Experience one of the most historic towns in Jefferson County during your stay in Harpers Ferry! Located approximately 10 miles up the Potomac River from Harpers Ferry is Shepherdstown, WV, the oldest town in the state. It brings out the history-lover in all visitors as you experience the ageless, charming town that feels more like a living museum.
Discover the birthplace of the steamboat, learn how the entire town was uniquely transformed into a hospital during the Civil War, and—if you’re brave—see if the spooky ghost stories are actually true.
About Shepherdstown, West Virginia
West Virginia history starts with Shepherdstown. It’s home to some of the oldest buildings in the state, dating back to the early 18th century. Originally called Mecklenburg, it was later named after Thomas Shepherd, one of the earliest settlers. The mix of German settlement in early colonial times helped shape much of the town’s architectural identity, which has been well-preserved over the centuries.
History is intertwined into everything about this charming college town that boasts Shepherd University. However, with its rich history comes tons of rumors of paranormal activity, earning it the nickname ‘Most Haunted Town in America.’ It offers a unique experience for history buffs looking to see a living example from their history books and ghost hunters excited to embark on nighttime ghost walk tours.
When visiting Shepherdstown, WV, you’ll ironically find it full of life! Park your car and enjoy a half-day or full-day trip from Harpers Ferry to explore the historical museums and shops in the historical center and the beauty of the Potomac River.
Best Things to do in Shepherdstown, WV
Take a Walking Tour Through the Shepherdstown Historic District
The Shepherdstown Visitors Center is a must-visit for first-timers in this charming town. You’ll find tons of maps and brochures about the town to help orient you on a self-guided walking tour to the most historic sites.
The route includes nearly 60 stops—many located along the main German Street running through the historic district. See buildings dating back to the early 1700s like the Entler Hotel (repurposed as the Historic Shepherdstown Museum), the Old Market House (now used as the Shepherdstown Public Library, and the iconic “college wall” in front of McMurran Hall, where you’ll find students from Shepherdstown University hanging out with friends. Other stops include churches, inns, and historic homes.
Learn About the James Rumsey and Steamboat
Perched on the riverbanks of the Potomac, Shepherdstown benefited greatly from one of the region’s most important waterways. James Rumsey is credited for inventing the first steamboat, which had a successful journey in the river and propelled the boating industry into a new era.
Shepherdstown celebrates Rumsey with several sites that delve further into the science, history, and legacy of the steamboat. Stop by the 75-foot James Rumsey Monument overlooking the river. The Rumsey Steamboat Museum displays exhibits detailing his life, and you’ll even get to see a working replica of his original steamboat.
Explore Ghost Sites from the Civil War
Wonder where all the Shepherdstown ghost stories originated from? During the Antietam Campaign in 1862, nearly the entire town was famously transformed into a hospital for Confederate soldiers fighting less than 10 miles away in Maryland during the Civil War.
Explore notable buildings like the Old Town Hall, Moulder Hall, and the Chapline-Shenton House, whose walls still whisper tales of this period. They say if you peer into the windows of some of these buildings, you’ll see ghosts staring back at you!
If you’re feeling extra brave, take a stroll through Elmwood Cemetery, where many of the fallen soldiers were buried after the battle.
Scenic Views and Outdoor Recreation at Potomac River
The scenic Potomac River is more than a waterway for transportation. It’s a popular place for Shepherdstownians and visitors to enjoy a bit of leisure during the warmer months.
Take in views of the river from Rumsey Park to spy trains crossing the Shepherdstown Pike Bridge and see remains of old bridges still rising up from the water. The river is a popular place for paddle boating, and shady trails take you to quiet spots on the riverbanks to fish smallmouth bass.
In addition to water fun, embark on hiking and biking trails running parallel to the river along the C&O Canal Towpath through the forested Shenandoah Valley en route to Sharpsburg, Maryland. You can even follow the canal to meet up with the Appalachian Trail. Also, you’ll find kid-friendly recreation at Morgan’s Grove Park.
Participate in Local Events and Holiday Celebrations
Before leaving the visitor’s center, be sure to ask about events happening around town. Between cultural activities and festivals, there’s always something exciting to check out during your visit.
Grab tickets to see premiering live performances by American playwrights at the Contemporary American Theater Festival. Shop local arts and crafts at the Street Fest. Head down to German Street for annual holiday parades and festivities, including the Shepherdstown Fourth of July Celebration, BooFest, and Christmas in Shepherdstown events.
Best Places to Eat in Shepherdstown, WV
One of the remarkable things about visiting Shepherdstown, WV, is that you won’t find many big-name restaurants and fast food spots. For reference, the nearest McDonald’s is about a mile from the town center, and the closest Starbucks is a 20-minute drive to the neighboring town of Martinsburg. That’s good news for visitors looking to explore the many local food options.
Shepherdstown prides itself on preserving local and independent establishments, offering a one-of-a-kind dining experience you can only have here! Save your appetite for some of these delish Shepherdstown restaurants.
- Address: 163 Shepherd Grade Rd, Shepherdstown, WV
- Website: bavarianinnwv.com
- Price: $$$
Upscale old European-style restaurant overlooking the Potomac River serving authentic German cuisine. It also includes the Bavarian Brothers Brewery.
The Devonshire Arms Cafe & Pub
- Address: 107 S Princess Street, Shepherdstown, WV
- Website: facebook.com/TheDevonshireArmsShepherdstownWV
- Price: $$$
The UK flag waves outside this traditional English pub serving pub grub. It’s popular for live music, comedy open mics, and First Friday at The Dev.
- Address: 112 E German St, Shepherdstown, WV
- Website: bettys.four-food.com
- Price: $
Home of the ‘World’s best sausage gravy,’ this traditional diner is a popular local spot for breakfast and brunch. Heads up, it’s cash only!
Blue Moon Cafe
- Address: 200 E High St, Shepherdstown, WV
- Website: bluemooncafeshepherdstown.com
- Price: $$
Dine on the outdoor patio when the weather is nice, or sit in the cozy indoors warmed by a fireplace and enjoy a mix of international cuisines.
- Address: 115 E German St, Shepherdstown, WV
- Website: lilah-restaurant.com
- Price: $$
Rub elbows with the locals at this community staple serving international and fusion dishes. Be sure to ask your server about the seasonal dishes.
Staying Near Shepherdstown, WV
Harpers Ferry is a popular place to stay for easy access to spending a day in Shepherdstown and other small towns dotting Jefferson County, including Charles Town or major cities like Washington, D.C, and Baltimore. Mountain Mama provides premium accommodations for visiting West Virginia, where you’ll find comfort, relaxation, and adventure during your stay!