Historic Hampshire County, WV
West Virginia's Oldest County

Hampshire County, West Virginia Settlement And Early Growth.

Hampshire County was a part of the land grant issued to Lord Fairfax in 1691 and later surveyed by George Washington in 1747-1748. The first settlement was in 1735 at the mouth of South Branch. As the existence of open country along the river was soon made known, settlers pushed up the valley to locate their homes. The region as a whole became Hampshire County in 1754 and remained so until after the French and Indian War, which closed in 1761.

During the troublesome times of that war, Hampshire County was a frontier region with its lines of travel protected by forts. Fort Cox at the mouth of Little Cacapon guarded the road along the Potomac and the trail up the valley of the Little Cacapon. Fort Capon at the Forks of Cacapon guarded what remained of the settlement at the east end of Bloomery Gap and the road toward the important colonial town of Winchester. Fort Edwards at Capon Bridge guarded another line of communication with that same town. Fort Pearsall, half a mile south of where Romnev was located, guarded an important line of travel that had previously developed along South Branch, south toward what is now Hardy and Pendleton Counties and farther west. Each fort thus located also served as a rallying point in case of need. The area had not been subject to Indian attack prior to that time, but during the French and Indian War, the Indians were a constant menace, and in 1755 to 1758 invaded Hampshire County and killed settlers as far east as near the Forks of Cacapon. During that time Hampshire County was essentially depopulated, the only families remaining being under the protection of Fort Edward at Capon Bridge and of Fort Pearsall (near Romney).

In 1762, the year following the close of the French and Indian War, Lord Fairfax established Romney a little to the north of Fort Pearsall. The population of the county continued to increase through the time of the Revolution until in 1782 it was able to furnish a company of militia to aid in guarding the settlers in the valley of Cheat River from invasion by the Indians.

The influx of settlers at the close of the Revolution was so pronounced that in 1786 Hardy County was set off as a separate county, and likewise Pendleton in 1788. In 1795, the date of Wayne's treaty of peace with the Indians, a great movement of settlers toward the West began to which the entire valley of South Branch contributed. Here within the county the movement was south toward Greenbrier and West toward Clarksburg and Parkersburg.

Morgan County remained a part of Hampshire County during all the early years of development until 1820. Mineral and Grant were parts of Hampshire County until after the Civil War, when in 1866 they were set off as separate counties.

Lines Of Travel.

The development of emigration westward along the Potomac toward the Ohio, and along the James to the Kanawha, was accompanied by a movement westward from Winchester, resulting in a State road in 1786 from Winchester via Capon Bridge and Hanging Rock Gap to Romney, where stage lines from Greenspring on the north and Moorefield on the south soon centered and a line went west via Mechanicsburg and Burlington to Cumberland in 1830. By 1845 a stage line ran from Romney to Morgantown and to Clarksburg and then to Parkersburg. Even before that time the National Road from Baltimore to Cumberland was extended from Cumberland to Wheeling and in 1818 opened for travel. The construction of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal for the transportation of freight, which canal passes close to the northern border of Hampshire County, did not progress so rapidly. It was not completed until 1850. Up to 1830 flatboats went down South Branch with flour and iron for Washington and Alexandria.

In 1801 plans were begun for a road from Romney through Berkeley County. In 1842 the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was completed from Baltimore to Cumberland, passing through Greenspring, and later extended to the Ohio. The branch from Greenspring to Romney was not completed until 1884. It was extended to Petersburg in 1910.

Much of the good-roads work so important locally and so well begun came to a halt during the Civil War, when nearly every bridge in the county was destroyed. In recent years the use of the automobile has again aroused our citizens to the need of good roads, and the work of improvement is progressing rapidly.

Early Productions.

The wide lowlands of Hampshire County certainly invited agriculture, and fields of wheat and tobacco surrounded the important truck-patch of the settler. The rolling uplands offered pasturage for horses, cattle, sheep, and hogs, which were driven across country to market at Winchester. The streams abounded in fish and the mountains contained not only game but timber and stone for the early settler's home. The limestone was burned for lime at Bloomery Gap, where remains of old lime-kilns give evidence of an early industry. Soon it was discovered that some of the strata contained iron ore. Much of it was transported to Keyser, from an area along South Branch south of the present limits of the county. In Bloomery Gap a ruined furnace still stands, mute evidence of another former industry. In the early days the increasing population stimulated not only farming and grazing but every industry of a new country. James Morton Callahan, in his History of West Virginia, Volume I, page 135, tells us of these early industries as follows:

"In 1800, Robert Sherrard built at Bloomery a large stone-mill and also a woolen-mill. William Fox built a merchant mill at Fox's Hollow in 1818, and shipped flour by boat to Georgetown. Hammock Mills, flour and woolen, was another very early plant. Also the Painter mill was a pioneer establishment on North River about a century ago. Colonel Fox established a tannery in 1818 in Fox's Hollow, which was operated until the Civil War. Another tan-yard was on Dillons Run, and Samuel Gard had another extensive tannery at Capon Bridge prior to 1820. New methods came in and the leather trade in this State had to succumb to the advance of this industry and improved machinery. Distilleries were located at many points in the county."

Of the iron industry at Bloomery Gap he also says:

"The Bloomery furnaces, ruins of which are still to be seen, were built and operated by a Mr. Priestly and were being run in 1833. Large quantities of iron were made and shipped over the Cacapon River on rafts and flatboats. S. A. Pancoast purchased the furnaces in 1848, and after his death they continued in other hands until 1875."

At the present time the property is under the care of Webster H. Wyand, of Hagerstown, Maryland.

Early Churches.

Not only in a material way were the people of the county developing wealth but in an even more important way did they continue to advance. The early missionaries helped to sustain the religious faith of the early inhabitants. In 1775 two Baptist missionaries among a group of settlers moved to Cacapon and organized the first church in the county. In 1771 the work of the Methodist Episcopal Church was begun, in which later developments led to the formation of the Methodist Episcopal Church South. In 1753 Hampshire County had been formed into a parish by the Protestant Episcopal Church and in 1773 a missionary sent by that church began work. In 1787 a Primitive Baptist Church was established at North River. Soon after the Revolution there was preaching by the Presbyterians at different points in the county. In 1792 a Presbyterian Church was organized at Romney and another at Three Churches.

Early Schools.

In those early days the opportunities for schooling were entirely in "subscription" schools. In 1810 a literary fund was established to assist those who could not afford their share in the subscription. In 1845 school districts were established and soon provisions made for district schools for the white children, provided two-thirds of the voters would vote the additional levy. It was against the law to teach a negro to read. When the Legislature of the new State of West Virginia met in 1863 it laid the foundation for free public schools that from meager beginnings has evolved into the present plan of public schools.

At Romney there had been better facilities for a common school education than in the county generally. The oldest schoolhouse in the county was known as Romney Academy, which continued in use until perhaps 1845 when the Romney Classical Institute was built under the influence of the Romney Literary Society, and, excepting during the war, continued in rise until it became the property of the new State School for the Deaf, Dumb, and Blind, established in 1870, now an honor to any State. Near 1851 there was a second school, a seminary, at Romney, and at Springfield there was an academy from 1854 to 1861.

The Civil War.

In 1860 Hampshire County had a population of 12,481 white and 1,213 colored, and the sympathies of the people were largely with the South. All advances in prosperity received a severe check as the Civil War came on. The early events in the western part of what was then Virginia culminating at Cheat Mountain made it clear to General Lee that the lines of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in western Virginia and that the Kanawha Valley could not be held without sending large armies to those regions, where they would have to operate at a distance from their base of supplies. He retired east of the Blue Ridge but endeavored to maintain control of the Shenandoah Valley. This gave him a short inner line of communication in the critical area, but it placed most of Hampshire County between his main area of operation and the line of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad through the northern edge of the county. This line remained in the possession of the Federal troops most of the time from the fall of Harpers Ferry in May, 1861, to the close of the war, though subject to attack, and cut by the Confederate Army at times, as on the advances that led to Antietam and to Gettysburg.

For a while the local Confederate Army had its center of operation south of Moorefield, from which place there was communication along the old stage route with Winchester. Repeated advances northward past Romney, and counter advances of Federal troops whose headquarters were at Keyser and Cumberland led to a change of occupation of Romney at least fifty-six times. The early stage routes along the valleys became routes of opposing movements, the narrow passes and mountain trails offered ready concealment for rangers, and the roads eastward past Capon Bridge and Bloomery Gap were lines that each army had to control during its movement along the Shenandoah Valley just east of Hampshire County.

As a result of this prolonged exposure Hampshire County began its new era following the war with nearly all its bridges broken down, its highways out of repair, its fields uncultivated, its property damaged, and, most of all, a depletion in population of the manhood so much needed. But under the new conditions the population rallied to the work of repair. Again the fields were cultivated, again the wealth of forest sought, and the streams restocked with fish. The latest types of agricultural implements have been introduced, the use of fertilizers employed to prevent the depletion of the soil, and advantage taken of the fine conditions for fruit, especially peaches and apples, and mutual helpfulness inaugurated in agricultural societies. Under the fruits of such energy the county has rapidly recovered. It bore its part in the World War, and now looks forward to renewed prosperity.

Taken from: West Virginia Geological Survey, Hampshire and Hardy Counties, by John L. Tilton, William F. Prouty, R.C. Tucker, and Paul H. Price; Morgantown Printing and Binding Company, Morgantown, WV, 1927; page 2-6, "Historical And Industrial Development".

© 2001 Charles C. Hall.
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