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Actor Richard Dreyfuss to help Charles Town celebrate

September 12, 2011|By RICHARD F. BELISLE | richardb@herald-mail.com
  • The Jefferson County Courthouse in Charles Town, W.Va., is seen in this Aug. 13, 2001 file photo.
The Jefferson County Courthouse in Charles Town, W.Va., is seen in this Aug. 13, 2001 file photo.

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — Oscar-winning Actor Richard Dreyfuss, a Washington family history buff, will be on hand this weekend for Charles Town’s three-day Heritage Festival.

On Friday morning, Dreyfuss will participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at the grave of Charles Washington, President George Washington’s younger brother, who in 1786 petitioned the Virginia General Assembly for permission to incorporate a town, which he named after himself.

Charles Washington spread the family name across his newly created town by naming streets after himself and his brothers George, Samuel and Lawrence, and Samuel’s wife, Mildred.

The Jefferson County Courthouse sits at the aptly named intersection of George and Washington streets.

The festival runs Friday through Sunday, said Acting City Manager Joe Cosentini. Patrons “will be able to discover Charles Town’s unique history while experiencing the region’s art and culture,” he said.

Some examples:
• It was in the Jefferson County Courthouse where abolitionist John Brown was tried in October 1859. Three months later, he was hanged on gallows a few blocks away.

• In 1922, hundreds of miners from West Virginia’s southern coal fields were brought to Charles Town on a change of venue to stand trial for treason following battles over their efforts to unionize.

• The first Rural Free Delivery U.S. Mail route began in Charles Town in 1891.

On Friday, Dreyfuss will participate in a dedication ceremony at Charles Washington’s home, Happy Retreat. The Dreyfuss Initiative, a nonprofit corporation the actor is launching to promote the teaching of civics in the country, is buying Happy Retreat for use by the foundation.

Also on Friday, the actor will speak to civics studies students at Washington High School and Jefferson High School, said Susan Sowers, coordinator of high schools for Jefferson County Schools.

Downtown streets will be closed Saturday as the city begins to toast its 225th birthday. Dreyfuss and Mayor Peggy Smith will lead off the festivities by handing out free cupcakes, followed by the signing of a huge commemorative anniversary card.

Other Saturday events include tours of the Washington family homes sponsored by Friends of Happy Retreat, carriage rides, farm-to-fork cornbread workshops and a re-enactment of Virginia’s secession vote in 1861. The day will be topped off with a barbecue at Jefferson Memorial Park and a bluegrass concert.

The Parade of Horses will highlight the activities downtown Sunday afternoon, which also will feature a sidewalk sale and wine tasting.

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