In mid-October 1859, a wild-eyed, white bearded man and 21 accomplices seized the United States arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (today West Virginia), in a misguided attempt to ignite a slave revolt. The man was John Brown, whose fanatical visage likened him to a Biblical prophet.
Brown was already known as an abolitionist who fought against pro-slavery elements in the Bleeding Kansas conflict of 1856, but the failed raid on Harpers Ferry made him a martyr and foretold the American Civil War.
Brown was tried for treason and hanged on December 2, 1859. The brick fire engine house where his followers and he made their last stand, later known as John Brown’s Fort, is now a popular tourist destination and interpretive center telling the story of the raid. It was relocated several times and now sits 150 feet from its original location.
In addition to John Brown’s Fort, visitors can walk the streets of the Lower Town Historic District, restored to resemble Harpers Ferry in the mid-nineteenth century. Points of interest include White Hall Tavern, the Dry Goods Store, Civil War Museum, and A Place in Time Museum.
The national park also includes thousands of acres of scenic land around the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, also part of the Appalachian Trail system. The heights above town offer breathtaking views of this beautiful countryside.
The town of Harpers Ferry is small and parking minimal. You either have to pay to park at the train station or park miles away and walk or take a shuttle to Lower Town. The Harpers Ferry National Historical Park Visitor Center is located at 485 Fillmore Street in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. The park is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., year-round with the exception of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. Park shuttle bus hours begin at 9am daily.