This is if you want to do the "full experience" If you a visiting just to look at the historical stuff, take pictures, and just basically do your own thing, then this doesn't necessarily apply.
Arrive there on the early side, I'd recommend around 9am or so. That way you are more likely to get a parking space in town, if that's what you want. On Potomac St. you have the option of 2 Hour parking spots or trying the train station lot. Be advised that they are very strict about the 2 Hour spots and if you park in the train lot you have to pay.
The majority of the shops close from 4pm to 6pm. Get there on the early side even if you don't plan to park in town. I think some of the restaurants stay open later, but personally I wouldn't bother with them.
If you know you want to shop or are relying on being able to purchase certain things, go on or as close as possible to the weekend. On weekdays some of the stores have very short hours or are closed all together.
Visit in the late spring, summer, fall or beginning of winter. The town ends it's season with two weeks of Old Tyme Christmas. After that it pretty much seems to shut down for the next few months until spring arrives.
Constructed in 1931, the new tunnel on the Maryland side of the Potomac River enabled trains to pass underneath the Blue Ridge mountains, rather than take the severe curve which followed the river and the old canal.
The remains of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and Lock 33 are to be found beneath these railroad bridges. the wire safety fence of the public footpath can be seen on the right of the photo. Just as well that this fence was in good order, as anyone falling into the swollen waters of the Potomac would stand no chance of survival!
Favorite thing: A close up view of the impressive Winchester and Potomac Railroad Trestle at Harpers Ferry. This trestle is either very well maintained, or it has been replaced recently. The same can't be said of some of the track! If you do venture across the Potomac River, look at the steel of the railroad track where it crosses the bridge. When we were there (Sept 2003) the top of the track was worn down almost to the rib of the steel rail. Parts of the running surface were literally hanging off!!
On approaching the Visitor Center from Highway 340, you will pass a toll booth. Here you will pay a small entrance fee of $5. You'll then proceed to the ample car park area, and you will find the Visitor Centre building and toilets here. Your entry fee entitles you to free passage down to Harpers Ferry lower town.
When you arrive in Harpers Ferry on the bus, it drops you off in historic Shenandoah Street, the oldest part of the town.
The origins of Harpers Ferry can be traced back to 1733, when a Pennsylvanian gentleman by the name of Peter Stephens, began a ferryboat service here. In 1747 another Pennsylvanian gentleman Robert Harper a millwright by profession, bought the ferry service from Stevens. He made improvements to the ferry and built a gristmill on Virginius Island, in the Shenondoah River.
It was only by chance that we came upon the 'famous' Jefferson rock, perched high up above the Shenondoah River. We had noted the fine looking church on the hillside, and some other visitors suggested that we visit the cemetery. The path to the cemetery passes Jefferson rock.
The original rock was surmounted by an enormous boulder, much smaller at its base than at the top, and balanced perfectly on the present rock. It was on this top boulder that Thomas Jefferson carved his name. In 1800, when he was Republican Candidate for President, one Captain Henry, of the United States Army detachment stationed at Harpers Ferry, ordered some of his men to accompany him to the Rock, and with crowbars and rams pushed the delicately balanced boulder bearing Jefferson's name off the pedestal and down the hill.
Favorite thing: I must have been wearing my Oregon sweat shirt, because Jeff and Vicky Howard, seen in the photo with Mary, stopped us and asked if we were from Oregon. so we got chatting, and I discovered that they live not very far away from that well known VT member Phildeni, in Portland Oregon.
Favorite thing: The sun was now in the wrong position (isn't it always??) for a better picture of the beautiful Shenondoah River. It looks pretty serene in the picture, but in fact was in flood, following the rains that accompanied tropical storm Isobel a week before. It was actually blue, rather than the brown, muddy waters of the Potomac, a couple of hundred yards downstream.
Mary was delighted to see 'at last' one of the huge American freight trains. We don't have anything like them in the United Kingdom. A few minutes earlier and I would have been able to take a great shot of the train as it entered the Harpers Ferry tunnel, on the Maryland side of the Potomac River. However, I had to settle for this shot, taken through the safety wire fence on the footbridge.
The train is crossing the newer of the three bridges that crossed the Potomac River at this point. The railroad now passes through a short tunnel on the Maryland side of the river, which enabled the sharp curve of the original track to be bypassed.
Enlarge the photo, and look at the condition of the track in the foreground, as commented on in the previous photo. Just goes to show what a pounding these railroads take!
Favorite thing: View of Shenondoah Street (lower town), looking back towards the small car park (not the Visitor Centre), where the shuttle bus will drop you. On the left you can see the wooden trestles of the Winchester and Potomac Railroad. which joins the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad nearby. the buildings on the left appear to be modern reconstructions, whilst many of the buildings on the right would appear to be much older, if not pre-civil war.
Favorite thing: Meriwether Lewis came to Harpers Ferry in 1803, to obtain supplies for the expedition that he and William Clark were to launch to explore the newly acquired Louisiana Territory. Lewis and Clark were funded by Washington, and were pioneers in exploration. These two gentlemen certainly travelled in their day, for I have also seen details of their epic travels in Oregon and Washington State.
When you first arrive in the lower town, pass underneath the railroad bridge, towards the Shenondoah River, and on the right hand side, you will find five metal plaque, describing the events of the Civil War in and around Harpers Ferry.
We discovered these plaques towards the end of out visit, and I took photos of only 2 of them, thinking that the wording would not be clear enough to read from the photos. I was wrong! I hope you will be able to read some of the history if you enlarge the photo here.
Due to the town's location on the strategic Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, Union and Confederate troop movements through Harpers Ferry were frequent. Between 1861` and 1865 the town changed hands eight times. On April 18th, 1861 Federal soldiers set fire to the armory and arsenal to keep them out of Southern hands. The arsenal and 15,000 weapons were destroyed. It wasn't long, however, before the flames were extinguished, and much of the manufacturing equipment in the town was disassembled and sent south.
The history of Harpers Ferry is quite complex, but well documented. If you intend to visit, I suggest you read up on its history well before you go there. I wish I had.
The photo here is of a tunnel under the railroad track, at the site of the old armory.
John Brown began his ill-fated raid on the evening of Sunday October 16th, 1859. His 21-man 'army of liberation' , which included three of his sons and five free African-Americans, seized the armory and several other strategic points. With most of his men killed or wounded, Brown was captured in the armory fire engine house some 36 hours after the start of the raid. He was tried at nearby Charles Town and found guilty of treason against the Commonwealth of Virginia, conspiring with slaves to rebel, and murder. He was hanged in Charlestown on 2nd December, 1859. The rest, as they say, is History.
This memorial stone marks the site of the old armory and of John Brown's Fort.
Favorite thing: President George Washington persuaded Congress to establish the US Armory at Harpers Ferry in 1796. By 1860 the armory consisted of the musket factory of 20 brickbuilt structures, two arsenal buildings, and the US Rifle Factory. In October 1859 abolitionist John Brown lead an unsuccessful raid on the Armories in an attempt to seize the 100,000 rifles and muskets stored here, as a first step in his revolutionary scheme to rid the nation of slavery. The plan failed when troops under the command of Lt Col Robert E Lee killed or captured nearly all of Brown's raiders. Brown's 'last stand' was in the Armory Firehouse, later to be known as 'John Brown's Fort'. Due to the re-routing of the Railroad, this building was dismantled and rebuilt on its present site on the opposite side of the road. In latter years this building was used as a schoolhouse.
I wonder how many visitors to Harpers Ferry venture across the Potomac river to view the site of Lock 33? There were few visitors when we were there. The scene here is reminiscent of the English canals, which ceased trading due to the arrival of the railways in the mid to late 1800's.
There were several buildings here but only the ruins of one house remain. I assume that the building of the adjacent highway required their demolition. Part of this highway, nearest the original railroad bridge used to be the railroad trackbed, before the tunnel was driven through the hill, and the line was straightened.