Friday, September 19, 2008

Harper's Ferry

If you are ever stuck in Northern Virginia with an afternoon free and have any interest in American history, then I highly recommend a day trip to Harper's Ferry. The town is situated at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers, about a 30 minute drive from Leesburg, VA. The town is sited on a bluff that affords impressive views down rivers and the flanking Appalachian foothills. The cobbled main street has been designated part of Harper's Ferry National Park there, and the recreated shop fronts are filled with living history actors. The actor/rangers I spoke with had a commanding knowledge of the history of the town beyond John Brown's raid in 1859. The conviction in his eyes still burns through the lithographs on the museum walls. Though he failed to provoke a slave uprising, the shop attendant/undergrad at the general store will tell anyone who cares to sit and chat awhile about how Brown effectively lit a powder keg under the fraying Differening political responses to the raid splintered the Democratic party of the time paving electoral possibility for Lincoln's united Republicans and hastening the south's preemptive withdrawal from the Union.

I hadn't realized that Harpers Ferry is now a part of West Virginia, the easternmost tip of the state. Long before West Virginia's formation in 1861, there had been a split between the states coastal population dominated by planter elites and the poorer upland dwellers to the west. Though the surrounding area was mostly lowland planter country aligned with the state's slave holding interests, Jefferson County voted to become a part of West Virginia at the 1861 convention. A dyspeptic mill owner did not break character as he explained how, on the day of the vote, federal troops had surrounded the county seat, thereby discouraging the slave holders from casting ballots against withdrawal from secessionist Virginia.

I walked a half mile of the Appalachian Trail from West Virginia across the bridge into Maryland. Might have ventured farther had I brought something other than my dress shoes. I encountered several hikers on my short walk, a couple of whom had come up from Georgia. I'd like to hike the AT one day, maybe like the folks I met who are hiking it in one or two state installments over the course of 8 summers.

Check out my latest travel writing here and here.

1 comment:

Lindsey said...

The AT is fascinating--I'd like to hike it myself. I picked up these two volumes about people's trail stories at a Goodwill store years ago. Great reading, and I'm sure you could find them for less: