This is the fourth winter Hub and I stopped at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park in West Virginia during the grueling trek from North Carolina to visit family in cold-weather country. Our tradition started by accident. Or, rather, to avoid accident as a much-needed break from the 500-mile drive through evil I-95 traffic.
But our stay has evolved into a much anticipated two days of history, nature, hiking and CANDY! Lace up your walking shoes, find your mittens, and join me on a winter photo walk to see for yourself.
Our first year at Harpers Ferry, we immersed ourselves in the park’s history. It centered on abolitionist John Brown’s 1859 bloody evening raid on the arsenal located in Lower Town. Brown's actions escalated pre-Civil War tensions between the North and South. He was captured, tried, and hanged outside the courthouse in nearby Charles Town.
Photos: Harpers Ferry/NHP
Pass by the church,
the steep incline
for just a few more yards
until you reach
This natural structure, reinforced by four stone pillars in the mid-1800s, is a large mass of Harpers shale, with each piece of shale slabbed on top of another. It’s named after Thomas Jefferson, who commented on the remarkable view when he reached the outcrop in 1783.
Pinky promise: Jefferson Rock overlooking the Shenandoah River as it flows into the Potomac at the tip of Harpers Ferry is worth the climb.
Heading down from Jefferson Rock is a snap, but don’t zip by the fieldstone ruins of St. John’s Episcopal church that you were too tired to see on the trek up. Built in 1852, the church was also used as a hospital and barracks during the US Civil War in the mid-1860s.
There’s more eye candy ahead as you catch the Potomac River churning alongside Lower Town.
Speaking of candy ...
Of the many enchanting restored buildings, restaurants, and shops ringing Harpers Ferry's High Street, we always stop at True Treats Historic Candy. The store is easy to miss, so follow me down an indistinguishable set of wooden steps into an unremarkable old building. Then open the creaking door and step inside to be gobsmacked by a sweet tooth chronicle from biblical times though the 20th century.
True Treats is more than a written record. It offers freshly made, hard-to-find CANDY to purchase, taste, and rave about!
Be ready for olfactory memories to jump out at every display to whisk you away to a happy place.
For instance, we buy black licorice pipes for Hub’s mother because she enjoyed them as a kid. You may stumble on tasties like those Grandma kept, and you'll feel like a youngster, who’s back in her kitchen, dipping into her candy dish once again.
To walk off those sweet treats, let’s hike the historic C&O canal path along the Potomac River. This towpath was originally built in the 19th century for mules to walk beside the now-drained canal as the animals “towed" canal boats through the waterway.
Hey, you can even brag that you walked the Appalachian Trail because the C&O shares this flat stretch of the App Trail!
Normally, we’d reach the C&O path after crossing the Potomac via the pedestrian bridge attached to the exterior of a busy railroad trestle..
But not this year.
However, the day before Hub and I visited, seven cars of a CSX freight train derailed over that Harpers Ferry railroad bridge, and two cars spilled into the Potomac.
Fortunately, no one was injured, and since the cars were empty, no hazardous materials were involved, either.
By the time Hub and I arrive in Harpers Ferry 24 hours later, equipment and personnel from CSX and the National Park Service had already pulled the cars from the river, towed the freight train away, and closed adjacent structures in order repair the bridge and keep visitors at a safe distance.
While we miss our walk--and feel for true Appalachian Trail warriors, who now must arrange for transportation across the river to continue their trek--Hub and I are grateful the accident was not worse.
The sun is waning.
It’s time to catch the bus back to the visitors’ center
call it a day.
for your company
on my winter photo walk -:D.
If you’ve been to Harpers Ferry, what was your experience like in this place? What favorite historic site or hiking spot do you enjoy? Please share your thoughts in the comment section. Let's explore new places together!
Photos by Cat Michaels except where noted
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