Greg Artzner/Terry Leonino
May 6-7, 2018 – Harpers Ferry, West Virginia
May 8-9, 2018 – Delaware Water Gap, Pennsylvania
At the far eastern tip of West Virginia, where the Shenandoah River empties into the Potomac, lies the tiny river village of Harpers Ferry. From the point in town where the rivers meet (as seen above) the eastward view shows Maryland to the left, Virginia to the right and the Potomac rolling onward towards Chesapeake Bay. This hamlet was named for Robert Harper, who purchased a ferry service in 1747 from a squatter who had established it fourteen years before. The land itself, owned by Lord Fairfax, was purchased by Harper in 1751. Since that time, the town has seen more history than most communities of its size, and it continues to be a magnet for people from all over the world.
Across the river in Maryland the vantage point known as Maryland Heights offers a commanding view of Harpers Ferry. Two railroads run through the lower portion of town, which is built on a flood plain. As one would expect, floods have had a major impact on anything built there over the years. This area was home to most of the commercial and industrial parts of the community. The upper part of town is mostly residential, churches, and small retail shops.
We climbed up there via steps that are cut into the rock that the village is built upon.
Along the way, we passed the Harper House, where Meriwether Lewis is believed to have stayed when he came here in 1803 to procure weapons and supplies for his expedition to the Pacific.
At the top of the steps is St. Peter Catholic Church. Its commanding perch on the hillside ensures that its steeple can be seen for miles.
Continuing upwards, we passed the ruins of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church.
Our destination was Jefferson Rock. This balanced shale (supported in the mid-1800’s) was the place Thomas Jefferson stood in 1783, declaring the view as “perhaps one of the most stupendous scenes in nature”.
That was one vista we needed to explore!
The lower town is home to Harpers Ferry National Historic Park.
Many interesting little shops and displays can be found there, covering the varied history of the village.
This display shows a recreation of the rifle works in the U.S. Armory that was located here. Interchangeable weapon parts were invented at the armory.
And I was very glad to see a recreation of the “experiment”, the iron-framed boat Lewis and Clark brought west with them. I had read about in in the book Undaunted Courage, but I couldn’t visualize what it looked like.
The plan was to stretch animal hides over the frame and seal the seams with pine tar. The problem came about when there wasn’t any pine trees to be found when it came time to assemble it above Great Falls, Montana. They substituted beeswax, buffalo tallow and charcoal, hoping it would hold. According to Lewis the boat floated “like a perfect cork on the water”, until the beeswax mixture let loose and the craft began to sink. He ordered the frame to be buried and they continued on their way without it. They did dig it up to inspect it on the return trip (as noted in his journals), but that was the last mention of it.
There was also a fair amount about abolitionist John Brown, who was captured in this building after a siege of the armory in 1859. Brown believed the only way slavery would be overthrown was by the use of violence. His reason for the raid was to obtain weapons in order to arm slaves. The capturing forces were led by Robert E. Lee, then a colonial in the U.S. Army. Brown was charged with treason and hanged in nearby Charles Town. His efforts captured the attention of the country, and are considered to have contributed to the start of the Civil War.
Speaking of that war, this life mask of Abraham Lincoln was on display in one of the buildings. It had been done just two months before he was assassinated. It was surreal to look at, knowing the mold that formed this had actually touched his face. It really looks like the stress of the war took a toll on him. Those hostilities were also hard on Harpers Ferry, as the community changed hands eight times between the north and south from 1861 to 1865.
Moving from the past to the present, we wanted to note a few of the recreational opportunities available in the area.
From a distance, Diana saw this woman rock climbing below Maryland Heights.
Also, on the near side of this bridge, there is a pedestrian walkway.
That’s actually the Appalachian Trail. Now we can say we hiked from West Virginia to Maryland. 😉
Even though this isn’t the exact center, most people consider it the psychological halfway point of the 2,178 mile long path.
And Harpers Ferry is home to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, a place we really wanted to visit. It is a great rest spot for the trail users, offering loads of information and computer access. They take a photo of each hiker and keep binders as a history of thru hikers. We have to admit, making that journey has crossed our minds on occasion over the years. You can always complete it in segments…
On May 8, we headed north to Delaware Water Gap in Pennsylvania. Our reason for the stop was so that we could meet up with one of Diana’s childhood friends.
Ellen and Diana were in Girl Scouts together. And speaking of long hikes…
…Ellen had a photo of when the troop hiked across Michigan from the shore of Lake Huron to the shore of Lake Michigan. Diana still has her “Shore to Shore Hiker” sweatshirt in storage. 🙂
The next day, Diana and I checked out the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. Unfortunately, most of the trails had been recently damaged by a late winter storm, so many of the waterfalls were inaccessible.
We did find that the trail to Raymondskills Falls was recently reopened, so we walked down to check that out.
They were very pretty, and it was good to get out on a trail in the woods again!
This smaller waterfall off to the side was particularly nice.
Even though most of the park was inaccessible, Raymondskills Falls provided a little sampling of what Delaware Water Gap has to offer. If we get back this way, we will hike to some of the other falls!
Next up: Come along with us as we log some major Fitbit steps in New York City. 🙂 Be sure to stay tuned for that adventure!
Of special note: We wanted to mention the passing of fellow blogger and fulltime RVer, Lynne Braden. She was the author of Winnie Views, the travel stories of her and her late yellow lab Millie. The way she faced her terminal cancer with grace was an inspiration to us. Though we never met in person, we kept in contact with her through our blogs and by email. We will truly miss her and her cheerful smile. Her legacy lives on through her generous donation to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, the place that gave her the first opportunity to volunteer. The next time you see a Sandhill Crane, smile and think of Lynne. 🙂