NOTE: The descriptions of the places in this guide were accurate at the time the articles were posted. Please be advised that you should call ahead before traveling to any of them.

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

By: Michelle Harper

Harpers Ferry I, do solemnly swear that I will bear true faith, allegiance and loyalty to the Government of the United States... That I will discourage discountenance and forever oppose succession, rebellion and the disruption or severance of the Union... Oath of office? Oath of enlistment? Not exactly - it's 1862 and Martial Law has been declared in Harpers Ferry. If you are a male and live in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, you have the "freedom" to chose to sign this oath or face imprisonment by the Union Provost Marshall's office.

The Civil War's arrival in Harpers Ferry was inevitable. In 1859, long before the sounds of battle rang in the ears of its hardworking inhabitants, Harpers Ferry caught the eye of another man, John Brown, who would leave a legacy that would forever change the face of this industrial town. Brown saw the strategic benefit of the small town's location on the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers, which cut right through the Blue Ridge Mountains and thought it a proper place to launch his ill-fated raid against slavery. The federal armory and rifle factory coupled with the ease of transportation through Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, also made it a prime location to be coveted by both the north and south during the Civil War. In fact, Harpers Ferry changed hands from the North to the South as many as eight times between 1860 - 1865. You can learn of Harpers Ferry Civil War history and the story of John Brown by visiting many of the interpretive programs offered through the National Park Service. You can also learn of the hope that was born out of all the despair and ruin as Storer College, one of the first schools to educate former staves, was established there in 1867.

Harpers Ferry For those of you with a nostalgic flair towards the likes of Dinosaur Land and drive-in movies, I would suggest a visit to the Wax Museum to learn more about the John Brown story. The museum itself is a monument to the bygone amusements of the 50s and 60s. The dimly lit, narrow passages smell of old wood and dust and are laced with a confusion of locked doors that lead to unknown places. This is a place that time forgot which could easily be converted into a haunted house. The low-tech special effect breathing of one of the wax figures, the first casualty of the Civil War in Harpers Ferry, would not impress the youth of today but brings back bitter-sweet memories of my childhood when such things seemed so awesome. As a child, I was thrilled to be the one who got to push the little red button on the outside of the display windows that would make the wax figures "come to life" by adding lighting and audio to the dark figures behind the glass. I think even the most high-tech kid could at least be moved by the look in John Brown's eyes during the patriotic ending when he turns to look directly at you as he is headed to the gallows. Star Wars it ain't - yet you can't help but feel a slight shutter as his eyes seem to be peering right to your soul.

Harpers Ferry Getting to the Wax Museum and other offerings at Harpers Ferry can be a bit tricky. The narrow roadways and numerous pedestrians make it a rather difficult task to get around. Despite its friendly sounding name of Hog Alley, this street was actually named for the four-legged variety of hogs that originally roamed the streets and is a bit narrow and treacherous for the "hogs" of the two-wheeled type. There is limited parking available in town but your best bet may be to park at the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park Information Center, a few miles away on Rt. 340. Free shuttles are provided from that location. Here are a few other pointers: This town was built on a hillside. The quaint cobblestone gutters and stone steps that add to the character of this historical town can also be treacherous. Be prepared for quite a workout as there are many strenuous climbs and in the town itself, shade can be difficult to find. As always, drink lots of fluids to prevent dehydration and exhaustion. You will want to spend at least three hours to explore all that the town has to offer.

Harpers Ferry In additon to exploring the town, there are many activities available in Harpers Ferry: Canoeing, kayaking and rafting along the rapids. If you prefer a more low-key version of water sport, tubing down the Potomac is also a possibility. There are many water outfitters located in the area and they can set you up with whatever you need. For those of you wishing to ride a bike of the human-powered type, bicycling along the C & O Canal Towpath is a pleasant way to spend the day as well. If you wish to spend the night, Harpers Ferry is the home to many bed and breakfasts, as well as several hotels. If trotting up and down the hills of the town is not enough exercise for you serious folks, Harpers Ferry also links up with the Appalachian Trail.

Harpers Ferry also offers many other activities and events. For Halloween, you might want to check out the Ghost Tour, which tells of the haunting and disturbing past of Harpers Ferry's inhabitants who refuse to pass peacefully into history. Another seasonal offering is Olde Tyme Christmas, in which the town is decorated in the finest tradition of the season. If you are one of those folks always in search of the eternal bargain, you may wish to check out the giant flea market a few miles away on Rt. 340.

Yes, Virginia is God's country but once in a while it is nice to explore beyond her borders into some of the beautiful neighboring states. A personal favorite is Harpers Ferry, a unique little town whose historical richness is only matched by its natural splendor. Harpers Ferry is located on Rt 340 just over the Viginia State line. It is well worth the trip.

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