Monday, July 27, 2009

Harpers Ferry, National Historic Site

While staying at the North Fork Resort in Front Royal, we decided to drive up to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. It was about a one hour drive northeast of our campground. We packed our usual picnic lunch, but left Annie the Schnauzer home with the A/C on. She was happier that way.

Harpers Ferry is a National Historic Park and we were able to enter free of charge with our Senior Pass, thus saving the $10.00 entry fee. Yippee! Since we last visited Harpers Ferry in the 80's, they have erected a new Visitor Center and offer a free shuttle bus service to the Lower Town historic area. Here is a photo of the Visitor Center where we picked up a map of the area. It was only a 5-minute shuttle bus ride to the Lower Town historic area. There were some private cars driving around the town, but the NPS wants folks to use the bus system to eliminate so many cars clogging the small streets and it thus saves on some of the pollution in the area as well. In addition, parking can be a problem.

This is the beginning of the historic buildings on Shenandoah Street. There is a nice bookstore on the left of the photo, and beyond that is the Industry Museum. We browsed in the bookstore but there wasn't anything we felt the urge to buy.

Inside the Industry Museum you can see a demonstration on a video screen showing how rifle stocks were being made. The U.S. Armory and Arsenal, established in the 1790's, transformed Harpers Ferry from a wilderness into an industrial center. Between 1799 and the outbreak of Civil War in 1861, over 600,000 muskets, rifles, and pistols were produced. At times over 400 workers were employed. The invention of interchangeable parts technology helped lead the change from craftsmen-based production to manufacture by machine. In this photo you can see the display of Blanchard lathes in the Industry Museum.

Across the street from the Industry Museum we saw the Dry Goods Store. Inside, was a man in period costume explaining what the townsfolk would come in to buy. He also had some early sewing machines on display and explained to us that buying sewing machines "back in the day" was when credit purchasing originated. Sewing machines were so expensive that people began the practice of buying on credit.

Next door to the Dry Goods was the Provost Marshall office.

Inside the office we met two of the Provost Marshalls. They explained just what the marshalls did during the military occupation of the 1860's. They were nice fellows and answered many questions.

We saw some of the park employees that were in their period costumes coming back from their lunch break.

No town was complete without a tavern. Here is the White Hall Tavern on Potomac Street.

The story of how a man named John Brown believed he could free the slaves is but one theme in this historic site. Abolitionist Brown selected Harpers Ferry as his starting point and was determined to seize the 100,000 weapons housed in the arsenal. Brown began his raid on October 16, 1859. He had an army of 21, which included 5 free African-American men. Thirty-six hours after the raid began, with most of his men killed or wounded, Brown was captured in the armory fire enginehouse, now known as John Brown's Fort. After a trial, Brown was hanged on December 2, 1859. His short lived raid failed, but it focused the nation's attention on the moral issue of slavery and helped head the country toward civil war.
Here is John Brown's Fort, located by the river.

The Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers meet at Harpers Ferry. The rivers produced power for local mills and factories. This view is looking at the Potomac River as it flows toward Washington D.C.

From a place called The Point, you can see a train trestle that is still in operation. We saw a Winchester & Potomac Railroad freight train roll by while we were there. There is also a foot bridge connected to the train trestle and you can walk across to the other side of the river. Actually, the Appalachian Trail goes right through Harpers Ferry and the trail is part of this foot bridge.

The Appalachian Trail sign marker showed the miles from Harpers Ferry to the trail head in Maine and to the trail's end in Georgia. To walk the trail to Maine from here would be 1,165 miles and to go south to Georgia you would walk 1,013 miles. Whew! Too far for me either way.

From the foot bridge on the trestle, I took this photo of the Appalachian Trail.

Also from The Point, if you turn around you can see behind you a nice view of the historic town of Harpers Ferry. It was beautiful.

After we had finished touring the town, we caught another shuttle bus back to the Visitor Center. They had a nice picnic area where we were able to enjoy our lunch in the shade of some big trees.
Harpers Ferry has a rich history with more than one or two defining historic periods in it's complex past. There are six themes the National Park Service has identified to help understand how important Harpers Ferry was. They are: Industry, Natural Heritage, Transportation, John Brown, Civil War, and African-American History. I've barely touched on one or two themes. If you want detailed information, log onto
That's all for long until next time.

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