When I first moved here sixteen years ago, Shepherdstown was seeing a new wave of neo-hippies in town, the seventh-or-so such wave since the ‘60s. Drumming was a regular activity at The Wall; dreads seemed to be more popular than grey hair; and where Kazu is now, there was a shop called Dragonfly—full of tie-dye, sarongs, and guayaberas.
I’ve lived here long enough to witness that tide change every few years, from neo-hippies, to Indies (the independents), to Afflies (the affluents), and back to neo-hippies—to start the cycle again. All the while, the storefronts have shifted locations, faded, and lit up again, enough to sound like a reworked version of The Twelve Days of Christmas: five coffee shops, four ring boutiques, three ice cream counters, two toy stores, and a late night vegan hot dog stand …
But I’ve lived here long enough to see that the people and the stores circle around with renewed life again and again. For example, when I moved here, Ed’s Taproom was on its last days, but the bartop is back, right there (in The Town Run) seeing its old familiar faces, and meeting new friends. Many of the people who lived here then have gone, and some came back and left again, like me.
I consider the cycles of our town very much in the way I think of the Town Run (the waterway). It doesn’t go dry; it feeds something much bigger; and even though it’s always there, it is always moving—never quite the same, somehow always magical. If you’ve immersed yourself in it—even a little toe in the middle of summertime—then you’ve communed with this place and you’re destined to return.
And those who stayed here in town amid the flow have reignited those stories again and again.
Over the years, many who came and went have told me Shepherdstown reminds them of a snow globe town. I don’t like that image too much; once a place like that gets shook up, it starts snowing when you’d least expect it. Shepherdstown isn’t like that at all. I see a better comparison. I grew up on Public Television, and Shepherdstown reminds me more of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood: on any given day, you can walk a block or two this way or that, and find an unbelievable cast of characters who (surprisingly) all live in the same town.
Should we go visit the Blacksmith today? His shop is right over there.
Want to meet the real Farmers who grow our food? They’re just outside of town.
Shall we watch a Cartoonist in action?
Chat with Published Authors?
Admire a Concert Pianist?
Visit a General Store?
Talk shop with an Astrophysicist or a Sculptor?
Horticulturists? We have one on every corner!
Looking for Diversity? Shepherdstown have one of those, too.
Most of what you could imagine, we have at least one of in town.
Mr. Rogers lived in a land with plenty of animals, and our town loves theirs. The Meck has a pet possum; chickens outnumber Republicans; pet birds ride on shoulders; we have a festival for Dogs; and there are so many cats on Prospect Street, you’d think town was run by Ancient Egyptians.
Just like on Mr. Rogers, there always seems to be a train car passing by, and if you listen very closely (depending on what part of town you’re in), it is accompanied by the sound of a jazz piano.
Children are welcome everywhere, even in our most popular bar.
We have a King and a Princess, but instead of puppets, they’re streets.
Some people speak in British accents; many folks have costumes in their closets just itching for the next parade; and most of us—if not all of us—live in a land of make-believe.
I like that, because I’m a character too. And so are you, and you, and you, and we all need a place to belong.
Mr. Rogers was on PBS, and so it was realer than other TV. If Shepherdstown had been more like Full House, we’d resolve all of our issues in a sterile way in under thirty minutes.
But we don’t play by the Danny Tanner rule book; like Fred Rogers, we confront our issues, sometimes loudly—sometimes en masse down at the nicest Town Hall in the U.S. for a town of our size—and sometimes, everything ends in a great big snowball fight, even if the snow is falling in April.
In Shepherdstown, we celebrate together, we eat and drink together, and if the time comes, we mourn together.
And of course, on TV, starting and ending every day for me was Mr. Rogers. Fred was a mild-mannered minister with very progressive leanings. If you met him on the street corner or the PanTran, you’d likely have no idea he was a preacher. Reminds me of many religious leaders here in town.
But when his walking shoes were on, and he ventured out into town, past the little houses, his steps were guided by education, friendship, a welcoming spirit, and love. As long as I’ve been here, Shepherdstownies have been that kind of neighbor to me, and those types of characters for each other. And to that, let us raise a glass.
Adam Booth is an award-winning storyteller, musician, and educator—born and raised in West Virginia.