West Virginia January 02, 2018
The Historic Small Town That Every West Virginian Should Visit At Least Once
Many towns in West Virginia, if not all, still retain a piece of their history; those special structures that have stood strong into the newest century, their edifices a monument to a past long gone. But Harpers Ferry has retained more than a
piece of its history; it has retained an entire district dating back to the 19th century.
Harpers Ferry (formerly spelled with an apostrophe) is one of the oldest towns in West Virginia, dating back to a time before the American Revolution.
In 1751, Robert Harper bought 126 acres of land from Lord Fairfax, and with the land purchase came a well established ferry that carried people across the Potomac River into Maryland. This land would later become the town of Harpers Ferry. Its history began there.
History left its mark on the town, just as the town left its mark on history.
Both Thomas Jefferson and George Washington passed though Harpers Ferry, and some of Washington's family even became residents. The town owes its greatest renown to John Brown, the abolitionist who led 21 men on a raid of the city's arsenal in 1859.
The Civil War began a few years later, which took a heavy toll on the town. During the war, both Confederate and Union soldiers passed through the area. As a result, the town switched between Union and Confederate control eight times. In September of 1862, the town became a battleground. The Battle of Harpers Ferry was the result of General Robert E. Lee's attempt to seize control of the city since it was a valuable strategic point for his campaign to invade Maryland.
But despite its setbacks during the war, the town stood strong.
Harpers Ferry is comprised of two main areas. The lower section of the city is part of Harpers Ferry National Historic Park, while the upper and most populated area is comprised of the Harpers Ferry Historic District.
While strolling through the town, you will encounter several houses of the Federalist and Victorian style, a few of which had Woodrow Wilson, Mark Twain and Alexander Graham Bell as guests. The district itself is essentially a complete and preserved 19th century town.
The historic district is comprised of roughly 100 structures and receives thousands of visitors a year.
When people visit, they are encouraged to park at the nearby visitors center and either walk or take the Park Service bus into town. This is largely because there are very few places to park (no one will tear down a historic structure to build a parking lot), and the lack of heavy traffic maintains the 19th century aesthetic of the area.
There are many places that hold great significance in the historic district.
Aside from the General Store (last photo), be sure to visit The Point, John Brown's Fort, Arsenal Square, Harpers Ferry Station, Harper House and White Hall Tavern (the structure on the left in the photo above).
There are several incredible structures to pass along the way, so don't forget to bring your camera.
Adjacent to the historic district are two other historic landmarks: St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church and the B & O Railroad Potomac River Crossing.
The John Brown Wax Museum is another must-see. It is located on High Street, pictured above.
Once you have walked its streets, you will learn that Harpers Ferry is not just a town, it is a moment in time. Like a window into the past, this little town has many stories to tell. The bricks and mortar are like words, the buildings paragraphs, and the town a story. And it never tires of spinning its yarns.
Have you been to Harpers Ferry? Feel free to comment below and tell us all about your visit.
To learn more about West Virginia, check out
this ghost tour to experience the haunted side of Harpers Ferry.