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Jefferson County History


Charles Town

Founded in 1786, Charles Town is the seat of Jefferson County. Charles Washington - the youngest brother of George Washington - laid out the town, named streets and donated the four blocks at the center of town to the community. Today, Charles Town and Ranson, which is adjacent to north Charles Town, is a close-knit community that embraces its history while supporting new industries and tourism.  

West Virginia's Mountain Heritage Arts & Crafts Festival attracts many people to Charles Town twice each year to buy and enjoy demonstrations by approximately 200 craftsmen and women. Visitors to this nationally-acclaimed festival can also enjoy live Bluegrass performances and a variety of local foods. To learn more about the history of Charles Town, you can take a walking tour to see many historic homes built and owned by such people as Charles Washington, John Locke and other important figures of the period. For those people looking for something other than history, Charles Town Races & Slots is available. This entertainment establishment, which is home of the West Virginia Breeders' Classic, has thoroughbred racing year-round, more than 1,500 slots, live entertainment, and numerous shopping and dining opportunities. 

Harpers Ferry

Located where the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers converge, Harpers Ferry provides many spectacular views and unlimited opportunities to enjoy the area's natural landscape. This natural environment surrounding Harpers Ferry encourages residents and visitors alike to enjoy a variety of activities including rafting, kayaking, canoeing, biking and fishing. Several parks and preserves are within the vicinity including Harpers Ferry National Park, Chespeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park, Berkeley Springs State Park and Yankauer Nature Preserve. The Appalachian National Scenic Trail, which runs from Maine to Georgia, also passes through this town, offering a breathtaking view the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers.  

Although it may be best known as the location of John Brown's raid on a federal armory at the beginning of the Civil War, Harpers Ferry's history stretches back to when George Washington surveyed land in the area in 1750. Many mills and factories used the rivers to power their businesses and the improvements in transportation - particularly the railroad and canal - only aided economic growth in the area. Besides the U.S. Armory and Arsenal, which employed hundreds of workers and produced more than 600,000 firearms in the 60 years leading up to the Civil War, numerous sawmills, machine shops, blacksmiths and other foundries set up their businesses in Harpers Ferry.  


After undergoing several name changes, Shepherdstown was named following the Civil War after its original trustee - Thomas Shepherd. Presently, Shepherdstown is a diverse town with young professionals, families, college students and retirees. Residents in Shepherdstown can enjoy many activities at area parks, art galleries, shops and restaurants. Shepherd University, part of the state's university system, provides many a variety of additional opportunities for students and the community.  

Its strategic location along the Potomac River at the edge of Pennsylvania and Virginia contributed to its history. James Rumsey, the inventor of the steamboat, performed a demonstration of his creation in the Potomac beside the town in 1787. The first newspaper and book in West Virginia were also published in Shepherdstown. During the Civil War, more than 100 Confederate soldiers were killed at a battle here. Many sites and buildings, including the Town Hall Building, are recognized on the National Register of Historic Places as a historic district. 

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