Wrapping up our WVVIPP Road Trip placed us on the outskirts of Harpers Ferry, WV. The confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah river draws its lines between three states like state lines on a map, creating a flood plan where this historic community resides. Winding through the town, the Appalachian Trail takes you pass Jefferson Rock, the John Brown’s Fort, and below the towering cliffs of Maryland Heights. We have a lot we want to see and do and only one day to do it in. Hopefully, we aren’t too overzealous with our schedule.
Harpers Ferry Visitor Center
After paying our $10 entry fee, we arrived at the Visitor Center around 9 o’clock. The Visitor Center is a small building with information packets about the surrounding area and park. We picked up our map and asked the Park Official for the best way to get into town. They have a free shuttle ride to and from the town, or you can hike to a connecting hiking trail that leads you to the Appalachian Trail. We opted for an early morning hike.
We left the visitor center heading to the connector trail, we thought. With a small group of people following us, and us not having a clue where we were going, we ended up taking a group of people on a tour of the maintenance building. I turned and apologized, and they laughed and stated with our backpacks and gear it looked like we knew where we were going. Our group split up and started walking the wood line until we found the trail.
Hiking along the Appalachian Trail we came across a sign pointing us to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Visitor Center. This trail takes you through the historic campus of Storer College. Storer was founded as an all-black school to educate freedman; slaves freed after the Civil War. The college was shut down after the case of Brown v. Board of Education but is still used today as a Training Facility for the National Park Service. We spent a good hour exploring the campus and reading about the role it played in West Virginia’s and national African-American history.
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy Visitor Center is a must-see for everything Appalachian Trail. Entering the building staffers passionate about the Trail greet you. Books, maps, gifts, and supplies surround you for easy resupply and to get you back on the trail. In the back of the building is a trail shelter teaching you about trail camping and conservation. An adjoining room is full of stories and photos from people who have hiked the trail. Leaving, Heather and I wanted to hit the trail and keep going. But, hopefully, one of these days we will have the opportunity to hike the complete Appalachian Trail.
Back on the trail, we came across Jefferson Rock. This section of trail is a heavy trafficked area with visitors everywhere wanting to get a picture of this landmark. On October 25th, 1783, Thomas Jefferson stood upon this rock and surveyed before him the Shenandoah River running into the confluence of the Potomac River. He found the view so remarkable that he wrote in the Notes on the State of Virginia, “this scene is worth a voyage across the Atlantic.”
Historic Harpers Ferry
Continuing on the trail, you pass the abandoned St. John’s Episcopal Church. Used during the Civil War as a hospital and barracks, the church took on massive damage. Rebuilt after the war the church remained operational until 1895 when the construction of the new church reached its completion. Located below the ruins is the beautiful St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church constructed in 1833, it was the only church in Harpers Ferry to escape destruction during the Civil War.
The sun was now above our heads and the morning fog has burned off. The humidity was unbearable, and we were all starting to feel the heat. Walking up Potomac St. we noticed a lady enjoying a refreshing vanilla iced coffee. I asked her if she could direct us to where she found that tasty looking treat. Pointing passed the next street down the sign for the Coffee Mill welcomed us. A lot of people had the same idea about getting out of the sun for a mid-day rest; this place was packed. We had a burger, chicken strips, fries, water, and the iced coffee. The food was standard restaurant food, but a little more expensive. The coffee though hit the spot.
Circling back down to Shenandoah St. we took our time exploring the old buildings and educating ourselves on all the information kiosk. The National Park Service Information Center was full of displays and information about the town, its people, and its role in the Civil War.
John Brown’s Fort
At the end of Shenandoah St. sits the historic John Brown’s Fort or does it. John Brown was an abolitionist who raided the federal armory of Harpers Ferry of its arsenal. During the attack, he was forced to take up position in the fire engine house. The following day he was overrun by U.S. Marines and then Colonel Robert E. Lee. Brown was captured alive and later hung for his crimes of rebellion, treason, and murder.
The Fort was then sold as an attraction piece, disassembled, and rebuilt. Not receiving the visits expected, the Fort was dismantled and stored until purchased again. This time it was purchased to be preserved and was placed on a farm for people to visit. Once again the Fort was purchased, but this time by Storer College where they set it on the College’s campus. In 1960 the Fort exchanged hands once more when acquired by the National Park Service and placed 150 feet from its original location. After all the disassembling and reconstruction, the Fort is not entirely authentic due to lost and or replaced material, but not a replica sine the construction isn’t matching the original build.
During the Civil War, almost every piece of metal captured was melted down for ammunition. The Fire Engine House Bell, now known as the John Brown Bell, was to be used to alert other abolitionists that the raid as begun. With the beginning of the Civil War, the Union Army took the bell to keep it out of the Confederates hands. The soldiers transported the Bell to Marlborough, Massachusetts where it is displayed today atop a monument constructed downtown.
Back on the Appalachian Trail, we crossed the Potomac River to Maryland. Following the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath, we came to the Maryland Heights Trailhead. This trail has a short and long track. We took the short path, missing the ruins and fort, due to our day being half over. This trail was a little strenuous with Leo strapped to my back, but the view from atop the cliff was worth it.
With our day coming to an end and us being thoroughly exhausted. We headed back to Harpers Ferry and grabbed the next available shuttle bus back to the visitor center.
Harpers Ferry, We Can’t Wait to Be Back
With a town so full of history, character, and things to explore, we now wish we would have had a weekend and not just a day. We are already planning our next visit to Harpers Ferry with a stay at a B&B, Water Tubing down the Potomac, visiting the ruins and Fort at Maryland Heights, and taking in the overlook from Loudoun Heights. With pure excitement, Harpers Ferry, we can’t wait to be back.
At over 4100 ft, Check out this, “Breathtakingly Amazing: High Knob Fire Tower Trail.“