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Founder's Day honors Charles Town's history

April 08, 2001

Founder's Day honors Charles Town's history



By DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer, Charles Town


CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Charles Town resident Betsy Wells has the unique honor of being related to the family of George Washington.

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To be exact, Bushrod Washington, the grand-nephew of the first president, was Wells' great-great-great-great-grandfather.

It is an example of how deep Washington history runs in Charles Town and Jefferson County.

George Washington purchased 453 acres here after joining a surveying party to the area in 1748. His brother, Charles Washington, is credited with founding Charles Town.

There are six homes in the city and county that are linked to the Washington family, including Claymont Court, an impressive mansion that was built by Bushrod Washington just south of town.

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Despite the history, Wells said there are many people who do not realize it exists.

"I spend a lot of time talking about who we are. We have such a rich history here in Charles Town and no one knows about it," said Wells.

Wells and others will tell the story next month when they hold the Founder's Day celebration.

One of the highlights of the celebration, to be held May 4-6, will be a tour of the graveyard at Zion Episcopal Church, where more than 70 Washingtons are buried. "More than anyplace in the U.S.," Wells proudly adds.

Following services at the church along Congress Street on May 6, local resident Roger Perry will invite visitors to see the cemetery. In past years, Perry said it has been hard to conduct a large tour of the cemetery, so he simply hands out maps explaining where all the burial spots are and lets visitors investigate for themselves.

"I love the history," Perry said.

Other events planned for the celebration will be a panel discussion about a new historical district in town that recognizes sites relating to African-American history, tours of black historic sites and a parade of horses in town.

The first Founder's Day celebration was held in 1997. The main organizers were Wells and Nan Furioso, an avid supporter of local history who became well-known for her public tours of the historic Jefferson County Courthouse.

Furioso died last year, and organizers of Founder's Day decided not to hold the celebration.

"Nobody felt up to doing it," Wells said.

But this year, organizers decided to bring the event back - with some new twists.

Borrowing from a similar attraction that was used for a celebration that was held in Harpers Ferry, Founder's Day will offer what it is calling "Mildred's Attic."

Organizers are asking people on Mildred Street and other streets in town to dig through their attics for any interesting items that might illustrate Charles Town's past.

Wells said she does not know of anything particularly interesting in people's attics along Mildred Street, but she remains hopeful.

"We'll just have to twist a few arms and see what people have. I'm sure I could find something here if I went through it," Wells said.

The collection of attic items will be displayed in the auditorium of the Charles Town Library on Saturday, May 5.

The parade of horses, to be held the same day at 2 p.m., is meant to celebrate the town's horse racing history and rural way of life. Up to 80 horses have been in some of the past parades, Wells said.

Sites in the newly created historic district in town recognizes Fisherman's Hall, which was a local chapter of a national self-help organization for African Americans in 1885, the Webb house, which was one of the first stone houses built in the area by freed slaves and the School for Freed Slaves at 819 Martin Luther King Boulevard.

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