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Heritage area idea pitched in Jefferson Co.

December 08, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Paul Pritchard thinks an impressive history of transportation in Shepherdstown, W.Va., and surrounding areas is waiting to be told.

The obvious points of interest would be sites like Pack Horse Ford, a spot on the Potomac River near Shepherdstown where Indians and Civil War soldiers crossed the river. First settlers in Virginia used Pack Horse Ford to cross the river and transported their valuables on "pack horses."

Or Harpers Ferry, W.Va., where Robert Harper operated a ferry service across the Shenandoah River in the 1700s, and the Potomac River in Shepherdstown where steamboat inventor James Rumsey tested his craft.

Then there are the more unknown sites, like the Great Philadelphia Wagon Road, which came through Shepherdstown in the 1700s and was a main route for people heading to the Shenandoah Valley or the Ohio River Valley, Pritchard said.

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Unique historical areas in other parts of the country have been designated as National Heritage Areas, and Pritchard thinks a National Heritage Area should be established locally to pay tribute to the transportation history in Shepherdstown and surrounding areas.

National Heritage Areas do not protect a site, but rather give "a sense of framework" to unique areas, which can spur tourism through historical interpretive programs that can be offered about them, said Pritchard, who proposed the idea Thursday to the Jefferson County Commission.

Pritchard asked commission members to endorse his idea, and they agreed.

National Heritage Areas are designated by Congress and two exist in West Virginia, including the Wheeling National Heritage Area, which pays tribute to a steel suspension bridge in Wheeling, W.Va., Pritchard said. The other site is the National Coal Heritage Area in the southern part of the state, Pritchard said.

The entire state of Tennessee is a National Heritage Area, Pritchard said.

Pritchard said unique transportation history exists throughout the area. Pritchard, who lives near Shepherdstown, said he would like to see communities like Brunswick, Md., and Hancock get involved too, given the transportation history that exists around their communities, such as the C&O Canal.

Possible outcomes of the project could be historical signs and other interpretive efforts to tell the stories and maps outlining the points of interest, Pritchard said.

Commission President Greg Corliss said he supports the idea. Although a National Heritage Area designation does not provide protection for an area, Corliss said he would like to see the commission develop a "historical overlay" zone for the area along the Potomac River from Shepherdstown to Harpers Ferry to protect the area from development.

"It would be a shame to have that all developed, in my opinion. We just need to be sensitive to what we have," Corliss said.

Corliss said a National Heritage Area designation would blend with other local historical programs, like the Washington Heritage Trail, a car route through the Eastern Panhandle that shows tourists the spas and vistas George Washington enjoyed when he visited the area.

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