Shepherdstown: delightfully off the beaten path
West Virginia town celebrates the past, thrives happily in the present.
German Street, Shepherdstown's main drag, is full of eating places and shops of all kinds. (Sun photo by Doug Kapustin)
"Let's go somewhere," I said, seizing the moment. That's how we ended up in Shepherdstown, W.Va., seeing the sights, wandering through some shops and enjoying a few tasty meals.
Why Shepherdstown? Why not?
Shepherdstown, population 1,800, is the oldest town in West Virginia. In 1787, the newly invented steamboat was tested here to much success.
In 1862 -- after the bloody Battle of Antietam in nearby Washington County, Md. -- more than 5,000 Confederate casualties found their way across the Potomac River to Shepherdstown. According to the local historical society, "Every house, building, church, alley and street was filled with the wounded and dying."
More than 100 Confederate soldiers died in the Battle of Shepherdstown, fought just outside town three days later on Sept. 20, 1862. Nearby Elmwood Cemetery holds the graves of 240 Confederate veterans.
But Shepherdstown is not lost in time. This has been home to Shepherd College since 1871, and the students keep the town moving forward. The college buildings are downtown, and folks in their 20s are everywhere. They work in the shops and congregate at the coffeehouses and restaurants.
Shepherdstown has a thriving arts community, and works of all types are showcased. Crafts range from traditional to contemporary, as does the music. The Contemporary American Theater Festival staged each summer attracts professional actors, directors, costume designers and others. This month, the Half-Week Residency program brings an acclaimed New York theater company to town for a nominal ticket fee.
All in all, Shepherdstown has a bit of something for everyone.
Shepherdstown is about a 1 1/2-hour drive from downtown Baltimore. Pick up Interstate 70 west and follow it past Frederick to Route 340 west. Stay on Route 340, following the signs that direct you toward Charles Town, W.Va.
Don't worry when you cross the Potomac and then the Shenandoah rivers and find yourself in Virginia. You'll find yourself in West Virginia in just a moment.
As you continue toward Charles Town, watch for Route 230 on your right. Follow Route 230 for about nine miles. You might wonder if the road is really leading anywhere, but drive on, and before you know it you're crossing the railroad tracks into Shepherdstown.
Once you cross the tracks, take your first right on Princess Street. Follow that to a quick left on German Street, Shepherdstown's main drag.
This rainy Friday, we're fortunate to find a metered spot open. We park and walk to the Shepherdstown Visitors Center (102 E. German St.). We pick up a map, brochures and some helpful advice from the woman at the desk, who warns us that the police check the metered spaces frequently.
There is no official visitors' parking in Shepherdstown, but you can park on the side streets. Watch for signs warning that you need a residential permit. We leave our car on Church Street, just up the block from Trinity Episcopal Church.
Even in the rain, we don't want to miss the scenic view from the James Rumsey Monument (Mill Street). Follow German Street east and hang a left across from Tommy's Pizza. Wind through the residential neighborhood to the small park on your right. From there, you can't miss the monument reaching high into the sky.
Standing on the marble steps you get an unbelievable panoramic view of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Potomac River and the C&O Canal. Directly across the river is Washington County. It's still drizzling when we get there, but the view extends for miles in spite of the weather.