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Harpers Ferry National Park – West Virginia

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Harpers Ferry National Park. If you’re a US history enthusiast, Harpers Ferry is the place to see. Or, even if you just have a mild interest in the historical significance, there is so much more to experience. Harpers Ferry is the site of the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia all meet at Harpers Ferry. Four national parks and three national trails all convene at Harpers Ferry. And, it is the halfway point on the Appalachian Trail.

The Confluence of Rivers

Harpers Ferry is the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers.  Because of the potential of harnessing the power of the water, in 1785, President George Washington chose Harpers Ferry as the optimal location to build an armory and an arsenal.

Photo Credit: Unknown. The Shenandoah River (left) flows into the Potomac River (right) Harpers Ferry is at the center point.

I suspect George was ahead of his time in many ways, not all, but many. Think of the ingenuity. Over 225+ years ago, for such a facility to be built and the thought process and skill behind the construction.  One can’t help but be impressed.  When you walk the grounds of what is now a National Park, it’s fascinating to imagine what life was like at Harpers Ferry. Over the decades the armory grew to include 20 workshops, two arsenals and 86 dwellings, certainly a thriving venture.

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The Infamous Raid of John Brown

History lesson 101 on Harpers Ferry and the infamous raid of abolitionist John Brown. Morally opposed to slavery, John Brown’s campaign against slavery was built on a foundation of violence. It was John’s intent to start a revolution by arming slaves in the south.  He chose to lead a raid on Harpers Ferry, because of the stock of 100,000 weapons in the armory, and he’d have access to the southern slaves.  Additionally, he could use the free state of Pennsylvania as an escape route. Or, so he thought.

Things didn’t quite go according to plan though as many of John’s followers did not show up. With only 21 men by his side, the raid was over in three days.  John Brown was tried for treason and executed by hanging in December of 1859, just two months after the raid.  While his attempt to cause a revolution failed, he certainly carved out a place for himself in US history.

Storer College

On the hilltop overlooking the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, sits the campus of the former Storer College.  What started as a one-room school house in 1865, to educate freed slaves, eventually became a degree-granting college for all races and for both men and women.

For those freedmen who were suddenly forced into a daily life with no skills or education, Storer College provided them with the opportunity to learn. In turn many returned to their communities to teach others; truly an inspiring story.  The year 1954 brought about the end of legal segregation. And, with the state no longer required to subsidize the college, the doors were closed in 1955. The campus is now part of the Harpers Ferry National Park.

Harpers Ferry
Storer College – now part of the NPS
The Appalachian Trail

I’ve been somewhat fascinated by the Appalachian Trail for a number of years. So much so that in 2023 I followed, on Youtube, several women thru-hikers and wrote a post about them. Click HERE to read about hiking the Appalachian Trail and why although I’m keen on the idea of the hike, it won’t happen.

Harpers Ferry National Park

A day trip to Harpers Ferry from Washington, DC, or the surrounding region, makes for a fascinating day full of US history. Explore the historic district, hike a section of the Appalachian Trail, the nearby C&O Canal Towpath, or the Potomac Heritage Trail. Experience it all while embracing what Mother Nature has to offer.  Harpers Ferry should not be missed when planning a DC itinerary, or a drive along Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia roads.

If You Go:
  • 171 Shoreline Drive, Harpers Ferry, West Virginia
  • Spring, Summer, Fall seasons – anticipate crowds
  • Weather permitting winter days are peacefully quiet
  • NPS parking – $20 per vehicle
  • Shuttle bus from NPS parking
  • App parking available on Washington & Columbia Streets – $2 per hour
  • Restrooms in the historic train station & near the bookstore on Shenandoah Street
  • Restaurants, cafes, bars seasonally open
  • Get your passport stamp at the bookstore on Shenandoah Street
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