Ronald Radosh: Finding happiness two hours west of Washington

Historians in the News

Shepherdstown, West Virginia
What is a quintessential third-generation New York Jewish intellectual--me--doing moving to a house located between Shepherdstown and Martinsburg, West Virginia?

When I left 93rd Street and Broadway in 1992 for the Maryland suburbs of Washington, my New York friends thought my wife and I were mad. One does not simply discard one's roots and leave the Big Apple; it is just not done! Now, my Washington friends are shocked ("You're going where?"). How could we leave the center of the nation's political life for an area way past the boondocks, far beyond commuting distance?

Actually, as we've learned, hundreds of people commute from here daily to Washington: The towns are on the MARC line. Truthfully, if I had to be in the District every day, I would find it difficult. The last train leaves at 8 A.M. and gets in at 10. Most people get up at 6 and catch the 7 o'clock. But my wife and I are now writing books full time. We benefited from the real estate appreciation of the past few years and, not having a child at home needing good schools, we can live anywhere. Shepherdstown is close enough to come into Washington and visit friends and attend events (slightly over an hour's drive).

The only serious problem I have is getting used to reading the daily papers online--unless I want to make the drive each day into town to buy them. There's no market for delivery of the major national papers out here, only the Martinsburg Journal. Thank God (or Al Gore) for the Internet and broadband; without it, I would have had to stay put.

We love our new home and area. And we knew the area had a lot that attracts us. The mountain air is fresh and the views are breathtaking. Our home is adjacent to a golf course; if I actually played golf, I'd be in heaven. But the area is rich in cultural life. As the brochure for the popular Contemporary American Theater Festival held each July puts it, the plays take place in "hip, historic Shepherdstown." As I write, we are planning an evening drive to town for the Chinese film Balzac and the Little Seamstress, one of the movies showing at the East-West Film Festival held at the circa 1800s Opera House sponsored by the Shepherdstown Film Society. How many small towns--this one being the oldest town in West Virginia--have their own film society?

Then there is the music. As a lover of old-time bluegrass and traditional folk music, and as a very amateur guitar and banjo picker, I knew that I was settling in the heart of music country. If I wanted to, I could go and listen and play almost every night. Tuesday is the regular open mike night at the Mecklenburg Inn, once an inn and guest house dating from 1796. Performers start at 8 P.M. and the music goes on till past midnight, or when the bartender decides to close up. On Wednesday there's the old-time and bluegrass jam session, where talented fiddle, mandolin, washtub bass players, and banjo and guitar pickers come and play. And when I get my courage up, I join them....
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