Town Run a natural part of Shpherdstown’s history
It gathers clean waters from just south of Shepherdstown. Much of the cool and clear water comes from six natural springs, but as many as 20 scattered sources feed the Town Run.
Of the sources of the never-flooded, never-dry Town Run, a spring house on the grounds of Morgans Grove park is probably the most-noticed site by the public.
Once its waters are joined together as a narrow stream, the Town Run moves leisurely northward in the direction of Shepherdstown.
Never very deep, never very wide, the little ribbon of water comes into view of the Shepherdstown Elementary School. It’s a little wider there and moving at a rate that says: “It may be the rapid-paced 21st century, but I can be enjoyed the same as back in the late 1700’s when harness makers, blacksmiths, tanners and brickmakers stood along the dirt roads that are now German Street and Princess Street.”
Just behind the elementary school, the Town Run has invited cattails and other reeds to grow in its silted bottom.
However, once it leaves the school children and their outdoor playground behind, it is more confined by its banks and slowly courses on through the few backyards dotting the street that leads down to the post office.
At the post office, it is told its way by the concrete walls that keep it in place.
Many a youngster has been given his first fishing lesson at those unassuming walls. Children have been befriended by “The Run” and its once fish-filled waters. No expensive gear is necessary there behind the post office. Only an eager-to-learn attitude and a willingness to enjoy the first pleasures of casting a worm or small crankbait into the slow-flowing water.
Town Run moves under Washington Street and then on past the Jefferson Security Bank where it encounters its first alley.
Before the Environmental Protection Agency and other protectionist groups saw the coming dangers of man-made products being discarded into the waters and air, the Town Run played host to thousands of car washings.
There to the side of Sam Skinner’s corner lot (now the home of the bank), Shepherd College students with their shoestring budgets parked their roadsters and Studebakers in “The Run” and cleaned them. Many an enterprising Shepherdstown resident from every walk of life used the Town Run to wash their car.
That practice is no more.
When the now detergent-free water leaves its first alley, it moves just as quietly through several more backyards and under New Street before getting to German Street and its next underground passage.
Several little-noticed grates are located on either side of German Stareet. Once upon a time those grates served as fishing spots for boys like the Shipley twins, Ruby Swope and John Lucas. They caught trout that thought their place in the semi-darkness below the grates was a safe place to spend time.
Once across German Street, the limestone walls of Shepherd University (once the Normal School, Shepherd State Teachers College, and Shepherd College) held the faster moving waters between its confines. The stream bed there has limestone rocks of many sizes. Those rocks sometimes hold in place wildflowers of substantial color as compared with the slightly gray waters of “The Run”.
Between German Street and Princess Street, the waters say “hello” to the Little House just to one side of McMurran Hall and Reynolds Hall on the Shepherd campus.
Moving under Princess Street and a business at the corner of East High Street, it’s under High Street and on toward its final steep plunge toward the Potomac River.
Moss-covered rocks are afforded a perfect view under the canopy of decades-old trees as they look up at the Thomas Shepherd Gristmill built about 1738. A large mill wheel was added to that building before the streets of Shepherdstown were paved or horsedrawn carriages became extinct.
Past the gristmill, the stream moves by the Mecklenburg Tobacco Warehouse and its massive stone walls. The warehouse is the last standing structure that can tell the history of what trade and commerce went on by the Potomac through the 1700’s and 1800’s.
Where the Town Run empties its waters into the Potomac, it gets a last look at the stone piers of what was once a 600-foot long covered bridge that led over to the Maryland side and the area below the Ferry Hill Plantation. That bridge was erected in the mid 1800’s and later fell victim to floods and the burning torches of Stonewall Jackson during the Civil War.
A modern-day boat launch and small parking area on North Princess Street are neighbors of the now-ending Town Run.
From out at Morgans Grove on past the elementary school and post office to the Shepherd campus and Tobacco Warehouse, the Town Run has been telling fables or historical stories longer than much-acclaimed town historian Jim Pric — and that’s saying something.