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Winchester (Independent City) and Vicinity

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Located at the northern end of the Valley, Winchester is the oldest town west of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the seat of Frederick County. Local surveyor James Wood platted the town in 1744, but it was not officially established by an act of the Virginia House of Burgesses until 1750. Initially known as Frederick Town, the name was changed to Winchester in honor of James Wood's birthplace in England. The town was incorporated in 1779 and became a city in 1874. As a frontier town, Winchester was the transportation and commercial center of the region and by 1754 had about sixty houses, many of log construction. In 1756, under the direction of George Washington, Fort Loudoun was erected on the north end of town for the protection of the inhabitants from attacks that never came from the French and their Indian allies. During the Revolutionary War, Winchester was the site of a large prisoner-of-war camp for British and Hessian soldiers. It is traditionally believed that some of the early architectural fabric of the town, especially stone buildings and fine wood carving, can be attributed to Hessian craftsmen, some of whom remained in the area after their release.

Winchester grew during the early nineteenth century primarily as a trade and mercantile center by travelers heading southwest through the Valley. Improvements in transportation networks prior to the Civil War included the macadamization of roads and the arrival in 1836 of a branch of the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Railroad. A small, Italianate, brick freight depot (1880) of the B&O survives at 430 N. Cameron Street. Rail transportation aided shipment of the Valley's considerable grain production.

Winchester's location at the intersection of major transportation routes contributed to its strategic importance during the Civil War. The town was bitterly fought over and reportedly exchanged hands seventy-two times. Reconstruction after the war brought new growth as Winchester became the industrial center of the region. Textile manufacturing and, in the early twentieth century, apple processing provided much of the community's economic base. This prosperity is reflected in the large houses found throughout the city. During the second half of the twentieth century, Winchester's economy became more diverse, although primarily manufacturing and service based. The City of Winchester remains the economic and cultural center of the region.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Anne Carter Lee

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