Tom and I have been to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park several times. We went there when we rode our bicycles on the the C&O Canal. While we were there with the Boy Scouts and on family trips, we played in the water. And we ate ice cream cones from one of the shops in Lower Town. But we had never gone to Harpers Ferry the way most people do: on the shuttle bus.
So, on a beautiful day in October, we drove into the main parking lot, parked and boarded the shuttle bus to Lower Town. You can drive into Lower Town, but parking is very limited and there are lots of tourists walking in the middle of the streets.
Harpers Ferry National Historical Park is an interesting mix of preserved historical buildings, shops and restaurants. The Visitors Center is in one building but the NPS bookstore is in another. This building is set up as a museum about slavery in Harpers Ferry, while that one is a printing shop. Some of the buildings have a sign that talk about the historical significance of the building and others have signs that list ice cream flavors.
Tom and I looked at the bookstore and found the Visitors Center. We watched a short movie on the history of Harpers Ferry, particularly during the industrial revolution. Of course, Harpers Ferry is best known for John Brown’s raid on the arsenal and its role during the Civil War. During the Civil War, Harpers Ferry changed hands between north and south eight times. Most of the town was destroyed in the fighting. Control of the railroad bridge over the Potomac River was of strategic importance for northern incursions into the Shenandoah Valley.
During our visit we got a feeling for the historic town and the people who lived there. The National Park Service oversees most of the buildings in Lower Town and has sites outside of town, such as Schoolhouse Ridge and the Murphy-Chambers Farm. There are miles of hiking trails up and down the ridges that border the river. The Appalachain Trail, C&O Canal Trail, and Potomac Heritage Trail all run through Harpers Ferry.
The busy time at Harpers Ferry is in the summer. In the fall the weather is still lovely for hiking or sightseeing, but the crowds are down a lot. Although the town was busy on a weekday in October, there were not the masses of people we have seen other times. Which also means that some of the stores and restaurants are closed for the season as well. But enough were open that you can still browse and enjoy a good meal.
After checking out all the buildings and reading a lot about the history of town, Tom and I headed out. We felt like we had seen more of the town than on previous visits. It is a great place to spend a day.