We stopped in to Winchester one evening on a whim after a day at Harpers Ferry. I was aware of some of the Civil War history surrounding the town, but I did not expect Winchester to offer so much for such a small town. Besides the amazing amount of Civil War history, the town was home to George Washington and other Revolutionary War heroes. During our visit we saw a few of these historic sites, but we really enjoyed the old downtown area, especially the Loudoun Street pedestrian mall. We stayed at the Washington Hotel, ate at Brewbakers Restaurant and the Piccadilly Grill, and had drinks at the V2 Piano Bar.
The Winchester area was first explored by the French in the mid-1600s and was first settled in 1729 by British Citizens then later German settlers. In 1738 Winchester was founded under the name Fredericks Town, and the town was used by General Braddock's army in the French and Indian War. Later the town provided numerous troops to General Washington's Army in the Revolution. By the time of the Civil War the town had grown as a major regional transportation hub, and hence it became the site of five major battles and numerous others.
Today the town has just 25,000 people in a thriving community that has maintained its history and continued to develop. Since 1924 the town has been known as one of America's largest apple growing regions, and it hold and annual Apple Blossom Festival.
Throughout the town there are a number of buildings set up as museums complete with period accurate furniture and settings...as well there is a fairly comprehensive museum illustrating the story of John Brown focusing on the raid as well as his life history..Im NOT talking about the Wax Mueum...the museum Im talking about is on the street at the bottom of Washington St...close to the river...and kitty corner sort of to the "General Store"...
Inside you'll see displays and exhibits about his life and the detailed story of the raid and a little bit of information regarding the economic and political structure of the USA just before the Civil War.
It was from Harpers Ferry, in 1803, that Meriwether Lewis (William Clark would meet Lewis along the Ohio later on) picked up arms and other equipment to see their party safely on its explorations of discovery for President Thomas Jefferson. The exhibits here describe what supplies Lewis chose and something about the journey he undertook along with its importance in the Country’s future.
The Appalachian Trail Conference headquarters is here in Harpers Ferry. Founded in 1925, the organization is geared at protecting and maintaining the 2000+ mile-long Appalachian Trail which stretches from Maine to Georgia over 14 States. Lots of hiking information can be obtained here from the knowledgeable staff.
John Brown’s story can be seen in detail at the John Brown Museum. The building was originally built in 1846 as a store with a boarding house above. The museum is just across the street form what is popularly known as John Brown’s Fort. The Fort served as both fire engine and guard house for the Armory and was built in 1848. The original site of the Fort was on the north side of Potomac Street near the train tracks, maybe some 30 meters west of the present site. The Fort was dismantled and put on display for a World’s Fair in Chicago after which it was taken apart again and left on a vacant lot for a few years. Rediscovered, the Fort was moved to a farm a few miles south of Harpers Ferry until Storer College bought the building and moved it to the College’s campus. After the school shut its doors, in 1955, the Fort, along with the other buildings of the College, was purchased by the National Park Service. The Fort was moved to its present location in 1968. You can see with the high windows that John Brown might have picked a better building to barricade himself up in.
Walk across the rail bridge from Harpers Ferry and turn left onto the C&O towpath. A little less than a half mile further, take the trail coming down the hill on your right. You will have two choices of destinations: the Stone Fort, a round trip of 6 miles from Harpers Ferry, or the Cliff Overlook which is a 4.1 mile roundtrip. The trails take advantage of old military roads that had been originally built to supply the various outposts and gun batteries that had been installed on the Heights to protect Harpers Ferry. The view from the Overlook is the one that Jefferson should have seen for it is ‘stupendous’. But then this is Maryland and Jefferson was a Virginian.
The C&O Canal was initiated by President John Quincy Adams in 1828. The canal was constructed along the north course of the Potomac River in an attempt to serve as a commercial conduit to the West. It was not until 1850 that the canal was completed. In total, there are 74 locks along the 184.5 miles, each with about an eight foot lift - the total elevation gain is some 605 feet. Seven aqueducts carried the canal over large tributaries of the Potomac - the best surviving example being the Monocacy Aqueduct. Weather - no traffic in winter, flood damage and rail competition made life difficult for the Canal to succeed financially and a large flood in 1924 ended the Canal’s operation for good.
Here, across from Harpers Ferry, you can see the old silted up canal along with the remains of what was Lock 33 - completed in 1833 - and the Lockmaster’s house. The towpath has been restored and you can follow it for its 184.5 miles length - from Washington, D.C. to Cumberland, Maryland. See cachaseiro’s pages for more on this great adventure.
The Baltimore & Ohio - B&O - railway reached Harpers Ferry in 1836, three years after the Chesapeake & Ohio - C&O - Canal Lock 33 was finished just to the west of where the rails ran. The bridge across the Potomac was destroyed and repaired nine times during the Civil War. A flood in 1936 finally destroyed the original bridge for good, though large sections of the five masonry piers still stand in the river. The B&O and C&O were bitter rivals until a flood in 1889 forced the Canal into bankruptcy. You can walk across the newer rail bridge either en route to the trails on Maryland Heights or simply to watch the waters of the Potomac rush by underneath. The path you are on is a small section of the more than 2000 mile long Appalachian Trail.
Built in 1847-1849, this house was originally built as the Armory’s Paymaster Quarters and was used as a headquarters by Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan before his devastating raid down the Shenandoah Valley. After the War, this was where the Storer Normal School was started in 1867.
Several other buildings of the school still exist as part of the National Park Service's Mather Training Center.
This building was originally built - in 1847 to 1849 - as an annex to the Harpers Ferry Hotel. Today, you can wander through the exhibits which detail the history of Storer College and its impact on education within the American Black community. Storer was established here in Harpers Ferry, in 1867, to help educate former slaves. The school was the site for important addresses by Frederick Douglass, in 1881, and W.E.B. DuBois, in 1906. The 1906 address came at the first public meeting of the Niagara Movement which would evolve three years later in to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People - the NAACP. The buildings of the college itself can be visited in the Upper Town.
Reached by way of the Cliff Trail from the Lower Town - the Cliff Trail is part of the Appalachian Trail system - Jefferson Rock is where Thomas Jefferson stood, on October 25, 1783, and described the natural view as “one of the most stupendous scenes in Nature … worth a voyage across the Atlantic.” After such glorious prose from such a man as Jefferson, writers are usually quick to bring in John Quincy Adams rebuttal, “There is not much of the sublime in the Scene, and those who first see it after reading Mr. Jefferson’s description are usually disappointed …” The Rock originally swayed back and forth and four stone pillars were added to stabilize it in the late 1850’s. Going one better, the National Park Service doesn’t allow anyone up on the Rock today.
Where the Shenendoah River empties into the Potomac River is very scenic with an overlook and several places to access both rivers for photos. At this point there is a Railroad bridge over the Shenandoah River and a tunnel on the other side. The railroad is still operating. Much more.
Visit the arsenal where John Brown and a number of slaves were defeated by a detachment of the U.S. Army led by future Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
Have a picnic.
Discover why Merriweather Lewis (of Lewis and Clark fame) was here.
Find the marker that shows the water level of each major flood.
Browse the shops.
Enjoy the day.
You must go on the ghost walk. This is just pure fun. A lady (when I went, it was always the same old lady, but I hear that it's changed now) in period costume leads a tour around the old town and talks about all of the ghosts that are known to inhabit it. With the Civil War and John Brown's raid leading to all kinds of violent death in the town's history, you know that it's going to be cram packed with ghosts. My personal favorite stories deal with Screaming Jenny, the Catholic church, and an improvised game of football played by some of the local kids one day.
The tour starts at 8:00pm every evening, and it's so popular in October that you need reservations (and I was certain that you would never need reservations for anything in west Virginia). I can't remeber the address of the place where it starts, but you can probably find information on it at the National Park visitors center.
On the Maryland side of the Potomac River, is the 160 mile plus Chesapeake & Ohio Canal towpath. More details on my 'Cheseapeake & Ohio National Park' page within Maryland.
Here's a view from across the river in Harper's Ferry, somewhere near the Hilltop Hotel.