West Virginia offers a rich cultural heritage and spectacular natural beauty. This journal provides glimpses into life in the Mountain State by a long-time resident.
by BawBaw on November 17, 2009
Let's face it, good Mexican food isn’t easy to find here in my part of the United States. The usual offerings are either neuvo cuisined or TexMex'ed beyond recognition. Happily for me (and for my tastebuds), Casa Gonzalez #2 in Ranson, WV is an exception. This restaurant’s menu tends toward the Chihuahuan tradition, and in my view, that represents a vast improvement over the options more generally available.Casa Gonzalez #2 is part of a small family-owned chain consisting of three restaurants located in rural Virginia and West Virginia. The food is tasty, the hospitality is genuine, and the margaritas will improve your day--no matter the challenges life may have dealt! Other drinks, spirited and non-spirited, are available, but it is my considered opinion that only margaritas are truly appropriate for evening meals at this good establishment. The folks at Casa Gonzalez offer the usual options for this indispensable beverage--on the rocks or frozen, extra shot of tequila on the side, blue margaritas, and standard margaritas with the house tequila or an upgraded version made with a more expensive brand. Himself and Yours Truly find the house version quite adequate, though we occasionally indulge in the higher priced alternatives. We like our margaritas on the rocks with salt. Yes, we are purists.Our favorite entrees from the menu offerings are chili rellenos (for me) and steak with mole sauce (for him). The rellenos are made from fleshy medium-sized chilies stuffed with cheese, and the mole consists of a dark and rich sauce served over an inexpensive but tender cut of steak. We're also fond of guacamole with the house tortilla chips. The fresh salsa (basic tomato, chile, and onion with assorted herbs) is mild but satisfying, and the staff will provide a spicier version on request. Despite our affection for the rellenos and the steak, we sometimes dabble in other items, including fajitas, enchiladas, tamales, and even combination platters that include tacos and tequitas. Entrees are generally served with Spanish rice, refried pinto or black beans (your choice), and picante. On the whole, the menu is long enough to offer variety, yet short enough to be managed by a relatively small kitchen. Appetizers, sides, combinations, luncheon portions, entrees, and deserts are all available. For customers who may not be familiar with this particularly cuisine, the menu includes a short directory of terms that will help take the mystery out of ordering.The décor at Casa Gonzales is simple and unexceptional, consisting of brightly colored paintings, wide-brimmed sombreros, and various bits of bric-o-brac suggesting an origin south of the border. It is an environment in which booths and tables are welcoming and pleasant, but they are by no means fancy. The exterior murals worked in a Southwestern style are unusual for our area, and they help to mitigate the lack of inspiration for the inside of this red brick box of a restaurant. During warm weather, guests may choose to dine on the patio rather than at inside tables.You'll never mistake Casa Gonzalez #2 for an escapee from the Plaza in Santa Fe. This is a working-class restaurant serving a proletarian cuisine—good peasant food prepared for the American palette while somehow managing to retain its authenticity. When you consider that I'm a snob for "New Mexican cuisine" at its best, that's darn near high praise. A meal for the two of us, plus the guacamole and the margaritas (one each), will typically run $35 to $40 before tip. Not a bad deal, in my opinion. Bottom line: The prices are reasonable, the service is good, and the food has real taste.In keeping with its working-class character, the Casa Gonzalez chain does not maintain a Web site, and formal reviews are scarce. The restaurant frequented (and I use that word literally) by Himself and Yours Truly is located at 611 North Mildred Street in Ranson, WV. The phone number is (304) 725-1032. Carryout is available on request.
by BawBaw on February 26, 2009
The very sound of the word "Shenandoah" is tinged with romance, and perhaps a bit of sadness. It is a beautiful word, evocative of haunting melodies, sumptuous natural landscapes, chivalrous warriors waging righteous battle, and the whoosh of pure water flowing from mountain streams to converge within a river touched by mystery and legend. One of those legends maintains that the Shenandoah was formed from the tears of an Indian maiden in mourning for her lost love. I like this particular legend. It suits the dramatic landscape of the river’s watershed, and it suits the region’s inherent nostalgia.The Shenandoah is part of my life. As the crow flies, it lies within 4 miles of my front door in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle—not quite walking distance on most occasions, but near enough to entice me into a very personal and lengthy courtship with my legendary neighbor. When I head northeast out my door, I end up on the banks of the Shenandoah near Harpers Ferry, about 6 miles away. Here I can find any number of places within the national park where the river is immediately accessible, not least of which is along its banks down from Shenandoah Street—virtually at the Shenandoah's confluence with the Potomac. This is where Harpers Ferry literally joins the river during the floods that periodically overwhelm the town. Here the water course is wide and littered with large, flat-faced stones that test the skill of those who love to run the river in kayaks, canoes, and oversized rubber tubes. Along the river as it approaches Harpers Ferry are the remnants of the town’s industrial past. Solid rock walls survive—some on the bank, some actually jutting out into the water—competing with the trees and undergrowth that have returned and providing refuge for wildlife. Four miles to the southeast, my favored destination, it’s possible to follow the river from a spectacular horseshoe bend; along a wide, well-carved channel; and on to a broad, shallow expanse of river lined on one side with tiny, tree-shaded inlets. This is where I usually go when feel like photographing the river, attempting to record the many aspects of her character. The banks along this stretch of river are partly public and partly private property. This means that my access to the river is often restricted by a succession of "no trespassing" signs. Confined to the shoulders of a public roadway, I strain across narrow stretches of privately property to find a good angle for my photos. In growing frustration, I challenge the abilities of my zoom lens and the limits of my own imagination. When I’m very lucky, an owner will see my dilemma and invite me to walk past the signs and down to the water’s edge. I really hate those signs, but I understand them—so many people regard this beautiful river as a refuse dump.Local owners of riverside property seldom build anything permanent near the water—the danger of flooding is simply too great. Instead, they turn the riverbank into a series of private parks complete with docks for small boats, hammocks, benches, barbeque pits, and traditional West Virginia outhouses. Each area is different—some strewn with underbrush and wildflowers amid trees of all sizes, others with inviting lawns amid mature trees, and still others with all the bells and whistles to allow an RV to take up residence at the owner’s pleasure. Some of these riverside parks are extensions of a property across the road, where houses have been built at a safe distance from and height above the river. Others are tiny tracks, sometimes narrower than the roadbed they border, returned to as time and inclination allow by largely absentee owners. Moulton State Park on Bloomery Road (Charles Town) combines a series of public camp sites and stream access along the river’s edge into an area that is less frustrating in terms of access, but generally less inspiring, at least in terms of photography. Here most of the trees, most of the wildflowers, and virtually all the natural character of the river bank have flattened under too many careless shoes and shovels. Nonetheless, the views up, down, and across the river are as fine as one could want. And this is also a good place to study the faces of children with fishing poles and an outdoor attitude. The channel of the river is deeper here and less inviting for wading. That sport of princes and princesses of all ages is better practiced further down along Bloomery Road, where another (but unnamed) public access point has a gently sloped bank that invites wading. It also invites adults with fishing poles to dangle their feet from inflatable chairs, allowing them to fish in rather decadent comfort.Over the years, I’ve learned to know and appreciate the Shenandoah’s moods and her charms in all seasons and in types of weather. These lessons involve:~ Walking her banks in the warmer months and spying wildflowers and berries, learning their names and uses—and wondering how I could have waited so late in life to acquire this knowledge.~ Watching the antics of the wildfowl drawn to her waters—graceful predators that glide, dip, and dart to snatch their sustenance from the river through all the seasons of the year. ~ Wading her shallows in summer and watching in amazement as schools of tiny minnows nip at my ankles and toes. ~ Sunning myself on the wide, smooth rocks that lay bare when the water is low. Among my special memories involves sitting on one of those rocks with a friend after the death of my father. It was a warm day in November, and the waters of the river help to soothe the sorrow and replace it with memories of a happier sort. Now that friend is also gone, and I cannot go to the Shenandoah without remembering her and how her support helped me through a difficult time. ~ Watching with admiration (and perhaps a touch of envy) as young men and women rush through her rapids in flimsy-looking conveyances of all sorts.~ Being chastened by the river’s power when particularly heavy rains swell her banks to overflowing with swift brown water that looks like liquid soil.~ Delighting in summer over how the river attracts children, who literally laugh out loud at the chance to dangle their toes and their fishing poles into the water.~ Appreciating the fragile beauty of the nearly frozen river in the heart of winter.~ Mourning the thoughtlessness of those who dump their trash in isolated inlets along her banks, leaving cans, bottles, large plastic bags filled to bursting, and even the occasional sofa or discarded tire to pollute the water and spoil the view.I know and appreciate my good fortune in sharing time with the Shenandoah. In its way, it helps to keep me grounded. Too often, the natural cycles that govern life along the river are allowed to creep into the background of modern life, skewing our view of the "real" world. My long courtship with the river gives my life a needed balance, a perspective that is missing from a world dominated by schedules, meetings, shopping centers, parking lots, and computers. The river serves as a reminder of things more governed by the natural order, and it provides a metaphor for life itself: For all its power, the Shenandoah is fragile and in a mode of constant, perceptible change. These are lessons worth the learning, from a teacher worth the heeding.
by BawBaw on February 19, 2009
Imagine a cluster of Alpine chalets positioned dramatically atop a bluff overlooking the bend of a famous river. Now imagine an elegant restaurant featuring German and American cuisine, all prepared in a kitchen supervised by world-class chefs. Add a casual Rathskeller serving good German beer on tap and accessing the same kitchen for meals. Put all this together, and where are you? Bavaria? Austria? The Swiss Alps? Guess again. You’re at the Bavarian Inn in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, and the river you see below is the Potomac, just a few miles upstream and a world away from Washington, DC. The Bavarian Inn of Shepherdstown has been a fixture on the local gastronomic landscape for nearly half a century. Owned and operated by the Asam family, it has expanded over time, but it has consistently maintained a high standard of quality and service. That quality is validated by the AAA’s four-diamond rating and by outstanding reviews published in Zagat and elsewhere. Himself and Yours Truly have come to value this extraordinary inn as a convenient part of our lives for—well, for a very long time. For us, the Bavarian has served as the restaurant of choice for special "grown-up" milestones with our children, romantic anniversary celebrations for ourselves, dinner out with friends, and an impulse destination "just because." Thus, for us, the kitchen is the Bavarian’s most important attraction. The dining rooms are all located in the former Greystone Mansion, a large private residence that was restored, redecorated, and converted by the Asams into a fine restaurant. We prefer the casual atmosphere of the Rathskeller to the more formal surroundings of the upstairs dining rooms. Still, the Rathskeller is only one of the Inn’s four dining areas: ~ The Library features muted light, cozy surroundings consisting mostly of small tables for couples. With its wood and marble fireplace, it sets an intimate mood. ~ The Potomac Room includes large round tables to accommodate festive gatherings. The large room, tall windows, and quietly bright colors combine to provide a light and airy environment for family, friends, or business groups to meet for a fine meal. ~ The Hunt Room, as the name suggests, recalls the German hunting tradition. Its décor features a stone fireplace, dark woodwork, and antlers converted into lighting fixtures. ~ The Rathskeller, appropriately located in the Mansion’s basement with a separate outside entry, is styled in a manner that suggests a blending of the traditional German Rathskeller and the British pub. Wooden beams, authentic steins, a fireplace, a comfortable bar, and a piano singer on weekends encourage friends to gather for a casual evening. Whether guests are seeking quiet formality or casual sophistication, the Bavarian Inn has a dining room that will enhance any celebration with good food, fine wine, and comfortable surroundings. Not surprisingly, the dinner menu at the Bavarian Inn has been built around German classics. My choices are almost always from the schnitzel offerings—the traditional Wiener Schnitzel, Jaegerschnitzel (or Hunter’s Cut), and Zigeuner Schnitzel (or Gypsy Cut) alternate as my favorites (though the Zigeuner Schnitzel is no longer on the regular menu). Of course, Sauerbraten and assorted wursts are also featured. Himself often selects his meal from a separate game menu, which includes venison, pork, and wild fowl on an as-available basis. Continental and American specialties include chateaubriand, lobster, steak, and crabcakes. Most German entrees are served with soup or salad, red cabbage or another vegetable, and either potatoes (German potato dumplings inclusive) or spaetzle (German-style noodles). Appetizers tend to be European in character, including luscious cheese and meat plates, pate with chutney, smoked seafood, and stuffed mushrooms—sometimes with nearly unpronounceable German names. Dessert can be chosen from a handful of delicious house staples: cheesecake, trifle, strudel, Black Forest cake, Bavarian nutball, ice cream, or sherbet. The Bavarian Inn has an extraordinary wine list consisting of several pages of offerings—all told, over 300 labels. Indeed, the Bavarian boasts one of the best cellars in the area, and few would bother to question that claim. Bottle prices typically range from under $20 for a variety of domestic and foreign offerings to $1300 for a 1990 Chateau Margaux Bordeaux (I have to think there aren’t many requests for that one). Trust me, Himself and Yours Truly tend toward the lower end of this range. Nonetheless, I have to admit that for wine lovers, reading through the offerings available is an experience unto itself! Considering the quality and service provided by the Bavarian, prices are reasonable. Appetizers generally range from $5 to $14 and vary with the season and the chef’s whim. Entrees range from the high teens to the high 30s, game offerings inclusive. Daily market prices for some dishes (including seafood and game dishes) may go slightly higher. My prized schnitzels are priced in the low twenties. Desserts are typically about $6 or $7. Breakfast and lunch menus are also available, though we rarely partake. We love the Bavarian for its dinner menu. Dining room hours are as follows: Breakfast - 7 to 10:30 am Lunch - 11:00 am to 2:30 pm (Mon through Sat) Dinner - 5 to 10 pm (Mon through Fri), 4 to 10 pm (Sat), and 3 to 9 pm (Sun) Himself and Yours Truly heartily recommend dinner at the Bavarian as a destination unto itself for visitors to our area. Reservations are recommended, though not always necessary. You’ll leave with your hunger happily satisfied—and possibly speaking with just the slightest German accent.
by BawBaw on September 10, 2007
For a recent weekend of family events near Morgantown, Himself and Yours Truly broke with custom and booked a room in the lodge at Lakeview Resort instead of staying with relatives. Lakeview has a hoity-toity reputation as an event venue, having all the substance of an established golf resort. So the family gave us the la-tee-dah treatment as out-of-town kin lording fancy ways. Unfortunately, the lodge was a disappointment. The grounds were okay, offering sparse but well-maintained exterior landscaping and decent parking. But as a hotel, it was really just a large motel--187 rooms on three floors, all serviced by one small elevator. Thus our stay began by lugging bags up flights of stairs to a third-floor guestroom (no assistance offered). Our room was reasonably clean, with a smallish bath and minimal but adequate furnishings. Amenities were the contemporary minimum: hairdryer, iron, in-room coffee station, and basic complimentary toiletries. The devil being in the finer details, our first major irritation came when we decided to catch the late-night news--no remote control for the television. After a thorough search, we called the front desk, which promised to send one right up. Twenty minutes later, still with no remote, we called back and said not to bother. Next, in the deep of night, we discovered that the toilet didn’t quite flush, requiring rigorous manual assistance. Adding further insult, the bathroom exhaust fan didn’t work. On waking, we brewed our usual morning elixir and found only one mug. In last-straw mode, Himself lumbered down to the lobby for a paper (not delivered to the door) and firmly requested a remote and two coffee mugs be delivered to our room. Picking up two cups of Starbucks, he headed back, beating the arrival of both the mugs and the remote, which were delivered separately. Security was also an issue. During our stay, the locks on the lodge’s exterior doors were never engaged. We passed through several different doors, sometimes well past the evening lockdown imposed at most hotels, and our key was never required. Even the door to the small, unattended indoor pool was open. No express checkout was provided. During our final trip to the front desk, I awaited that universal question, "How was your stay?" It never came. When I volunteered that our toilet hadn’t worked properly and the exhaust fan, not at all, I received a faint comment about sending maintenance. The clerk was clearly accustomed to last-minute complaints. No billing adjustments were offered. Finally, I asked about lakeview rooms, having found none on my own. I was informed that three suites on the third floor overlooked the lake. That seemed insufficient given widespread marketing suggesting the Lakeview's lodge has an impressive view of, imagine, a lake! Frankly, the out-of-town kin got shafted. Value for money spent was poor. Other lodgings around Morgantown are less expensive, have better service, and offer nicer accommodations. Next time, we’ll take our business elsewhere.
Tourists who make their way to our Eastern Panhandle community of Charles Town (not to be confused with the state capital of Charleston, thank you) are usually attracted to one of our two marvelous race tracks: horses run at the east end of town at the Charles Town Races and Slots, and automobiles race outside town to the west at Summit Point Raceway. The horse track in particular has seen many changes since its founding, but like the town itself, it officially dates back to 1786. On key race days, long lines of cars may be seen wending their way through our small-town streets. If the event is a horse race, the cars simply queue up to wait their turn for a parking space in the new parking deck. If the event involves automobiles, the lines of traffic passing through town on the way to Summit Point may include anything from Formula One race cars pulled on flatbeds to vintage Model As and Tin Lizzies. Our streets are more colorful on those days. The race tracks aside, our town is rich in history. For a community of our size (official population, 3,704 but growing fast), we receive more than our share of tourists seeking to touch the nation's past. Founded by Charles Washington, brother of George, our community boasts five surviving houses built by the Washington family. Here is Charles Town, several of our residents are able to say of their homes, "Washington slept here." (Be kind and don't ask which Washington.) Our association with the Washingtons is also borne out by the fact that many of our streets are named for family members. Indeed, our county courthouse is located on the corner of George and Washington streets. More Washingtons are buried in the cemetery at Zion Episcopal Church than in any other single location in the country. Charles Town is better known, however, for its Civil War history (1861-1865). As every school child in our community knows, abolitionist martyr John Brown (1800-1859) was brought here by Federal forces after his famous raid on the Harpers Ferry arsenal. It was here that he was jailed (where our post office now stands), and it was here that he was tried, convicted, and hung - adding fuel to the building firestorm of war. The jail cot on which Brown rested and the wagon in which he rode to his execution are on display at the Jefferson County Museum. During the Civil War itself, Charles Town (like nearby Harpers Ferry) seesawed back and forth between Federal and Confederate occupation. Several of our public buildings and churches served troops of both sides as barracks or hospitals. Until recently, a Civil War battle in which the Union was victorious was reenacted through the streets of our town. The reenactors pitched camp in tents on the green adjacent to the Charles Town race track. Throughout these reenactments, the smoke of the campfires filled the air. Moreover, the roar of cannons and the loud, sharp crack of muskets could be heard day and night. Being more southern than Yankee, our reenactors tended to favor Confederate role models. Thus it was that every year we had a horde of gray-clad soldiers surrendering to a small band of the boys in blue. Despite the lure of hundreds of visitors during those days, the town fathers felt obliged to honor the objections posed by residents who were less than pleased with the inconvenience caused by the annual "battle" in our streets, and the reenactors have been asked to relocate their camp and their artillery fire.A walking tour of our town isn't particularly strenuous. Our main street -Washington Street, of course- is all of 10 blocks long. Informative brochures for such an activity are available at the visitor center, the court house, and the library. Graceful Federal and Georgian style houses are found throughout the town, some with fascinating histories. Hunter's Hill, for example, is a beautifully landscaped antebellum mansion. Its builder and original owner, Andrew Hunter, was the lawyer who prosecuted John Brown. During the Civil War, the house and its contents were ordered burned to the ground by General David Hunter, Andrew's Yankee cousin who didn't take kindly to his relative's Confederate loyalties. After the war, Andrew Hunter rebuilt his house on its original foundations. Our public buildings, churches, and cemeteries all have stories of their own to tell. Dating from 1803, the Jefferson County Courthouse was the site of John Brown's trial in 1859 as well as the 1922 trial of William Blizzard, who was accused of murder and treason in association with his role as a union leader for West Virginia coal miners. The Episcopal Lecture Room on Liberty Street, built in the 1830s, hosted a series of dramatic readings by one John Wilkes Booth, who later assassinated President Abraham Lincoln. Like other small municipalities across the nation, downtown Charles Town no longer features the small clothing shops and the five-and-dime that visitors would have found even 15 years ago. The old J.C. Penney's, for example, became a Dollar General and then a faith-based community center. Still, much of the character of the town has remained intact. Woolworth's has become an antique emporium, but the old-fashioned lunch counter remains open—which allows those of us who remember them to reminisce about the old days. The hardware store survives, despite the Wal-Mart at the edge of town. Long-established florists and a drug store of long standing are still in business. As the Jefferson County seat, we've maintained an economic base in a way that other less fortunate towns have not. Most of our shops are still open, albeit with offerings of antiques and crafts instead of sweaters, dresses, and sport coats. In keeping with out small-town ambience, we go for lots of seasonal parades. Any good excuse will do: Easter, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and of course horses. We get fine participation and good turnout for these events. Anyone not actually walking the parade route is likely to be in a lawn chair watching from the curb. Vendors sell cotton candy and inflated toys tied to sticks. Church and local clubs offer baked goods. Children laugh and pester their parents and grandparents for one more treat. All in all, life is predictable and good. Accommodation in our town ranges from the luxurious to the merely practical. Hillbrook Inn and the Carriage Inn, two of the region’s finest bed-and-breakfast establishments, recommend reservations well in advance. The Turf Motel, Knights Inn, and a brand new Holiday Inn Express offer no-frills accommodation near the horse track. The best place to stay, of course, is with a friend or relative who lives nearby. Old-fashioned hospitality is important in Charles Town. Dining establishments are plentiful for such a small town. We have a handful of locally owned and operated restaurants ranging from very good to passable, and we have the usual assortment of fast food chains. Charles Town is located about 65 miles from the Nation's Capital; about 30 miles for Frederick, Maryland; and about 20 miles from Leesburg, Virginia. These days we are officially designated as part of the outer fringe of the Washington metropolitan area. But visitors will find little about us that is reminiscent of the big city. We are the quintessential small town. For us, living in the fast lane means managing to avoid being caught in the queues caused by activities at one of our local race tracks. Life retains a hint of the genteel, and working-class traditions are not forgotten. We remain, after all, West (by gawd) Virginians.
by BawBaw on September 11, 2007
The small riverside town of Harpers Ferry is located a mere 6 miles down the road from my front door. In fact, I've been a frequent visitor to Harpers Ferry for a good deal longer than I've lived behind my front door. One would therefore think I'd be well qualified to write about this historic community. Indeed, the problem isn't finding something write. Rather it's a matter of deciding what to leave out. Harpers Ferry, of course, it best known for its role in John Brown's 1859 insurrection against slavery. Brown's attention was focused on the town's armories. With a successful raid, he hoped to reap a huge amount of publicity for his cause and obtain weapons for guerrilla operations based in the Virginia mountains. As the site of the Federal Armory and Arsenal, Harpers Ferry could give Brown both the publicity he sought and the weapons he needed.The United States established the Armory and Arsenal at Harpers Ferry in 1799. The armories ultimately produced more than 600,000 firearms and employed a substantial workforce, including many new immigrants. They also provided the basis for technical innovation and a diversified industrial economy. It was in Harpers Ferry, for example, that interchangeable parts were first used as a routine part of industrial production. By the 1830s, the town had a thriving and diverse economy that included cotton mills, a sawmill, a tannery, a flour mill, and an iron foundry. Serviced by two major railways and the C&O Canal, the former wilderness town became an important industrial hub in pre-Civil War America. Relics and ruins of these enterprises are still plentiful in Harpers Ferry's lower town and on nearby Virginius Island.Nestled in the mountains at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers, Harpers Ferry's natural surroundings are stunning. In the mid-18th century, Thomas Jefferson claimed that the view of the confluence of the two rivers from an outlook now known as Jefferson Rock was "worth a voyage across the Atlantic." Certainly my mother agrees with that assessment. Each time she visits, the required outing to Jefferson Rock is high on her agenda -ranking just below spoiling her great-grandchildren. Views provided from Maryland Heights (just across the Potomac from Harpers Ferry) are also spectacular. The vertical rock faces of Loudoun Heights (just across the Shenandoah) loom over a scenic segment of the Appalachian Trail. The Heights and sheer rocks along the Harpers Ferry side of the Shenandoah offer favorite destinations for local rock climbers. With many of its buildings constructed from local stone, Harpers Ferry itself almost seems to rise from the bedrock as a natural part of the landscape. Gentled by age (and no doubt by the flood waters that periodically ravage the lower town), Harpers Ferry today has a quality that in many ways feels more European than American. Indeed, houseguests from England tell me that it reminds them of the hill districts of Derbyshire.Of course, regardless of its other attractions, visitors typically come to Harpers Ferry because of its association with John Brown and the Civil War. To accommodate these visitors, the National Park Service has created an off-site visitor center with generous parking and a shuttle service into town. Those of us who live in the area constantly bemoan the loss of local parking, but there can be no doubt that the new arrangement is better for preserving and presenting the past. The fee to park and board the shuttle is $6 and is good for three consecutive days. The fee covers entry to Harpers Ferry and to nearly Bolivar Heights Battlefield. When visitors arrive in Harpers Ferry's lower town, they will likely encounter docents and park employees, often dressed in period costume, who share a wealth of information about the town and its history. Those fortunate enough to arrive during one of the Civil War reenactments staged here will feel they've been transported to another era. Attractions along Shenandoah and High Streets include several museums and exhibits related to the Civil War, a natural history museum, and the Harper House complex with its tableaux of everyday life during times past. These attractions are all designed to function on a self-service basis. (Information centers at the off-site parking facility, the park bookstore in Harpers Ferry, and the Master Armorer's House can be checked for the schedule of daily events.)By continuing along High Street to the upper town, visitors can browse at several small shops featuring food, handcrafts, and antiques as well as the usual souvenirs associated with historic sites. To enjoy the view so praised by Jefferson, one can take the stone stairs near the intersection of Shenandoah and High, climbing up past Harper House and the picturesque St. Peter's Church to Jefferson Rock. Those curious about the view from the Maryland side of the Potomac can cross the river using the pedestrian walk on the old Winchester and Potomac Railroad bridge. Other attractions include the old Harper cemetery and remnants of the Storer College campus, one of the freedmen's institutions that helped African Americans break the bonds of slavery in post-Civil War America. It’s important for visitors to remember that Harpers Ferry is not just a national park. It is also a living, breathing community where people live, work, and play. While the park is a vital element of the town’s identity and its economy, it’s not the whole story. Parishioners still attend services at St. Peter’s. Residents (many of whom are commuters to Washington offices) use the newly refurbished Amtrak station to connect to the larger world. Children are tended at the local daycare. And in keeping with their West Virginian sense of community, folks from Harpers Ferry itself and other nearby towns are likely to be found supporting the town’s businesses. All this means that visitors seeking to experience Harpers Ferry’s past have the opportunity to simultaneously experience its present.Accommodations in this area are plentiful and varied. A Comfort Inn is located on Highway 340 just across from the off-site visitor center. In Harpers Ferry's upper town, the 1888-vintage Hilltop House Hotel boasts a magnificent view of the Potomac. Hilltop House is ideal for those who love old hotels, terrific scenery, and the convenience of lodging within the town itself. Nearby Charles Town and Shepherdstown offer a number of additional motel, hotel, and bed-and-breakfast options - from luxurious and expensive to basic and thrifty. Whatever your taste and pocketbook, you should be able to find suitable quarters.
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