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.
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 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.
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.
St. Peters Catholic Church was built in 1833 and was the town's only church in town to survive the Civil War intact. St. Peters was heavily modified and expanded in 1896, leaving the structure as it stands today. Regular services at St. Peter's were curtailed in 1995, as part of a reorganization plan of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.
The church provides a scenic vista across the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers. From here it is a short walk to the ruins of St. Johns Episcopal Church and a bit further to Jefferson's Rock.
Today the church is adjacent to, but not part of both the Harpers Ferry National Historic Park and the Harpers Ferry Historic District. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Harpers Ferry National Historical Park occupies land in West Virginia, Maryland, and Virginia at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers. The park consists of 4,000 acres and hosts over a million visitors each year. The area was designated a National Monument in 1944, and in 1963 congress named the area a National Historical Park. In 1966 the park was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Park lands include a good deal of the old lower town, Virginius Island (site of several mills), Camp Hill (former location of Storer Sollege), the visitors center at Murphy Farm, the Bolivar Heights battlefield, Schoolhouse Ridge, Maryland Heights in Maryland, and Loudoun Heights in Virginia.
The vast majority of the historic sites are in the lower town along the rivers in West Virginia. These sites include the park information center, the Restoration Museum, Frankel’s Clothing Store, the Industry Museum, the park Bookshop, a Blacksmith Shop, A Place in Time Museum, the Provost Marshal Office, Stipes’ Boarding House, the Dry Goods Store, Arsenal Square, John Brown’s Fort, the Point, the John Brown Museum, the Wetlands Museum, the Storer College/Niagara Movement Museum, A. Burton Clocks and Jewelry Exhibit, the Battle of Harpers Ferry Museum, a Confectionery Exhibit, the Civil War Museum, the Black Voices Museum, White Hall Tavern, the Meriwether Lewis Exhibit, the Harper House, Jefferson Rock, and the Harper Cemetery.
While I like the history of the Old Town, the U.S. government-owned shops and building certainly lack some character. I really prefer to walk up touristy High Street or even to the Upper Town. During my last visit, I decided to drive out to Winchester where these is much more to do that is not all government owned.
While the National Historical Park includes most of the industrial areas and the old armory, the Harpers Ferry Historic District includes about 100 buildings of the Upper Town. Most of the these structures were built by the federal government from 1800 to 1837 as residences for the armory workers. In the late 1800s number of Victorian mansions were also constructed in the town. The Hilltop Hotel is one of the most famous places in the Upper Town; it occupies a ridge overlooking the Potomac, and it was visited by Mark Twain, Alexander Graham Bell and Woodrow Wilson among others. This area was also home to Storer College, one of the first accredited black universities in America.
We visited the national park first, and were somewhat unimpressed with the sterile environment that government ownership tends to create. Just walking up high street out of the park, you see capitalism flourish as local business owners set up cute little shops to draw in tourists. The top of the hill is often lacking tourists in the numbers you find below, but the town is worth visiting for its charm, as well as to see some of the old architecture. Unfortunately the Hilltop Hotel has seen its better days; the back side of the structure has some major structural damage and looks ready to crumble even more.
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.
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.
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.
In July 1859 John Brown, two of his sons, and others met in Maryland about seven miles from Harpers Ferry to begin creating an army and drafting plans to attack Harpers Ferry. They intended to seize the 100,000 rifles at he armory, then use them to arm slaves throughout Virginia. On October 16, 1859, Brown and his 21-man "Provisional Army of the United States" took over the US Armory and Arsenal at Harpers Ferry in an effort to create an uprising among the slaves. Militia units and federal troops responded from surrounding areas, some led by future Confederate leaders Robert E. Lee and JEB Stuart. For the next two days several of John Brown's raiders along with numerous townspeople were killed as the raiders were gradually pushed from the Armory and Arsenal into the small firehouse in the far corner of town. Finally, on the morning of October 18th, twelve US Marines broke down the door of the Armory's firehouse, capturing Brown and the remaining raiders. In all, 17 people died including 10 of Brown's men.
The 45-minute trial took place on November 2nd 1856, as Brown was charged with murder, conspiring slaves to rebel, and treason against the state of Virginia. He was sentenced to a public execution that took place on December 2nd, and was attended by Virginia Military Institute cadets led by Major Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. John Wilkes Booth also witnessed the execution.
It is said that the John Brown's failed raid raised tensions between the North and South the led to secession and the American Civil War.
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.
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.
Four acres are set aside and serve as the town’s cemetery. The view to the Rivers below is sublime. Robert Harper’s grave - he had set up the first ferry here in 1747 - and some of his relatives, are buried in the lower section. One other prominent grave you might notice is that of a local kayaker, Tim Gavin. In his honor, a annual race on the River is run.
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.