West Virginia, Where We've Been

Harpers Ferry, Weverton Cliffs, Antietam National Battlefield, & Shenandoah National Park

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


Harpers Ferry

Harpers Ferry lies in West Virginia, at the confluence of two slow-flowing rivers, the Shenandoah and the Potomac. It is also the location of a tri-state conjunction. Maryland borders Harpers Ferry to the north and Virginia to the south. 

The little West Virginia town played a big role in American history. It was visited by both Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, it was a hub for two major railroads, it was fought over by the north and south during the Civil War, it was the place where Lewis and Clark gathered their supplies for their journey west, and it the famous location of John Brown’s raid.

The town’s name is derived from Robert Harper in 1734. Before the bridges and railroad tracks that now run across the rivers, a make-shift ferry served those wishing to cross. When Harper bought the land, he had mistaken the land’s owner and had paid a swindler who ran off with his money. Once he found out what had happened, he repurchased the land and named it Harpers Ferry.

George Washington selected the town as the site of the U.S. arsenal and center for the manufacture of rifles. (In fact, it was due to the town’s weapons stockpile and its proximity to the south that led John Brown to select Harpers Ferry for the raid.) When the railroads came into town, they brought business and the town began to grow. 

During the Civil War, the town changed hands several times between the north and the south. 

The town was larger than it is today but due to constant flooding, businesses and homes were forced to relocate. 

We hiked the Maryland Heights trail to reach this viewpoint above Harpers Ferry. We parked at the train depot in Harpers Ferry (seen in the picture at the bottom right side of town), crossed one of the railroad bridges, and began climbing the 2-mile long mountain trail. As the name states, Maryland Heights is actually located in Maryland and the trail across the river is part of the Appalachian Trail. 

Looking down on Harpers Ferry from this height, the town can be clearly seen. A church and its steeple stands out along a hillside in the town. If you look just in front of the church, you’ll see a set of steps connecting Lower Town with a graveyard at the top. This is the continuation of the Appalachian Trail into West Virginia.

From this vantage point, many of the buildings look like a living representation of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. 

Back in the town, if you follow the Appalachian Trail stairs beyond the church, you’ll eventually get to these precarious rocks. It was here that Thomas Jefferson sat overlooking the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers when he wrote,

          “The passage of the Patowmac through the Blue Ridge is perhaps one of the most stupendous scenes in Nature. You stand on a very high point of land. On your right comes up the Shenandoah, having ranged along the foot of the mountain a hundred miles to seek a vent. On your left approaches the Patowmac in quest of a passage also. In the moment of their junction they rush together against the mountain, rend it asunder and pass off to the sea. The first glance of this scene hurries our senses into the opinion that this earth has been created in time, that the mountains were formed first, that the rivers began to flow afterwards, that in this place particularly they have been so dammed up by the Blue Ridge of mountains as to have formed an ocean which filled the whole valley; that, continuing to rise, they have at last broken over at this spot and have torn the mountain down from its summit to its base. The piles of rock on each hand, but particularly on the Shenandoah, the evident marks of their disruptions and avulsions from their beds by the most powerful agents in nature, corroborate the impression.

          But the distant finishing which nature has given the picture is of a very different character. It is a true contrast to the former. It is as placid and delightful as that is wild and tremendous. For the mountains being cloven asunder, she presents to your eye, through the cleft, a small catch of smooth blue horizon, at an infinite distance in that plain country, inviting you, as it were, from the riot and tumult roaring around to pass through the breach and participate in the calm below. Here the eye ultimately composes itself; and that way, too, the road happens actually to lead. You cross the Patowmac above the junction, pass along its side through the base of the mountain for three miles, the terrible precipice hanging in fragments over you, and within about 20 miles reach Frederictown and the fine country around that. This scene is worth a voyage across the Atlantic.”

And this is what he saw:

Looking back at the mountain, the Appalachian Trail can be seen following the railroad just before it darts into the mountainside. 

Down in the town, many of the buildings have been preserved as part of the Harpers Ferry National Historic Park. This was the General Store. Many everyday items could be purchased here such as cups, fabric, hats, and food supplies.

Would you like to purchase some peas or tomatoes? How about some Magnetic Oil? It is guaranteed to cure rheumatism!

The Appalachian Trail is a hike, but so worth the view. 

The kids got a few treats from a historic candy store. The free lemonade drew us in and the historic treats kept us looking. There were all kinds of sweets that were for sale using recipes from the 1700’s and 1800’s. 

This board gives a sense of number and depth of floods the region has experienced since its founding. I should have had someone stand in the picture when I took it, but to give you a sense of scale, at nearly 6′ tall, Ben reached the lowest mark on this board. 


John Brown’s Raid on Harpers Ferry

Just a few years before the beginning of the Civil War, John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry fanned the flames of tensions between the north and the south. John Brown was an abolitionist who made it his mission to free as many slaves as he could with the help of his sons, and any other men he could muster to fight for his cause. He believed in an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth type diplomacy. He killed white slave owners as he freed the slaves and offered for them to join his group of fighting men. 

On his way to Harpers Ferry, John Brown and his men took position in this house at Kennedy Farm. He used the house as a headquarters for preparing for the raid. For three months he stockpiled weapons, studied maps, and prepared his men. 

The goal was to raid the U.S. arsenal at Harpers Ferry and establish a fugitive slave republic in the mountains of Virginia or Maryland. Unfortunately for his band of raiders, John Brown made a fatal mistake. 

During the raid, a train entered town. The train was stopped for a time, but eventually was allowed to pass. In the next town, word quickly spread and the news eventually reached the ears of U.S. Army Colonel Robert E. Lee. Lee and his men arrived the next day and quickly put an end to the altercation taking 18 lives in the process, including two of Brown’s sons. Brown was put on trial and was found guilty of insurrection against the State of Virginia and was hung December 2, 1859.

His actions raised tensions between the north and the south and helped to bring about the start of the Civil War just over a year later. 


Weverton Cliffs

A bit beyond Harpers Ferry, a few miles further into Maryland, is a rather short, but strenuous hike to the top of Weverton Cliffs. The view from up here makes it all worth it though. If you follow the river upstream, in between the two mountains in the photo below, you will find Harpers Ferry.

The view was just amazing a little more than 500 feet above the ground.

Don’t get too close to the edge because there’s nothing there between you and the ridiculously huge drop.

This beautiful bird was loving it too. 


Antietam National Battlefield

On September 17, 1862, in nearby Maryland, a twelve hour battle was underway that would end the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia’s first invasion into the North and lead President Abraham Lincoln to issue the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. This was the battle at Antietam.

It is said that so many men lost their lives at the Battle of Antietam that there was not ground to step on without stepping over the bodies of men who gave their lives for their country that day.

This trench, shown below, became known as Bloody Lane. Four hours of fierce fighting and 5,500 dead, neither side had gained a clear advantage and the battle ended from confusion and sheer exhaustion. 

Burnside Bridge became a key factor in determining the outcome of this battle. The narrow bridge became a choke point for Union soldiers wishing to cross. Just on the other side was a steep hill where nearly 500 Confederate soldiers stood their ground, shooting at any man wishing to pass over the bridge. Several attempts were made to take the bridge by the Union army, but even if they successfully crossed the bridge, climbing the steep hill to the soldiers bearing down on them proved a great challenge. 

Repeated attacks and flanking the Confederate position on the hill finally allowed Union General Burnside and his men to take the bridge. 

Shenandoah National Park

One of the few National Parks in the eastern United States, Shenandoah National Park is a sight to behold for weary city dwellers. With a speed limit of 35mph and over a hundred miles of ridge road, driving through the park can take several hours. (We did not drive the whole park, but stayed on the north side.)

There are many scenic overlooks along the drive and a few areas that may have been hiking trails. There are bears and other wildlife throughout the park so we stayed on the ridge and enjoyed many of the views. 

It was incredibly hazy the day we went, so most of my pictures didn’t turn out very well. Looking out on the Shenandoah Valley, this is one of the views we saw. Green, rolling hillsides, a few houses, and trees covering the land.

Amazing views from up on Skyline Drive!

Spring is in full bloom in Shenandoah National Park. The Dogwood trees were showing off their beautiful white blooms. 

Stunning colors!


Finishing up the school year

We are getting close to ending the 2022-2023 school year. What does that mean for roadschooling? While the math and other studies will sit up on the shelf for a few months for a much needed break, our journey will continue north. Journal writing is a part of their Language Arts practice and will continue year round, but these kids are getting ready to enjoy their summer in the northeast and hopefully get in a lot of swimming and even more adventures.  



Nahkeeta Campsite

This campground is located on a wide open parcel of land in the West Virginia countryside. Rolling green hills and a single lane gravel road are all the amenities you’ll see here. No bathhouse, laundry, or swimming pool, but it did have full hookups and a clear view of the sky for Starlink. We loved it! It was simply beautiful.

There’s a little grassy area in the middle between the RVs that Jaden took advantage of on multiple days to play his favorite game of soccer. 

It’s located fairly close to a few larger towns, and there is some traffic noise from a nearby highway.

Starlink gave us a speedy 75 mpbs up and 30 mpbs down.  Verizon on the phones were at 4 bars and 5 with the cell antenna. AT&T was also 5 bars.