Scenic USA - West Virginia

Harpers Ferry

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A view of Harpers Ferry from Jefferson Rock - West Virginia

Photos by Ed Heaton
Ed Heaton Photography

     Although the written history of Harpers Ferry began in the mid 1700s, the town is most famous for John Brown’s attempt to raid the federal arsenal in 1859. It was then the townspeople of Harpers Ferry and the rest of the nation began to recognize signs that a civil war was imminent. Surmising Harpers Ferry fate, Union forces attempted to destroy the arsenal's rifle manufacturing machinery in an effort to keep it from Confederate hands. And by 1861 Harpers Ferry was caught in the midst of a violent struggle by Confederate and Union troops. Because of its key location in the Shenandoah Valley, control of the town changed hands eight times over a four year period during the Civil War. Years of intense fighting had left the town of Harpers Ferry lying in ruins. It’s hard to imagine, but 15 years later this narrow stretch of land between the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers resembled a southern Coney Island. The town's Island Park became the place to see and be seen.
     Today much of the town of Harpers Ferry has become part of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. A visit to this historic community offers a charming mixture of classic Victorian homes, bed and breakfast inns, restaurants and specialty shops. Main Street - Harpers Ferry, WV History buffs may follow the Harpers Ferry raid that culminated at John Brown's Fort (the engine house).
     Nearly 80 years before Brown's raid, Thomas Jefferson stopped at Harpers Ferry on his way to Philadelphia. On October 25, 1783, Jefferson took in this same view of the Shenandoah River. From atop Jefferson Rock, Thomas Jefferson remarked that this river view is one of the most stupendous scenes in nature. So impressed with his view of Harpers Ferry, he later wrote this scene is worth a voyage across the Atlantic.
     Centered at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, the Harpers Ferry area was originally deeded to English colonist Robert Harper. By 1761, Harper had placed a ferry across the Potomac River, marking the starting point for most settlers that journeyed into the Shenandoah Valley and on to the West. The town of Shenandoah Falls at Mr. Harper's Ferry was established a short time afterward by the Virginia General Assembly.

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