Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Trip To West Virginia and Harpers Ferry

Last week Madame Padre and I got away to West Virginia and stayed at a cabin we found on a travel website called VRBO.  I say cabin but really it was like a hotel, with all the comforts one could want, including wifi and abundant views of the hills covered in fall foliage, at least, when the clouds lifted.   The local countryside has numerous places like this one, set off winding and hilly dirt roads.   Each place, it seemed, had abundant “No Trespassing” signed posted, so when I went for runs, I was always careful to stay on the road.


There was a always a hill to run up.




We chose WV because it was half way between our house in Ontario and Kay’s brother and sister who live in the US South.  We arrived a day ahead of them, and went into the nearby town of Berkeley Springs, a pleasant artsy kind of place, which just happened to having a parade to kick off the start of its apple butter festival.   Kay loves a parade.  there were tons of local politicians out campaigning and they all came to offer us pamphlets and sales pitches.  It was very convenient to say that we were from Canada, which got some odd looks.


These lovely ladies had something to do with nature.



And these people were all dressed up as various kinds of apples.   I’m not sure what the cat in the background is all about. 



As you can see, after 9-11, small US towns have gotten a lot of money for their first responders.



I have no idea.



Making apple butter in the town square. 



After a few days of rain we had a good day and I couldn’t resist suggesting that we go nearby Harpers Ferry for the day.    I was pleased that Kay’s siblings seemed to think it was a good idea, and they had a pretty good day.   This is the second time in a year that I’ve been to a US National Park, and I have to say that the NPS staff do a very fine job.   An NPS ranger gave us an eloquent and polished lecture on the John Brown Raid - he would have been a credit to any university history department.

Part of the preserved town from the Civil War period.  Between the war and the occasional floods that would go half way up these buildings, the folks here had a pretty rough go of it.



A machine shop with the sort of equipment that was used at the US government armoury.   My brother in law is a mechanical engineer and he was quite intrigued at the idea that this sort of shop could assemble rifles out of any  of standardized mass-produced parts, rather than making each rifle separately.


The site where the Firehouse, the site of Brown’s last stand, was originally located.  St. Peter’s, the Catholic church on the hilltop was built before the ACW to minister to the many Irish labourers who worked in the area.  The priest, Fr. Costello, often flew the British flag from the church to protect it from fighting during the several occasions that Harpers Ferry changed hands.



The firehouse, which was known afterwards as John Brown’s Fort.   In one of those odd details about the Civil War, Robert E. Lee and J.E.B. Stuart led the US Marines that stormed the building and captured Brown.  The building itself has been moved quite a few times since, including once all the way to Chicago for an exhibition, and isn’t exactly in its original condition.  African-Americans treated it as something of a shrine after the ACW. 



I tried a bottle of the local beer at lunch.   It was pretty rough stuff, I suspect it was made out of coal. 



I love rivers - Harpers Ferry is where the Potomac and the Shenandoah rivers come together. 



Harpers Ferry is surrounded by mountains.   Once you stand there and look around for a few minutes, you can understand why the place surrendered during the Antietam Campaign.  Once Jackson got control of the surrounding heights, and got his guns up on them, it was pretty much all over. 



Get a battery up there and the town’s in trouble.



It would be an amazing place to tromp around and try to suss out the two day battle that led to the Union surrender.   I’d like to go back and do that one day.   It would also be amazing to try and hike the distance from Harper’s Ferry to the Antietam battlefield , following the route that A.P. Hill’s division took to make its save the day arrival late in the day.  That would be about 17 miles of fast marching to do it in the time that the rebs did.

Highly recommended if you have never visited this part of the country, especially if you want to see a place where the Civil War started, at least before it started officially at Fort Sumter.

Cheers,  MP+


  1. Rather a nice looking town, set in the confluence of the Potomac and the Shenandoah rivers.. Speaking of which, I seriously considered naming my daughter Shenandoah, but it got vetoed. I understood it to mean something like 'Bright star of the morning', but stand to be corrected on this. An alternative meaning I've seen is 'Beautiful daughter of the stars'. I just liked the name and the sound of it. I've never been anywhere near Virginia state, let alone the Shenandoah valley.

  2. Great photos, Michael! Harper's Ferry really is a quaint town for a visit. I know I enjoyed my visit there.

  3. Watch out for that coal beer. It's rough stuff.

  4. Wow! Great photos!
    And we have a week there is snow.

  5. Great post Mike. Keep your chin up mate. My thoughts are with our Canadian cousins.

  6. Lovely photos Michael! If all goes to plan I will be there myself April- May next year. Really looking forward to it!

  7. +++ I really like these travel tales. That and museum visits are always interesting reads.

  8. Some excellent pics Padre. The first one definitely is my favourite as it shows how nice fall can be.

  9. Fascinating stuff Padre, love your picture captions!

  10. Inspiring stuff. Beautiful town and even more fetching scenery around it. Thanks for sharing these pics!

  11. Nice trip and great photos. I hope you enjoy the rest of your trip. I always enjoy the eastern states in the autumn.


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