Harpers Ferry National Historical Park

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park

Sights to See

Lower Town

When the Wagner family--heirs to Robert Harper--sold land to the government for the Armory in 1796, one of the two parcels of land they retained was the "Six-Acre Reservation" (the other tract was the ¾-acre "Ferry Lot Reservation" at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers).

The "Six-Acre Reservation" extended north from Shenandoah Street between present-day Potomac Street and the site of St. Peter's Catholic Church. As the Armory workforce grew in the early 1800s, both the "Ferry Lot Reservation" and the "Six-Acre Reservation" became the commercial heart of Harpers Ferry. Among the many establishments which operated on the "Six-Acre Reservation" at the time of John Brown's Raid was Philip Frankel & Co.'s Ready-Made Clothing Store, John T. Rieley's Boot & Shoe Manufactory, The Charles Johnson Dry Goods Store, the Great Southern Clothing Hall, White Hall Tavern, and Frederick A. Roeder's Confectionery.

Today, the area comprising the "Six-Acre Reservation" – the heart of what is now commonly referred to as the Lower Town Historic District – includes some of the best-preserved historic structures in Harpers Ferry.


Jefferson Rock

On October 25, 1783, Thomas Jefferson visited Harpers Ferry, viewing "the passage of the Patowmac though the Blue Ridge" from a rock that now bears his name. In 1785, Jefferson's description of this view was published in the Notes on the State of Virginia.

John Brown Fort

The structure we now call John Brown's Fort was erected in 1848 as the Armory’s fire engine and guard house. The building was described in a June 30, 1848, Armory report: "An engine and guard-house, 35½ x 24 feet, one story brick, covered with slate, and having copper gutters and down spouts, has been constructed, and is now occupied." It was in this building that John Brown and several of his followers barricaded themselves during the final hours of their ill-fated raid of October 16, 17, and 18, 1859.

John Brown's Fort, as the structure became known, was the only Armory building to escape destruction during the Civil War. In 1891, the fort was sold, dismantled and transported to Chicago where it was displayed a short distance from The World's Columbian Exposition. The building, attracting only 11 visitors in ten days, was closed, dismantled again and left on a vacant lot.

In 1894, Washington, D.C. journalist Kate Field, who had a keen interest in preserving memorabilia of John Brown, spearheaded a campaign to return the fort to Harpers Ferry. Local resident Alexander Murphy made five acres available to Miss Field, and the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad offered to ship the disassembled fort to Harpers Ferry free of charge. In 1895, John Brown's Fort was rebuilt on the Murphy Farm about three miles outside of town on a bluff overlooking the Shenandoah River.

In 1903, Storer College began their own fundraising drive to acquire the structure. In 1909, on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of John Brown's Raid, the building was purchased and moved to the Storer College campus on Camp Hill in Harpers Ferry.

Acquired by the National Park Service in 1960, the building was moved back to the Lower Town in 1968. Because the fort's original site was covered with a railroad embankment in 1894, the building now sits about 150 feet east of its original location.

Scenic Vistas

There are many spectacular vistas for visitors to enjoy, including overlooks from each of the three states in which the park is located. In West Virginia, one can hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail on Loudoun Heights to overlook the historic town. From Jefferson Rock, visitors can observe the confluence of the Potomac and ShenandoahRivers. This view of the water gap in the Blue Ridge Mountains was described by Thomas Jefferson as being "one of the most stupendous scenes in nature." Within the lower town of Harpers Ferry, visitors can cross the Potomac River footbridge into Maryland, follow the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal NHP for a short distance, and then take a trail up to the MarylandHeights overlook. At this popular spot, yet another amazing view of Harpers Ferry, the Potomac and ShenandoahRivers, and the Blue Ridge Mountains is available for visitors to enjoy.