Return to West Virginia

Earlier this month, V and I went back to West Virginia for the long Veterans Day weekend, but this time to Harpers Ferry and the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. The town is probably best known for John Brown’s 1859 abolitionist raid on the Federal Armory, which ultimately was put down by U.S. Marines. John Brown had been hoping to incite a large-scale armed slave insurrection, but instead the government executed him and the members of his band who survived the fighting for treason – two years before the American Civil War began and only a handful of years before emancipation became the law of the land anyway.

Harpers Ferry sits in a flood plain where Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia meet at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers.

Above: Jefferson Rock, where in 1783 Thomas Jefferson surveyed his surroundings and reflected that “The scene is worth a voyage across the Atlantic.”

The town was founded in the 1740s by Robert Harper, a Pennsylvania architect. Harper did not have any children, but left his property and money to his niece, who passed it to her own granddaughter and some of their descendants still live in the area.

Harpers Ferry is only about 70 minutes from DC depending on traffic, so easily doable as a day trip.

There is not a lot of accommodation in the historic area, and after a couple of failed attempts of finding every hotel and B&B full in September and October, I tried November dates and was finally able to get something really nice – a reservation at The Angler’s Inn, which I do recommend.

The Angler’s Inn

St. Peter’s Catholic Church

During our time in Harpers Ferry, we ate some delicious local food, went for walks around the hilly Historic District and its museums and old sites, hiked portions of the Appalachian and Potomac River Trails, and visited several museums.

Harpers Ferry, WV – Appalachian Trail

One thing I loved was all the little shops along the main street that have been restored and are available to just pop into and peek at.

There is also an old boarding house which was run by a Civil War widow and her daughters to make ends meet. I had the eeriest feeling when I walked to the base of the stairs, and I could imagine the women tired, scrubbing the floors through their tears almost as clearly as if they were still there. You can also see an outdoor display of how high the river waters have flooded the town in the past.

Yikes, 1936!!

I was a little surprised I had never visited Harpers Ferry before, despite its proximity and my having lived in this area for almost nine years before going overseas with the State Department. I guess it just wasn’t on my radar somehow.

Ruins of St. John’s Episcopal Church, built in 1852 and later used as a hospital during the American Civil War

In my opinion, the legacy of 400 years of slavery in this country flies in the face of the ideals of the “American experiment.” For this native Californian, it has been a culture shock for me to contend with throughout my life that there were ever laws in this country allowing people to buy other people based on the color of their skin, and deprive them of their liberty and dignity as human beings. It is not the America I know and love, and yet here we are.

John Brown’s Fort

I have been to many a Civil War battlefield during my years in Virginia. I have read the stories of soldiers in my adopted home state, fighting for the “right” to own slaves. It offends me deeply. When I realized that only an hour from here, a group of people made a doomed stand against slavery in what was then the northernmost point of Confederate territory before the Civil War got underway, I really wanted to see it for myself.

As distasteful as parts of our national history are, there isn’t any reason to not confront them directly. No one should avert their eyes or fail to consider how this legacy still harms our society today.

Revisiting the historical polarizations in our history and culture also feels like part of my “reacquainting” after living outside the U.S. for more than four years. It hurts, but it is an honest look. Like, “Right, what role do I have as a citizen to make sure we keep moving farther away from this shameful past? And that we don’t repeat our old mistakes?” What is the law during one period looks in retrospect inhumane and horrifying, and we’ve seen this again and again.

Understanding and being sensitive to the legacy of slavery is only one aspect of the broader social constructs of that day and historical interest of visiting Harpers Ferry, but an important one to be sure. There is a lot of other Civil War history, glimpses of how life used to be more than 200 years ago, and information about the competition between the shipping and railroad industries to be first to move goods along the eastern seaboard and beyond.


I neglected to take any pictures at the John Brown Wax Museum, but it brought the battle to life in a really cool way. Seeing John Brown with his head held high at the gallows and his weeping wife in the background made me feel proud of his sacrifice, and the way he stood up for what he believed in, even though it cost him his life and the lives of numerous relatives.

Enjoying hot chocolate and hot apple cider on a cool autumn day in Harpers Ferry, WV

I wasn’t fully ready for all the hills in this town – we climbed the equivalent of hundreds of stairs to get to the cemetery, but it was definitely worth it. What a view!

Harpers Ferry, WV

The railroad and shipping industries used to compete in this area – based on the canal and train tracks in the photo, who do you think succeeded?

Potomac River Trail between VA and MD

The people of Harpers Ferry are friendly and generous of time and spirit to what must be a place easily overwhelmed by tourism. On our first evening in town, we witnessed a hit and run on a parked vehicle, and by knocking on doors and asking around we were able to determine who the owner was (local) and give her the license plate number of the out-of-state driver who damaged her car. I left my name and number as a witness, but never heard anything back. I think I was more upset about it than she was!

In the ruins of St. John’s Episcopal Church

There was a lack of video poker though…

Beautiful Harpers Ferry – go see it!

I would definitely recommend visiting Harpers Ferry if you’re looking for a family trip to spark some meaningful conversations about our cultural identity, for summer swimming and fishing, outdoor recreation and climbing, or even for a cool weather romantic getaway among the proud and welcoming residents of this small town. Harpers Ferry lost its shipping and railroad industries, its armory, and even its most recent industry – bottling, which closed in 1942. And yet it remains, laying claim to arguably the first shots fired on the long road to equality: Harpers Ferry, a small Confederate town that fought to be on the right side of history.

Site of the former Federal Armory

The Dark Passport

A record of worldwide travel

Train to TBD

American expat life in Switzerland

Diplomatic Briefing

Your exclusive news aggregator handpicked daily!

What's Up With Tianna?

A Millennial's Musings of the World.

Life in a State of Wanderlust

"Not all those who wander are lost..." --J.R.R. Tolkien


Traveling Fashion Designers 🌼

Adventures With Aia:

A senior project travel blog

hello stranger

stories on adventure, and travel, and real life


Stories from a mid-west girl in Macedonia

Nina Boe in the Balkans

This blog does not represent the US government, Peace Corps, or people of North Macedonia.


Live well & Enjoy.

Den's Blog

This is what life is like when you don't do things the easy way.

Audrey is (a)Broad

A Humorous and Factual Repository.

Audrey is (a)Broad

A Humorous and Factual Repository.

Emma & Nathan's Travels

Our worldwide travels beginning in the year 2017

Latitude with Attitude

Exploring the World Diplomatically

try imagining a place

some stories from a life in the foreign service

Teach Travel Budget

Personal Finance for English Teachers Abroad

The Next Dinner Party

So raise your glass

Bag Full of Rocks

My rocks are the memories from different adventures. I thought I would just leave this bag here.

Carpe Diem Creative

A soulful explorer living an inspired life


Time for adventure

Trailing Spouse Tales

My Life As An Expat Abroad


My thoughts.

Wright Outta Nowhere

Tales from a Serial Expat

from the back of beyond

Detroit --> Angola --> Chile --> Cambodia--> India

anchored . . . for the moment

the doings of the familia Calderón

I Think I'm Going to Like it Here

A little drama every day. ~Dramababyabroad


Wanderings & Wonderings

The Multicultural Marketer

Inclusion Isn't Optional


two humans, one cat, and our lives together in West Africa

travelin' the globe

my travels, my way. currently exploring eswatini and the rest of southern africa as a peace corps volunteer

Collecting Postcards

Foreign Service Officer and Returned Peace Corps Volunteer

a rambling collective

Short Fiction by Nicola Humphreys

Enchanted Forests

This Blog is about discovering the magic of forests in every aspect of life from a small plant in a metropolis to the forests themselves


Chimping around the world!

The Unlikely Diplomat

We travel, some of us forever, to seek other places, other lives, other souls. – Anais Nin

Countdown To Freedom

A blog about health, the keto diet, weight loss, family, relationships, travel & love!

Let's Go Somewhere

A life well-lived around the world.

Cu Placere

Joyce Hooley

Ben East Books

citizenship | literature

%d bloggers like this: