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On the trail of George Washington in the Panhandle

March 26, 2004|by ANDREA ROWLAND

andrear@herald-mail.com

"I think myself benefitted from the water and am not without hope of their making a cure for me - a little time will show now."

- George Washington, writing to the Rev. Charles Green from Warm Springs (now Berkeley Springs, W.Va.) on Aug. 26, 1761




For at least two of the nearly 30 sites along the Washington Heritage Trail in West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle, it's true to say "George Washington slept here." He also bathed in Berkeley Springs, owned land in and around the town, supported industry throughout the Panhandle - and documented his connections to the area then known as Western Virginia in dozens of letters, diary entries and other writings.

Washington's first visit to the westernmost edge of the Eastern Panhandle dates to March 1748, when the teenage surveyor and his party visited "ye fam'd warm springs" after the flooded Potomac River delayed their task of surveying the western limits of Lord Fairfax's lands. In 1750, Washington purchased as his first piece of property the Bullskin Run Plantation in Jefferson County, according to the Washington Heritage Trail Web site at www.washingtonheritagetrail.com. Washington and his sickly half-brother, Lawrence, also traveled in 1750 and 1751 to the then-wild area known as Warm Springs or Frederick Springs to soak in the 74.3-degree waters that flowed from the ground - and still do - at a rate of about 2,000 gallons per minute.

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Washington would return to the area multiple times over the next three decades - and prize until his death his land holdings on the untamed frontier.

The Washington Heritage Trail pays homage to Washington's and his family's connection to West Virginia. The longer than 136-mile trail makes a scenic loop through Jefferson, Berkeley and Morgan counties. The trail features a number of sites with direct ties to Washington and his family, including:

  • Charles Town, which was laid out in 1786 on 80 acres of land donated by George Washington's brother, Charles Washington. Charles named all the streets in his namesake town after Washington family members.

  • Zion Episcopal Church and Cemetery in Charles Town, where more than 70 Washington family members are buried.

  • Claymont Court, the only one of the local Washington family homes still open to the public. George Washington's great-nephew, Bushrod Corbin Washington, built the sumptuous Claymont Court just south of Charles Town in 1820. The estate includes the magnificent main house, formal gardens and massive brick stables. The nonprofit Claymont Society for Continuous Education now hosts a variety of retreats and educational programs on the property.

  • Harewood, along W.Va. 51 near Charles Town. George Washington's brother, Samuel Washington, built this native limestone mansion in 1770. Dolly and James Madison were later married there. Washington descendants live in the private home today.

  • Beall Air, just east of Charles Town. Thomas Beall built this house in the late 18th century, and Washington's great-grandnephew Col. Lewis William Washington lived at Beall Air from 1840 to 1871. Abolitionist John Brown's troops took the colonel - and George Washington's sword and dueling pistols - prisoner in 1859.

  • Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. Washington worked with Congress in 1794 to establish a federal arsenal and armory at the Ferry.

  • Shepherdstown, the first incorporated town in West Virginia under its original name of Mecklenburg. Washington proposed Shepherdstown as one of the sites to be considered as a location for the nation's capital.

  • Adam Stephen House in Martinsburg, circa 1774. Major Gen. Adam Stephen served with Washington in the French and Indian War and the Revolutionary War. The men eventually had a falling out due to Stephen's propensity for drunkenness, local historian Jeanne Mozier said. Washington ultimately replaced Stephen in 1777 with the Comte de Lafayette.

  • Snodgrass Tavern, circa 1740s. Situated along Back Creek and what was the original Warm Springs Road from Alexandria, Va., to Bath (Berkeley Springs), the tavern provided food and lodging for travelers until 1847. George Washington ate and spent the night there Sept. 5, 1784, en route to Bath. The Fuss family purchased the 300-acre property in 1868, and it has remained in the family since then. Descendants John Gonano and his sister, Dawn, now reside on the property. The historic stone and clapboard home is not open for tours, but the Gonanos invite trail travelers to pull off W.Va. 9 for a glimpse of the large home's exterior, carriage house, barn and stone building that once housed slaves, a blacksmith shop and ice house.

  • Town of Bath/Berkeley Springs, a healing destination for American Indians and colonialists long before Lord Fairfax conveyed his land holdings at the springs and surrounding area to the Colony of Virginia in 1776. Legislation to establish a town at the springs - Bath - was passed in December of that year, Mozier said. In 1777, Washington bought two lots in Bath.

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