West Virginia - Harpers Ferry

Harpers Ferry

Harpers Ferry is the site of a long, withering battle wherein the Confederate forces outpointed the Union forces from the bluffs surrounding the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers. Throughout the war, the railroad connection through Harpers Ferry between West Virginia and Maryland (to Pennsylvania) was a critical link for both sides, and the Union maintained control of that connection for most of the war. Today, passenger trains still stop at the town, a national historic site that also is completely open to motor vehicle traffic (though there is little, what with there being nowhere to park in the historic district). Once a thriving center of commerce with a railroad junction and a river junction, Harpers Ferry deteriorated through the 20th century as flood after flood washed through the town. The trouble began earlier, as far back as when its armory was destroyed in 1861 (see Brown, John, and his Raid). The Civil War further dented the economy, and when Harpers Ferry tried to make a comeback by erecting such establishments as a brewery, Prohibition hit in 1914. When the brewery was converted to a soda and water bottling plant, a flood hit in 1942. Most of the ruins on this page are because of abandonments followed by flooding, or vice versa.

Looking up High St./Washington St. toward more inhabited parts of town.

More views of town, including St. Peter's Church on the bluff overlooking the historic downtown. How did I get photos from way up there, when tourists are shuttled way down there?

In the early 1820's, residents of Harpers Ferry decided they wanted to make it easy to travel between the upper and lower towns, and so carved these steps directly into the shale in the mountainside. Those steps actually part of the monolith slant in all different directions and have varying heights and runs. Those steps installed perhaps more recently as separate stones are faring just fine.

Inside one house whose basement level was well-preserved instead of restored. You can see where every foundation of every wall was, and sometimes neat things appear like horseshoes cemented in as part of the wall.

On Shenandoah St., the road back to the visitor center, stands this lone remaining house. The others were lost in one of a series of floods that wiped out much of the lower town, including the smaller house that directly abutted this one. It is amusing that since that last flood, the residents of this house have never bothered to paint that house outline white - I wonder if the doors still open along the hallways to nowhere.

As I noted above, only one house is left on Shenandoah Street, but the stone walls withstood the floods, leaving steps and lawns without houses.

Remnants of stone locks along a one-time canal next to the Shenandoah River. There's a photo of the current state of the canal below.

Part of Harpers Ferry's ruins are bridge supports that once held up railroad trestles. As important as Harpers Ferry was to rail in the 19th century, the decline of rail mileage across the US meant that severallines would be abandoned. It's a testament to the historical importance of Harpers Ferry that an active through line plus a branch line serve the town to this very day.

One is able to walk onto the unused half of the railroad trestle across the Potomac River, as part of a hiking trail that ascends the bluffs on the other side. Here I'm halfway out on the bridge and looking at the Harpers Ferry tunnel through which trains pass weekly if not daily.

Taking a look at the underside of the active branch line that crosses the dangling end of High St. I'm sure the bridge is original to when the railroad was constructed.

A look at the construction of the railroad viaduct that carries the branch line, and a train passing by in front of St. Peter's Church. I believe the railroad may have once been closer to ground level until the floods came, but then again it may always have been this height. The northern half of the wooden trestle has been somewhat reconstructed, with concrete footings instead of wooden beam footings and respaced supports. The very southern end is a modern concrete transition built into a hillock.

First looking at one of the modern piers' old wooden beams (as you can see, not everything was modernized), followed by the transition from concrete to wood footings. The supports with wooden beam footings are all numbered, suggesting some manner of removal, footing replacement, and then column replacement in sequence.

Looking east down the Potomac River, with US 340 crossing into Maryland from Virginia in the background - 340 only spends about a mile in Virginia, as Harpers Ferry is just a tiny drop west of the tri-point of WV, VA, and MD.

Looking east along the Shenandoah River where it meets the Potomac.

The canal that once took shipping traffic along the somewhat shallow and rocky Shenandoah River. I wouldn't drink the water.

A decorative wooden bridge (it looks modern, though) for people to cross that Shenandoah canal, next to Shenandoah St. (the road to the visitor center).

Out onto US Route 340
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