The first few days of this journey took me to the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia. Just over an hour from my home in Washington D.C. I was crossing into far eastern West Virginia. I had never really explored this area before with the exception of a few short trips to Harpers Ferry. I was pleasantly surprised at what I found. Steeped in history beginning before the American Revolution, this area was full of beautiful colonial architecture, friendly people and some really photogenic spots. It was a great introduction to the state and would make for one or several great weekend getaways from D.C, Baltimore, Harrisburg or anywhere in between.
Not to be confused with the state capital of Charleston, Charles Town takes its name from the city founder Charles Washington, youngest brother of George Washington. Many of the streets get their names from various members of the Washington family. The stately Jefferson County courthouse was the site of two of the most famous trials in West Virginia history: the trial of abolitionist and slave rebellion leader John Brown, and the trials of unionized coal miners from the Battle of Blair Mountain. While in Washington we always hear of Charles Town in association with the enormous casino and horse track there, there is actually a nice downtown area and some beautiful old houses to see. Although many could use some serious maintenance, it is still a wonderful place for a wander.
Primarily an industrial center, Martinsburg is the biggest city in the Eastern Panhandle (population about 18,000). It is a great place to stock up on supplies and the fantastic Orrs Farm Market just outside of town provided me with an abundance of fruit, vegetables and some other wonderful treats. Martinsburg has some fascinating industrial spaces to explore including the former home of Interwoven Mills, the largest men's sock manufacturer in the country and a wonderful train roundhouse that dates to 1848. The city's visitors center resides in the childhood home of the infamous Confederate spy Belle Boyd. While Martinsburg is only beginning to explore its tourism potential, it is an attractive city with lots of great history.
Dating back all the way to 1762, tiny Shepherdtown (population 2000 though enrollment at Shepherd university triples that most of the year) is probably the town most oriented to tourism in the area. With a beautiful main street, some wonderful homes and churches to look at, a few museums and some great little cafes, bars and restaurants, Shepherdstown is an easy place to while away a day or two. Nearby Antietam National Battlefield is also worth an afternoon. Though I didn't stay there, the Bavarian Inn was a beautiful place to visit and I think is very reasonable to stay at. I was really fortunate during my stay to see West Virginia Poet Laureate Marc Harshman talk at the university while I was there.
A visit to the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia was the perfect way to start my tour of the state. I enjoyed the history, the architecture and the feel of these small towns. They are all really close to some major metropolitan areas and an hour's drive will put you a world away. For more photos of these places and more, check out my West Virginia Gallery HERE.