Shepherdstown's history comes alive in new book

October 03, 2005|by DAVE McMILLION

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - James Rumsey's steamboat, mills that harnessed the flow of Town Run to manufacture products and downtown businesses like Upton S. Martin's Opera House are among the images contained in a new history book about Shepherdstown.

For author Dolly Nasby, working on the book showed her how uniquely vibrant Shepherdstown has been over the years.

Nasby noted how Shepherdstown is referred to as "Georgetown West," with its offerings that range from the annual Contemporary American Theater Festival at Shepherd University to upscale restaurants.

"It's always been an important little town and it's always been a cut above the towns around it," said Nasby, a retired history teacher who has completed three pictorial history books about local towns.


Her previous books were about the history of the Jefferson County, W.Va., towns of Harpers Ferry and Charles Town. The books were published by Arcadia Publishing, the largest publisher of regional history books in North America.

About 200 pictures appear in the Shepherdstown book and Nasby said she relied heavily on private photo collections to make up the book.

Many of the photographs were provided by Jim Surkamp, a member of the Jefferson County Commission.

Nasby said she contacted Surkamp through his Web site and Surkamp responded immediately to help her.

"He has a wealth of knowledge about the area. It just pours out of his brain," said Nasby, who uses her maiden name as her pen name. Nasby's married name is Dolly Wojcik, and she and her husband live off Best Road near Uvilla, a small unincorporated area south of Shepherdstown.

Surkamp, who has studied local history in-depth, said he obtained about 1,000 photographs from seven private collections. After winning the trust of owners of the collections, Surkamp said he scanned the images into his computer.

Surkamp said what he likes about the book on Shepherdstown is that the images of the people convey a more warm, intimate feel that is not typically seen in photos from other towns in the area.

"I can't help (but) think that comes across," Surkamp said.

Photos in the book include one showing the ruins of the White Henkle Woolen Mill along Town Run that operated in the 1850s, a ferry that once operated on the Potomac River and the construction of the Rumsey Bridge across the Potomac River. Today, that bridge stands on the brink of dismantlement as a new bridge carries traffic between Shepherdstown and Washington County, Md.

A handful of photos relates to steam engines that once chugged through the area. The book says Upton S. Martin's Opera House, which was on German Street, boasted several firsts such as a continuous show, a ventilation system, a pipe organ and reserved seating.

There is a picture of the model of the steamboat designed by James Rumsey, who Nasby points out is the "true steamboat inventor." Robert Fulton later demonstrated a steamboat in 1803 and was given credit for the invention, she said.

Rumsey successfully demonstrated his steamboat from a ferry landing off Princess Street in 1786 and a monument honoring the feat was established on a site overlooking the Potomac River in 1915.

Nasby's book, which sells for $19.99, is available at area bookstores, independent retailers, online bookstores and through Arcadia Publishing at

The Herald-Mail Articles