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Shepherdstown, Harpers Ferry thrive

June 24, 2014

SHEPHERDSTOWN - The history of America flows through Shepherdstown and Harpers Ferry in the Eastern Panhandle.

Located along the Potomac River, historic Shepherdstown is the oldest town in West Virginia. It is nestled in the Lower Shenandoah Valley, 90 minutes from the Washington and Baltimore metropolitan areas.

Visitors can stroll along German Street where more than a dozen fine dining and casual restaurants, locally-owned shops, an independent movie theater and bed and breakfast inns are located.

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Visitors to Shepherdstown can stroll along German Street, filled with more than a dozen fine dining and casual restaurants, unique locally-owned shops offering everything from baby clothes to local arts and crafts

''There are a lot of quaint shops for people and many of the restaurants are of high quality,'' said Ruth Ann Rentfrow, a volunteer at the Shepherdstown Visitors Center. ''It is a very friendly town.''

Shepherdstown is home to the Contemporary American Theater Festival and classical music performances at Shepherd University. Live music also is featured at local restaurants and pubs including O'Hurley's General Store in the Great Hall where local Appalachian heritage musicians are featured Thursday evenings.

"(The theater festival) brings in a lot of Broadway and off-Broadway shows,'' Rentfrow said. ''That brings a lot of people here then.''

The area is filled with sites of historic interest from colonial times to the Civil War.

Shepherdstown has many well-preserved buildings which were standing when Gen. George Washington called upon local troops to join him in Boston for the Revolutionary War.

The town has a monument overlooking the Potomac River honoring James Rumsey, a colleague of Washington and the first man to pilot a steam-powered vessel. The Historic Shepherdstown Museum at the Entler Hotel features many exhibits of the area's history and a view of the half-scale replica of Rumsey's steamboat.

Rentfrow said there are strict quality standards for many of the homes and businesses to maintain an historical look.

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers was an important location throughout the Civil War.

In October 1859, the Hamtramck Guard was dispatched to Harpers Ferry to subdue John Brown's raid on the federal armory.

After the nearby Battle of Antietam in Maryland, Sept. 17, 1862, Gen. Robert E. Lee's infantry crossed the Potomac at Pack Horse Ford.

The town was overwhelmed with 5,000 to 8,000 casualties of that battle. Every house, building, church, alley and street was filled with the wounded and dying. The battle was one of the bloodiest battle of the Civil War.

The Battle of Shepherdstown occurred Sept. 20, 1862, during Lee's retreat. More than 100 Confederate soldiers died there and were buried in Elmwood Cemetery.

Elmwood's hallowed ground contains the graves of 285 Confederate veterans and offers a self-guided walking tour. The graveyard is five blocks south of the four-way stop on Route 480.

Harpers Ferry is drenched in history. It witnessed the first successful American railroad, Brown's raid, the largest surrender of Federal troops during the Civil War and the education of former slaves in one of the earliest integrated schools in the United States.

The C&O Canal is less than a mile away, with biking and hiking along the Potomac River. Several outfitters in Harpers Ferry offer rafting and tubing adventures.

Other events include the Mountain Heritage Arts and Crafts Festival, the Over-the-Mountain Studio Tour and Christmas in Shepherdstown.

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