Harpers Ferry National Historical Park

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park

I tried visiting Harpers Ferry NHP about 18 months ago, on the way from Gettysburg to Shenandoah but, on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in the fall, it was crazy busy. There was no parking in the small historic town, even the overflow parking lot two miles up the road was full, so I kept driving. It took me over an hour to get in and out and back on the road because of bumper to bumper traffic.

When planning a visit to Antietam, I also planned a visit here. I went on a Wednesday, arriving just after 0900. The parking lot by the train station was empty!

Boo and I wandered all over town. President Washington chose the location for a site of a government armory. We walked through the former site on the way to John Brown’s Fort, where in 1859 he and his raiders took their hostages. The building has an interesting history, and has been moved and reassembled multiple times. The memorial marker just up the hill is the original site of the building.

A guard at the armory, an enslaved man, was shot by the raiders. There is a memorial placed in town by the Daughters of the Confederacy honoring his “faithfulness”. The sign right next to it talks about the dedication, and that a daughter of a black Union soldier “had to speak out” in support for John Brown. “The audience was shocked”.

We walked down to the Point, where the Potomac, Native American for “River of Swans”, and the Shenandoah, “Daughter of the Stars”, meet. Standing on the point, in West Virginia, Maryland and Virginia were just across the rivers.

We walked across the Potomac, on the old railway bridge, to see the views before returning to the lower town. This is also part of the Appalachian Trail.

Bridge over the Potomac, part of the Appalachian Trail to Maryland

I saw the video about town, “A Place in Time” in the information center and picked up the NPS brochure.

I visited the Provost Marshall office and the Dry Goods Store. After walking up High Street and visiting St. Peter’s Catholic Church and St. John’s ruins, we came back down to the lower town to visit the other museums.

We saw the Meriwether Lewis building. In 1803, Lewis came to the Armory for about a month to outfit his expedition; stocking weapons, tools, and including a “portable” canoe of his design. We also saw the John Brown museum with multiple videos about the abolitionist and the events that led up to his raid.

During the visit to the Civil War Museum on High Street, we learned about the 1862 Battle of Harpers Ferry when 12,000 Union troops surrendered to CSA General Stonewall Jackson during Lee’s first Maryland Campaign. The Union soldiers, the 126th NY, were put on “parole” and had to spend time in a POW camp, Camp Douglas in Chicago, under horrible conditions before being released. Called the “Harpers Ferry Cowards” for their surrender, they earned the respect of the Union Army during the battle of Gettysburg when they prevented the CSA from taking the Union line on Cemetery Ridge. Jackson left General AP Hill in charge as he lead his troops north to Antietam.

We learned a lot about the history of town, from Washington placing the US Armory here in 1899 to the B&O railroad and the C&O Canal. We had a fun and interesting morning at Harpers Ferry. There are a number of shops and restaurants and various trails, making it a fun day for a family visit, even if you don’t like history.

The fort and armory storage building foundations.

** All photos property of Lisa, not to be copied or reproduced **

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