gewgaws of the new rich municipality. In some respects it resembles Concord, Massachusetts. Its streets have many features in common with the thoroughfares of the old-time New England towns. In many of the residences are preserved some of the most striking characteristics of chaste colonial architecture.

Two days later the Sometub’s motor was fixed and the Cowans, after bidding farewell to their “hospitable friends” in Shepherdstown, resumed their journey on the canal to Washington.

Nine years later, in 1924, the canal would close for business.


The Changing Face of Shepherdstown

Doug Perks’ excellent presentation, The Changing Face of Shepherdstown, has been made into a new exhibit at the Museum. You can also view the digital version here. We’d like to thank Doug Perks for allowing us to post it on the website. Photographs in the exhibit are from the author’s collection and the archives of the Historic Shepherdstown Commission and the Jefferson County Museum.


Coins, Clocks, and…Cavities?

The Historic Shepherdstown Museum recently acquired some silver spoons that were made by a Shepherdstown artisan some 200 years ago.

Raw metals in the early 1800s were difficult to come by and any silver that was used most likely came from silver coins, which were melted down and molded into the desired shape –spoon, fork or even a diner plate or charger. The term “coin silver” refers to silver that’s been mixed with about 10 percent copper to give it extra strength.

The museum’s new acquisitions were made by John Bernard Woltz. If you’ve visited the museum, this name may perhaps sound familiar.  The tall-case clock in the front parlor was made by the same John Bernard Woltz. Huh?  Clocks and cutlery?

According to Eric Jenkins, a docent at the museum and an expert on early Jefferson and Berkeley County silver, “Clocks had a very limited market because they were made primarily for the wealthy.  The maker therefore had to diversify to make ends meet.  Things like silver spoons, though still a high priced item, were given as wedding gifts or for other special occasions and had a slightly larger market.”

John Bernard Woltz no doubt learned his trade from his father, George Woltz, a silversmith and clock maker in Hagerstown, Maryland.  John worked in Shepherdstown between 1811 and 1820.  An advertisement in the Charles Town Farmer’s Repository newspaper in June of 1811 informs the public that he has begun his clock and watch-maker business in Shepherdstown, “where all kinds of watches committed to his care, will be faithfully and punctually repaired.”  Moreover, “He intends keeping a general assortment of GOLD and SILVER WORK, and a handsome assortment of JEWELRY of every description, which will be disposed of on very low terms.”

The museum also has on display several silver spoons made by Frederick Posey, likewise a silversmith, watch and clockmaker, who lived at the Entler Hotel for a time.

Oh, and what about the cavities?  Eric Jenkins says that there were several clock makers in Martinsburg who not only made clocks and silver but, because they worked with gold, also made gold crowns and fillings.

Stop by the museum and see the Woltz and Craft clocks, as well as the museum’s collection of silverware made by early Jefferson County craftsmen.

Speakers Series: Walter Washington and John Allen to Speak on Washington Family Homes

Local historian and Washington family descendant Walter Washington and architectural historian John Allen will kick off the Historic Shepherdstown Commission’s 2018 Speakers Series on April 18 at 7 p.m. Their talk is entitled “History and Architecture of the Washington Family Homes of Jefferson County.”

Walter Washington restored and maintains Harewood, the historic home of his ancestor Samuel Washington, brother of George Washington. He is currently President of Friends of Happy Retreat, the home of Charles Town, WV founder Charles Washington. He is also a former chair of the Jefferson County Historic Landmarks Commission and former board member of the Jefferson County Historical Society.

John C. Allen, Jr. authored Uncommon Vernacular: The Early Houses of Jefferson County, West Virginia, 1735-1835, a comprehensive and meticulous exploration of the county’s historic houses. He is also former chair of the Jefferson County Historical Landmarks Commission.

The talk will take place in the auditorium at the Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education on the Shepherd University campus.  The event is free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be served after the presentation.

The 2018 Speakers Series will feature four additional programs:

  • June 13, Karen G. Cooper, Shenandoah County Historical Society and Shenandoah Germanic Heritage Museum, “Germanic Heritage in the Shenandoah Valley.”
  • September 12, Matthew Webster, Kate Hughes, Katie McKinney, all of Colonial Williamsburg, and Nicholas Powers, Museum of the Shenandoah Valley,”Artisans in the Lower Shenandoah Valley.”
  • October 10, Dennis Frye, Chief Historian, Harpers Ferry National Historic Park, “Antietam Shadows: Mystery, Myth & Machination.”
  • November 14, Jerry Thomas, Professor of History Emeritus, Shepherd University, “From the Old South to the New in the Lower Shenandoah Valley: The Life and Times of Alexander Robinson Boteler, 1815-1892.”

All of the talks with take place at 7 p.m. at the Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education.

Shepherdstown Museum Offers New Displays at April 7 Opening

The Historic Shepherdstown Museum opens for the season on April 7 with a new temporary display of past and recent photos of Shepherdstown. In addition, visitors will be able to see a “new” Jacob Craft clock donated last fall by former Jefferson County resident Curt Mason.

Beginning on April 7, the Museum will be open on Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. It is located at 129 E. German Street in Shepherdstown.

Last fall, local historian Doug Perks compiled past and current photos of Shepherdstown into a presentation called “The Changing Face of Shepherdstown.” He has now organized the photos into a display for the Museum. The display features images from as far back as the 1860’s and as recently as 2015.

As Perks notes “Streetscapes and viewscapes changed through time. Roads were moved and improved. One building replaced another. But many remain unchanged. The exhibit gives Shepherdstown residents and visitors a tantalizing glimpse of past and present.”

The Museum is also pleased to display its third early 19th century grandfather clock made by Shepherdstown resident Jacob Craft. Curt Mason donated the clock to the Museum so that it could “come home.” The clock once belonged to Rezin Davis (R.D.) Shepherd, a Shakespearean actor in the first half of the 20th century. A great-grandson of the founder of Shepherdstown, R.D grew up at Wild Goose Farm, just outside of town. He eventually moved to California where he died in 1946. Having no close relatives, he left his Craft clock to his long-time housekeeper. The housekeeper’s daughter, Elizabeth Shepherd Saxe, was Curt Mason’s mother’s close friend and left the clock to her.

According to Curt, “Elizabeth apparently had valued Mom’s appreciation of the clock and felt that it would be in good hands if it were passed on to her.” After Curt moved to Virginia, his mother passed the clock on to him so that it would be closer to home. Then Curt and his wife Suzette Kimball moved to WV and eventually learned that the clock had been made in Shepherdstown.  So when they moved away last fall, they gave it to the Museum in memory of Curt’s mother, Berthe Courtois Mason. Curt says she “would have been happy to know it came home to within a block of where Jacob Craft brought it to life.”

Public Meeting: March 27, 6:30 p.m., Shepherdstown Town Hall

Historic Shepherdstown is partnering with the the Historic Landmarks Commission to host a public event celebrating the historic places in Shepherdstown. The public is invited to lend their input to the new Shepherdstown Historic District Guidelines, recently revised by the Mills Group (http://millsgrouponline.com/) a firm specializing in planning historic preservation for communities.

Experts will be on hand to answer questions about renovating historic properties and identifying your house style, and we’ll be happy to offer advice on how to research your home’s history. Join us on Tuesday, March 27 between 6:30 – 8:00 pm at Shepherdstown Town Hall. Join the community as we celebrate what makes Shepherdstown unique!

View the Historic Landmarks Commission flyer here.