A Visit to Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia

Harper’s Ferry is such a beautiful place with lots of atmosphere that it captured my heart.   Located in West Virginia but bordered by Virginia and Maryland, it is defined by two rivers, the Potomac and Shenandoah that meet here in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.   The town is also very historic with the National Park Service (NPS) managing a number of sites including some museums.  In the picture below, Mark stands looking out where the two rivers meet.  The views are really neat here.   An old railroad bridge across the Potomac to the left, can be walked on and connected to the Appalachian trail.

In 1747, John Harper, a builder of mills settled here.  He started a ferry service across the rivers, hence the town’s name.   This was once a thriving factory town powered by the rivers with a number of mills built beginning in the early 1800’s.  Walking along the Shenandoah River, you can see the ruins of cotton and flour mills like the flour mill ruin pictured below.   Floods, the Civil War and other factors took their toll on manufacturing here.  Besides the mills, there was also an important armory and arsenal established by George Washington.  It was here that  muskets, rifles and pistols were manufactured between 1800 – 1861.  Meriwether Lewis of the Lewis and Clark expedition obtained many of his supplies here including ammunition and guns.

Harpers Ferry is a hilly town with narrow streets and buildings clinging to the hillside.   This makes it even more interesting to explore.

My favorite exploration was the walk up the hill to Jefferson’s Rock.  It involves lots of steep old stone steps to the top.  Along the way is St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, built in 1833 for Irish laborers that came to build the railroad.  During the Civil War, the priest flew the British Union Jack flag as a symbol of the church’s neutral status, sparing it from destruction.  Services are still held here each Sunday.  The view of the church with the steps reminded me of a scene from a European village.

Here is another view looking down at the side of the church as I made my way along the road.

Jefferson’s Rock was named for Thomas Jefferson who loved the view up here so much that in 1783 he was quoted as saying:  “This scene is worth a voyage across the Atlantic.”   Around 1860, the armory superintendent ordered supports be placed under the rock because it was endangering the lives and properties of the villagers below.   Today, the rock is off limits to sit or stand on.

The view is really special here.  I couldn’t help thinking though, what a difference from when Jefferson was here.  He would have had lots of peace and quiet as he stared at these hills and the rivers.  Today instead there is lots of road noise from busy Highway 340 far below which travels by the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers.   Here is the view from near the rock looking left toward the Potomac.

Before walking back down the hill, I walked on a little bit of the Appalachian Trail which passes right near to Jefferson’s Rock.  I also explored an old cemetery on the hillside and checked out the Lockwood House, which served as headquarters for Union Generals and after the War as one of America’s first schools for freed slaves.  On my way back down I took this picture of the town with another old railroad bridge and tunnel through the mountain in the distance.

Harper’s Ferry is perhaps best known for John Brown, an abolitionist who in 1859 along with his army of 21 men, seized the armory with the intent to arm enslaved people and start a rebellion.    Thirty-six hours later, the raid was over when Brown and his followers were captured by the U.S. Marines.   Fifteen people died before the raiders were taken.  His raid stirred up the passions of the people on both sides of the slavery issue.  Below is a picture of his “fort “ where he and his followers barricaded themselves during their final hours of the raid and capture.    When Brown took it over, it was the Armory’s fire engine and guard house.  It is located near where the armory once stood.  The building has a rather unique history and became a building on the move.   It survived the Civil War and in 1891 was sold, dismantled and transported to Chicago for the World’s Columbian Exposition, (the World’s Fair).  In 1894 it was returned to Harpers Ferry and placed on a farm.  It was moved to another location again before the National Park Service acquired the building in 1960 and moved it back near the original location.

John Brown was taken to the county seat of Charles Town, where he was tried and found guilty of treason, murder and inciting slaves to rebel.  He was sentenced to death by hanging.  His trial and death became big news all over the country.   After our visit to Harpers Ferry, we drove over to Charles Town and saw the stately court house where Brown was tried.   This town was founded by George Washington’s youngest brother, Charles.  He donated four plots of land for town and county buildings including the land where the court house sits.

I will close this post with a picture from the RV park we stayed at in Maryland called Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park.  I had heard of these Yogi Bear parks which are in various locations throughout the country but never thought we would stay in one.   When researching parks in the area, this seemed to be the best so booked us a stay.  After arriving here and seeing the large water park tube slides, pools and many kid related activities such as go karts, miniature golf, paint ball range and crafts, I thought we were in for a noisy and busy weekend.  But it was quieter here than we expected, (it did rain some) and the park was really quite lovely, set off a ways from the road with woods surrounding the camp sites.  I even went one night to the outdoor theater where they were showing a silly Yogi Bear movie that came out a few years ago.   Hey, why not, I was in Yogi country!

Thanks for reading and keep following us as we travel on to Delaware and great camping at a state park!

4 thoughts on “A Visit to Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia”

  1. You finally went somewhere I have been before! Much more beautiful pictures than I took. One of my nieces live in West VA and another niece is in Virginia. No, we are not from there, but for some reason they love it there and plan on staying!

    1. Great to hear from you and thanks for the comment! I hope this finds you well. Where does your niece live in West Virginia? Mark was born in West Virginia, but not near Harpers Ferry. He lived for a short time in the very small town of Milton near Huntington. his family moved to Arizona when he was very young though. When we were in the Army and stationed in Kentucky, we visited his grandparents in Milton a few times. That was my first introduction to the state and had not been back since 1981. I am hoping we can visit more of the state when we go back through on our way to Kentucky and Tennessee in the fall.

    1. Great to hear from you Matt! Yes, I loved all the rock and stone used at Harpers Ferry. Such a scenic area and one of my favorite small towns!

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