The view from the top was more incredible than I ever could have imagined.
I was standing at Jefferson Rock in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. That point is one of the best spots to see the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers. I also stood on a portion of the Appalachian Trail, which is another pursuit on my adventure bucket list.
There is nothing quite as breathtaking as the Blue Ridge Mountains where Harpers Ferry National Historical Park is located. There is a visitors center, and shuttle buses take you to what is called Lower Town, which has the fort and armory site, period shops, films, exhibits and restaurants in the historic buildings.
This obviously is a special edition to a regular Cruisin’ column because Harpers Ferry is about a five-hour drive from our area. The trip also included Antietam, the site of a 12-hour battle in 1862, the bloodiest one-day confrontation of the Civil War. The Battle of Antietam killed 7,650 soldiers.
Harpers Ferry remains much as it did years ago. Robert Harper started a ferry across the Potomac here in 1747. By the early 1800s, the rivers powered the armory complex and commercial mills.
It’s a sleepy little community that thrives especially on the weekends when kayakers, rafters, hikers, historical buffs, sightseers and school groups descend. Parking is limited. That’s why it’s best to shuttle in.
But the name is probably most associated with a man named John Brown. An early abolitionist, he was determined, along with followers, to arm enslaved people and spark rebellion. His group seized the armory but the raid failed. Brown was tried and executed, which focused attention on the issue of slavery and propelled the nation toward civil war. Brown’s fort stands near its original location and the John Brown Museum is not far from there.
The valley town is snuggled in by mountains on either side. The train station is on one side of the village and is used by many who commute to the Washington, D.C. area.
From the point where the two rivers meet, we rested from walking and met many people. Some were walking the Appalachian Trail. Another group from Butler had taken the Capitol Limited from D.C. and biked 60 miles to Harpers Ferry. The next day, they traversed the footbridge to the C&O Canal, through a tunnel and up the side of a mountain to Maryland Heights, which took three and a half hours.
The homes and buildings are in themselves, historic and impressive. Many are built from stone and a few were repurposed into restaurants and taverns. Equally imposing is St. Peter’s Catholic Church, which is about the halfway point to Jefferson Rock. Built of stone, it features spires and stained glass windows.
The visit also included a dry goods store where there are guides dressed in period costumes offering information.
It’s definitely where the past meets the present.
At Antietam, we took the self-guided tour, starting at Dunkers Church. Fighting took place all around that small brick place of worship. We walked the Sunken Road also known as Bloody Lane where 2,200 Confederates fought 10,000 Union soldiers, finally collapsing after suffering too many casualties.
This day at the Lower Bridge, where water enthusiasts casually floated by with onlookers above, it was hard to believe that such a peaceful spot was once the scene of such violence.
West Virginia and Maryland are lovely states. Beyond history, there is so much to do in this beautiful part of the country.
The vistas and the natural settings, in themselves, are rewarding.
And the Appalachian Trail beckons.
(To submit a Cruisin' idea, contact Lugene Pezzuto at email@example.com or (724) 654-6651, extension 620.)