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Tour event highlights local history

By Staff | Jun 3, 2011

Mary Stortstrom

Special to The Chronicle

The Shepherdstown Back Alley Tour and Tea celebrated its thirteenth year last weekend as town residents and tourists alike pounded the pavement exploring Shepherdstown’s rich historic past.

The event, held on Saturday, May 28 and Sunday, May 29 from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. on both days, invited participants to walk through the gardens and historic sites of Shepherdstown. A tea service was held on the upper floor of the War Memorial Building from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. both days, allowing participants to take a break from the heat and enjoy homemade desserts.

The Back Alley Tour and Tea was a fundraiser for the Shepherdstown Men’s Club. Mike Austin, who is serving in his third year as president of the Men’s Club, said this was his first year coordinating the tour.

According to Austin, in the late 1700s in both Europe and America, houses were built on long, rectangular plots of land with the buildings close to the street. Gardens with vegetables or livestock would be tended behind the house, and neighbors could peek in through the alleyways.

Shepherdstown, founded in 1762, has its share of houses from that time. Although there were no sheep or chickens in any of the yards on the tour this weekend, town residents who opted to participate could still show off their well-maintained gardens.

Last weekend’s event marked the fourth time that homeowner and gardener Jerry Bock featured his garden along the tour route. Bock, a resident of Shepherdstown for 11 years, participated in his first Back Alley Tour just two months after moving to Shepherdstown.

“Meeting the people who come through the yard is so much fun,” Bock said. “Sometimes I’ll meet neighbors that we might live close by but not interact with much, or visitors to town.”

Other regular participants did not showcase their gardens at this year’s Back Alley Tour and Tea event. Austin said that since the event coincided with Memorial Day weekend, many people were out of town and could not be home to participate in the tour.

To remedy that problem, this year’s tour map included historic sites in Shepherdstown in addition to private gardens.

One of the sites on the map this year was one that longtime residents of Shepherdstown may have never seen in action.

The Thomas Shepherd Grist Mill, an important economic feature of early Shepherdstown, has a steel waterwheel built in 1894 that is the second largest waterwheel in the world. The mill draws in water from Town Run and is fully operational but is rarely run due to the fact that the mill is now a private residence.

Other historic sites on the tour route included the Shepherd family burial ground, the Entler Hotel and the Shepherdstown Train Station.

This year’s Back Alley Tour and Tea event required the time, effort and cooperation of many individuals and groups in Shepherdstown and the surrounding area. One of the kick-off events to the tour was a reception held for the Friday Artists and those who volunteered as docents.