In April 2014, I took students on a trip to Antietam National Battlefield and Harpers Ferry. I was so moved by my time in Harpers Ferry – by its physical beauty, the layers of history there, the way the town has persevered through the years – that I wrote about it for the AHA’s magazine, Perspectives, later that year. (You can find the article here.)
In all, I led four trips for students during my time at Sacred Heart University, but Harpers Ferry held my imagination the most. I think it is the way the rivers come together; there’s something about looking out over that confluence, surrounded by mountains, that is utterly majestic.
Harpers Ferry is best known as the location for John Brown’s infamous raid in October 1859. He seized an arsenal there, held local captives, and tried to lure slaves from nearby plantations in an attempt to start an uprising in the South. A devoted abolitionist, Brown plotted to destroy the Slave Power and create and lead a new military government. His subsequent imprisonment and hanging is a dramatic story, and, along with the debate over whether the raid caused the Civil War, still captures the interest of Americans and brings people to this small town in West Virginia.
In addition to the details about Brown’s raid, there are many other sites and stories that capture a visitor’s attention. In particular, there is this house – a huge old home named the Lockwood House – that the NPS has purchased and is renovating. It is situated on the top of a bluff overlooking Lower Town, with a cemetery in front of it.
Cemeteries have never frightened me; in fact, I find them peaceful, and I would have no issue living in view of one. I peered in every window and thought about how its story will further add to the appeal of Harpers Ferry when it opens. I thought about the house, the town, the rivers for nearly two years, until I finally had a chance to go back – this time with my husband. It was a sunny and warm February day in 2016 when I bounced around like a small child who could not wait to show someone a new toy. Harpers Ferry was everything I remembered it to be. I mean, honestly, who could stand and look at this view and not feel like everything is right in the world?
I will go back again this year, and probably every year after this one. I’ve been scoping out real estate in the area, looking at vacation rentals, and basically just coming up with any excuse I can to get back. I have a growing collection of Harpers Ferry historical scholarship now and I hope to add to it myself some day. There is an important Civil War story here but there is also much, much more. Here are some additional photos for your enjoyment: