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Romney, established eight years after Hampshire County, shares honors with Shepherdstown as West Virginia's oldest town, inasmuch as the Virginia General Assembly created both on December 23, 1762. In both cases, settlement had already begun. Romney's act of establishment noted that “the right honourable Thomas Lord Fairfax” had already platted a parcel “at the place where the courthouse stands … into one hundred lots, of half an acre each, with streets for a town, by the name of Romney.” The proprietor named Romney for a port town on the English Channel and designated four half-acre lots as a public square.

Ten years after it was founded, Romney consisted, according to the Reverend David Jones, of no more than “a few log houses and a gaol.” The Northwestern Turnpike reached the town in 1830, bringing settlers as well as travelers. In 1845 Henry Howe noted that, although it was “a small village,” it was “yet one of considerable business, and has a branch of the Bank of the Valley, several stores, and about 350 inhabitants.” Primarily because the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad ran along its northern boundary, Hampshire County witnessed many skirmishes during the Civil War, and Romney, northern gateway to the South Branch Valley, changed hands more than fifty times.

In recent years, some of Romney's most significant early buildings have been demolished. The former Bank of the Valley of Virginia, the fine brick structure in the Federal style that Howe mentioned in 1845 and that HABS recorded in the 1930s, was one of the major losses. Still a small courthouse town, Romney had a 2000 population of 1,940.

Writing Credits

S. Allen Chambers Jr.

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