The settlement of Grafton was part of a rapid movement west to the new frontier in the early to mid-1700’s. The Current family, one of Grafton’s first residents, were late seventeenth-century Irish immigrants who entered the continent by the way of Maryland. When James Current traded a horse for 1300 acres of virgin land in Virginia, it was situated where the city of Grafton is today. His first act was to hire a surveyor from the eastern part of Virginia to stake his property. This was a young man who was only 19 years old and started surveying for fees at the age of 15. He had previously made a survey of western Virginia. His name was George Washington. James Current fought for America’s Independence against the British and died August 15, 1822 at the age of 92 and his wife, Margaret, died in 1830 at the age of 93. Their bodies were interred in the cemetery on their plantation which today is a part of the city of Grafton and known as “Bluemont Cemetery,” the only Revolutionary War Soldier buried in this municipal cemetery.
In 1835, John Blue purchased 300 acres from the Current family and shortly thereafter “Bridge Valley” (present day Fetterman) began to grow. The Baltimore & Ohio (B&O) Railroad arrived in 1852 during the construction of the nation’s first trans-Appalachian railroad. By 1853, Grafton had emerged as a railroad town with several residences and stores catered to the development of the railroad. As the railroad facilities were being built, land was surveyed for the new town which was chartered on March 15, 1856 in the Virginia General Assembly and named in honor of John Grafton. Grafton was a civil engineer in the employment of Colonel Benjamin Latrobe, who laid out the route of the B&O Railroad.
Due to the importance of the B&O Railroad for the movement of troops and supplies, Grafton was a strategic point during the early stages of the Civil War and both sides tried to control it. Although most residents sided with the Union, people of Grafton and this area were divided. Union supporters joined the Grafton Guards and southern supporters joined the Confederate Letcher’s Guard. On the evening of May 22, 1861, the two forces had a small scuffle in the town of Fetterman, which is now a part of Grafton, that resulted in the death of Thornsberry Bailey Brown who was the first soldier killed in the Civil War. His body now lies in the Grafton National Cemetery, one of two National Cemeteries in Grafton, and the only National Cemeteries in West Virginia. The Confederate forces were pushed south of Grafton under General B.J. Kelley and General George McClellan to Philippi where Mr. Kelley’s forces defeated the Confederates under Colonel George A. Porterfield on June 3, 1861. Although the Union controlled the B&O terminal in Grafton, the Confederates often raided the area to disrupt its importance.
In 1867, Grafton held a “Flower Strewing Day” which was later called Memorial Day to honor those who served our community and country during the Civil War. Grafton has the honor of celebrating the longest ongoing Memorial Day observance in the country. Each year, Grafton holds “The Spirit of Grafton” which is a weekend long Memorial Day festival which concludes with a parade. In 2017, the City of Grafton celebrated the 150th continuous Memorial Day observance, the longest ongoing Memorial Day observance in the United States.
In 1908 at Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church which is located along Main Street, the first Mother’s Day observance was held. At the request of Ms. Anna Jarvis, the congregation of this church recognized mothers and their significance to the formation of our country. This service lead to the creation of Mother’s Day which is a National Holiday held on the second Sunday of May every year. The International Mother’s Day Shrine, formerly Andrew’s Episcopal Church, holds a service each year to recognize mothers everywhere.