There’s this little village, off the beaten path, back in Jefferson County. To reach this place, I prefer taking Rt. 51 from Inwood, toward Charles Town… the old Middleway Pike.
Now, there are a lot of places in the Shenandoah Valley where one can see buildings that predate the Civil War… lots. Yet, I don’t think I’ve found a place where one can immerse themselves so much in the early 19th century Shenandoah as Middleway (formerly known as Smithfield). In some ways, I’d even say it rivals Harpers Ferry.
In part, we can thank the old Winchester & Potomac Railroad for this. Many thought for certain that the W&P would run through Smithfield/Middleway… but, to those who had high hopes for growth in Middleway… it did not. Again, what was their loss might well be our gain… at least those who have a passion for the history (especially in the architecture) that was left behind.
It’s not that Smithfield/Middleway was abandoned because of the railroad’s chosen path, but because the town did not see the destruction of older buildings to make way for newer buildings… but I may be getting ahead of myself, just a bit.
Middleway’s European-influenced attributes date to the early 1700s. Thanks to a man named John Smith (no, not Jamestown’s John Smith), the village had its beginnings (the town was settled in 1734). What started with Smith’s grist and hemp mills, moved forward to see an active little community. By 1795, the Smith family had the town surveyed and began selling lots. In time, (and as I already mentioned, “Smithfield”, to prevent confusion with another Virginia town by the same name, had to change its name to Middleway (though the town was still known as Smithfield well into the 1800s.
At one point (exactly when, I have yet to figure out), the village, filled with “numerous shops and crafts people”, became known as the “Paris of the Valley.” The following is from the Middleway Walking Tour brochure, and might help to explain more…
In the early 1800s, the town was a prosperous regional trading center with a main street lined with shops and houses. According to Charles [Peter] Varle [also known as Peter Charles Varle], in 1810 the town had two churches as well as ‘three well assorted stores, an apothecary shop, one distillery, four shoemakers, five weavers, one waggon maker, one saddle-tree maker, one hatter, three blacksmiths, three tailors, and one tanner; and that there was an attorney-at-law and a physician.
Frankly, I find it hard to believe that Middleway rivaled other towns in the area. Certainly, Charles Town must have had even more… especially in that it was Charles Town and not Middleway that became the county seat. On the other hand, I believe that Henry Howe’s Historical Collections of Virginia (1845) may have downplayed (significantly?) the town, but saying little more than the following…
Middleway, 7 miles southwest of Charlestown, contains 1 Presbyterian, and 1 Methodist church, 3 mercantile stores, and about 500 inhabitants.
Whatever the story behind its title as the “Paris of the Valley”, the questionable nature of the name should not deter a visit.
No matter how you come to Middleway, Leetown Road (which turns into Queen Street in the town) is the main thoroughfare.
What greets you at the heart of their historic district might raise different feelings.
Right off the bat, you may notice old buildings that need care…
But if that’s all you see… give it another look. There’s a lot to see in the village, and at times I got a Williamsburg-esque type of feeling.
Yet, it’s not as “historically sanitized” as Williamsburg… and I think that’s a good thing… but, the overall feel of the village places one in an environment that should immerse you in another time. The only negative thing I have to say is that the speed limit is too high going through town. One shouldn’t feel a gust from a semi-truck barreling through town when walking. Also, I wish there was some sort of a sidewalk (perhaps like the cobblestone-like sidewalk just outside the tavern that dates to 1750) along Queen Street, to allow better (and safer) access. After all… the sign on Rt. 51 clearly touts the village as a historic district… as such, the village should tweak the main street in order to make good on that claim. Again… it’s not that I’d like to see it “sanitized”. Quite to the contrary… the town should retain its character. Just make the main thoroughfare safer and more easily to walk along.
Here are some images that I was able to take, during my visit… just about two weeks ago.
Another part of the kick I’m on, to better understand the culture of the antebellum Shenandoah. This was time well-spent, spending a good three hours at Middleway…