The picture above of a beautiful place is the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers, coming together in a town that is filled with our history. It’s located in Harpers Ferry, W VA. Down where the rivers meet, you are standing in West Virginia and can look across the confluence and see both Maryland and Virginia. I recently spent several days in that lovely town, feeling the history all around, walking up and down huge hills, shopping in great little shops and finding some great restaurants.
The town is built among the mountains and the streets wind up and down among the steep rocky areas, some houses seeming to hang there as if by magic.
The main street down to the confluence is called High Street, maybe for obvious reasons. Lots of little shops and restaurants are located up and down this street and along a low lying area right beside it, Potomac Street.
You can see how the town is set in among the rocky terrain. There is a lot to be read online and elsewhere about the history of the area; John Brown having staged a raid on the arsenal there, and the town’s changing hands from North to South several times during the Civil War. Its location and its importance on the railroad lines contributed to that. There is still an Amtrak station there, and railroad bridges run across the rivers to and from other areas.
While I was exploring the shops and restaurants, I had an interesting lunch in a Trail hostel that I knew nothing about till I wandered in. Town’s Inn Mountain House Cafe and Hostel is one of the buildings that’s up high among the rocky areas.
I went in to have lunch in the cafe. There, cooking alone in a small kitchen area behind the counter, was one lady. All around her were shelves of canned goods and other foods wrapped and ready to be bought and taken along on the Trail hike. (She turned out to come from 20 miles away from where I live, so that added interest to our conversation.) The hostel provides for the hikers on the trail: inexpensive lodging in a real bed for a night or two, a shower and laundry services, shelf stable food to pack to go out on the trail again, and they can even receive mail there. I ordered a bratwurst, and she was going to add to it some local kraut with caraway seeds. It was delicious, and the whole experience taught me a lot about what it would be like to be hiking the Trail. The Trail comes within 10 miles of where I live, but the conversation I had with the lady there gave me so much information I never knew.
I made it clear up to the highest place in the town, called Jefferson Rock, named that because Thomas Jefferson once stood in that area and gave an important speech. Me being afraid of heights, I stayed back away from the edges.
There’s a church near the top that is still used regularly, and a parking lot up there for the parishioners. There is very little parking in other parts of the town since things are so tight together, and the streets are very narrow, the town having been established before there were cars. You can park in the nearby National Park area and take a shuttle bus down to the main part of town and the rivers. But actually the whole town is a National Park due to its history. There are park rangers all around to answer questions and help with directions.
Because I wanted to have time to explore well and not have to rush, I stayed overnight in a great bed and breakfast that was built in 1730, called the Light Horse Inn. That gave me time to go in all the shops, explore the historical exhibits and eat at several wonderful restaurants. My room at the Inn was on the 3rd floor, and I had to be wide awake before I went up or down the steps up to my room.
There are many areas of the town where they have restored the original buildings and you can walk in and see what different business would have looked like during Civil War times. Here is a watch and clock shop.
Since the town is a National Park and needs to be preserved the way it was for people to enjoy, there is no outside commercial big business there, only local merchants. The town sits right next to a town called Bolivar, which is also historic but not part of the National Park system. In Bolivar I had what I think was the best crab cake I’ve ever eating in a place called The Anvil restaurant. In Bolivar you do find a convenience store, gas station and other chain-type of businesses. You drive from Harpers Ferry into Bolivar and back and don’t know you’ve gone from one town to another unless you were watching for signs.
It was a fun trip and not far from where I live, but far enough to make a weekend of it and stay a while. It’s a charming historical town that you can find lots of info about. I’ll be going back next summer, for more charm and history and good food.