Theater, music, craft distilleries, boutique shopping, delicious food, and gorgeous views of nature wrapped up in Southern hospitality: Sounds like refinement, right? Yet those usually aren’t the things that come to my mind when considering West Virginia. If you think this Appalachian state has nothing but rednecks and country music, well, the village of Shepherdstown is going to change your mind.
Warm and welcoming, Shepherdstown is tucked into the panhandle of West Virginia, close to the state’s borders with Maryland and Virginia. Situated right along the Potomac River and chartered in 1762, this sustainable, green town retains its quaint, historic charm. Because of its location near several historic battlefields — including Antietam — as well as its reputation as the birthplace of James Rumsey’s steamboat, it is a sure draw for history buffs, while art and food lovers will find plenty to savor with the town’s rich artistic and culinary communities.
What to Do
Take a walk down tree-lined German Street, Shepherdstown’s main commerce district, and you’ll find plenty of things to see. Boutique shops line the street, offering everything from clothing and accessories to shoes and handbags to antiques and art. Many of the shops in town are dog-friendly; look for the stickers on the doors if you’re strolling with a pooch.
You absolutely must stop by Dickinson & Wait Craft Gallery for local and American-made fine crafts, as well as Plum (which we consider to be the best-named shop in town). Be sure to pop in Grapes & Grains Gourmet for a wonderful selection of wine, beer, and cheese to complement your afternoon or evening, and don’t miss Four Seasons Books for delightful new and used tomes.
Keep an eye out for the town run, a stream which runs around houses and shops and under streets, as well as the Little House, a kiddie-scale replica of a two-story stone farmhouse which was once used as a tool to help student teachers at the university interact with local children. For information on the many historical spots in town — including the library, James Rumsey monument, and local history museum — stop by the Visitors Center at 129 East German Street or visit HistoricShepherdstown.com for an in-depth history lesson and town walking tour.
Recently voted one of the world’s top theater towns by PolicyMic, Shepherdstown is a haven for music and theater lovers. Shepherd University hosts the Contemporary American Theater Festival every summer from July to August. The festival features world premieres of new productions by well-known playwrights, which often go on to Broadway and other larger venues.
On the musical front, the town regularly welcomes local and nationally-recognized musicians at various venues, including the Mecklenburg Inn, Shepherdstown Opera House, and The Blue Moon. Fans of traditional Celtic and folk tunes will enjoy the music jam every Thursday night at O’Hurley’s General Store on Washington Street. Keep your ears open while you’re strolling through town; you never know when you might hear live tunes trickling out of someone’s shop door.
Art and fine craft lovers should be sure to visit during the fall, when several art events take place. In September is the annual Mountain Heritage Arts & Crafts Festival, a juried show featuring approximately 200 artisans demonstrating and showcasing their work as well as food, wine, and live music. November brings the Over the Mountain Studio Tour, an 8-stop driving tour featuring 22 selected local artisans.
For a full listing of theater, musical, art, history, and other fun local events, check out the Visitors Center’s event page.
If you’ve a mind to venture, outdoor types will have a blast hiking, biking, rafting, and boating on the Potomac River and Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Canal. Shepherdstown Pedal and Paddle, a local outfitter with a shopfront right on German Street, offers canoe, kayak, and bike rentals as well as river trips, guided tours, and shuttle service between town and water. For those hiking or biking along the C&O, Canal Discoveries gives you access to information about hidden gems and points of interest along the trail via your computer or mobile device.
Just down the road, in Charles Town, is a must-stop for craft brew afficianados. The award-winning Bloomery Plantation Distillery is tucked away on top of a woodsy hill, its yellow stone and wood building giving off an air of history and whimsy, while off to the side raspberry bushes flourish and a large greenhouse shelters lemon trees and Hawaiian ginger. On Fridays and Saturdays inside the tasting room, you’ll join snarky and exuberant “fun”-tenders to sample the fruits of owners Tom Kiefer and Linda Losey’s creative labors: classic limoncello, hard lemonade, and “SweetShine” cordials with flavors like black walnut, ginger, and chocolate raspberry — made from fruit grown right on the property. As evening falls, you can grab a cocktail, pull up a chair outside, and enjoy live music. I highly recommend you go home with at least one bottle of CremmaLemma, a rare cream limoncello that tastes like liquid lemon cheesecake.
If wineries are more your style, there are several lovely specimens just 35 minutes away, across the Virginia border in Purcellville. Breaux Vineyards is one of the area’s largest wineries, covering 404 rolling acres; visit their beautiful tasting room and see why I fell in love with their 2008 Syrah. Nearby, Doukenie Winery boasts a unique Sangiovese red as well as a wide porch with spectacular views of vineyards and farmland, while Hillsboro Vineyards offers Old World charm and their 2010 Bloodstone red against a Blue Ridge Mountains backdrop.
Where to Stay
Right on Shepherdstown’s main street, at the edge of all the action, sits The Thomas Shepherd Inn, a historic Federal-style bed and breakfast. The six available rooms are beautifully appointed with antiques and West Virginia-made furniture, and the back garden offers a spot to relax after a day of fun in town. Breakfast is served to guests every morning, and tea, coffee, cider, and hot chocolate are always ready to sip throughout the day.
Those looking for a true retreat will fall in love with the Inn at Moler’s Crossroads, a modern B&B located between woods and fields a few miles outside of town, not far off the Potomac. Art aficionados will enjoy the collection of local and internationally-sourced art throughout the Inn, while wine lovers will appreciate the evening wine and cheese reception. Owner Sandra Taylor, a world traveler and trained sommelier, keeps the Inn’s temperature-controlled wine cellar well stocked. Guests can also take advantage of the relaxing outdoor spaces, including the wrap-around front porch, back patio, fire pit, and shaded hammock. For those who travel with canine companions, the Inn has several dog-friendly rooms.
For true Old World elegance, the Bavarian Inn offers rooms and suites right on the Potomac River. Guests can enjoy tennis, a putting green, and exercise room as well as a full swimming pool and brand new infinity pool and an on-site gourmet restaurant.
Where to Eat
For such a small town, Shepherdstown is packed with dining establishments that create good food from local ingredients. On our first night in town, we sat down in the walled garden at Blue Moon Cafe on High Street, where we enjoyed handcrafted sandwiches and cider on tap while watching the town run trickle by. If you’re in the mood for creative American fare and craft beer, stroll on in to Domestic; their menu changes weekly depending on what they get from the local farmers.
Super foodies will want to make reservations at The Press Room on German Street, thus named for the newspaper printing press once housed in its building. One of Shepherdstown’s most popular establishments, they serve up a fresh, seasonal, and locally-sourced menu with an American flair. Another mainstay, The Yellow Brick Bank, serves up an eclectic menu with an American-Italian flair and an emphasis on seafood, while the Bavarian Inn toward the edge of town is known for its extensive German and American menu and offers multiple dining options, including the formal Potomac and Hunt Rooms and the more casual pub-style Rathskellar.
For a quick bite, Maria’s Taqueria makes fresh to-go Mexican fare, while Mellow Moods provides vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free baked goods, lunches, and fresh-pressed juices (try the Green Lemonade). If you want the best sushi in town, go to Kazu, where you can also find some really nice Thai dishes. For a truly unique coffee experience, make sure you stop by Lost Dog for the quirky decor and a surprisingly refreshing “Wet Dog” — espresso, vanilla, milk, and seltzer over ice, topped with an orange slice.
Everywhere we went in Shepherdstown we were met by friendly, gracious people who made our visit even more special. Whatever you end up doing during your stay, you’re sure to come home refreshed — and ready to go back for more.
The author received a discounted rate at The Inn at Moler’s Crossroad as part of this review.
All photos are courtesy of the author.