Pendleton County & the Potomac Highlands
The Potomac Highlands region of West Virginia typically refers to five core counties located in the Potomac River watershed–Grant, Hampshire, Hardy, Mineral, and Pendleton. For West Virginia’s tourism marketing purposes, the region also includes Pocahontas, Randolph and Tucker Counties, substantial portions of which have the same rugged, high-elevation terrain characteristic of the five core counties. Some broader definitions of the Potomac Highlands region extend beyond West Virginia to embrace Allegany and Garrett Counties in Maryland, which are geographically, socially, and economically linked to many of the adjoining West Virginia counties. Some regional delineations also lump the Potomac Highlands Region into the state’s “Eastern Panhandle” region along with Berkeley, Jefferson, and Morgan Counties, but all our local citizens understand the difference. The largest city within the entire five-county Potomac Highlands region is Keyser, with a total population of about 5,500.
Within West Virginia, the Potomac Highland counties were first settled long before West Virginia became the 35th state in 1863, and contain some of the oldest communities in the state. Romney, the Hampshire County seat, was first settled in 1725 and chartered by the Colony of Virginia as a town on December 23, 1762. This date makes Romney and Shepherdstown (located in Jefferson County and chartered in the same year) the two oldest incorporated towns in the state. The Potomac Highlands region is noted for its pristine headwater streams and rivers, impressive forested ridgelines, rugged topography, extensive outdoor recreational amenities, hardscrabble family farms, historic landmarks, and charming small towns and communities. Many of West Virginia’s most iconic natural landmarks are found in the Potomac Highlands, including the 900 foot vertical cliffs of Seneca Rocks, Ice Mountain, Dolly Sods and Bear Rocks, Lost River, the Trough, Smoke Hole Canyon, and Spruce Knob which, at 4,863 feet above mean sea level, is the highest point in Pendleton County, West Virginia, the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and the Allegheny Mountains. Website links for all of these features may be found in our “Attractions and Events” listing four pages below this one.
Pendleton County, which was first settled around 1745 and established by the Virginia General Assembly in 1788, has an extensive French and Indian War and Civil War heritage. In April 1758, two French and Indian War forts commissioned by General George Washington (Forts Upper Tract and Seybert), were attacked and burned by Shawnee and Delaware Indian warriors. Although there were no survivors from Fort Upper Tract, several pioneers survived the Fort Seybert siege. These survivors were taken as hostages by the invading Indians and led back to their settlements in the Ohio River Valley. According to legend (as told by survivors who eventually escaped), before abandoning the devastated fort, the Indians collected many of the settler’s valuables and placed them in a large iron pot to carry them home on their retreat. The steep terrain made it difficult for the Indians carrying the heavy pot to keep pace. Fearing that they would be overtaken by Colonial Militia, they allegedly buried the pot along somewhere along their trail for later retrieval. The rest of the war effectively bypassed Pendleton County shortly thereafter, and the Indians never returned to retrieve their loot. The pot and its treasures have never been found, but the legend lives on in Pendleton County as the basis for the annual Treasure Mountain Festival.
The modern highways that traverse the North Fork of the Potomac River and Seneca Creek valleys of western Pendleton County follow a series of former Indian hunting trails. As a result, Pendleton County has many other fascinating historical Indian legends associated with those valleys. One of these legends recounts the tale of a beautiful Seneca Indian princess named “Snowbird,” who challenged all marriage suitors from her tribe to follow her climb up the steep cliffs of Seneca Rocks in order to win her hand. Many additional stories and legends associated with Smoke Hole Canyon and the rest of Pendleton County from the early 20th century are detailed in Don Barton Shreve’s Smoke Hole trilogy, which are available in many local stores.
With its low average population density of about 10 people per square mile and its working landscape of farms and forests, Pendleton County abounds with scenic, historic, and recreational amenities. Our county has all of the qualities that define the word, “rural.” For instance, Pendleton County has at least 20 mountain peaks with summit elevations above 4,000 feet, and is the only county in West Virginia to encompass portions of two National Forests–Monongahela and George Washington. Scores of small family farms, pasturelands, and working fields are sprinkled throughout the forested mountain landscape. Although our county covers nearly 700 square miles, we have only one incorporated town (the county seat of Franklin), one traffic light, no airports or railroads, and no roads wider than two lanes (not counting mountain truck bypass lanes). For more detailed information on Pendleton County’s, the region’s, and the state’s heritage, please consult the West Virginia Encyclopedia or the Pendleton County Convention and visitor’s bureau’s website. You may also refer to our Attractions & Events page for a list of links for the major tourist attractions and annual cultural events throughout our region. We at Peeper Pond Farm encourage you to visit and explore our area and its colorful heritage!