Harpers Ferry National Historic Park
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Harpers Ferry National Historical Park

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park is located at the convergence of the Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland state borders about 65 miles northwest of Washington DC and 80 miles west of Baltimore Maryland. The park, which includes the village of Harpers Ferry, is strategically situated at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. It was the early pioneer's gateway to the westward route through the Appalachian Mountains and a significant military objective during the Civil War. It is most famous as the location of John Brown's aborted attempt to instigate a revolution against slavery.

A strategic location

John Brown's Fort in Harper's Ferry© Mike Leco / USATourist.com
John Brown was captured and many of his men killed in a skirmish with federal army troops at the tiny firehouse that has become known as "John Brown's Fort".

Robert Harper founded the community in the mid-eighteenth century. He built a ferry across the Shenandoah River in 1761 and helped establish the town as a primary route for settlers seeking farmland in the fertile Shenandoah Valley to the south and for pioneers heading into the wilderness of the western frontier. George Washington, during his presidency, arranged to have one of the country's two arsenals situated at Harpers Ferry.

The location of the federal arsenal eventually attracted industrial development, which included munitions factories. By 1833, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal reached Harpers Ferry. A year later the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad arrived making the little town a strategic hub for transportation.

John Brown's raid

On October 16, 1859, John Brown, a volatile abolitionist, accompanied by his sons and a small band of 21 revolutionaries, led an attack on the arsenal at Harpers Ferry. Their avowed goal was to capture the munitions, distribute them to slaves throughout the southern states, and win the abolition of all slavery in the USA. The attempt failed. John Brown was captured and many of his men killed in a skirmish with federal army troops at the tiny firehouse that has become known as "John Brown's Fort". He was tried for treason and executed, but his ideas lived on. Just two years later, the great Civil War began and finally ended with the abolition of slavery that John Brown had unsuccessfully tried to achieve.

The strategic importance of Harpers Ferry was apparent during the Civil War when it was the scene of many battles, and changed hands between the northern and southern forces 8 times. During Union occupation it became a refuge for runaway slaves from the southern states. Shortly after the war, missionaries founded Storer College, an integrated university that welcomed all races including freed black slaves. In 1906, the Niagara Movement was founded on the campus of that college. It was the forerunner of the prestigious National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

The village of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

Shops in Harper's Ferry West Virginia © Mike Leco / USATourist.com
Many of the town's shops and houses have been restored and preserved in the conditions of the Civil War era.

The picturesque village of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia clings to the rocky slopes of the promontory between the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers overlooking the steep wooded river valleys. Many of its shops and houses have been restored and preserved in the conditions of the Civil War era. Museums and historical exhibits have been constructed in some of the old buildings. Old houses have been converted to quaint restaurants, shops and galleries. It is a very pleasant place to visit.

Located only a two-hour drive from Washington DC or Baltimore, Maryland, this small picturesque historical site is a nice destination for a day excursion from either city. In an effort to preserve the environment of the village, the National Park Service has constructed a visitor center with parking one mile west of the Shenandoah Bridge just off route 340. They provide free shuttle busses to convey visitors to and from the town center. There is a $5 per vehicle entry fee that includes unlimited visitation for a 3-day period. The center is open every day from 9AM until 5PM except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Days.

Activities in the Area

Besides sightseeing in the quaint village and visiting its museums and exhibits, Harpers Ferry National Park offers hiking, bird watching, fishing and wildlife viewing. The great Appalachian Hiking Trail passes near the town. There are a few bed and breakfast establishments in Harpers Ferry and a selection of hotels located in the nearby towns of Martinsburg and Shepherdstown, West Virginia.

Accommodations near Harpers Ferry

(Click links for more information, to compare prices or to book reservations)

Knights Inn Martinsburg, WV $55 - $65

Days Inn Martinsburg, WV $60 - $70

Comfort Inn Martinsburg, WV $60 - $125

Hampton Inn Martinsburg, WV $130 - $150

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Written by: Mike Leco
Top Photo Credit: © Mike Leco / USATourist.com
Photo Description: The confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers