Visitor Center


It is more than one event, one date, or one individual. It is multi-layered -- involving a diverse number of people and events that influenced the course of our nation's history. Harpers Ferry witnessed the first successful application of interchangeable manufacture, the arrival of the first successful American railroad, John Brown's attack on slavery, the largest surrender of Federal troops during the Civil War, and the education of former slaves in one of the earliest integrated schools in the United States.

John Brown's Raid
John Brown believed he could free the slaves, and he selected Harpers Ferry as his starting point. Determined to seize the 100,000 weapons at the Arsenal and to use the Blue Ridge Mountains for guerrilla warfare, abolitionist Brown launched his raid on Sunday evening, October 16, 1859. His 21-man "army of liberation" seized the Armory and several other strategic points. Thirty-six hours after the raid begun, with most of his men killed or wounded, Brown was captured in the Armory fire enginehouse (now known as "John Brown's Fort") when U.S. Marines stormed the building.

Brought to trial at nearby Charles Town, Brown was found guilty of treason, of conspiring with slaves to rebel, and murder. He was hanged on December 2, 1859. John Brown's short-lived raid failed, but his trial and execution focused the nation's attention on the moral issue of slavery and headed the country toward civil war.

Today John Brown's Fort and the Arsenal ruins are part of the legacy of our nation's struggle with slavery.

Source information: National Park Service

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

Deer grazing near the Visitor Center

Harpers Ferry train station

The station observation tower

Train tracks through the mountain

Hannah's Train Depot Restaurant

Six acres that changed the world
The U.S. Armory at Harpers Ferry was one of the first military industrial complexes. It was gutted during the Civil War and later covered with rubble to make way for elevated train tracks.

Tracks across the Potomac River

This stone wall supported the original trains

Meriwether Lewis of Lewis and Clark arrived at Harpers Ferry on March 16, 1803 to obtain weapons and oversee the building of the iron framed, skin clad collapsible boat like the one above. He also acquired supplies including tomahawks and rifles. Unfortunately, although the boat was tested here, it failed to work on the Expedition.

To turn water wheels and provide power to run the machinery used in the building of weapons the Potomac River was diverted underground through the shops then through these tailraces back to the river.

Water flowed back to the Potomac through this tailrace. The marker stands on the original site of John Brown's Fort.

The B&O Railroad constructed the embankment in the left photo in the 1890s. This covered a large section of the original armory site. The embankment elevated their tracks above flood levels.
On the right is John Brown's Fort. The building was built as a fire enginehouse in 1848. It has been vandalized, dismantled and moved four times all because of its fame as John Brown's stronghold. It was the only armory building to escape destruction during the Civil War.

The interior of the Harpers Ferry fire enginehouse

Fire station resting room

Some of the newer buildings of Harpers Ferry and locations of original buildings along the Shenandoah River

Stones to be used in reconstruction of older buildings

One of the arsenal buildings under restoration
At one time the arsenal buildings housed about 100,000 weapons. The buildings faced several serious threats of flood, fire and humidity, which jeopardized the safety of both workers and equipment. Union troops burned the arsenal during the Civil War to prevent weapons and equipment from falling into Confederate hands.

High Street

More High Street

Shenandoah River down stream and up

Remains of the old rail route over the Shenandoah

Location of the Armory Paymaster's house

Location of the old Market House

Another view

Walls were constructed without mortar

Two views of the B&O train trestle

Main Street

The other direction on Main Street

St. Peters Church overlooks the town

Locations of some of the houses for armory workers

Forest near the Visitor Center

More forest

A doe in the forest

On the drive back to Kentucky, I spotted these feather clouds

Music is "Shanandoah"

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