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The History Is Real in Winchester, Virginia


By Victor Block

Entering the town of Winchester, Virginia, is like traveling back in time. My recent visit echoed that of Shawnee and other Native American tribes who lived for thousands of years in what today is Frederick County. More recently, European explorers came as early as 1606.

As I approached the small city (population about 28,000), I passed through a phalanx of familiar chain stores and fast-food restaurants. Then suddenly I found myself in another world -- a history-rich setting that envelops visitors in the past without fuss or fanfare. Winchester is like a time capsule. Not an artificially created commercial attraction, it is a real place where important chapters of American history were written and remain.

What makes this immersion in earlier times so impressive is how it serves as a backdrop for the memories that were born there. There are so many references to -- and touches of -- the presence of George Washington, for example, that by the time you leave town you have new insight into the country's first president.

Washington's life is closely entwined with the story of Winchester. He arrived at age 16 in 1748, four years after the town was founded, to help survey land. During the next 10 years he went on to become commander of the Virginia Militia, planned and oversaw construction of more than 80 forts to provide protection for settlers from attack, and was chosen to serve as a delegate in the House of Burgesses, representing Winchester and Frederick County.

Remnants of Fort Loudoun, which was Washington's headquarters from 1756 to 1758, are among numerous traces of his time in the area. So is George Washington's Office Museum, the tiny log and stone building whose displays include his written orders to soldiers concerning "tippling" and "Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior," which he wrote at age 14.


Other notable men and women, historic structures and mesmerizing museums add to the appeal of Winchester and its surroundings. A number of significant sites sit in the Winchester Historic District. It encompasses 1,116 buildings dating from the 18th to mid-20th centuries. They range from log buildings and early stone houses to Federal-style townhomes and elegant Victorian residences.

The heart of the district is marked by the stately Greek Revival Frederick County Courthouse. It was completed in 1840, just in time to serve as a hospital and prison for both the Union and Confederate armies. Graffiti on some walls dates back to the military occupation of the building, which today houses a Civil War museum.

Reminders of that conflict are scattered about the area like shotgun shells. That's not surprising because the town and county's location as a transportation hub made it a highly contested prize. Six major battles raged there, and control of Winchester changed hands more than 70 times.

Visitors can relive those skirmishes at three Civil War museums, battlefields, remains of forts and other sites. The home used by Stonewall Jackson as his headquarters during the winter of 1861-62 contains a large collection of his personal objects and memorabilia.


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Copyright 2023 Creators Syndicate, Inc.




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