Family Day-Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. GO.TODAY.

We took off on Thursday to spend a family day in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. I truly don’t know why we haven’t been there before Thursday. It turned out to be one of my favorite days this summer that we’ve spent as just the four of us. And truly one of my favorite day trips in a long time (and we’ve done a LOT of them.)

Realizing summer is quickly coming to a close, we are trying to get in a few more fun days before school starts again (blah…I’m so not emotionally ready for school to begin just yet). Jeremy had the idea for a day at Harper’s Ferry. J is a Civil War buff; I can’t ever get enough of restored anything, and living history; and the girls are up for anything, so we agreed that Harper’s Ferry would be a great way to spend our day.

We needed a slight history lesson before we visited, in order  fully appreciate the trip. Jeremy is always up for giving a history chat, so he happily obliged. And, being a home-educating household, every chance we get for a hands on learning experience we go for it. Hands on learning opportunities broadens a child’s perspective of life and culture, and allows them to function in new experiences with new people.

Harper’s Ferry is in the eastern tip of West Virgina and is a restored Civil War era town. The Potomac River and Shenandoah River come together here in Harper’s Ferry. The town is surrounded by the Harper’s Ferry National Park, which is filled with biking and hiking trails, and other outdoor adventure opportunities like kayking and tubing down the rivers. Lower Harper’s Ferry as it’s called is like walking through history, with the buildings looking almost exactly as they did 150 years ago.

Here is what History.com writes of Harpers Ferry:

“In October 1859, the U.S. military arsenal at Harpers Ferry was the target of an assault by an armed band of abolitionists led by John Brown (1800-59). (Originally part of Virginia, Harpers Ferry is located in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia near the convergence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers.) The raid was intended to be the first stage in an elaborate plan to establish an independent stronghold of freed slaves in the mountains of Maryland and Virginia. Brown was captured during the raid and later convicted of treason and hanged, but the raid inflamed white Southern fears of slave rebellions and increased the mounting tension between Northern and Southern states before the American Civil War (1861-65). Born in Connecticut in 1800 and raised in Ohio, John Brown came from a staunchly Calvinist and anti-slavery family. He spent much of his life failing at a variety of businesses–he declared bankruptcy in his early 40s and had more than 20 lawsuits filed against him. In 1837, his life changed irrevocably when he attended an abolition meeting in Cleveland, during which he was so moved that he publicly announced his dedication to destroying the institution of slavery. As early as 1848 he was formulating a plan to incite an insurrection. In the 1850s, Brown traveled to Kansas with five of his sons to fight against the pro-slavery forces in the contest over that territory. After pro-slavery men raided the abolitionist town of Lawrence on May 21, 1856, Brown personally sought revenge. Several days later, he and his sons attacked a group of cabins along Pottawatomie Creek. They killed five men with broad swords and triggered a summer of guerilla warfare in the troubled territory. One of Brown’s sons was killed in the fighting.  By 1857, Brown returned to the East and began raising money to carry out his vision of a mass uprising of slaves. He secured the backing of six prominent abolitionists, known as the “Secret Six,” andassembled an invasion force. His “army” grew to include more than 20 men, including several black men and three of Brown’s sons. The group rented a Maryland farm near Harpers Ferry and prepared for the assault.  On the night of October 16, 1859, Brown and his band overran the federal arsenal. Some of his men rounded up a handful of hostages, including a few slaves. Word of the raid spread and by the following day Brown and his men were surrounded. On October 18, a company of U.S. Marines, led by Colonel Robert E. Lee (1808-70) and Lieutenant J. E. B. Stuart (1833-64), overran Brown and his followers. Brown was wounded and captured, while 10 of his men were killed, including two of his sons. Brown was tried by the state of Virginia for treason and murder, and found guilty on November 2.The 59-year-old abolitionist went to the gallows on December 2, 1859. Before his execution, he handed his guard a slip of paper that read, “I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood.” It was a prophetic statement. Although the raid failed, it inflamed sectional tensions and raised the stakes for the 1860 presidential election. Brown’s raid helped make any further accommodation between North and South nearly impossible and thus became an important impetus of the Civil War.”

With a two minute, Wednesday night version of that knowledge in our back pockets we agreed to pack a picnic lunch and our sunscreen and leave at 6:00 a.m. the following morning.

At 6:08 we woke up.

After a fairly quick, but slightly defeated resolve, we finally left the house at 7:00. It was no big deal really. The National Park wouldn’t open until 9:00 anyway. We packed the car, kissed Daisy goodbye (she had a babysitter coming later) and headed south.

The trip takes approximately two and a half hours. Thankfully it was still early enough that I could go back to sleep:)

Two hours goes fast when you sleep.

We arrived at the National Park, paid our ten dollar entry fee (though, did you know that for just 80.00 per year for an America the Beautiful pass you can get to any NP in the country FREE?! More on this in another post.) and found a parking spot.

Then Anna asked us if we realized we were in a handicapped spot. We did not. So we found another parking spot just a few steps over.

Already I was impressed with our choice for the day. The National Park was clean, well manicured, well landscaped. It was large and roaming, quiet and serene. The Visitor’s Center was attractive, clean, and informative. The bathrooms looked new and were also really clean. The park rangers were helpful and knowledgeable. They told us the shuttle bus left every fifteen minutes to take visitors into the town of Harper’s Ferry from the park. We didn’t know what to expect at the town, so we decided to leave our picnic in the car and come back when we needed to.

The ride into town was just a quick two miler in a comfy air-conditioned bus. Along the route, the bus plays an audio tour as you drive past ruins, canals and historical features and explains each one.

Upon departure from the bus you immediately feel as if you are walking in history, through a village circa 1850. With the Shenandoah River to our right and the town and Potomac River to the front we started walking.

There was an 11:00 walking tour starting in 30 minutes and we decided to attend. Burt, an former Marine, was our tour guide and he made us, and I think it’s safe to say the other 40 people with us, feel as if the stories he relayed happened yesterday. His excitement was contagious. One of the best tour guides I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to.

After the forty five minute tour and listening to Burt and a fellow walker have a friendly debate about historical militaristic positions and decisions (I was waaaay out of my league, but watching them so passionately discuss was worth sticking around) we decided to walk through town and grab some lunch. We wouldn’t be going back to the car for our picnic, it was easier to just get something in town.

We walked across the pedestrian train bridge, visited the free museums and accurately designed time period stores, complete with staff dressed in period clothing. We spent time admiring the architecture and bought some souvenirs at the bookstore.

After we purchased some cold drinks we headed toward  the river for some time to cool off. The river itself was shallow, warm and perfect for skipping rocks. We removed our shoes and socks and took a few selfies with the mountains and maybe a few kayakers in the background.

Tips: When you visit, plan on taking a backpack, bottled water, a camera and even your own picnic if you like.  As always wear good walking shoes. Because we didn’t know what to expect, I didn’t take a bag with me, but ended up with a lovely red one by the days end.

Some pictures from our day.

IMG_8586As you enter town from the shuttle bus. Notice the cobblestone trim along the road and sidewalk.

IMG_8665I heart cobblestone in the rain.

IMG_8600The Dry Good Store.

IMG_8589Not to be confused with the Fancy Goods store.

IMG_8639Or this store that was simply shut for the day. Period.

IMG_8616A view of the Shenandoah River.
IMG_8643A view from the top of town looking toward the rivers.

IMG_8651Ruins of an old church. These are accessible. Please go inside and sing.                               Sing loud my friends. Loud and joyful. 

You’ll be happy you did. 

IMG_8614The path along the river. Notice the stones on the bottom left of the picture. They outline where a building once stood.


IMG_8630Another view of the town.

IMG_8623Burt the Tour Guide. We are overlooking the spot where the rivers come together. To the left of where this pictures ends is the train bridge.

IMG_8686Train Bridge. This picture is taken from the end of the pedestrian walkway. There are stairs that lead down to biking/walking trails along the Potomac.

IMG_8626John Brown’s Fort

IMG_8710Skipping rocks. A perfect end.

The moral of the story is this: Don’t wait 15 years to visit Harper’s Ferry. GO. TODAY.

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