(Above) The regular Sunday morning farmer’s market (tents behind the building) recalls the original use of the market house.
If you’ve seen the white brick market house building at the center of Shepherdstown, you know that it also looks back at you. The “all seeing eye” is a reminder of the building’s past — and perhaps an encouragement to think broadly about its future. The history of the market house is chronicled in Two Hundred Years’ History of Shepherdstown, Clifford S. Musser’s compilation of town records published in 1931 by The Independent newspaper in Shepherdstown.
Highlights From History
In Musser’s history, the story of Shepherdstown’s market house started in June 1800, when the town trustees appointed three commissioners to manage the construction of a market house, 57 feet long and 20 feet wide, to be erected in the middle of King Street at the south side of the intersection with German Street. By August 1800, the building was completed and the trustees decided to lease the stalls on a yearly basis to local farmers. The single-story building was open along the sides, with a shingle roof supported by brick piers.
In April 1845, the town voted unanimously to allow the Independent Order of Odd Fellows to construct a second story above the open-wall market and to lease this second story to the Odd Fellows for 999 years. In December 1853, the town filled in the walls of the building with brick between the original piers, to create an engine house for the fire company (the fire company would relocate after the new fire hall at Washington & New Streets was completed in 1912).
Citizens Vote For Library
In Musser’s chronology, the Woman’s club [sic] presented a petition to the town council in June 1925, asking for permission to use the market house for a library. After the council tied on the vote, the town held a special election in July 1926 asking all citizens to vote on allowing the Woman’s Club to use the market house rent free to maintain a public library — the vote was 103 for and 23 against.
The Shepherdstown Public Library’s website notes that the Club purchased the Odd Fellows lease in 1962 and expanded into the second floor to create the children’s department of the library. In 1972, the Club turned the library operations over to the West Virginia Public Library Commission. In July of 2022, the Shepherdstown Public Library bid a bittersweet farewell to the market house building as it moved to its new location on Higbee Lane at the outskirts of town.
Peering Ahead To New Uses For The Market House
For the first time in over 220 years, the market house building finds itself vacant. The town recently surveyed residents to collect ideas on how this iconic building might continue to play a vital role at the center of the Shepherdstown community.By Steve Pearson