1 trail that charts 5 charming small towns

The 136-mile Washington Heritage Trail traces the footsteps of George Washington through picturesque 18th century towns in the Eastern Panhandle.

This National Scenic Byway showcases the area’s natural beauty and historic landmarks that helped form our nation. It also connects 5 charming historic towns in the panhandle, each with its own unique scene and story.

Here are just a few of the fascinating points of interest you will discover along the towns of the trail:

1. Harpers Ferry

With its collection of museums and restored buildings, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park captures the look and feel of the town as it was in its 1859 heyday. The town is perhaps best known as the site of John Brown’s 1859 raid on the armory – a key event leading to the American Civil War.

High on the hill above St. Peter’s Church, Jefferson Rock offers a sweeping view of the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers against their backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The rock is named for Thomas Jefferson, who stood there in 1783 and later described the view as “one of the most stupendous scenes in nature” in his publication “Notes on the State of Virginia.”

2. Shepherdstown

In Shepherdstown, the 8-room, 2-story Peter Burr House, circa 1751, is the oldest-standing wood frame structure in West Virginia. Peter was the brother of Aaron Burr, Sr., president of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) and father of U.S. Senator and Vice President Aaron Burr, Jr. The property is being restored as the Peter Burr Living History Farm.

Built in 1786, the Entler Hotel served a number of other uses over the years, including grocery store, tavern, Civil War hospital, dormitory and storage facility. Today it houses the Historic Shepherdstown Museum.

3. Charles Town

In Charles Town, the Jefferson County Courthouse and Museum marks the site of 2 major American treason trials. This was where John Brown and his men were tried after their 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry. Following a guilty verdict, Brown and 6 of his men were hanged nearby.

Dedicated in 1851, Zion Episcopal Church housed Union troops during the Civil War. Numerous prominent West Virginia citizens are buried in the church graveyard, including more than 70 members of the Washington family.

4. Martinsburg

The Belle Boyd House in Martinsburg, built in 1853, was home to the famous Civil War spy of the same name. Boyd was a Confederate spy and confidante of General Stonewall Jackson, and even shot and killed a Union soldier who entered her home in 1861. Ironically, Boyd married a Union officer after the war and moved to London to become an actress.

Martinsburg founder Adam Stephen served in the French and Indian War as 2nd in command to George Washington and was promoted to general during the Revolutionary War for his part in the Battle of Trenton. The General Adam Stephen House, built from local limestone in 1774, has been restored and furnished to its 1780-1820 period glory. It connects to a cave from the basement, which historians believe was supposed to be for protection in case the house came under attack.

5. Berkeley Springs

Long before Berkeley Springs State Park was established, Native American tribes had discovered the healing powers of its warm mineral waters. European settlers learned of the waters from them, and word attracted notables like young George Washington, who had come to the area to survey.

Built in 1815, the park’s Roman Bath House is the oldest public building in Berkeley Springs. Outdoors, a spring bubbles from George Washington’s Bathtub, recreated out of stone to represent early bathing conditions.

Just outside the tiny town of Paw Paw, the 24-foot-high Paw Paw Tunnel is the largest manmade structure on the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal. Construction began in 1836, and it took 14 years to carve the 3,118-foot-long tunnel out of the mountain. Today, it’s part of the towpath that makes up C&O Canal National Historical Park.

Which of these historic sites is your favorite?

Order a Travel Guide


This post was last updated on July 23, 2020