B olivar and its surrounding areas were land originally belonging to the tribes of the Iroquois Nation. The area has produced Native American artifacts from as far back as the 12th century. Swiss immigrant Louis Michel reported Indians in the area during his 1706 travels along the banks of Potomac River.
Bolivar was formed in the late 18th and early 19th centuries on land originally granted to Lord Fairfax by King Charles II of England. The individual credited as being one of the first settlers is businessman Gersham Keyes. While Robert Harper settled down hill near the confluence of the rivers, Keyes settled uphill on the land of present day Bolivar, building his home and a tavern on (present day) Washington Street. By 1790, Keyes owned a gristmill, sawmill, blacksmith shop, and two distilleries. The town quickly formed a small, unincorporated community its citizens coined Mudfort. Charles Varle, a French mapmaker and publisher, surveyed Mudfort in 1810, noting that Mudfort had “A good tavern, several large stores for goods, a library, a physician and a Professor of English…".
According to local legend, the name Mudfort came from "Mudfort" children throwing balls of mud at children approaching the town from Harpers Ferry, effectively keeping the children of Harpers Ferry from playing with the children of Bolivar. The Virginia Assembly was petitioned for charter and incorporation in 1825 by Mudfort citizens. Incorporated December 29, 1825, The town's name was changed from Mudfort to Bolivar after the South American revolutionary leader. Simon Bolivar.
Residents of Bolivar during this time period owned and operated mills, shops, factories, distilleries, and other industrial businesses. Many residents of Bolivar were skilled armorers, miner and quarry workers, boatmen, and laborers.