Washington heeded Mill Creek town

GERRARDSTOWN – A Baptist minister’s stone home tucked into a hillside next to Mill Creek here drew the attention of none other than George Washington, who made note of the structure in journals he kept as a teenage surveyor for Lord Fairfax.

When the future president rode past on his way from Winchester, Va., in the late 1740s, the small two-story house built by preacher John Hayes was less than a decade old. It later would pass into the hands of another family of Baptist ministers, the Gerrards.

Founded in 1787, bucolic Gerrardstown takes its name from the Rev. David Gerrard, who lived here. He laid out the town after inheriting hundreds of acres of land from his father and encouraged settlers by offering plots for $150. The Hayes-Gerrard House was fully restored for the nation’s bicentennial in 1976. It sits alongside Dominion Road not far from W.Va. 51, 3 miles from Inwood. Gerrardstown marks its 225th birthday this fall.

Today, more than two centuries after Washington’s death, the Hayes-Gerrard House still can be seen on the site of its construction in 1742. Don Wood, the late Berkeley County historian, described the home as one of the oldest known structures in the county.

Fully restored for the nation’s bicentennial in 1976, the building that sits alongside Dominion Road is a unique piece of pioneer history situated amid hectic 21st-century life. W.Va. 51 is a stone’s throw away and Inwood and busy Interstate 81 are just three miles east.

When Washington visited, the area at the base of North Mountain was called Middletown and was known as the home of the first Baptist church established west of the Blue Ridge. Nothing of the church remains, though a stone marker situated behind the Hayes-Gerrard House shows where it once stood.

This year marks the 225th anniversary of Gerrardstown’s founding. Members of the Virginia House of Burgesses formally incorporated the village on Nov. 22, 1787.

Labeling the hamlet “Gerrardstown” made sense both to eliminate confusion created by multiple Middletowns in Virginia and to honor the Gerrard family.

After the Rev. John Gerrard died on Aug. 19, 1787, his son inherited a massive tract of land, including what today is the downtown section of Gerrardstown.

Hoping to encourage more settlers, the Rev. David Gerrard designed a town made up 40 lots, each measuring 100 feet long and 60 feet wide. Thanks also to the area’s proximity to Mills Gap, a natural gateway for travelers headed west over North Mountain, the town did prosper. It eventually boasted taverns, a tannery, lumber mill, wagon maker, two blacksmith shops, physicians’ and lawyers’ offices, a newspaper, an undertaker’s and other shops.

At one time, Gerrardstown was home to five country stores, according to Don Silvius of the Berkeley County Historical Society. Today, the one established in 1867 at the intersection of Dominion Road and W.Va. 51, is open seven days a week, selling coffee, sandwiches, lottery tickets, newspapers, cold beer and other fare, along with lots of ice cream and candy for the neighborhood’s sweet-toothed youngsters.

But the railroad never came through Gerrardstown, which kept the village from experiencing the kind of development seen in nearby towns and cities such as Inwood, Martinsburg and Winchester. It instead morphed into an agricultural mecca, home to small farmers and to orchards where thousands of bushels of apples and peaches would be harvested each year.

Today, Gerrardstown is largely a bedroom community that also attracts weekend visitors, who view the village as a time capsule they can mosey through.

History lovers come to check out the unique architecture such as the log home Marshy Dell, from 1774; Prospect Hill, a stately plantation dating to 1795; and Aspen Hall, built in the 1860s for University of Maryland-trained physician James Pendleton Carter.

Religious landmarks are another draw to the town. Mount Olive Church, created when former slaves took jobs in the orchards, hosts an annual reunion called All Days Meeting each August.

Not far from the Hayes-Gerrard House is the brick Apple Chapel, a carefully restored Gothic Revival structure that began life in 1883 as a Southern Methodist Episcopal Church – a haven for Confederate sympathizers following the Civil War – was eventually abandoned and sat unused for a half-century.

Revived by architect Kevin Lee Sarring, the Apple Chapel since 2010 has been the scene of community gatherings, art shows, weddings and other special events.

Gerrardstown also is the final resting place of Ward Hill Lamon, Abraham Lincoln’s law partner and the man seated beside him on the dais as he prepared to deliver the Gettysburg Address in 1863. Lamon’s grave can be found in the hemlock-lined cemetery beside the historic Gerrardstown Presbyterian Church, which dates to the 1790s.

In 1991, the town was designated as a National Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Though Gerrardstown is a singular destination, it has ties to communities in neighboring states. David Gerrard, who died in 1821, was part of a pioneering clan that stamped the family name – with various spellings – on communities such as Garards Fort, Pa., Garrodsburg, Ky., and Gerards Landing, Ohio.

In some historical documents, the family name is spelled Jarret. It’s believed that that explains why natives pronounce the name of their hometown not as “Gir-ards-town” as one would expect, but as “Jarrets-town.”

 

“What’s in a name?” is the Spirit’s occasional feature highlighting towns in the area. Previous installments in the series examining Bolivar, Bakerton and Scrabble may be viewed at www.Spiritofjefferson.com.

A celebration 225 years in the makingGERRARDSTOWN – Tours, living history presentations, an art show, free kids’ fun and other special events will put this historic South Berkeley town on the map Saturday as it celebrates its landmark 225th year.
“I don’t think people realize how much history there is at Gerrardstown,” said Don Silvius, a South Berkeley native who will represent the Berkeley County Historical Society at Saturday’s birthday celebration.
Silvius will be set up in the Gerrardstown Presbyterian Church Hall, where he’ll show off a display of photos of Gerrardstown from the Historical Society’s archives. He’ll also be on hand to answer questions about the town, including its early progressive attitude toward African-Americans.
“[That’s] one of the most interesting things I’ve found out about is that Gerrardstown,” he said. “As early as 1820 or so, there was a free woman of color who owned property near Gerrardstown. Then just after the Civil War, on North Mountain south of Gerrardstown, a small community grew made up entirely of African-American families. Their church and school were in the same building, and it is still standing – and on the National Registry of Historic Properties.”
Gerrardstown – located 3 miles west of Inwood on W.Va. 51 – was officially created by the Virginia House of Burgesses on Nov. 22, 1787.
Kevin Lee Sarring is the chief organizer for Gerrardstown’s big celebration, which unfolds from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and again Oct. 13.
Both days, highlights will include the chance to tour a number of 18th- and early 19th-century structures in the Gerrardstown Historic District, which has been on the National Register of Historic Places for more than two decades.
Must-see sstops on the tour include the Hayes-Gerrard House, built in 1742. One of the oldest structures in the Panhandle, the stone home includes slim ammunition drawers built in beneath the windows and a trap door from the upper level to the ground floor. Both features were designed to aid early residents who faced angry confrontations from their displaced Native American neighbors.
Visitors also can tour the Gerrardstown Presbyterian Church, built in 1892 on the site of the congregation’s original church, which had opened its doors a century earlier; the lovely church cemetery; and the church hall, built in 1912 and once a venue for live theater and for showing movies, with a box office, small balcony and unusual, floor-to-ceiling wainscoting.
Tours also will be available at the Apple Chapel, the red-brick Gothic Revival church built in 1883 and restored in 2010 by Sarring.
Additional fun for young people and other visitors during the birthday bash: a moon bounce, horse rides, face painting, re-enactors, storytelling, living history demonstrations, an art exhibition and sale, displays recounting the town’s history and a showcase of Gerrardstown memorabilia, plus a community yard sale and more.
Those who get hungry or thirsty are invited to stop by for special deals at the Corner Grocery, a recently renovated bit of mercantile history that dates to just after the Civil War.
There is no charge for any of the offerings, though organizers will accept donations to go toward new street signs for the village to highlight Gerrardstown’s place on the Washington Heritage Trail.
For more on the 225th celebration, call 304-229-3560 or find Kevin Lee Sarring on Facebook.

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