Harper’s Ferry: A Getaway Worth Exploring

By: Tracy M. Fitzgerald

It’s the type of place that is sought out by people of all interests and likes. Some come to relax. Others come to explore, enjoy nature, seek adventure or learn. Those who have visited, be it for a fun family weekend, a romantic getaway or for a few simple and quiet days of solitude, would say that there is something for just about everyone in Harper’s Ferry, the little town that is perched where Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia, as well as the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers, meet.

A History Lover’s Paradise

History buffs will have more than enough sites to see and stories to hear while visiting Harper’s Ferry. The town became a favorite retreat hot spot for U.S. presidents in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; in fact, Thomas Jefferson himself was once quoted, referencing Harper’s Ferry as “a beautiful spot that is worth a trip across the Atlantic.” Perhaps most notable in history books read today was the 1859 raid against the federal armory at Harper’s Ferry, orchestrated in an attempt to end the institution of slavery in Maryland and Virginia. The act, led by abolitionist John Brown, who was captured during the raid and later hung for his conviction, is commonly cited as a pivotal movement in history that spurred the start of the Civil War. Today, the town’s “John Brown Wax Museum” showcases 87 life-sized wax figurines to show and tell the complete story.

And that’s not all. The first steel structural bridge in the world was constructed in Harper’s Ferry, and marks the spot where the first railroad crossed the Potomac River. American manufacturing was forever changed when in the industrial district of town, it was proven that interchangeable parts could and should be used to develop goods. And, in 1865, Storer College opened its doors in Harper’s Ferry, becoming the first institution to offer educational opportunities to freed slaves who aspired to read, write and develop new skills. Well before its time, the school helped encourage African Americans to pursue entrepreneurial paths.

Touring the Town

Self-guided historical tours of the town have proven to be a popular way to take in all that’s there to see. Those who are eager to learn some new things during their stay may opt to participate in a chartered or group tour. O’ Be Joyfull Historical Tours and Entertainment gives Harper’s Ferry tourists a chance to experience the town’s most notable historical spots, with entertainment inspired from the Civil War days. Those who crave a bit of “spooking” will want to take American’s oldest ghost tour, which includes a one-hour walking expedition around Harper’s Ferry’s “lower town,” where a number of ghostly phenomenons have been reported.

Exploration and Outdoor Adventure

Those who visit Harper’s Ferry to navigate the great outdoors may find the National Historic Park to be a good place to start, with over 2,300 acres stretching across three states, giving site see-errs plenty to explore. In fact, the park contributes to the many reasons why art history experts have described Harper’s Ferry as “the most painted town in America because of its beautiful scenery.” Some choose to spend their time meandering along the miles upon miles of hiking and biking trails, perhaps stopping off to toss out a fishing line or snap a few photos along the way. Others take advantage of the chance to saddle up and go for a horseback ride through the Blue Ridge Mountains or along the outskirts of the Potomac River. Those seeking excitement and adventure have plenty of options too, with whitewater rafting trips, tubing, canoeing and zip line canopy tours all available.

Wine and Dine with a Local Flair

There is no shortage of dining options to be found in town. Those wishing to continue their historical-themed experience may want to dine at The Town’s Inn Restaurant and Pub, known for its cuisine from the Civil War era. If locally grown food and wine are priorities, be sure to put the Canal House Café and the Grandale Farm Restaurant on the go-to list. Additionally, a number of deli’s, café’s and taverns are open year-round in the heart of town, and serve everything from pizzas, burgers, subs and salads, to hearty soups, barbeque and seafood entrees.  Homemade ice cream and candy shops are also plentiful, for a mid-day snack or after-dinner sweet treat.

Call it a Night

Because there is so much to see and do, staying overnight in Harper’s Ferry may be a good idea.  Armory Quarters, neighboring the National Park and within walking distance of many restaurants, shops and battlefields, is a good option for those who want to see and do it all. As a special bonus, Hollywood Casino and Charles Town Races are only about five miles away. For those seeking more quaint and quite accommodations, perhaps for a special weekend away, a dozen-or-so bed and breakfasts are open for business. And for the true nature and outdoor enthusiasts? Book a site at one of Harper’s Ferry’s campgrounds, each lending themselves to beautiful river views and sun-up to sun-down access to hiking trails, watersports and other outdoor activities.

Resources and tips for planning a trip a visit to Harper’s Ferry, as well as a listing of upcoming events, can be found at www.historicharpersferry.com.

Local Harper’s Ferry Doc Gets Youngsters Moving

Some people who live in or near Harper’s Ferry know Dr. Mark Cucuzzella because of his work as a family medicine physician in the community. Others know him because of the active role he plays in encouraging young people to get out, get active and be healthy, through his leadership in developing the “Tiger on the Trail” hiking program, a partnership between Harpers Ferry Family Medicine, the middle schools in Jefferson County and Harpers Ferry National Historic Park. Dr. Cucuzzella can often be found leading groups of students on hikes throughout the park, promoting the importance of physical and activity and healthy living, along the way.

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