The confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers can be found in the town of Harper’s Ferry in West Virginia. Bordered by both Maryland and Virginia, a Harpers Ferry weekend offers plenty for a city dweller like me. There’s nature of course. With over 50 miles of hiking trails, it’s a delightful spot for anyone wanting to reconnect with the natural world. There’s also history, and plenty of it. Harpers Ferry is part of the Maryland campaign of the Civil War that culminated at the Battle of Antietam in nearby Sharpsburg, Maryland. The town is also known as a symbol of freedom, particularly for African Americans in the 19th century.
A Harpers Ferry Weekend
Two famous rivers, the Shenandoah and the Potomac, flank the town of Harpers Ferry. The former runs through western Virginia into the Potomac at Harpers Ferry. It was also a critical mode of transport for the Confederacy during Civil War. The latter on the other hand, is twice as long and traverses several states as it empties into the Chesapeake Bay. Numerous parks also line up its banks highlighting its natural scenic beauty.
When planning a Harpers Ferry weekend, know that both the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers are popular recreational spots. Kayaking, canoeing, fishing or river rafting are just some of the activities you can do. Companies such as the Harpers Ferry Adventure Center and River Trail Outfitters offer guided tours of the river as well as kayak and raft rentals.
Harpers Ferry is a hiker’s paradise with a number of trails ranging from beginner to expert accessible within minutes of the town. The most recognizable of them all though is the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. The 2,200-mile trail that runs from the northern end of Georgia up to Maine has its mid-point in Harpers Ferry and cuts through the Lower Town. It also passes through the town’s most famous site, Jefferson Rock.
In addition to the Appalachian Trail, hikers staying in Harpers Ferry also have access to the Loudoun Heights Trail and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath, both of which are located near the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Civil War Battles
One Harpers Ferry weekend might not be enough to see and relive the civil war history associated with this town. Harpers Ferry, because its strategic location on Baltimore & Ohio Railroad at the northern end of the Shenandoah Valley, became a constant passage for both Federal and Confederate troops. According to history books, the town changed hands 8 times during the 4-year conflict.
Walk the trails at Bolivar Heights, Schoolhouse Ridge North and Murphy’s Farm, all of which are within or surrounding Harpers Ferry National Historic Park, and you’ll come across battle point sites. Historical markers along the way tell stories of guts and glory and of jubilation and defeat of the 1862 battle at Harpers Ferry.
One of the most visited locations in Harpers Ferry is John Brown’s Fort. Brown and his two sons came to Harpers Ferry to capture the U.S. Armory located in the lower part of town and then distribute the guns to slaves around Virginia. Their efforts failed and cost the men their lives but this incident ignited the abolitionist cause.
Another key location within the town associated with the fight against slavery is Storer College. The school established by the Reverend Dr. Nathan Cook Brackett began as a primary school but eventually grew into a full-fledged college awarding degrees in the sciences and liberal arts. Frederick Douglass served on its board and gave his infamous speech about John Brown within the confines of the school. It also played host to the first meeting of the Niagara Movement, a chartered group of men representing every region in America (minus the West) and was the pre-cursor to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People or NAACP.
Finally, visitors looking to learn about Harpers Ferry’s more comprehensive role in the abolitionist movement ought to stop by the Black Voices: An African-American Museum exhibit located near the corner of High and Shenandoah streets. It narrates the stories of daily lives of the town’s 150 slaves who worked as laborers during the 18th and 19th centuries.
These are just some of the reasons of what makes a Harpers Ferry weekend preferable for many who live around the national capital region. Have you been to Harpers Ferry? Tell us what you liked most about this historic town below.