The Peter Burr House - ca. 1751, oldest wood frame home in West Virginia
Jefferson County's Well-Hidden Treasure
260 years old and just being rediscovered

 School Children learn from the House, May 2010

The Peter Burr House reflects the spirit of the early settlers. The house is like its people: modest but solid – resilient and plain without flashy statements of vanity yet significant with craftsmanship and integrity that begs the question: "Why would they have gone to such trouble to hand-bead the ceiling beams in a house in the middle of an unsettled frontier?" The old wood-frame, post and beam house (built under difficult circumstances at a time and place where ready-made building materials were not options) has had the tenacity to continue to stand when other wood-frame structures in the area fell years ago. This housequietly saw history passing by as it somehow survived in spite of all other odds. The Peter Burr House is one of very few surviving structures built slightly before or after 1750 in Jefferson County (or in the state of West Virginia) that can tell the story of typical settlers in a land amid fears of Indian invasions and absence of what we know today as modern convenience.

In a day, when our American values and integrity often seem to be slipping away, something solid built on core values still exists in our back yards. This old house has a story to tell that is reflective of the historic values that are characteristic of the American Spirit. This house is the story of us. It is the story of a spirit that is woven through our history. That Spirit needs to be preserved and the story needs to be told.

"I saw behind me those who had gone,
and before me those who are to come.
I looked back and saw my father,
and his father, and all our fathers,
and in front to see my son, and his son,
and the sons upon sons beyond.
And their eyes were my eyes."
--by Richard Llewellyn

The Eyes of History Look Backward
. . . and Forward
George Washington as a young man saw and knew of this house. And the house saw and knew of George Washington as he walked along the boundaries surveying an adjacent property and as he traveled through the property on his way up Warm Springs Road to Bath (today's Berkeley Springs, WV).

The house also saw and heard Philip Vickers Fithian, who served as a supply minister to the Elk Branch Presbyterian Church in February of 1776. Fithian spent the night at the house and wrote in one of his highly regarded journals, "...dined at Mr. Burr's. He is a good-Liver, as it is commonly said. Appears to be a modest, sensible Man, & is in high Repute -- ." Rev. Fithian died later that year at Fort Washington (October 1776). . . . and the old house may well have known of mourning.

The Washington family knew the man who lived in this house. Charles Washington conducted business with him in the late 1780s when they negotiated the land transaction for the deed to the Charles Town Presbyterian Church. As Dolly and James Madison prepared to be married at Harewood (home of Samuel Washington), they may well have connected Peter Burr to his first cousin, Aaron Burr, who only a short time earlier introduced the young lovers to each other.

The house saw and knew of many others who passed by or who entered in. The house heard the stories and news from afar as the family like everyone learned through the always present grapevine.

Through the Eyes That Saw History
in the Making

The Peter Burr House has a story to tell.

And Reliving History, Inc. has a vision for telling that story.

The Vision
A new vision exists for turning the well-hidden treasure into a well-known and protected, highly-supported, center for an 18th century focus. As a hub for interpretation for the colonial through the federalist periods, we will attempt to connect the dots with other 18th century sites in the area and to paint a backdrop that shows how these sites go together as an evolving picture. With the dots connected, then cultural heritage can facilitate, and hopefully, shed light on the wonderful history of this local area. A benefit to the community will be potential to help draw greater tourism and deliver cohesive experiential education with relevant perspective.

The Peter Burr House is located at the blue star on the above map. Route #9 cuts through the original 1751 land grant. If a line was drawn from Shepherdstown to Charles Town, the Peter Burr House would be located at about mid center of the line approximately 5 miles from either city. The house is also located about 5 miles from Harpers Ferry, placing it strategically equal distance from the 3 most populated areas of the county. Burr's other land grant was located a short distance SSE of the star with the upper property line about midway between the lower point of the star and the main road between Harpers Ferry and Charles Town.

Goals That Can be Envisioned, Can Be Accomplished
Our vision is to paint a period backdrop. From the backdrop, all the related sites will have a visual place that allows them each to tell their stories in context with the larger picture. The backdrop will allow citizens to better understand life during our country's formative days. This larger picture could help our current and future generations to hold on to the values and heritage that shaped this nation.

The earliest days of this county's history have been fragmented into small obscure pieces, more difficult to locate and to document than facts related to the Civil War era that came over 100 years later. Way back when George Washington, as a 16-year-old boy, walked the grounds and when the territory was still too remote for his family to begin building their homes here, an important part of our history was unfolding. And this wonderful history was not just beginning but instead was continuing on from an earlier story that only makes this story more rich and wonderful.

Peter Burr came from an important and prominent New England family and lived here for about 47 years. No one knows why. Then he died and most of his children moved onward with westward expansion. His time here was only half a century, but it was a mid point between the 1630 arrival of his Puritan ancestors and his descendants, many of whom live today.

Peter Burr was a quiet and devoutly Christian man who (less than 5 years before George Washington's death) was found dead at his prayer table with his open Bible before him. That table remains today as the only but perhaps most important of his personal artifacts.

While others of his family back east were making a difference in other ways, he was quietly leaving little marks on this place . . . little marks that have just as quietly continued to survive into today. Most likely Peter Burr did not have a need to be well known, but most assuredly his house should become better known today. It has a story to tell. That story is reflective of the values that are characteristic of the American Spirit. In a day, when our American values and integrity seem to be slipping away, something solid and with deep roots still exists in our land and for some of us, in our own backyards.

The house continued to survive while it was in the hands of the family that loved and cared for it.

1930s, while owned by the McGarrys, descendants of Peter Burr

Then it was sold to Jefferson County, WV along with all the property on which the Burr Industrial Park was built. Most of the land became industrial development, but the agency that oversaw the property, didn't know what to do with the old house that was protected by a provision in the deed that underscored the intentions, wisdom, and protection of the house by the sellers of the property. So the house stood for a number of years, neglected.

Late 1970s; while owned by Jefferson County's Development Authority

Then the Jefferson County Historic Landmarks Commission had the forethought and wisdom to realize what a treasure the old house is. They purchased it to restore, protect, and further preserve.Today, people are slowly being drawn back to the house to discover the lessons it has to teach.

After improvements by the Jefferson County Historic Landmarks Commission

History and economic development can exist side by side. Today, a well-rooted yet still fragile glimmer of the 18th century survives along side the developments of the 21st century. Let us see this treasure for its value, honor its place in the community, and protect its story for generations to come.

The Peter Burr House is Important For a Variety of Reasons

  • The Peter Burr House is important for the History the house saw and the stories it could tell:
. . . about famous people
George Washington

. . . about pioneers and early settlers
Early settlers including farmers, backwoodsmen, and others

and . . . about famous events
Site of James Rumsey's December 3, 1787 Steamboat Experiment

See History the House Saw for more information.

  • The Peter Burr House is important for the Family who built it and for what that family represents in the larger scheme of American history.

Rev. Aaron Burr (1715-1757), Founder and President of Princeton,
and  son-in-law of Rev. Jonathan Edwards

Who is this man? Play Name that Ancestor on the Family Culture & Ancestry page

Vice President of Aaron Burr ( 1756-1836 ), Tied Thomas Jefferson for President of the US, Senator from NY, Founder of the Manhattan Company which became Chase Manhattan Bank and now J. P. Morgan, Opposed slavery, Promoted equality for women, shot Alexander Hamilton in a famous duel, and was found not guilty of treason by Chief Justice John Marshall. Currently historians are digging into the untold story of who VP Aaron Burr really was and new, fact-based  history is being generated that debunks most of the of the politically divisive history that has been told in old history books. 

Descendants of 6 of Peter Burr's 13 children have been located and include many interesting people (Ph.D.s, engineers, even a person in the Space Camp Hall of Fame at Huntsville who trains NASA astronauts from various countries who are on their way to the International Space Station)

See Family Culture & Ancestry for more information.

  • The Peter Burr House is important for its Architecture that is unusual for this location and the workmanship that has allowed a fully wooden house to survive for 260 years.

The New England style roof diminishes snow accumulation and the structure does not sit directly on the damp ground where it would be more prone to rotting.

All ceiling beams, chair rails, and clap boards are hand beaded
See Architecture & House History for more information.

  • The Peter Burr House is important for its Archaeology that tells more about the life style of the people who lived in the house. The same reflects the local area.

Stoneware fragments: Scratch blue salt-glazed, 1735-1775 might have belonged to the Burr Family and reflect daily life. Wonder how this piece got broken?

See Archaeology at the house for more information.

  • The Peter Burr House is important for the Educational Experiences that can be delivered from the property and the role the house can play today in the local community.

See Educational Experience for more information.

The Story Goes On

Today, evidences of the mid 18th century in Jefferson County still exist but are difficult to find. Few documented records have survived from those earliest days in the new frontier. But some records do exist and deserve attention. There is a very relevant story to tell, and the story needs to be brought together and vividly told.

Reliving History, Inc. was formed to help support the Peter Burr House and to help paint a local backdrop against which to bring the 18th century to life in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia. The Peter Burr House is is ideally positioned to become a hub for collaborating with other period sites to collectively connect the historic dots and paint the backdrop. Ultimately we will identify the various sites in relationship to the backdrop so the big picture can emerge.

The Peter Burr House and property today:
  • Is owned today by the Jefferson County History Landmarks Commission, and therefore the house belongs to the citizens.
  • Represents all people, not just the affluent, well-known, or elite.
  • Has seen as much history as all other structures in the area with only a very few exceptions. It was built during the time George Washington frequented the area but about 20 years before any of the Washington family homes were built here.
  • Is centrally located on property through which one of the 18th century main north-south routes (Warm Springs Road) divided in 1750.
  • Exists today just off Route #9, the main north-south corridor through the center of the county.

Reliving History is dedicated to bringing history to life through the eyes of those who saw it in the making. By giving the house a voice, we will help to show a parallel between the relevance of the Peter Burr House and our local and American history. With a "cast of characters" as visitors from the 18th century, we will create a "presence" and tell the story of a typical family who actually lived in the area as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, and many other notables walked about this land. The house will speak for the people who passed through its doors or walked by in everyday life. We will help visitors to learn why the last half of the 18th century was important and how that time period links our earliest roots to today.

Continue on Through Our Pages to See Some of the Things the House Saw and Continues to See Today

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