Historic celebrations

CHARLES TOWN — Local fans of history can look forward to more than this month’s production of “The Anvil.”

Besides the play at the historic courthouse in Charles Town where the doomed abolitionist was convicted of treason in 1859, the September calendar includes a number of somber remembrances, lectures, a gala to commemorate a future president’s 1794 wedding here, and more.

Dr. Patrick Fetta, a chiropractor from Richmond, Va., rests during a break outside Bethesda United Methodist Church near Shepherdstown. He was part of a group of about 90 Civil War re-enactors that spent Sept. 7 marching from Harpers Ferry to Maryland’s Antietam National Battlefield. This weekend brings the 150th anniversary of the battle, and special commemorations are planned, including a walk from Antietam to Shepherdstown.

A look at some of what’s happening across Jefferson County this month:

Harpers Ferry

Starting Thursday, the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park hosts a three-day extravaganza to commemorate the 1862 Battle of Harpers Ferry, which included fighting on Maryland Heights and resulted in the largest surrender of U.S. troops during the Civil War.

On Thursday, Gettysburg National Military Park historian D. Scott Hartwig will speak on the battle at 7 p.m. at Mather Training Center.

Another highlight of the event will be a lecture from Drew Gilpin Faust, Harvard University’s president since 2007. A Virginia native and a Civil War historian, Faust is the first woman to lead the school in Harvard’s 376-year history. Her free lecture, “War Stories,” begins at 7 p.m. Saturday at Mather.

The sesquicentennial celebration also will include special ranger-led hikes, bus tours, panel discussions, book signings with authors of Civil War-related books, live period music and kids activities that let youngsters dress up as Civil War soldiers for a photo op.

For a full lineup of the dozens of events, go to www.nps.gov/hafe/index.htm.



This weekend, Shepherdstown hosts a special program commemorating the town’s role in the aftermath of another, better-known Civil War battle.

The Battle of Antietam was the bloodiest single-day battle in American history, with some 23,000 Union and Confederate soldiers hurt or killed.

The fighting, which unfolded just a stone’s throw from Shepherdstown in the Maryland village of Sharpsburg, is a key part of the history of the town, which has been marking the 250th anniversary of its founding throughout this year. In the days after the Sept. 17, 1862, battle, nearly every home and business in Shepherdstown was turned into a makeshift hospital or morgue.

On Sunday, anyone is welcome to join a three-mile walk that will recreate the trek made by some 10,000 Union and Confederate soldiers who were wounded in Sept. 17, 1862.

The free walk, sponsored by Shepherdstown 250 and the Sharpsburg Heritage Festival, begins at 5:30 p.m. For details, go to www.antietamremembrance.org.

The day before, an Antietam Remembrance Illumination starts at 7 p.m. and will include the placement of 3,654 candles on the battlefield to honor each of the soldiers who died there. Saturday’s hour-long program will include an artillery salute.

On Thursday, Shepherdstown 250 will host a special program open to anyone interested in learning more about the clothing local residents made and wore in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Kathy Corpus, an assistant professor of Family and Consumer Sciences at Shepherd, will deliver the free program, which begins at 7 p.m. in Room 210 of Stutzman/Sloanker Hall, located on the northwest corner of High and King streets.

For details, contact Elise Baach (etbaach@gmail.com or phone her at 304-876-7060).

Next week, Shepherdstown 250 and the Shepherdstown Opera House are offering a special showing of two locally made videos on the fighting in Antietam and the battle’s aftermath in Shepherdstown.

The free showing, at the theater at 131 W. German St., starts at 6 p.m. Wednesday. Featured will be a 40-minute video: “Antietam: Decisions Sorely Missed,” which follows selected people at the battle showing history-making decisions each made – or failed to make – during the battle.

After a 15-minute intermission, guests will see the 54-minute video, “Shepherdstown’s Wounded Thousands.” It draws from diaries and letters of townspeople there when the grievously wounded men flooded into Shepherdstown.


Charles Town

There’s good news and bad news for those who appreciate George Washington’s ties to the area. Unlike in years past, the public this fall won’t have the chance to tour Claymont Court and other private homes with ties to the first president and his family through the Washington Homes Tour.

But the good news is good indeed: history fans can instead attend a gala to celebrate a high-profile wedding held in Charles Town in 1794.

Saturday marks the 218th anniversary of the wedding of entrenched 43-year-old bachelor (and future president) James Madison to Dolley Payne Todd, a pretty 26-year-old Quaker widow from North Carolina.

Though the pair would spend their newlywed years in Philadelphia, they began their married life at Harewood, the home built in 1770 by Samuel Washington, George Washington’s younger brother. (At the time, a sister of Dolley’s lived at Harewood with her husband, Samuel’s son, George Steptoe Washington.)

Organizers of Saturday’s event, which begins with hors d’oeuvres at 5 p.m. and includes a buffet dinner at 6 p.m., say Harewood’s elegant paneled drawing room looks nearly the same as it did when the Madisons married there.

Tickets cost $100 per person, and proceeds will go to Friends of Happy Retreat, the non-profit organization dedicated to preserving another of Jefferson County’s Washington homes.

Happy Retreat, built in 1780, belonged to Charles Washington, the first president’s youngest sibling and the man who founded Charles Town. For details on purchasing tickets, go to www.happyretreat.org.

Organizers say the Washington Homes Tour will resume in 2013.

History-related special events in Charles Town continue next week, when Discover Downtown Charles Town hosts another Third Thursday event. This month’s theme is “Charles Washington’s Town.”

The downtown fun, happening from 5 to 9 p.m. on Sept. 20, will include a concert and a Colonial dance workshop with Michael Barraclough, who will instruct participants the Virginia Reel and other traditional dances.

The free instruction, open to anyone of any age, will take place downtown on North Charles Street from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Organizers say the emphasis will be on having fun and that those taking part need neither a partner nor dance experience.

Another element of the Third Thursday: a history-themed costume contest. Organizers plan to award those who dress up with prizes in categories such as best Colonial costume, best historical character, best Civil War costume and most authentic historical costume.

And then starting at 10 a.m. on Sept. 22, Charles Town holds its third-annual Heritage Festival with highlights that will include actors portraying George and Charles Washington available to pose with visitors and a variety of guided walking tours of downtown that will allow visitors to see the Jefferson County Courthouse (built in 1837) and the nearby site where Brown was hanged as well as the locations of structures dating back to the town’s founding in 1786.

There’s also an open house planned at Fisherman’s Hall, built in 1885 and used over the years as the area’s African-American community center. The heritage festival also will feature kids activities; a first-ever pie bake-off; the 2012 Heritage Quest Historic Downtown Scavenger Hunt (available to individuals, teams, families; to register, email CTHeritageQuest@gmail.com or stop by Skipper’s Downtown Dips and Deli at 114 W. Washington St.); and the day’s finale, a concert with the band Touché at 6 p.m. at Jefferson Memorial Park. To learn more about the event, email ctheritagefestival.com or find “Charles Town Heritage Festival” on Facebook.

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