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Summer regatta to honor Rumsey

December 11, 1998|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Even though he was credited with putting the first steamboat into operation here, James Rumsey's accomplishment lives largely in obscurity.

Rumsey even died without a trace.

The inventor was buried in a pauper's cemetery somewhere in London without a stone to mark his resting place, said Shepherdstown resident Jay Hurley.

But a group of Shepherdstown residents say it's time to give Rumsey his due, and the recognition will come in the form of a three-day celebration next July.

Part of the Rumsey Regatta will include the launching of a replica of Rumsey's steamboat into the Potomac River off Princess Street.

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The blue wooden boat has been in the river a couple of times, including a 1987 run to commemorate the bicentennial of Rumsey's first steamboat trip.

"The important thing we want to bring out is he did a lot of other important things" besides inventing a steamboat, said Hurley, a Rumseian Society member who helped build the replica.

Rumsey also perfected water wheels for mills and water turbines, said Hurley. In the patent office in London, there are five pages worth of inventions attributed to Rumsey, Hurley said.

Local developer Ken Lowe, who has been considering the event for years as a way to spotlight the town's history, announced the event Thursday morning at the Rumsey monument off Mill Street.

The regatta, which will be held July 30 through Aug. 1, will include a golf tournament, parade and street dance, a grand regatta ball and the "Ridge to River Race," a relay that will involve bicycling, running and canoeing, said Mayor Vince Parmesano.

Lowe said the event will be a way to celebrate a homecoming for Shepherdstown, which he called "one of the greatest small towns in America."

Rumsey, who lived in Shepherdstown and Berkeley Springs, first demonstrated the steamboat in a ride on the Potomac on Dec. 3, 1787.

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