Strolling Harpers Ferry: Road Trip 2020

Train that runs through Harpers Ferry, WV

It was always on our itinerary for Road Trip 2020 — Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, that is. But when the owner of Frederick House in Staunton, VA called it a must-see, we quickly plotted a scenic route (Hwy. 11 to Winchester, VA, then VA 7 and US 15) to Harpers Ferry, a town that sits where WV, VA, and MD come together. It’s a town known for historical significance (the raid by John Brown and his followers that led to the abolition of slavery), but also a place of beauty, where historic structures and the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers add to the scenery of the area.

With closures of buildings and services managed National Park Service during this time of Covid-19 (Visitor Center, museum, train station, rest rooms, etc.), we wondered if there would be much to see in Harpers Ferry. But what we wanted to experience was there — open, well-marked and well-documented by the park service — making our stroll through the town a walk through the past.

Buildings on the hillside facing the Harpers Ferry train station

For a while, we looked longingly at the architecture, building materials, and old paint of the buildings, easily seen on a short walk from the parking lot at the back of the town, near the train station — buildings like White Hall Tavern, the General Store, and Meriwether Lewis at Harpers Ferry. Some were open for touring, and we enjoyed the information posted inside.

But then we turned our attention to the historical significance and remnants related to John Brown. On the night of October 16, 1859, Brown, a staunch abolitionist, and his supporters descended upon the town, capturing citizens and seizing the federal armory and arsenal. But contrary to their plans, Brown and friends were captured and held by the local militia in the arsenal’s engine house (that still remains). On the afternoon of October 17, Colonel Robert E. Lee and U. S. Marines stormed the engine house, killing many of the raiders (one was John Brown’s son) and capturing Brown. A speedy trial found Brown guilty of treason, murder and slave rebellion, and he was hanged for his crimes on December 2, 1859. But his death began a series of events that ultimately led to the abolition of slavery in the United States.

The engine house where John Brown and his supporters were held.

The intent and not the deed is in our power; and, therefore, who dares greatly Does greatly.

John Brown

Aside from the historic homes and the tributes to John Brown, we also took in the vista provided by the flowing waters of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers as they came together at Harpers Ferry. So did many others. Visitors walked the bridge, sometimes posing for pictures. Others floated under the bridge on colorful neon tubes, enjoying fallish weather, high bluffs, and the convergence of two mighty rivers.

It’s easy to like the Appalachian Trail Bridge (recently re-opened) not just for its lead-in to the tunnel, but also for the interesting photo possibilities and locks on the fences expressing love, friendship, and proof that “we were there.”

Bridge at Harpers Ferry
Appalachian Trail Bridge to the tunnel in Harpers Ferry

Harpers Ferry, you see, can be enjoyed on many levels. History buffs can tour the museum (when open), read markers and think through John Brown’s rebellion that eventually led to freedom for the enslaved. And those who love architecture and the details of the construction of old houses and churches will feel that they’ve truly found their place.

View of construction: White Hall Tavern and Meriwether Lewis building
St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, built in 1833

Others (well, maybe all of us) enjoy dining on patios covered with colorful umbrellas while gazing up at history on the hillside.

Patio dining in Harpers Ferry

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park is now in West Virginia, but it stands where three states converge: Virginia, Maryland, and West Virginia, easily accessible from the scenic route we described above or, more directly, on I-81.

Harper’s Ferry — a stop on the Appalachian Trail, a place to remember John Brown, a haven for lovers of historic architecture. Or just a great place for strolling and watching the train go by.

Whatever the reason, you really must go see it for yourself.

Travel well,

Rusha & Bert

Reminder: Please check for closures due to Covid-19 at the website of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

References:

John Brown’s Body — Stephen Vincent Benet and Civil War Memory” by Gordon Berg

History.com, “John Brown.” November 27, 2019

Harpers Ferry Railroad Bridge by TrailLink

24 thoughts on “Strolling Harpers Ferry: Road Trip 2020

  1. Curt Mekemson

    We had a fun but short view of the town on our Amtrak trip east last Christmas, Rusha. Thanks for the more detailed view. Our daughter Tasha and her family live in the historic town of Waterford, Va. not too far away. So, I am sure visiting the town will be on our itinerary. –Curt

  2. Pat

    What an enjoyable post. This is an area I would like to spend some time exploring, maybe finding a campground as a home base and exploring back roads and small towns.

    1. Oh, the Places We See

      You’d love it, if you like old houses, pretty scenery, and probably some good food under those red umbrellas. We were just passing through, but wish we had booked a night there. All the best!

  3. The Wandering RVer

    What a wonderful place to visit. As you point out, there is something for everyone. Adding it to my ever growing list! With any luck, things will all have opened back up before we get to go.

    1. Oh, the Places We See

      I don’t know where campsites might be, but I would imagine they’re close by. Lots and lots of people were milling around when we were there, and that was during Covid! So, it must be a popular place!

  4. Pit

    Great pictures! Harper’s Ferry has been on our bucket list for a long time, and now – unfortunately – it will remain there. For how long, we don’t know yet. We’re too much afreaid of travelling nowadays.

    1. Oh, the Places We See

      It is a difficult decision to make — on the one hand, the weather is great now, but on the other, the Covid-19 stats aren’t good. Here’s hoping you get there at some point. It’s really a good place to visit, for many reasons.

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