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
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.
saw behind me those who had gone,
before me those who are to come.
looked back and saw my father,
his father, and all our fathers,
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.
is a good-Liver, as it is commonly said. Appears to be a modest,
& 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.
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.
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
loved and cared for it.
1930s, while owned by the McGarrys, descendants of
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
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
. . . 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
- 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
Vice President of Aaron Burr (
), 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)
- 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
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
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?
- 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.
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.
on Through Our Pages to See Some of the Things the House Saw and
Continues to See Today
For more information: