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Harpers Ferry National Historical Park

The town of Harpers Ferry is a national park located (now) in the state of West Virginia, but it also borders the states of Maryland and Virginia. The town once had an armory (established by George Washington to build muskets), a cotton mill among other important manufacturing sites, and a college. It is also the site of the 1862 Civil War Battle of Harpers Ferry, when the town was in the state of Virginia.

Here visitors can hike a section of the Appalachian Trail, walk the C & O Canal towpath (part of the Appalachian Trail), or enjoy several other hiking trails. There are also outfitters nearby that can put you on a river if water sports are your thing. Several museums and other points of interest are located along Potomac and High Streets in the lower town.

The Appalachian Trail winds its way from Maryland Heights across the Potomac River and through Harpers Ferry
Peaceful path to Virginius Island

The Rivers

The Point is where two rivers converge. This is a popular place in the park. It is interesting to see the water of the Potomac blend with the water of the Shenandoah where they meet at the center of the image.

The forest green water of the Potomac (foreground) flows into the olive green Shenandoah (background)
Along the bank of the Shenandoah

The Town

When visiting Harpers Ferry, guests can park at the visitor center then board a free shuttle to take them to the lower town. A hiking trail leads to the lower town for those who would rather walk. There are many historic buildings to see and there are also shops and restaurants. Although it is a national park, Harpers Ferry does have residents.

High Street
Along Shenandoah Street
Saint Peter’s Roman Catholic Church

John Brown

John Brown was a staunch abolitionist. In 1859, he organized a raid on Harpers Ferry. The rebellion, which was intended to arm enslaved men by seizing the armory, was a failure. After a thirty-six hour standoff, Brown and his men were killed or captured by a group of US Marines led by Robert E. Lee. Brown was later found guilty of treason, inciting a riot, and conspiracy. His trial and subsequent hanging took place in Charles Town, Virginia, now West Virginia.

John Brown’s Fort was originally the firehouse for the armory in Harpers Ferry. It is now referred to as John Brown’s Fort because it is where he and his men barricaded themselves during the final hours of their raid before being captured.
This and the photo above were taken at the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

It is reported that Brown wrote this on the wall of his cell just before being hanged: “I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood.”

Miscellany

The Harpers Ferry train tunnel is actually on the Maryland side of the Potomac River
Remains of a B & O Railroad bridge which spanned the Potomac River at Harpers Ferry. While these piers are newer, railroad bridges here were destroyed and rebuilt nine times during the Civil War, however, five of those times the bridges were destroyed by floods.
Shenandoah Bridge near The Point at Harpers Ferry. The bridge was originally constructed in 1882. It was destroyed by a flood in 1889 and rebuilt. These piers are all that remain after another major flood destroyed the bridge in 1936.
Ruins along Virginius Island Trail
Train trestle currently used by Amtrak and a commuter train service

We’re going to wrap up our visit to Harpers Ferry here. Thanks so much for joining us on the road. We hope you will come back again to enjoy more of our Mid-Atlantic road trip. Until next time…

Travel safe, travel smart, and we will see you down the road.

Mike and Kellye

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As always, we strive to be as accurate with our information as possible. If we made a mistake, it was unintentional. (Hey, we’re only human!) We aren’t paid for our recommendations, and we only recommend our own tried and true vendors and venues. Our suggestions are for places that we’ve heard good things about but haven’t visited personally, and our opinions are our own.

©2021

Featured

Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park, Williamsport, Maryland

The C & O Canal runs for 184.5 miles from Washington, DC to Cumberland, MD

The first idea for a canal was introduced as a bill submitted in 1774 to the Virginia governing body of the time by George Washington. His plan was to use the Potomac River as a means to move cargo, however, there were parts of the river that would be too dangerous for boats. He proposed to build a canal system that would enable navigation around those treacherous areas. After the Revolutionary War, his plans were set in motion and the Potowmack Canal Company was established with Washington at its helm. The canal was completed in 1802, three years after Washington’s death. It operated until 1828 when the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company took over Potowmack Canal Company and devised a plan to build a better canal system which would connect the Ohio River to the Chesapeake Bay. Under the new C & O plan, the canal would run next to the Potomac, but boats would not have to navigate the river. The construction period ran from 1828 to 1850, but the canal never made it to the Ohio River, mainly because the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad got there first. Moving cargo via the railroad was faster and more efficient. The canal was utilized from 1831 to 1924, and in its last years was used primarily for moving coal from the Allegheny Mountains to Washington, DC.

In 1938, the government purchased the canal with plans to turn it into a recreational area. President Eisenhower declared a portion of the canal a national monument in 1961. Ten years later, President Nixon signed a bill into law creating the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park.

Cushwa’s historic warehouse in Williamsport, MD, one of the three current visitor centers for the park

We chose to visit the Williamsport, MD portion of the park because it was the closest to our next destination. Our initial plans did not include this stop, but we are so glad we were able make the last minute change. Williamsport is the future home of the park’s headquarters. The National Park Service is currently refurbishing the site of a former lumber company that sits across the street from Cushwa’s.

This portion of the park sits at the confluence of the Potomac River (background) and Conococheague Creek (foreground). What a serene and beautiful place we found this to be on a lazy September morning. By the way, those trees on in the background are in West Virginia. Here the Potomac forms the border between West Virginia and Maryland.
The canal as it flows over the recently restored (in 2019) Conococheague Aqueduct
The 1879 Bollman bridge over the canal is one of the oldest standing iron railroad bridges in the US. Here you can see the towpath where mules would walk as they towed boats up and down the canal. Now, the towpath is used for a walking and biking trail. Trivia: the C & O Canal towpath at Harper’s Ferry, WV is part of the Appalachian Trail.

Wendell Bollman, a self-taught engineer who began his career at the age of 15, designed a specific type of truss, now called the Bollman Truss, that was used for many bridges built by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B & O) including the one shown above. Trivia: the B & O Railroad is the same one that sits between Illinois and Atlantic Avenues as depicted on the classic Monopoly game board.

Built in 1923, this strange-looking contraption is the only one of it’s kind on the C & O Canal. It is a railroad lift bridge that operated like an elevator to lower the tracks enabling trains loaded with coal to cross the canal. It is now a pedestrian bridge.
A view of the railroad lift bridge from underneath
A different view of the Bollman bridge with railroad tracks on the ground next to the canal. These tracks (along with the railroad lift bridge seen in the previous photos) would have been for the trains delivering coal to the power plant, part of which can be seen in the top right-hand corner of the picture.

For more information about this historic park, click here: https://www.nps.gov/choh/index.htm

We are going to end our trip to the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park here, but we will leave you with one more look at the canal and towpath. Imagine warm sunshine, no breeze, the smells of the earth, and complete solitude with nothing to disturb you except the summery drone of an occasional cicada. This is that place.

Thank you so much for stopping by our blog! Please come back soon for another road trip, quick stop, or travel tip. We love hearing from our readers, so feel free to leave a comment, and be sure to “like” us, too. Become a follower so you never miss one of our posts. We will not share or sell your information

Until next time…

Travel safe, travel smart, and we will see you down the road!

Mike and Kellye

As always, we strive to be as accurate with our information as possible. If we made a mistake, it was unintentional. (Hey, we’re only human!) We aren’t paid for our recommendations, and we only recommend our own tried and true vendors and venues. Our suggestions are for places that we’ve heard good things about but haven’t visited personally, and our opinions are our own.

©2021