The Market House, known today as the Shepherdstown Public Library, was originally built in 1800 as a one-story market. It offered local farmers a sheltered place to sell their wares, and a centrally located spot for residents to buy farm-fresh products. Around 1850, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) built a second story and added the IOOF insignia on the front of the building. Throughout its long history, it has been home to the fire department, the town council offices, a butcher shop, a school, and the local jail. A pigpen and a public whipping post were located behind the building. Today, it is the home of a thriving library that is literally and figuratively the heart of Shepherdstown.
The building was originally a typical market house — single story with large doors front and back. It stood in the center of King Street which allowed traffic to pass on either side and provided a drive-in for sellers’ wagons. The sides were open to shoppers and closed with wooden slats when not in use. Measuring fifty-seven by twenty feet, it was an imposing building in early Shepherdstown.
In 1845, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) approached the town about building a second story onto the Market House. They required a meeting room, and ritual demanded that it be located on the second floor with opaque windows to preserve the secrecy that surrounded their meetings. The brick front of the building was extended upwards and shaped to present a façade similar to that of the German Reformed Church, and a new roof was installed. A stairway was constructed at the rear exterior of the building to avoid interference with the market’s entrance. This work was completed in exchange for a 999-year lease between the town and the IOOF. The upper level served as the Order’s meeting room until 1962. To this day, the second story front continues to feature the IOOF symbols of the “All-Seeing Eye of God” in a sunburst and the “Heart-in-Hand” representing their mission to help the community.
The Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest battle of the Civil War, was fought at nearby Sharpsburg, Maryland in September 1862. The Market House, like many other town buildings, was used as a makeshift hospital during the battle. During the subsequent few years, the building was used by the U.S. military as a holding area for civil war soldiers. By the early 1900s, the Market House had fallen into disrepair, and many of the townspeople suggested “tearing down the eyesore.” The IOOF firmly resisted. They sued the government for damages to the building and were eventually awarded $115.00 in recompense for rental of the building, thus effectively saving this historic structure from demolition.
The Shepherdstown Women’s Club took over the bottom floor for a public library in 1922. The library was operated by the club, funded by donations, and staffed by dedicated volunteers for about fifty years. Despite limited and unpredictable funding, the library thrived and gathered a reasonably balanced collection of books. In 1948, the town was finally persuaded to remove the jail cells. The Women’s Club bought the building lease from the Order of Odd Fellows in 1962 and took possession of the upstairs for a children’s department. In 1971, the Women’s Club turned the library over to the state. Since then, it has continued to grow in programs, patrons, and popularity and is truly a cornerstone of the community.