Trail News & Issues
The George Washington Heritage Trail
By Jeanne Mozier 2/00
Photographs by Stephen J. Shaluta JR.
The three counties of the Eastern Panhandle offer a rich timeline of American history that includes a colonial spa town, early industrial sites, railroad landmarks and Civil War locations. The footsteps of America's first president are particularly prominent, inspiring tourism officials to package the region's attractions in a 127-mile loop trail named for George Washington.
From his first visit as a teenage surveyor through the reading of his will more than 50 years later, Washington bathed, slept, owned land and supported industry in the Eastern Panhandle.
There is no beginning or end to a loop trail. Tours, however, must start somewhere, so in this outline of the trail's major Washington-related sites, the traveler will begin where George did Ð at "ye fam'd warm springs."
George Washington was scarcely 16 years old in March 1748 when he began his first trip west. Delayed by the flooded Potomac River, his surveying party turned back to visit what appeared on their colonial maps as Medicinal Springs. Then, as now, the waters flowed from the ground at 740 and 2,000 gallons per minute.
At the western edge of Berkeley Springs State Park in the center of town, a stone structure identified as George Washington's Bathtub encloses one of five major springs. It represents the primitive bathing facilities Washington and his friends used during the decades they visited. The brick Roman Bathhouse where today's visitors can soak in 750-gallon tubs of heated mineral water was constructed in 1815. On any given day, hundreds of people fill jugs with the spring water at two public fountains, taking advantage of Lord Fairfax's decree that the water should always be free to the public.
When the town of Bath was formed around the springs in 1776, the charter specifically stated its purpose as caring for health seekers. The following year, Washington and other members of the colonial elite bought lots and made Bath the country's first spa. Although the world now knows the town by its post office name of Berkeley Springs, health seekers still come to "take the waters" as well as to enjoy contemporary treatments of massage, aromatherapy and herbal wraps.
Along the south side of the tiny park is The Country Inn encroaching on a piece of land where once stood The Inn at the Liberty Pole and Flag. George and Martha stayed here during their 1784 visit. The inn's part owner, James Rumsey, demonstrated his newly invented pole boat for Washington and later enlisted his support for a steamboat. A millstone monument in the park commemorates Rumsey's other inventive talent Ð the perfecting of mill machines.
Washington's favorite horseback ride when he visited the springs takes the tour traveler west of town about three miles to the panoramic overlook at Prospect Peak. The view is virtually unchanged, with the Potomac River nearly a thousand feet below. The ancient hamlet that Washington knew as Great Cacapehon is also visible just upstream where the wild and scenic Cacapon River joins with the stately curves of the Potomac.
Washington tried to exploit the way west that he saw from the overlook, although his Powtomack Canal eventually failed. The C&O Canal was the successful 19th century version and its mule towpaths are visible along the north bank of the river in Maryland. He never even imagined the B&O Railroad that parallels the canal on the opposite bank in West Virginia and became the real way west.
Although visitors may follow the trail markers west into the West Virginia mountains to the old railroad and canal town of Paw Paw, we will turn back and continue the trail to the east.
Spruce Pine Hollow is a public roadside park along Route 9. James Rumsey had a sawmill and bloomery on the Meadow Branch along the boundary of today's park. Boards for Washington's summer home in Berkeley Springs - built by Rumsey - may have been sawed here. Stone ruins and a flume remain at the site.
&amp;nbsp;Further east, just over the Berkeley County line, is Snodgrass Tavern, currently a private residence. Portions of the log house and outbuildings date to the 1740s. Strategically located along Back Creek and what was the original old Warm Springs Road from Alexandria to Bath, it operated as a tavern for about 100 years. George Washington stayed there in 1784 as he headed to Bath.
Following Route 9 eastward, the trail enters Martinsburg, established in 1778 by General Adam Stephen and named for Thomas Martin, a nephew of Lord Fairfax.
A military colleague, Stephen had a stormy relationship with Washington beginning with the French and Indian War. Washington ultimately replaced him in 1777 with the Comte de Lafayette.
Stephen began construction of his house from native limestone in 1774. Located on landscaped grounds at 309 East John Street, the restored house is open to the public from April through October.
Always a commercial and industrial center, Martinsburg's history includes chapters on railroads, textile mills and Civil War conflicts. Each left its mark with abundant architectural treasures including the B&O Roundhouse and Station Complex and the Belle Boyd House.
The trail continues east to Shepherdstown, the first incorporated town in West Virginia under its original name of Mecklenburg.
Although James Rumsey began work on his steamboat in Berkeley Springs, it came to fruition once he moved to Shepherdstown. After a series of mishaps that seemed to be Rumsey's continual lot in life, there was a successful public trial of the boat on December 3, 1787. A handcrafted stone tobacco warehouse marked the ford where the boat set out; it still stands today on Elizabeth Steet. A sleek, Ionic column was erected in 1915 to memorialize Rumsey's great accomplishment at the site where hundreds watched the world's first steamboat. It is the centerpiece of a small park at the end of North Mill Street.
Turning south on Route 480, the tour traveler arrives at Morgan's Grove Park where, in 1775, the men of Berkeley County began the famous Bee Line March to Concord, becoming the first contingent to join in the fight for independence.
Washington returned the loyalty of the area, proposing Shepherdstown as one of the Potomac River sites to be considered as a location for the nation's capital.
The traveler continues along the sign-marked trail following Route 230 towards Charles Town.
The first of the prominent homes on the tour married into the Washington family. Beall Air is located just east of Charles Town, off Route 340. Built in the late 18th century, its brush with history came in 1859. Colonel Lewis Washington, great grandnephew of George, was rousted by John Brown's troops on their way to Harpers Ferry and taken prisoner along with the first president's sword and a pair of his dueling pistols.
Turning west, the traveler reaches the outskirts of Charles Town built on 80 acres granted by George's younger brother Charles. The land was originally part of the Washington family's first buying spree in the Panhandle and left to family members when elder brother Lawrence died in 1752.
Charles Washington built Happy Retreat in 1780 and there laid out plans for his town. He named the streets for family members and decreed that the four corners of the central square would remain public. Today, his mansion at the end of Blakely Street is in private hands. Recently, the graves of Charles Washington and his wife Mildred were found on
the grounds. One of the buildings on Charles Town's public square is the famous Jefferson County Courthouse, site of two notorious treason trials Ð John Brown in 1859 and William Blizzard of Blair Mountain fame in 1921.
The Zion Episcopal Church cemetery on Congress Steet. gives mute testimony to the pervasive influence of America's first family. Almost 80 Washington family members are buried there, including at least three George Washington namesakes.
Samuel Washington acquired substantial land along today's Route 51 in brother Lawrence's will. He built Harewood, a native limestone mansion which later hosted the wedding of Dolly and James Madison. A private residence, it alone of the family homes remains in Washington hands.
Another family home was added to Samuel's tract in 1825 when grandson John built Cedar Lawn, a white brick mansion still visible from Route 51 and today a private home.
Just off Route 340, south of Charles Town on Huyette Road, a tract of land was inherited by John Augustine Washington, who eventually divided it among his grandsons. Two of them married Blackburn sisters and in 1820 built a pair of mansions on either side of North Bullskin Run. Blakely is a private residence.
Claymont is the most elaborate of the Washington family homes. Built by Bushrod Washington, the estate was named for the red dirt. It included the largest spring in Jefferson County as well as a smaller one. Today, the pale yellow 20,000 square foot mansion is owned by the Claymont Society for Continuous Education and operated as a rather spartan bed and breakfast. Elsewhere on the 360-acre estate are gardens, orchards, a school and conference buildings.
George Washington's own acquisitions in Jefferson County date to 1750 when he began a lifelong passion for land by acquiring a 550-acre tract along Bullskin Run. More acreage followed. At his death, he was paying taxes on more than 1,500 acres in the area.
Although George Washington's footsteps are the primary focus of the trail, more than 40 other sites make the trip one of discovery for travelers interested in everything from architecture to scenic wonders. Maps, interpretive centers and signage are all on the drawing boards.
Travel Berkeley Springs - 1-800-447-8797
Martinsburg/Berkeley County CVB - 1-800-498-2386
Jefferson County CVB - 1-800-848-TOUR
Jeanne Mozier lives in Berkeley Springs and has immersed herself in the area's rich history for more than 20 years. She is a popular writer and bus tour guide, posing as George Washington's favorite barmaid.
Copyright 2000 by Wonderful West Virginia magazine and the WV Division of Natural Resources. Used with permission. All rights reserved. Photos are the property of the individual photographer(s) and may not be reprinted or reposted to the web without their permission.
Click to view the latest edition of Wonderful West Virginia, the official magazine of the Mountain State.