BKT in Kabletown IMG2544001.JPG

Beautiful downtown Kabletown is seen in the early 1900s. The turnpike can be seen as a strip of white near the houses at top left gently arcing to the right of the photograph. The Kabletown Mill is in the left middle of the photo along the bank of the Bullskin Run.

Four years of Civil War had ravaged Jefferson County. Farm fences had been appropriated for use in campfires and as temporary shelter, roads and fields had suffered the wear and tear of thousands of marching feet and careening wagons and caissons, private and public spaces had been converted into emergency hospitals and barracks for bivouacked battlers. But finally, the war had come to an end, soldiers were returning to their homes between the Shenandoah and Potomac, and the focus shifted to repairing the damage and returning to a normal life.

In 1869, the business of Jefferson County was farming. Most of those who lived in the Lower Shenandoah Valley were either actively involved in agriculture or were connected to a commercial enterprise which in some way supported farmers and farming. The sweet soil nurtured by numerous creeks and runs produced bountiful crops, especially wheat. These same streams powered mills which converted the grain to flour and meal, important commodities. Some of the flour found its way into local homes and stores, but a portion left Jefferson County for markets in Baltimore and Alexandria. Agricultural products sold to regional markets were transported either by train or by canal boat. But to get the finished products to a rail road siding like the one at Cameron’s Depot, also known as Aldridge, or to either the river lock at Harpers Ferry or the one across the Potomac from Shepherdstown, you had to transport them by wagon, and wagons required a road. And Jefferson County’s roads were a mess.

Principal roads in pre-Civil War Jefferson County were turnpikes. The Smithfield & Shepherdstown Turnpike, the Berryville & Charlestown [remember Charlestown was one word until 1911] Turnpike, and the Middleway, Charlestown & Harpers Ferry Turnpike carried commercial and passenger traffic into and out of Jefferson County via foot, hoof, and wheel. As such they were heavily used, so a primary focus of post-Civil War reconstruction in Jefferson County involved repairing these existing roads. As more farms came back online, it became apparent that the local economy would benefit from improved roads in other sectors of the county. The citizens of Kabletown were among the first to answer the call for an improved road.

On March 3, 1869, the West Virginia Legislature passed legislation which incorporated the Kabletown and Bloomery Turnpike Company. The company was headed up by men who either lived in and/or had economic interest in the southeast part of the county. In June, Logan Osburn, Chairman of the turnpike company, posted a notice that starting July 10 “the Books of Subscription” for purchase of stock in the turnpike company would be available at three locations. Osburn and miller Henry Castleman would set up shop in Kabletown. George Washington Eichelberger, a retired farmer; George Henry Turner, president of the Shenandoah Milling Company; and Roger Preston Chew, Charlestown politician and businessman—each would be available to sell stock at the Bloomery Mills. In Charlestown you could purchase stock from John James Lock, miller and businessman, and George Washington Tate Kearsley, owner of the Bloomery Sash Factory.

According to the act of incorporation, the turnpike’s route was intended to connect the village of Myerstown (note the spelling) to “some point on the Smithfield and Harper’s Ferry turnpike at or near William Shaffer’s.” William Schaeffer’s crossroad was where the Alexandria & Warm Springs Road intersected the Middleway, Charlestown & Harper’s Ferry Turnpike, today where Marlow Road intersects Route 340. The act provided “the privilege of extending the Myerstown terminus as far as the Clarke [County] line.” That extension would have ended at or near Castleman’s mill on Long Marsh and explains why Henry Castleman was one of the incorporators. The Bloomery portion of the turnpike would connect “the Bloomery Mills to a point at or near Charlestown.” Today Route 115 follows the old turnpike from South George Street in Charlestown to the bridge over the Shenandoah River at the Bloomery.

The next step in the process was to have a town meeting which would both provide project details and, hopefully, drum up support. The meeting was scheduled for Thursday, June 24, 1869 at an unknown location—my guess is that they met in the Old Stone Church in Kabletown. The proposed turnpike created quite a buzz, and when Logan Osburn submitted a meeting notice in the Spirit of Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin Beall, Editor and Proprietor of the Spirit of Jefferson, weighed in with an editorial. First, Beall entreated those affected and interested to “make it a duty be there to further such action as may be required.” Then Beall shared his impressions of Kabletown and the southeast sector:

It would seem entirely unnecessary to add anything to this call, when we take into contemplation the section of the country through which this road is proposed. Perhaps the richest portion of this county, it has never had a road that was fit to travel over during the winter season, and even in summer, it is one of the roughest pieces of road in the county of Jefferson.

Finally, Beall offered rationale for support of the proposed turnpike:

The people of this town [Kabletown] are materially interested in the construction of this projected pike, and its lateral, which is expected to tap the main route near Isler’s lane [Abraham Isler]. With a good McAdamized road from Charlestown to the Shenandoah River, and from the former point to Kabletown and Myerstown, and the entire southern section of the county, our town [Charlestown] could hardly fail to be benefitted by the trade that would flow into, or pass through it, from that source. And then, the productions of that portion of the county would be enhanced by the increased facilities for market that would be afforded by good roads.

All that was left to say was “Build the doggone road!”

As the project gained momentum, a second meeting was held to answer any remaining questions and to continue to build support. This time turnpike promoters met in Charlestown at the Carter House on the evening of Saturday, July 10. Though lightly attended, the gathering was warmly supportive of the new turnpike. After the fact, attorney Daniel Bedinger Lucas provided a written summary of the meeting which was published in the July 13 issue of the Spirit of Jefferson. As if he was trying a case, Lucas methodically laid out the logic for building what he referred to as the Kabletown, Bloomery, and Charlestown Turnpike [NOTE: This is the only time that Charlestown was added to the turnpike’s name. It was apparently added to emphasize the turnpike’s importance to Charlestown]. First, he pointed out the win-win of building more macadamized roads throughout the county. By providing more reliable travel during the winter and rainy seasons, the roads would make the farms in the Kabletown and Myerstown region more accessible to mills, markets, and general stores—a winning proposition for farmers, millers, and shopkeepers.

Lucas reported that the cost to build the new turnpike was estimated at $2,500 per mile. The total projected distance of a macadamized road from Kabletown to Schaeffer’s crossroad and from Bloomery Mills to Charlestown was estimated at 24 miles bringing the project’s total to $60,000. After pitching the turnpike’s value and revealing the estimated cost, Lucas then directed the group’s attention to the potential economic benefits for both Charlestown and each property owner along the proposed turnpike route. He intimated that the new roads could spur economic development along its route benefitting current landowners and providing the opportunity for future expansion.

Turnpike Chairman Logan Osburn was the last to speak. He affirmed Lucas’ remarks, encouraged those in attendance to support the project by purchasing stock in the company, and finished by opining that any cash outlay incurred by the County Court “would be more than repaid by the relief from the present road tax, to say nothing of the increased revenue from enhanced values.”

By the spring of 1870, all the subscriptions had been sold, and the money was in the bank. Logan Osburn moved quickly, and when winter gave up and spring returned, Osburn placed a “TURNPIKE NOTICE. Proposal for Contracts” in the May 10, 1870 issue of the Spirit of Jefferson. In addition to board chair Osburn, the six-member turnpike board now consisted of Henry Castleman, Roger Chew, George Eichelberger, George Kearsley, and newcomer William Rissler. The notice specified point to point where the turnpikes was to be constructed and noted that the project would be bid out in 12 sections, each section a mile or more in length. The notice advised that questions about the project should be directed to Osburn or any member of the board of directors, but bids should be submitted only to Osburn by Saturday, May 28, 1870.

The Kabletown, Bloomery, & Charlestown Turnpike Company met on Saturday, May 28, 1870 at Lee Hall in Charlestown. Lee Hall was the second-floor auditorium in the building owned by James Lawrence Hooff located next to the Jefferson County Court House. Editor Beall walked three steps across the hall from his offices in the Hooff building to cover the meeting. He reported that the “Kabletown and Bloomery Turnpike Company awarded the contract for making the entire length of their road to Messrs. Isaac Judd and Geo. W. Armentrout. Judd and Armentrout were Virginia contractors particularly adept at building brick structures, and after completing the turnpike contract, Armentrout moved his business permanently to Charlestown. Judd and Armentrout planned to use three teams of workers to build the turnpike and assured the board that work would start immediately. One team would start at Castleman’s Mill and work north toward Schaeffer’s, while another started at Schaeffer’s headed towards Castleman’s. The final team started at the Bloomery Mills and began working toward Charlestown.

Predictably, progress of work on the turnpike was noted on a regular basis in the weeklies, and anything and everything was news. On one occasion the Spirit reported that for one reason or another, one day Armentrout was missing from the team working at the Bloomery. In his absence, a fight broke out “but no serious consequences resulted,” except that the ringleaders were released. By Christmas 1870 work was nearing completion and “stone had been broken as far as John Lock’s” in Charlestown and “Manning’s big hill will be graded and ready for stone.” Finally, the turnpike was near completion.

The final official step was to create the structures which gave the new road its name. In the literal sense, a turnpike was a mobile barrier which controlled access to a road. It was simple mathematics. The turnpike company sold stock which generated the funds to build the macadamized road. Stockholders expected a return on their investment, and the principal source of revenue was a payment or toll paid for the use of the road or turnpike. So, every time a load of doors and flooring left the Bloomery Sash Factory headed to Charlestown, the wagon had to stop at the toll house and pay the fee. Farmers headed to Henry Castleman’s mill on Long Marsh were stopped by the toll gate located where the pike intersected the road to the Shannondale Ferry.

Frequent travelers had two ways to avoiding the time-consuming process of stopping to pay the toll. They could purchase a permanent pass, much like E-Z Pass, which they could show the toll keeper as they drove their team into town. Or, and this was by far the most popular route, the toll could be put on a tab which was supposed to be paid each month. At the end of each month, Logan Osburn, on behalf of the turnpike company, posted a notice in the Spirit imploring those who had accounts with the company to settle up. Very often in the same paper a Chancery Court announcement appeared which pitted Osburn versus a delinquent patron.

The biggest controversy surrounding the turnpike was where it would enter Charlestown. The old route left Charlestown on West Street and passed by Happy Retreat meandering around farmsteads until it ended at the Bloomery Mills. The Charlestown contingent favored a new entrance into town, one which would come into town on George Street instead of West Street, “striking Main [Washington] street at the old jail.” The “old jail” reference served as a reminder that in 1870, the county seat was still in Shepherdstown and the new jail was now located there.

Proponents of the new route prevailed, and the Kabletown & Bloomery Turnpike entered Charlestown on South George Street. The route that the turnpike followed to Kabletown and the Bloomery remains basically the same today. In my day, the old turnpike became the new State Route 9 which traversed the Shenandoah at the Bloomery and crossed the Blue Ridge at Keyes Gap before passing into Virginia. When the Charles Town By-Pass was built, the old turnpike was renamed State Route 115, but followed in the footsteps of the old turnpike leading to “perhaps the richest portion of this county” and in my view, the prettiest part of Mr. Jefferson’s County.

Doug Perks, a retired history teacher and Shepherdstown resident who serves as the historian at the Jefferson County Museum in Charles Town, is a contributor to the Spirit of Jefferson.

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