Written by BawBaw on 11 Sep, 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…Read More
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.Close
Written by Idler on 11 Jul, 2005
I’ve always felt a special connection to the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, which stretches from Washington, D.C., to Cumberland, Maryland, taking in some of the most beautiful and historical sights of this part of the country en route. I live only 4 miles away from…Read More
I’ve always felt a special connection to the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, which stretches from Washington, D.C., to Cumberland, Maryland, taking in some of the most beautiful and historical sights of this part of the country en route. I live only 4 miles away from the canal, near Edward's Ferry, and have spent countless hours hiking, biking, and horseback riding along its towpath.
The year I was born – 1954 – was the year that Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas (no relation, much as I’d like to claim him) penned a famous letter challenging the editor of the Washington Post to walk the length of the 184.5-mile-long canal with him. Douglas was championing the preservation of canal, which had been slated for conversion into a roadway. In Douglas’ letter, he presented a lyrical case for the preservation of the canal and towpath:
"It is a place for boys and girls, men and women. One can hike 15 or 20 miles on a Sunday afternoon, or sleep on high dry ground in the quiet of a forest, or just go and sit with no sound except water lapping at one's feet. It is a sanctuary for everyone who loves woods, a sanctuary that would be utterly destroyed by a fine two-lane highway…
One who walked the canal its full length could plead that cause with the eloquence of a John Muir. He would get to know muskrats, badgers, and fox; he would hear the roar of wind in thickets; he would see strange islands and promontories through the fantasy of fog; he would discover the glory there is in the first flower of spring, the glory there is even in a blade of grass; the whistling wings of ducks would make silence have new values for him. Certain it is that he could never acquire that understanding going 60, or even 25, miles an hour."
When his letter was printed in the Post, the walk that Douglas proposed became something of a cause célèbre, with dozens of people, including noted conservationists, participating. Douglas went on to chair the C&O Canal Association, which worked to preserve and adapt the canal for recreational use. In 1971, the C&O Canal was made a National Historic Park, with its headquarters established in Sharpsburg, only a few miles from Harpers Ferry.
The C&O has a fascinating history, beginning with George Washington’s proposal to create a "Potowmack Canal," up through the long digging of the Canal from 1828 to 1850 – 22 arduous years of back-breaking hand labor by as many as 4,000 men at the peak years of construction. The inherent challenges of the project were compounded by difficult terrain, labor disputes, disease, and legal battles over land rights. Worse, by the time the canal barges were up and running, they proved no match for a newer form of transportation – the railroads. The canal was finally closed in 1924, when it was severely damaged by a flood, but it was competition from the B&O Railway that truly brought about its end.
Today, walking along the canal with no sounds other than the rustle of squirrels among the leaves, the what cheer! what cheer! call of cardinals, and the murmur of the nearby Potomac river, it’s easy to imagine what the canal was like in the mid-19th century. Many of the canal’s 74 locks and lock houses are still standing. I like to imagine the lives of the men, women, and children who worked on the canal during its heyday, towing coal on narrow barges pulled by mules, sleeping in cramped quarters on their barges, and making the 7-day trip from one end of the canal to the other, usually working 18 hours or more a day.
Being, for the most, part level and straight, the canal is an easy place to bike or hike, but it’s also a great place for bird-watchers and nature lovers of every stripe. One of our favorite times to walk is after dark on the night of a full moon. We almost always hear owls hooting as we share the trail with nocturnal creatures such as possums and deer. (Alas, in recent years, the Park Service has put up signs indicating the canal is closed after dark, though there’s no practicable way they can "close" the 184.5-mile-long towpath.)
Some sections of the canal are dry, while others contain water, and the latter sections are popular with canoeists and kayakers. Sometimes, too, when the Potomac floods, it carries water, and countless hapless fish, over into the canal. One memorable afternoon, we found dozens of huge carp thrashing about in the canal, in water only inches deep. They’d gotten trapped there after the Potomac overflowed its banks and then receded.
On that occasion, my husband Jack, a friend, and I spent several hours catching slimy carp by hand and then lugging them across the stretch of woods, separating the canal and the river. A number of fish expired, however, which led to a frenzied round of fish-gutting, cleaning, and filleting that evening, an operation I insisted take place outdoors. Curious passers-by stopped to gawk at the monstrous fish laid out like battle fatalities on our front lawn. With more fish than we knew what to do with, we began giving them away, though not one of the recipients – or ourselves, for that matter - had any real notion of how to best cook the beasts.
I have a favorite stretch of the canal not far from where the Potomac joins the Monocacy River. I make a special effort to go there early each spring to view the wildflowers. The best time for this is in late March or early April, when jack-in-the-pulpit, Dutchman’s breeches, trout lilies, trillium, spring beauties, Virginia bluebells, and a host of other flowers carpet the forest floor.
At Harpers Ferry, the canal’s Civil War history comes to the fore, and Civil War buffs are richly rewarded by walking along the canal here. One of John Brown’s men, John Cook, posed as a lock tender as he worked as a spy, gathering information prior to Brown’s abolitionist uprising. When the rebellion failed, Cook and three other conspirators were hung for treason.
Since the Potomac River constituted a physical barrier between the north and south and the C&O Canal and B&O Railroad were the major supply arteries to the capitol, the entire region became the target of Confederate raids. John Singleton Mosby, Elijah V. White, Jubal Early, Jesse McNeill, and others waged guerilla warfare along this border region. You can’t travel far on the C&O without running into a reminder of these times, whether it be at White’s Ferry just outside Poolesville, where I live, or at Sharpsburg, which saw the bloodiest day of the Civil War on September 17, 1862, at the Battle of Antietam.
There are thousands of stories and hundreds of historical events associated with the canal and nearby Potomac River. But the beauty of the canal’s towpath is what draws most modern visitors. The Park Service does an admirable job of keeping the towpath free of obstruction and in good repair, while the surrounding green corridor of parkland assures plentiful wildlife to observe. Near Harpers Ferry, the Appalachian Trail crosses the C&O towpath, the two much-beloved long-distance walking routes briefly bisecting.
There are dozens of places to access the C&O Canal, but the Park Headquarters in Sharpsburg is as good a starting point as any, perhaps better, as you can get a good historical overview. All you need are sturdy shoes and perhaps some bug spray to enjoy one of the best walking/biking trails this side of the Continental Divide.
Written by Idler on 16 Jun, 2003
"I never saw so much expression in an inanimate thing before,
and we all know how much expression they have!"
- Charlotte Perkins Gilman, "The Yellow Wallpaper"
On a recent visit to Harpers Ferry, we passed by the flea market held each weekend at the junction of Rt.…Read More
"I never saw so much expression in an inanimate thing before,
and we all know how much expression they have!"
- Charlotte Perkins Gilman, "The Yellow Wallpaper"
On a recent visit to Harpers Ferry, we passed by the flea market held each weekend at the junction of Rt. 340 and Bloomery Road. Naturally, we were lured in by the prospect of finding some overlooked treasure, some West Virginian relic that we cannily would snag at a fraction of its true value.
Spread out over what used to be a drive-in movie lot, the flea market sprawled higgledy-piggledy over several acres. The range of merchandise was almost daunting: piles of stuffed animals, broken alarm clocks, farm implements, crossbows and bowie knives, Confederate and American flags, eight-track tapes, wrought iron trellises, old pieces of stained glass, bead curtains, paper parasols, electronic toys, artificial flowers, pellet guns, velvet paintings (alas, no Elvis), Betty Crocker cookbooks, cut glass tumblers, baby clothes…on and on it stretched, the seemingly endless detritus of small-town America.
We found ourselves more drawn to the nostalgic than the genuinely useful. Alas, I had to acknowledge that I had no real place for a pair of brass bookends in the shape of mallard ducks or a large troll doll very much like one that I had when I was twelve. I picked up item after item, in wonderment. Surely my grandmother had had one of these. And my mother still has one of those. Oh, for heaven’s sake… here was something I hadn’t seen in years!
However, somewhat depressingly, our purchases were mostly utilitarian: some AA batteries, a set of small screwdrivers, a 12-pack of travel-sized Kleenex. Our son cajoled us into buying an unopened Battlebot toy construction kit, and my husband pondered long and hard before plunking down $4 for a new snorkel tube.
I surreptitiously eyed my fellow bargain hunters, speculating upon their decorating schemes based on the items they clutched. Away they trundled, toting brass lamps, quilted pillows, bamboo plant stands, and, yes, a few of those velvet paintings.
For some reason, it all brought back memories of the house of a high-school friend whose parents had decorated their tiny suburban house in a grand, almost Baroque manner. Entering the front door, the eye was assaulted by a glittering silver and turquoise color scheme. A black baby grand piano vied with a crystal chandelier for pride of place, while mirrored wall tiles floor to ceiling reflected tasseled cushions, brocaded chairs, oriental vases, and exotic knickknacks. It was unquestionably one of the more unique – and unapologetically flamboyant – houses I’d ever been in.
Years later, I revisited my friend’s house. Much to my chagrin, the entire silver and turquoise extravaganza had been ruthlessly eradicated and in its place was an entertainment area decorated in a soulless casual style. Gone were the mirrors and chandelier; in their place was no end of cunning track lighting, gleaming Scandinavian wood surfaces, suspended wine glass racks, and ingenious hidden cupboards that swung out from unexpected places. And what, I wondered, had become of the crystal lamps, the Chinese ceramic dogs, and the bejeweled cushions? Were they sent packing to the Land of Yard Sales, the great Flea Market in the sky?
A stroll through the Harpers Ferry Flea Market testified to the fact that one can simply never predict which objects will become prematurely outmoded, an absolute embarrassment to have in the house. Will my tower-shaped CD-storage unit become a humorous relic to my grandchildren? Already my LP’s are a source of wonderment for my thirteen-year-old son, who has difficulty believing that I grew up without a VCR or personal computer. What an odd thing style is. Even the defiantly retro or style resistant are drawn into its vortex, each item purchased seemingly date-stamped for planned obsolescence.
And then, one day, the outmoded suddenly becomes a valued find, a treasure. It becomes new again. Bellbottoms reappear on slump-shouldered teenagers, hair hangs lank and long once again, and even avocado green makes a reappearance.
A pity, though, that no gloriously impractical object of desire beckoned that day at the flea market. I did look, long and hard, as I’ve been planning on redoing the living room. Let’s see… I’d like lots of silk brocade. Turkish vases. Tinkling glass pendants. Mirrored wall tiles; that’s the ticket. Turquoise and silver . . .
Written by Timone on 21 May, 2002
The bus from the parking lot stops at Shenandoah Street where there is a renovated blacksmith's store and a general store. There are guides in period costume to explain the area. Around the corner on High Street is a display on local African American history…Read More
The bus from the parking lot stops at Shenandoah Street where there is a renovated blacksmith's store and a general store. There are guides in period costume to explain the area. Around the corner on High Street is a display on local African American history in the Black Voices of Harpers Ferry, which is interesting as is the Civil War Story further up High St. On the left of High St. are some steps which lead steeply up from the street to Upper Harper's Ferry - Harper's House, St. Peter's Church and Jefferson Rock. Jefferson Rock gives a fine view over the joining of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers and a view of Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.
Heading back into town there are little stores and the railway station. It's possible to cross the river on the railway bridge and walk in either direction up the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. The Appalachian Trail crosses through Harper's Ferry and so there are several hiking stores and facilities for those tired trail walkers. Harper's Ferry is one of those places you'll want to keep going back to, just to look at the scenery again if nothing else.
Written by Kim M. on 01 Feb, 2003
Here are some additional photos of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.
The most commonly known piece of Harpers Ferry history is that it was the site of John Brown's famous raid in 1859. Planning to arm and free slaves, John Brown and his accomplices hoped…Read More
Here are some additional photos of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.
The most commonly known piece of Harpers Ferry history is that it was the site of John Brown's famous raid in 1859. Planning to arm and free slaves, John Brown and his accomplices hoped to seize weapons from the U.S. Armory and Arsenal located in Harpers Ferry. The band defended themselves from inside a fire engine house that later became known as "John Brown's Fort". After having been dismantled and moved several times, the fort stands in the National Park today and is open to visitors. A white stone obelisk monument marks the original site of the engine house.
A favorite scenic view in Harpers Ferry is "The Point". The Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers converge in Harpers Ferry, and the resulting water gap is lovely to view in all seasons. Visitors can stand at the confluence of the two rivers and see three states: West Virginia, Maryland, and Virginia. This is easily reached on foot by people of all ages and abilities, so it is a favorite family photo spot.
I'll upload some more photos shortly.
Written by Kim M. on 12 Jan, 2003
Harpers Ferry has been a railroad town for ages. The rails still run through here, and you can see several freight trains on any given day. The MARC commuter line runs Monday through Friday with two a.m. and two p.m. trains making the trip between…Read More
Harpers Ferry has been a railroad town for ages. The rails still run through here, and you can see several freight trains on any given day. The MARC commuter line runs Monday through Friday with two a.m. and two p.m. trains making the trip between here and Union Station in D.C. There are other stops along the way. This is a very popular station with local commuters, and parking in the train station lot is usually full or nearly full every weekday.
Amtrak''s Capitol Limited line also services this station. I can''t give you an idea of how far the train runs, but I do know that you can go to D.C., New York, and Chicago. I imagine that you can transfer to go almost anywhere.
If you are visiting D.C. and aren''t really comfortable with our local traffic (you won''t be the first one), MARC can be a good way to visit. Lots of rail buffs visit Harpers Ferry just to watch the trains. The historic train station is being restored at this time, but is still open to the public for short periods when a MARC employee is available to sell tickets. Only the main room is opened. Ownership of the train station property has recently passed to the National Park Service, as this is the site of the federal arsenal and armory. On weekends and holidays, parking in the lot is made available to park visitors. Entrance fees are the same.
CSX (freight): 301-834-9013
Written by Kim M. on 09 Jan, 2003
River rafting, canoeing, and kayaking are also available in the Harpers Ferry area. There are several outfitters that provide these services, and a stop at the Tourist Information Center off of route 340 can be helpful in getting information. Some also enjoy tubing on their…Read More
River rafting, canoeing, and kayaking are also available in the Harpers Ferry area. There are several outfitters that provide these services, and a stop at the Tourist Information Center off of route 340 can be helpful in getting information. Some also enjoy tubing on their own floats or on rented tubes. Most outfitters also offer these. Because a large portion of Harpers Ferry is a national park, be sure to find out where you can pull in and out. There is a designated area for river users, complete with its own parking lot. Wet bodies are generally not allowed on the park shuttle bus, and the shuttle will not stop at the River Access parking lot.
There is a flea market just past the National Park entrance on US 340. You may find classic car shows there on special dates. Farther south on route 340 lies Charles Town, WV. This is where John Brown was tried and hanged, and you may wish to read some of the historical markers. Charles Town also has fast food restaurants and other chain restaurants available for those who prefer not to sample the local fare. There are additional accommodations as well as grocery stores and a super Wal-Mart. You can purchase a WV fishing license at Wal-Mart. Charles Town is also home to Charles Town Races and Gaming, a casino and horse racing track. The casino offers dining and drinks. The nearest hospital is in Ranson, WV, very close to Charles Town.
Harpers Ferry was recently used as one of many filming locations for the upcoming movie Gods and Generals. Directed by Ron Maxwell, this movie focuses on the generals of the Civil War and includes actors such as Robert Duvall, Jeff Daniels, and Stephen Lang. The…Read More
Harpers Ferry was recently used as one of many filming locations for the upcoming movie Gods and Generals. Directed by Ron Maxwell, this movie focuses on the generals of the Civil War and includes actors such as Robert Duvall, Jeff Daniels, and Stephen Lang. The town of Harpers Ferry was actually used as the set for scenes taking place in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Early crews constructed elaborate facades to simulate period buildings. Filming took place primarily in fall of 2001. You can see the movie beginning February 21, 2003. See if you can pick out the scenes filmed at Harpers Ferry.Close