Charles Town, W.Va., settled by youngest Washington brother

Charles Town, W.Va., settled by youngest Washington brother
Portrait of Charles Washington, founder of Charles Town, at his home, Happy Retreat. (Photo courtesy Happy Retreat.)

Visitors to West Virginia may be inclined to think of backwoods mountaineers when they think of the Mountain State, but the incredibly diverse state is far more posh than that.


, in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia, was founded in 1787 by Charles Washington, the youngest brother of George Washington. The younger Washington platted its lots and avenues on 80 acres that adjoined his estate, Happy Retreat.

In 1794, James and Dolly Madison were married nearby at Harewood, the home of George Steptoe Washington, the son of Colonel Samuel Washington. However, the town may best be known as the site of the hanging of abolitionist John Brown.

Here in its historic district, you might be able to envision the young days of the republic. The town's architecture, historic walking tours, and traditional Virginian landscapes conspire to transport visitors back from an earlier age.


An hour's drive from the Washington Beltway, the town seems almost a world away from the metropolitan east. Planning a trip? Charles Town is definitely worth a visit, and a vacation there is easily be combined with visits to nearby Shepherdstown and Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Here's more of what you'll find in Charles Town.

Charles Town Races

The are must-visit experiences, especially for fans of horse racing. The glitz and glamor of this fantastic resort with its onsite hotel and amenities are not to be believed. If you’ve only ever played casino games online, such as, you should swing by the gaming tables for the real-world experience.

Jefferson County Courthouse

At the center of the old city square, the was the site of one of the most noted trials in early U.S. history. John Brown and six other men insurrectionists were tried here in 1859 and hanged after having been found guilty of raiding the armory at Harper's Ferry, an event some historians regard as the spark that ignited the U.S. Civil War. The landmark now houses a museum.

Zion Episcopal Church

Seventy members of George Washington’s family, as well as Confederate Colonel Preston Chew and the great-grandson of Thomas Jefferson, are buried in the , as are 90 Confederate soldiers and two officers who died during the Revolutionary War. During the Civil War, Union soldiers used the church as barracks, during which its interior was destroyed.


Old Opera House Theater Company

in Charles Town was opened 1910, thanks to the efforts of Washington-descendent Annie Packette. The house closed in 1948 after cinema became popular but reopened during the U.S. Bicentennial. In addition to hosting local performances, the opera house gallery located on the lower level houses a collection of local works of art.

Jefferson County Museum

The preserves and interprets the history of the county and the Shenandoah Valley. Its permanent exhibits showcase prehistory and the history of the Washington family and the Civil War. More than 4,000 documents and photographs on display are housed alongside more than 2,000 artifacts.

Cool Spring Nature Preserve

Protecting 32 acres of forest, meadow, and marsh, the borders Bullskin Run, the location of George Washington's first land purchase, secured in 1752. The preserve is home to the Audubon Society Nature Center and two miles of walking trails leading into Shenandoah Wet-Prairie Marsh.

Contact the Jefferson County Convention & Visitors Bureau for more information on visiting Charles Town.


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