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The Shenandoah Valley lies largely within the state of Virginia, with only about 20 miles of the lower valley falling within the boundaries of West Virginia. The valley comprises one of America’s historic landscapes, its gentle terrain providing an important thoroughfare since prehistoric times and the theater for some of the most dramatic battles of the Civil War.

The Shenandoah River and its north and south branches reach from the Shenandoah’s confluence with the Potomac at Harpers Ferry far southwestward into the Virginia interior. There the headwaters interlace with tributaries of the James River, forming part of the extended Valley of Virginia that stretches from West Virginia to Tennessee. Roads down this great valley, including modern Interstate 81, have long provided passageway through the surrounding mountains.

In West Virginia the Shenandoah Valley lies entirely within Jefferson County, with the river flowing in great bends along a course parallel to the county’s eastern border with the state of Virginia. The southern corner of Jefferson County is within the Shenandoah watershed, including the county seat at Charles Town.

The Shenandoah Valley includes some of the oldest settled territory in West Virginia, with a history dating back to the early decades of the 18th century. Its settlers included several members of George Washington’s family, with the teen-aged Washington himself in 1750 buying land on the South Fork of Bullskin Creek, a Shenandoah tributary. Several Washington family homes survive in the area today. Vestal’s Bloomery, an early ironmaking facility, was established at Bloomery in 1742, and nearby Shannondale Springs was developed as a popular spa during the 19th century. Crucial events of the Civil War period took place in Harpers Ferry, at the foot of the valley, including John Brown’s 1859 raid and important fighting early in the war. Stonewall Jackson’s triumphant Valley Campaign, a string of Confederate victories in 1862, took place farther up the valley and largely outside present West Virginia.

The Shenandoah Valley in West Virginia now shelters sizable residential communities. State Route 9 traverses the valley east of Charles Town, daily carrying numerous commuters to and from jobs in the Washington metropolitan area. The valley ends as the Shenandoah joins the Potomac at Harpers Ferry, amid scenery described by Thomas Jefferson as worth a trip across the Atlantic Ocean.

Last Revised on October 29, 2010


Cite This Article

e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia "Shenandoah Valley." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 29 October 2010. Web. 15 December 2018.

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