I was so confused. Within a five minute span (at most!) we were in three states– one of them twice! We drove from Frederick, Maryland to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, West Virginia; however, I kept seeing “Welcome to…” signs! “Welcome to West Virginia” one sign read. A couple of minutes later, another greeted us with “Welcome to Virginia”. Before we knew it, we were back in West Virginia with another sign greeting us once again. Whewww!
Situated at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers where the states of Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia meet, Harpers Ferry is located roughly at the half-way point of the Appalachian Trail. It is named after Robert Harper who established a ferry service (Get it? Harper’s ferry?) in 1761.
Thomas Jefferson visited Harpers Ferry in 1783 and stood on these rocks (see below) to take in the view of the rivers. Jefferson called the site “perhaps one of the the most stupendous scenes in nature,” and also said it was “worth a voyage across the Atlantic” to see. This is now known as Jefferson Rock Overlook, and pillars have been inserted to stabilize the rock formations:
In later years during the Civil War, Harpers Ferry changed hands eight times between 1861 and 1865. Suffice it to say the history of Harpers Ferry could (and does) fill volumes of books.
Some of this history was shared with us by Creighton Waters, an incredibly knowledgeable park ranger. By pure luck, we happened to stumble upon him and his tour when we arrived at the visitor center at 10:55 and noticed an 11:00 “From the Top Down” tour getting ready to depart. As it turned out, the 90-minute tour is conducted just once per day, three days each week. Wow, were we lucky!
The tour departed from the top of Harpers Ferry where the views took in Maryland and the Potomac River to the left, and Virginia with its Shenandoah River to the right. By the conclusion of the tour, we were in Lower Harpers Ferry at the river’s confluence.
In between, in addition to taking in the views from Jefferson Rock Overlook, we visited this very historic cemetary dating back to the 1700’s where Robert Harper was buried:
This is what remains of a church dating back to the 1850’s:
Adding a little humor to the tour, we learned the history of the sign that is still visible on the side of the rock face of Maryland Heights across the river. See the square above and to the left of the train tunnel? It used to read, “Mennen’s Borated Talcum Toilet Powder,” and the painted sign dates back to 1903. It was the last thing train passengers saw before entering a long, pitch-black tunnel, so the marketing geniuses at Mennen thought it would leave a lasting imprint on their minds, and make them run out to buy some of their product upon disembarkation.
Walking across the bridge, we took in the views and noticed those tubers below who had floated down the Shenandoah River from Virginia. Meanwhile, out of the picture frame there were two other tubers who had floated down the Potomac in Maryland. They met up in the middle while we watched from West Virginia.
By the time we had reached the other side of the bridge, the sky grew dark and threatening, and it started to sprinkle just enough to warn us to take cover. So much for continuing our “hike” on the Appalachian Trail. We returned to explore the historic pre-Civil War- era buildings of Lower Harpers Ferry, instead, and ducked in to enjoy a Hershey’s Ice Cream (no relation to Milton S. Hershey of Hershey’s Chocolate, and the company dates back to 1894).
Now, that is good ice cream! “Moose Tracks” was LOADED with goodies, and the ice cream was creamy and delicious. YUM!
Tonight, we are staying in Winchester and will explore more of the Shenandoah Valley tomorrow. Hopefully, it won’t rain like it did today!