July 21, 2017, Harpers Ferry- After experiencing the intensity and blood-echoes of Antietam, I headed the back way southward, through tourist-clogged Shepherdstown, to slightly less congested Charles Town, not to be confused with the West Virginia capital, Charleston, which lies a good 3 hours to the south. There, I spent a restful night, on the outskirts of town.
This morning, after driving past the even more-overpopulated Harpers Ferry KOA, a mini-city, I opted to first take a ranger-guided tour of the approach to Lower Town. Ranger Michael gave us a fully- detailed visit to what had been Storer College, an institution of higher learning, founded in 1865 and aimed at training African-American teachers. The school closed in 1955. It is now part of Harpers Ferry National Historic Park, with a National Park Service Academy (Mather Training Center) and Lockwood House, a Union Army hospital and later headquarters for Gen. Philip Sheridan. When Storer College was founded, Rev. Nathaniel Brackett made Lockwood House the administration building. It is now a research facility for the National Park Service.
Behind Lockwood House lies Harpers Ferry Cemetery. Michael led us through the burial ground, en route to Jefferson Rock.
Thomas Jefferson stood on this rock, in October, 1783, and was extremely impressed by the view. From that point on, the rock has borne his name.
St. Peter’s was not there, back then, but you get the idea.
We walked past the ruins of an Episcopal Church, which was there in 1783, before Michael bid us farewell, so he could conduct another tour.
I took the shuttle bus back to the upper parking lot, and drove back down, for further exploration of Lower Town. I stopped, for about twenty minutes, at the headquarters of the Appalachian Mountain Club, this being the midpoint of the Appalachian Trail. The staff and several through-hikers were encouraging of my pipe dreams of someday walking that venerable long path.
Here are a few scenes of the business district and Virginius Island. These are the ruins of Shenandoah Pulp Mill, built at Halls Island, by Thomas Savery, in 1887 and destroyed by the Great Flood of 1936.
The Flood also put an end to a cotton mill, on Virginius Island.
These days, Virginius is popular with swimmers, along the Shenandoah River and with the ubiquitous deer.
Thankfully, it is only accessible by footbridge.
I walked on down, to Lower Town, and gazed at the confluence of the Shenandoah, with the Potomac.
The small fire station, which once served as a “fort” for the abolitionist John Brown, faces the two rivers, at the edge of Lower Town.
I walked on, up Main Street, avoiding the temptation to buy trinkets.
The last stop, before heading out towards Harrisonburg, was The Coffee Mill, where the heat of afternoon called for a root beer float.
Harpers Ferry certainly had a hard time being hemmed in by two rivers and three mountains, during the strife of 1850-1865, but it has found a place in the hearts of grateful citizens, in this day.