Viewed in its narrowest terms, the village at the center of the Bakerton area sprang up about 1889, drew its sustenance from a deposit of high-calcium limestone, and began to wilt when that resource was exhausted.  The boundaries of this mining village would extend no more than one mile from the original quarry.  Yet the history of Bakerton, and that of eastern Jefferson County, cannot be neatly tied up in a 100-year-old, four-square- mile package.  If you look for Bakerton's roots, you will find that they spread miles in all directions and go back more than 250 years. 

Bakerton is near the center of the area that will be examined in the following pages.  It is bounded by Halltown Pike on the west, Shepherdstown on the north, and Elk Run and Bolivar Heights on the south.  The eastern boundary spans the Potomac River and includes the Dargan-Antietam area and the mountains that surround it.  The northern and western boundaries are less distinct than the others and are more social than geographic.1  Throughout the following chapters, I have used the phrases "the Bakerton area" and "eastern Jefferson County" to refer to the area just delineated. 

If we view this area as 17th century explorers and settlers might have seen it, we can understand much about how the region was developed (Figure 1-1).  The Potomac River could be crossed at Packhorse Ford below what would become Shepherdstown.  It was here that the "Warriors' Path," a long-established route for Indian war parties, crossed the river and ran toward the future site of Winchester, Virginia.  Crossing the river by boat was relatively easy, and the riverbank between Packhorse Ford and the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers had several places suitable for ferries. One of the favorite ferrying places was located where an island lay at the mouth of Antietam Creek in Maryland.  River travel south to the junction of these rivers was limited to canoe, raft, and possibly flat-bottomed boat because of shoals.  Ice and flooding during the winter and spring further limited use of boats on the river, although the Potomac could be crossed on foot when the ice was hard.  Several portages would have been required to move goods between eastern Jefferson County and the tidewaters of the Potomac River.2  The riverbank was also passable on horseback for much of its length, although the land climbs steeply to the west at several places. 


Springs flowed into the Potomac River at River Bend and at a point about one mile upstream, and Elk Run joined the river north of Bolivar Heights; all of these sources as well as Antietam Creek were strong enough to turn a water wheel.  The land west of the riverbank contained numerous rolling hills; much of it was good farmland, but speedy direct land travel between the Harpers Ferry and Shepherdstown areas was not possible.  Black locust, walnut, and oak could be found in the area, and Elk Ridge on the Maryland side of the river was heavily timbered.  Buffalo, wild turkey, bear, elk, wildcat, and deer roamed the country.3 

Much of the soil was red clay that reached a depth of 10 to 25 feet.  Although it could not be used for making high-grade clay products, it was suitable for producing common brick.4  Along the riverbank east of the Bakerton area, the clay contained a sizeable deposit of iron ore (brown hematite), the ore nodules ranging in size from a fraction of an inch to a foot in diameter.  A second deposit was located upriver on the Maryland side above Elk Run. 

Limestone lay beneath most of the region, reaching to the riverbank, and marble deposits suitable for building stone were located near River Bend.  Limestone deposits could be found on the Maryland side of the river above Antietam Creek, and a belt of Tomstown dolomite approximately 1,000 feet thick ran from northeast of Bakerton almost to Millville.  This limestone had a high magnesia content, making it desirable as a flux in smelting operations.  The clay cover in the Bakerton and Engle areas was often just a few feet thick and, unlike the rest of the limestone in the area, it was almost pure calcium carbonate.5  Numerous caves were scattered throughout the area. 

In sum, the geography of eastern Jefferson County tended to isolate it from adjoining lands on the north, south, and west and made transportation through the region difficult.  At the same time, access to land on the Maryland side of the Potomac River was relatively easy and both sides of the river contained similar resources of iron ore and limestone. 

Viewed in terms of geographical boundaries and natural resources, eastern Jefferson County had more in common with neighboring Maryland than with the surrounding Virginia countryside.  These physical relationships between the two sides of the Potomac River were to have a significant influence upon the cultural and economic development of the area. 


1. Although family, cultural, and trade relationships existed between the Bakerton area and the towns of Harpers Ferry, Shepherdstown, and Charles Town, the history of the towns themselves is beyond the scope of the present study.  One of the goals of the current study is to characterize the rural and industrial areas in eastern Jefferson County so that the relationships among rural, industrial, and urban areas can be explored in the future. 

2. "John Semple's Proposals for Clearing the Potomac," in Grace L. Nute, "Washington and the Potomac: Manuscripts of the Minnesota Historical Society," American Historical Review, 28 (1923):497-519, 705-722. 

3. Freeman F. Hart, The Valley of Virginia in the American Revolution: 1763-1789 (New York: Russell & Russell, 1942), p. 67; Vernon F. Aler, History of Martinsburg and Berkley County (Hagerstown, Md.: Mail Pub. Co., 1888), p. 30. 

4. G.P. Grimsley, West Virginia Geological Survey (Wheeling: Wheeling News Litho Co., 1916), pp. 530-531. 

5. Grimsley, pp. 302-312.