Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Harpers Ferry, West Viriginia

Harpers Ferry is a town rich in history that lies in the picturesque confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers where Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia are joined.  Here, paramount pieces of American history unfold, from Civil War battles to slavery, this town provides you with a glance into our country’s past.  But Harpers Ferry appeals to more than just history buffs and is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise.  The Appalachian Trail literally runs through downtown, the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers are a lure for anglers and provide a wild ride for rafters and kayakers, and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park offers a beautiful setting for a walk or bike ride along a historic waterway where you are engulfed by tall trees.

    20180424_13514620180428_16160720180429_150142

The town was named after Robert Harper who operated a ferry shuttling people and goods from one side of the Potomac River to the other.  What a clever name?  The rivers were an important conduit for moving goods and were key to operating the mills.  George Washington realized the strategic location of Harpers Ferry and chose it as the site of a U.S. Armory in the early 1800’s causing the town to swell as manufacturing related to the armory increased and the Industrial Revolution got underway.

It was at Harpers Ferry where a white man named John Brown altered America’s destiny.  In October 1859, Brown was determined to arm enslaved people and spark a revolution to end slavery.  With just a couple dozen men he stormed the armory in a lofty attempt to obtain weapons and gather an army.  While Brown and his men did capture the armory, the stand was short-lived and they were soon captured.  Brown was later tried, convicted, and hung to death in one of the country’s most famous trials.  But Browns' actions brought the divisive debate of slavery to light and propelled the nation toward civil war.

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park makes up about half of the town and is a huge draw to the area.  The park is an array of restored downtown buildings, surrounding battlefields, and trails that interpret the history surrounding the area. At the park, you freely wander around picturesque streets that take you back in time.  Housed in the historic buildings are museum exhibits, films, living history actors, a blacksmith shop, general store, John Browns’ original fort, and more.  It took us two days to see the majority of the park so plan accordingly.

   20180426_14202520180424_12253620180424_13264420180426_143139

After saturating ourselves with history over the course of two days, we headed to the Virginia countryside to visit a distillery and investigate the wine scene we had been hearing so much about. We stopped at Bloomery Plantation Distillery to taste and learn about artisan cordials. The attractive tasting room and distillery is housed in a refurbished 1840’s slave cabin surrounded by 12 acres of farmland that produces the raspberries, lemons, walnuts, and various other fruits that go into making their hand-crafted spirits like lemoncello, SweetShines, Chocolate Raspberry and more. While tasting you will be entertained by the passionate staff that share the cordial making process from raw fruit to bottle. The moonshine-based lemoncello was too hard to resist and it ended up walking out with us in a paper bag. We had been reading a lot about Virginia wines and found out there were some dozen or so wineries scattered around so we had to stop by at least one.

      20180427_13404120180427_13310120180427_14332320180430_111211

The nearby town of Charles Town (named for George Washington’s younger brother, Charles) is a pretty little town with a picturesque main street lined with historic buildings.  We were surprised to find one of the best Mexican restaurants where we have eaten at in a long time – Ortega’s Taco Shop. Ortega’s is a family-owned little spot on the corner with a handful of tables and the best street tacos and homemade chips you will find anywhere. Their secret is simple – everything they serve is homemade and made on-site, from queso to barbacoa, you will not be disappointed.  We were there five times during our seven night stay.  And Betsy claims to not even like Mexican food but went crazy for their tacos.

Just across the river from Harpers Ferry in Maryland is the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park. The canal (also called the “Grand Old Ditch”) was developed as a conduit transporting people and goods to the west. Ground breaking on the 184.5 - mile long canal began in 1828 with much enthusiasm and fanfare. But before construction ended in 1850 the canal was more or less obsolete as the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad completed a link to the west.  Rail transportation overpowered the laboring lazy canal boats.  The canal operated until 1924 and still exists today despite sitting idle for years, suffering extensive flooding, and multiple attempts to pave it.  Today the towpath (which was used by mules assisting canal boats) is utilized by hikers, cyclists, and campers for an enjoyable recreation opportunity where history, wildlife, and geology come together.  Dotted along the canal are various visitor centers interpreting the history of the operation, importance, and innovations regarding the canal.  At various places, visitors can enjoy canal boat rides where you board reproduction boats with park rangers and get to experience what canal boat travel was like in the early to mid-1800’s.  Check out the park service video below for more information.



If you visit Harpers Ferry just know that campground options are limited. We stayed at the KOA which was definitely not a favorite campground of ours but it was literally just outside the entrance to the National Park and in a very convenient location.  We got excited when we heard there was a free wine tasting at their on-site wine house until we discovered it was super sweet fruit wines that did not fit our palates. 

History buffs will be wowed with this area. We certainly got a dose of civil war, slavery, and natural history while in the area and found plenty to do for the time we were there.











2 comments:

  1. I grew up in and have spent a lot of time in WV but never been to Harper's Ferry. Thanks for the info.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Interesting place. We are looking for places to visit on our way to FL this fall. Good info!

    ReplyDelete

We love hearing from you, so please drop us a comment