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Berkeley and Jefferson Counties

A Brief History*

Berkeley and Jefferson Counties provide the perfect landscape for house and garden tours. The area's history, architecture and horticulture is as rich and varied as the individuals who settled the area centuries ago. The buildings and homes that have been on the tour over the years provide tangible elements of this region's history and include fascinating accounts of the players and plots over time.

Berkeley County

Most historians believe that this county was named for Norborne Berkeley, Baron de Botetourt (1718-1770), who was Colonial Governor of Virginia from 1768 to 1770.

Although this region of Virginia had been explored and mapped previously, it was in 1729 that Berkeley County welcomed its first recorded settler, Morgan Morgan. As word of the new territory spread, migration began, primarily from the north, but also from other parts of Virginia..

Berkeley County claims as its own six well-known officers from the Revolutionary War: Major General Horatio Gates, Major General Charles Lee, Major General Adam Stephen, General Daniel Morgan, General William Darke, and Colonel Hugh Stephenson. Three of these generals established homes in what is now known as Jefferson County, as the boundary between these counties was established in 1801.

The town of Martinsburg was laid out on 130 acres owned by General Adam Stephen, who named the town for Thomas Bryan Martin, a nephew of Lord Fairfax. Martinsburg became the county seat in 1772.

In 1842, the B&O Railroad arrived and led to Martinsburg’s huge economic and architectural expansion. This era of prosperity is obvious in the architecture of many of the county's homes and buildings.

Events of the early 1860s wreaked havoc on the county. Berkeley County provided seven companies of soldiers during the Civil War, of which five fought with the Confederacy and two with the Union. It was during this period that Berkeley County left Virginia and became part of the newly-formed West Virginia..

Jefferson County

Jefferson County was named in honor of Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) who was president at the time of its formation.

Although Jefferson County was formed from Berkeley County in 1801, the area was already thriving. Charles Town, which ultimately became the county seat, was founded in 1786 by Charles Washington, youngest brother to the first president of the United States. Five homes in and near Charles Town were built by members of the Washington family between 1770 and 1825.

Robert Harper obtained a grant of 125 acres from Lord Fairfax in 1748 and established a ferry and a town near the junction of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. It was in Harpers Ferry that George Washington established the second armory and arsenal in the United States..

Shepherdstown, originally New Mecklenburg, was founded in 1727 by several German immigrant families. In 1798, the town was renamed in honor of Captain Thomas and Elizabeth Shepherd. Shepherdstown was home to James Rumsey, recognized as the first man to propose the use of steam to propel vessels. On December 3, 1787, he sailed his steamer on the Potomac River. General George Washington was among those who witnessed the event.

Jefferson County was the scene of the famous insurrection, John Brown's Raid, which came to its bitter end at Harpers Ferry. Charles Town was the place of Brown's trial and his execution on December 2, 1859..

Jefferson County buildings and homes also saw much destruction throughout the Civil War. Many of the county's towns repeatedly changed hands. Today, twenty-five obelisk-shaped markers indicate sites of battles and skirmishes within the county. In 1863 Jefferson County joined Berkeley County as part of the new state of West Virginia..

*This information is taken from and printed with the permission of Wendy C. Kedzierski, editor and author of "Shenandoah House & Garden".