Harpers Ferry is a small, historic town in Jefferson County, West Virginia. Also called Harper’s Ferry, the historic town is at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers and at the point where Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia meet. The town’s population numbers about 300 people.
Parts of the town are located in Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. The park includes land in West Virginia, Maryland, and Virginia. In 1963, the U.S. Congress declared it a National Historic Park. Including almost 4,000 acres (1,618 hectares), in 1966 the park was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Most of the rest of the town is located in the Harpers Ferry Historic District. The district includes about 100 historic buildings. In addition, the B&O Railroad Potomac River Crossing and St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church—both on the National Historic Register—adjoin the historic district.
The Appalachian Trail passes directly through the town, and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy is headquartered there. Amtrak provides service to Harpers Ferry twice a day. CSX freight trains also pass through each day.
The town is best known as the site where abolitionist John Brown captured the armory in 1859. Brown was captured in the armory and hanged. He predicted, in his last words, that a civil war was coming to end slavery.
The town was on the border between Union and Confederate forces when war did break out two years later, in 1861. The town passed between the two sides at least eight times during the four-year American Civil War. During the Battle of Harpers Ferry in 1862, 12,500 Union troops were taken prisoner.
After the Civil War, the U.S. government transferred parts of Berkley and Jefferson Counties in Virginia. These counties became parts of West Virginia, which remained loyal to the Union throughout the war. Harpers Ferry was part of this transfer and became part of the area that forms the panhandle of West Virginia.
Storer College, one of the first integrated schools in the United States, was founded in Harpers Ferry in 1865 and operated until 1955. Originally a school for freed slaves, the school eventually became a college. It is also the site where Frederick Douglass delivered his 1881 speech about abolitionist John Brown.
One of the earliest meetings of the U.S. civil rights movement was held at Storer College. W.E.B. Du Bois held a three-day gathering at the college in 1906. The town also developed an amusement park known as Island Park in the early 20th century.