The captivating city of Charles Town, W.Va., 63 miles from Washington, oozes history.

Originally part of Virginia, Charles Town was established in 1786. It was developed by Col. Charles Washington — hence the name — and should not be confused with the state capital, Charleston. Washington, youngest brother of President George Washington, lived at the circa 1780 pale pink brick Happy Retreat, now headquarters of the Jefferson County Historical Society. His downtown office, with a historical marker, remains on North Lawrence Street.

Charles Washington began with 80 acres and established a major intersection at Washington and George streets. The Jefferson County courthouse — a remarkable Roman Revival style building with four white columns — towers over the northeast corner. On this site, abolitionist John Brown and six of his fellow raiders were tried and convicted of treason in 1859. The original courthouse was destroyed by fire in 1863 and rebuilt by 1871.

The Bank of Charles Town, founded in 1871, is steps away. A post office, once the jail for Brown and others, anchors another corner. The streets are named in honor of Charles’s wife, Mildred, along with brothers Lawrence, Samuel and George. The main thoroughfare is Washington Street. There are more than 70 members of the Washington family buried in the nearby cemetery at Zion Episcopal Church.

“Charles Town is in the Washington, D.C., Metro [metropolitan statistical area] and many don’t realize this,” said Alice Frazier, president and chief executive of the Bank of Charles Town. MSAs are defined by the Office of Management and Budget and used by the Census Bureau and other federal agencies.

“Seventy percent of our working residents leave the county traveling east to as far as D.C. The market in Jefferson County is extremely active and West Virginia is offering cash incentives for people to move to West Virginia,” Frazier said.

Charles Town has a population of 6,029 within its nearly six square miles. The city estimates its cost of living is 30 percent less than nearby suburbs in Virginia and Maryland.

“I was born here, grew up here and want to die here,” said Amanda Roberson, a clerk at the city offices.

After Brown and six of his cohorts were convicted, they were sentenced to hang. Brown rode to the gallows sitting atop his own coffin on a wagon that is still displayed at the Jefferson County Museum. The execution took place at what is now 515 S. Samuel St.

Known as the Gibson-Todd House, the seven-bedroom Victorian mansion on nearly an acre was built in 1891 by Confederate Col. John Gibson. He helped arrest Brown and facilitated his hanging. A streetside plaque marks the spot. The house, once owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, sold for $875,000 in June, the highest priced property sold so far this year.

Stephanie Shupe, a real estate agent with Atoka Properties, came to West Virginia from suburban Washington “kicking and screaming” in 2005.

“It turns out it was the best thing I ever did,” she said. “Charles Town reminds me of where my parents grew up in Iowa, with rolling hills and valleys.”

A single mother with two grown children, Shupe bought a 1,200-square-foot, two-bedroom, one-bathroom house for $170,000 on Hunter Street last February. “It’s a pretty place and I can still get to the Kennedy Center.”

Joshua Beall, also a real estate agent with Atoka Properties, has several newer homes for sale in the Huntfield subdivision. A four-bedroom, five-bathroom, 3,041-square foot Colonial built in 2006 is listed at $430,000.

The aptly named Abolitionist Ale Works, on West Washington Street, offers wings and pizza. It also has a long revolving list of ales made on-site: Treason Brown Ale, Shenandoah Saison and Dirty Autumn, among others.

Edgar Conn, a 2004 graduate of Jefferson High School, teaches English at his alma mater. He also teaches dance at the 100-year-old Old Opera House, a production theater and school on North George Street. He often eats at Cocina Plantasaurus, a restaurant that serves plant-based fare inside the Washington Street shop called Needful Things.

Conn’s mother, Linda Conn, was a jockey. She is now a trainer at the racetrack where Edgar spent weekends working in the stables. Built in 1933, the track is five blocks to the east of the courthouse. It is now known as the Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races. The racetrack hosts the West Virginia Breeders Classics on the second Saturday night in October. Founded in 1987 by NFL Hall of Famer and West Virginia native Sam Huff, who died Nov. 13, it has awarded more than $29 million in purses.

“There’s a great people mix here,” Mayor Bob Trainor said. “Some have been here their whole life. I want to make Charles Town a better place to live.”

Living there: The housing market has been strong in Charles Town, according to data provided by Beall. So far in 2021, 78 homes have sold, up from 56 in 2020. The days-on-market figure has fallen to a median of seven days, down from nine days in 2020. The median sales price has risen to $355,000 this year from $299,950 in 2020.

In Jefferson County, where Charles Town is located, Atoka Properties reported 136 homes for sale during September and 112 closed sales with a median sold price of $308,000.

“Charles Town and Jefferson County continue to be a very attractive place for people and families who are looking for quality affordable homes,” said Stephen Cowen, director of mortgage banking at Bank of Charles Town. “The school system, local amenities and welcoming community provide many a great place to live while still being within commutable distance for jobs, travel and more. The large regional and national home builders have invested recently in the local market, which has driven growth. For all of those reasons, I believe the future continues to be bright for real estate in the area.”

Schools: Page Jackson Elementary, Wright Denny Intermediate School, Charles Town Middle, Martin Robison Delany Opportunity Learning Center, and Washington and Jefferson high schools.

Transit: The Eastern Panhandle Transit Authority (EPTA) commuter bus circulates throughout Charles Town, taking commuters to the MARC train station in nearby Harpers Ferry, about 18 minutes away. From there, it’s about a 90-minute ride to Union Station in Washington.

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