“The Mecklenburg Tobacco Warehouse is perhaps the oldest stone tobacco facility in present day West Virginia (formerly Virginia). The warehouse is a legacy of an era in history when tobacco commerce dictated governmental policy and dominated world trade. Locating the facility in Mecklenburg (now Shepherdstown) was no doubt tied to efforts to promote and develop the area, even so far as to seek the seat of the nation’s government (in 1790s). The building’s use and adaptation over time also speaks to the resiliency of the human spirit.”
—James Perry, Historian, C&O Canal National Historical Park
On November 29, 1788, the following act was passed by the Virginia General Assembly:
Whereas…the establishment of inspection of tobacco on the lands of Abraham Shepherd, near the town of Mecklenburg, on Potowmack river in the county of Berkeley, would be of public utility and the proprietor of said land is willing to erect the houses necessary for that purpose at his expense: Be it enacted…to be called and known by the name of Mecklenburg Warehouse.”
A – Remnants of stone wharf wall
B – Shepherd grist mill (destroyed by arson July 25, 1894)
C – Saw mill (destroyed by flood June 1, 1889)
D – Town Run (stream)
E – Princess Street
F – Billmyer warehouse (destroyed by arson August 8, 1894)
G – Bridge toll house
H – Ferry landing
I – Piers of covered bridge (burned June 1861 by Confederate soldiers)
The Mecklenburg Warehouse is the only standing commercial building on the riverfront and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as a contributing structure.
When the river level is down, remnants of the stone wharf wall are still visible. One can almost visualize the bustling riverfront. Ferries and cargo flatboats transported goods across the river to the Shepherdstown River Lock at the C&O Canal (mile 72.5). Sometime after tobacco ceased to be important, the warehouse served as a storage center for corn, wheat and other commodities, waiting to be transported to market. The story of the Mecklenburg Tobacco Warehouse continues to be researched by historians.
The power of steam was successfully demonstrated on Shepherdstown’s riverfront by James Rumsey as he propelled the first steamboat against the Potomac River currents in 1787.
Thomas Shepherd built the first grist mill in 1738, which still stands at the top of the ravine above the riverfront. He actively sought mill workers, and by the 1790s the population was over 1,000. The community was first called Pack Horse Ford. Shepherd was granted a charter for the town of Mecklenburg in 1762. In 1798, the town’s name was changed to Shepherd’s Town to honor the founder.
Just down river was Boteler’s Cement Mill. During the Civil War, it was the site of the Battle of the Cement Mill. When the business was rebuilt on a smaller scale, historians believe that cement was stored in the Mecklenburg Tobacco Warehouse. Hydraulic cement was used in building many of the structures along the C&O Canal. This type of cement was especially useful because it hardens under water. Local cement was also used to construct buildings in Washington, D.C., including the Washington Monument.
Further down river Antietam Ironworks, circa 1765, forged cannons during the American Revolution. Metal parts for James Rumsey’s steamboat were forged at Antietam in 1786.
In the 1920’s through the 1970’a the Town of Shepherdstown used the building to house its waterworks operations to provide water to the Town. A waterworks report describing these operations is now available.
Friends of the Shepherdstown Riverfront support revitalizing the warehouse and the surrounding area as a vibrant place in the life of the community. Our vision includes the possibility of the warehouse becoming a cultural center housing a museum, offices, and public meeting rooms.
A decade after the start of the preservation efforts, substantial progress has been made. The list of completed Preservation Initiatives can be found here.
Through the combined efforts of everyone involved, the riverfront can be an exciting place for local citizens and visitors to enjoy the peaceful park setting, and river activities in a historical setting.
Visit the Image Galleries page to track the progress of the warehouse renovations.
Copyright © 2018 Friends of the Shepherdstown Riverfront :: archived by Historic Shepherdstown & Museum