Shepherdstown’s Hidden Gem: The Rumsey Monument

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James Rumsey Monument in James Rumsey Park

(The Picket)-“Who is John Galt?” rang the ever-repeated phrase in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. But in the case of Shepherdstown, it’s more like, “Who is James Rumsey?”

This little town even boasts a monument built to honor him, and a park tucked down river from the aptly named James Rumsey Bridge, completed in 2006, connects Maryland and Shepherdstown across the Potomac River. But the story of this mysterious figure might remain in shrouds to the casual passers-by.

Bench in Rumsey Park

Rumsey (1743-1792), fulfilled his life as a great American mechanical engineer and inventor. Most notably – and as indicated on his monument – he “Made the first successful application of steam to the practical purposes of navigation,” or, in layman terms, he made the first steamboat. This occurred in Shepherdstown in 1787.

View of the Potomac river from Rumsey Park.

Now some of you might be thinking that Robert Fulton first tackled the steamboat with his demonstration in 1807, going an impressive 300 miles roundtrip from New York City to Albany and back again. But Fulton’s demonstration was merely more popular, and history deemed him more worthy of praise, so Rumsey did not get the widespread attention that Fulton did.

Rumsey gets even more interesting because he also co-owned an inn run by the Throgmortons in current-day Berkeley Springs, where President George Washington roomed during a visit in 1784. While Washington was there, Rumsey demonstrated his ideas and spoke about his plan for the steamboat. Three years later and after endorsements and commendations from Washington, the Rumsey steamboat began its run from Shepherdstown.

The Rumsey monument is something that many Shepherd students might have heard about but never seen. Plus, exploring Rumsey Park can make for an exceedingly good time.

Thursday, Sept. 7, one of the last trains for carnival equipment rolled by on the nearby train trestle heading for Danville, Va.