Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

At first I thought the drive to the far north end of Virginia might have been a bust given the gray skies and the threat of copious and imminent rain.

Harpers Ferry is across the river from most of the state of Virginia and when West Virginia was created in 1863 as a buffer to protect the North from Rebel incursions the site of John Brown's abolitionist treason ended up in the new state.

Harpers Ferry (no apostrophe) is a wide open park, a destination you can reach by car, but so popular acres of parking have been built a couple of miles away whence the visitors are whisked by bus to the historic village. We compromised as dogs aren't allowed on the shuttle and we found a spot in the small lot just half a mile from the village. The threat of rain worked in our favor from the start by keeping some people away.

It was a pleasant stroll along the old canal and Cheyenne was youthful and perky in the sixty degree weather and the fresh breeze blowing up the valley. That valley is where the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers converge headed towards Maryland and the District of Columbia and the waters can be quiet devastating for the little town.

The billboard that greets the foot visitor on the outskirts illustrates the point as does the sign board marking the various heights of flooding over the years.

The year 1889 is level with the top of the large sign to give you an idea of how bad it has been. There was a reason the town existed.

Nowadays Harpers Ferry is a tourist magnet, for the John Brown fiasco, the subsequent Civil War battles and the Appalachian Trail which winds through the middle of town providing shop keepers with a reason to sell bikers more stuff.

The Historic District is that part of village outside the strict boundaries of the National Park and offers food drink and more dust catchers commemorating your visit.

Kendra lives up the road in the town of Bolivar, pronounced, weirdly enough: B'oliver "boll-ee-ver" where the service workers congregate after hours. She was a cheerful young soul enjoying meeting people from afar,

...and Florida dogs who enjoy lying on the cold flagstones while their humans eat fried cheese and pita bread.

We strolled back down the road and passed the boundary.

Inside the line the shops are fake and illustrate exactly how people lived in 1859.

Cars come and go at will desperately seeking space to park to avoid the exertion of a gentle stroll into town.

This is the reason for the park,the fire engine house originally housed within the gates of the US Arsenal which John Brown and his twenty one followers attacked on the morning of the 16th October 1859

The raid was badly organized and based on hopes more than facts which led to it's abject failure. No slave uprising materialized and almost all the raiders died in the event or were captured and hanged for freaking out the Commonwealth of Virginia by encouraging the happy slaves to fight for their freedom.

As Brown himself predicted his action helped spark the flames of the inevitable war that led to the end of the Peculiar Institution through the devastation of Civil War.

Harpers Ferry is a cleft in three valleys and spectacular, a spot appreciated by luminaries such as the inevitable Jefferson and Washington et al, but these days enjoyed by ordinary Americans on vacation. This is not my idea of fun but..:

Two canals and this railroad bridge connected the weapons manufacturing plant at Harpers Ferry and this was the bridge Brown's raiders walked across that fateful morning to take the town and the Arsenal in the name of a mythical, slave-free Provisional Government. The three thousand locals enjoying a well funded lifestyle took the plan amiss and joined the militia in containing the raiders until Robert E Lee showed up to liberate Brown's hostages which included George Washington's great-great nephew Lewis Washington. America was a small neighborhood in those days.

I love the history of the place which changed hands eight times during the war between the states. Nowadays the town is peppered with outdoor activists, no less fanatical than Brown in an entirely different cause. Self improvement at all costs!

We ambled the elderly dog between rows of high endurance walkers crossing the town:

Some on bicycles enjoying the frigid day for this is a bike trail.

In the woods these white blazes look like overkill but here on lamp posts (!) they distinguish the Appalachian Trail quite clearly.

In 1859 this railroad bridge was covered, today it is a walkway.

The bridge, the informative historical signs tell us, was the entrance route for the raiders.

Today the raiders come from all directions.

They practically wear a uniform to do their walking.

I wonder what the original inhabitants would have thought of us all, recreation fanatics.

There was a fire that destroyed some of the Armory but the Park Service has painstakingly restored the footage for illustrative purposes. When people hate their government I wonder what they think of the government workers of the dedicated park service?

The lowest tiers of the town are in the park and even though the historical district behind it is home to less than 300 people one gets a feel for the town in it's heyday when 3,000 people called it home.

In the photo below you can see the line between the park and the historical district. The line is marked funnily enough by the yellow stripes in the street, modern versus ancient!

A hundred and thirty years ago the place got..flooded one more time!

They have done a brilliant job of recreating the past, have our under appreciated government employees.

I wondered why the grocery was on the top floor, perhaps to keep food dry in an inevitable flood.

And the shuttles kept running and I wondered if I could sneak Cheyenne under my shirt. Actually it was cold enough I wished I had a fleece but those cold temperatures gave my elderly Labrador a spurt of energy. She was like a puppy trotting bak and forth and had no trouble completing the hike back to the car. I was impressed.

The road out went through Charles Town the place where John Brown and his survivors were tried and promptly hanged.

It was a great trip and I thoroughly enjoyed Harpers Ferry. Now I want to go back. So much to see.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Brady Steffl said...


I meant to write in yesterday, but... I didn't. The Parkway photos make me miss VA. When I left I never thought I would miss it, but now, well... that's just how it is. Were you on the Parkway or Skyline drive (which is north of Wayesboro. You have to pay and the road gets even slower. I don't remember the limit on the BRP, but 45/50 was enough to have a bit of fun. It was too busy to get crazy, that's for sure.

Also, as to hi-viz, I don't normally wear any, but I do have reflective stuff built into my riding jacket. I understand why people do it. Especially when I ride on a black machine with a black jacket and black helmet or a machine with a light bulb like what you find in the back of an old fridge. I don't put the responsibility on anyone else, other drives scare the crap out of me, and if as a rider you only get .3 of one second as someone looks up from their phone (which I cannot stand to see when I ride) or even as someone looks left, right, left, why not be as visible for that part of a second as possible? Could save your life. Your profile is too small on a bike, and they started making those stickers about seeing motorcycles because a lot of people don't see, and when I'm on the road I notice a black bagger a lot later than a big yellow goldwing. Anecdotal, but I believe it's true.

All the same, it's incumbent on you as a rider to assume that others don't see you and that the entire world is trying to kill you, because from time to time it's actually true. If you want to stay alive out there you need to act like it. Ride safe.

Behind Bars

Brady Steffl said...

Wow, that sounded preachy. Sorry about that, not the intent. I'm not all hot and bothered over here, in fact, I just woke up and my brain is one big run on sentence. I need some coffee. Take it easy, I like the VA pictures, keep em comin' if you've got em.

Behind Bars

Conchscooter said...

You be preachy if I can be curmudgeonly. Riding around looking like a radio active toadstool hidden behind luggage seems nerdy to me and entirely too hopeful that drivers bored out of their skulls will notice you. Of course you a d I notice high Viz when we are stuck ferrying our families around in our cars. We are aching to be out riding so we look for motorcycles. Everyone else would rather be home sitting on the couch being a potato. So there.
Ps I miss Virginia and I don't live there. It is a great place.

Samuel Hassell said...

Wow, you were only a few miles from my house! Love the blog by the way! Keep it up!

Conchscooter said...

Thanks. You are lucky it's an amazingly beautiful area.

Robert Kelly said...

Thanks, for the memories.

Conchscooter said...

Really? Of course you are welcome, but deliciously cryptic...I take it they were splendid memories and I am glad to have resuscitated them for you. Harper's Ferry was excellent.