On the heels of Chris Mackowski’s recent post regarding how to interest young people more in the Civil War, I headed to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, in July for the third time in four years – this time, with my 10- and 8-year-old daughters in tow. It was their first visit to the town and I was excited to share its majestic scenery and historical importance with them.
My husband snapped some great photos as we headed down to the town from our parking spot near Lockwood House. It was going to be a beautiful day.
My plan was to hike the Maryland Heights Trail in the morning, have lunch, and then go flatwater tubing down the Shenandoah River in the afternoon. On the way to the bridge to cross the Potomac and head to the hike, it all appeared to be going as planned. My younger daughter was even asking me to tell her more about John Brown. Historian success!
But, it was quickly heading toward the 90-degree high for the day and my kids had been traveling for several days already, losing sleep along the way due to later than normal bedtimes. They started to drag behind on the hike and ask for water; we hadn’t really even made it that far. I was surprised – they are usually much more interested and able to hike than this. We were about 200 yards past this sign when I decided we should turn back:
As you can see by the NPS trail guide, it is a strenuous hike that takes several hours. ECW’s Sarah Kay Bierle detailed her experience on an earlier post that is worth reading since my hiking outing pretty much ended at this point. It may be worth it to take kids to Harpers Ferry in 90-degree heat in July to infuse them with historical curiosity but it is quite another to subject them to a hike that will furnish no positive memories associated with the location!
From there, we went to the outfitter location and floated down the Shenandoah River on innertubes for about 90 minutes. It was glorious and a fun way to enjoy Harpers Ferry from a different vantage point. After that, we headed back into town for lunch and we showed the girls various historical landmarks along the way; I really never tire of staring at the flood marker. My youngest daughter really wanted to go into the wax museum but we had to get out of the heat and get some food, so we decided to save that for another time.
After a great lunch and some ice cream, we walked around the town a bit more and then headed home. So, overall, not that much Civil War history was absorbed by my kids on this trip BUT I do think I opened their eyes to what a Civil War site like Harpers Ferry has to offer. They saw reenactors and park guides around town and expressed interest in hearing what they have to say. We’ll do a tour or two in the future, I’m sure, but this time was sufficient as a brief survey of what was available in the town and surrounding areas.
Bottom line – perhaps the best way to engage kids in history is not to turn it into a mission where the parent is nagging “hurry up!” and “look at that!” the whole time. My daughters were definitely open to learning about the history of Harpers Ferry; they just need to do the hike in the fall. Teaching, like parenting, is often about compromise.