Temporary Suspension of Reference Collection Research
Due to preservation and maintenance work scheduled for the park archives and research room/library space, new public research requests will not be filled from June 1st to at least January 30th, 2014.
Change in Park Hours
Beginning November 1, the park will be open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with the last shuttle bus departing Lower Town at 5:15 p.m. More »
John Brown's Raid
Brought to trial at nearby Charles Town, Brown was found guilty of treason, of conspiring with slaves to rebel, and murder. He was hanged on December 2, 1859. John Brown's short-lived raid failed, but his trial and execution focused the nation's attention on the moral issue of slavery and headed the country toward civil war. [View video clips of Stephen Oates discussing John Brown].
Today John Brown's Fort and the Arsenal ruins are part of the legacy of our nation's struggle with slavery. [Learn more about John Brown's Fort].
The Civil War
On April 18, 1861, less than 24 hours after Virginia seceded from the Union, Federal soldiers set fire to the Armory and Arsenal to keep them out of Confederate hands. The Arsenal and 15,000 weapons were destroyed, but the Armory flames were extinguished and the weapons-making equipment was shipped south. When the Confederates abandoned the town two months later, they burned most of the factory buildings and blew up the railroad bridge. [Learn more about the Armory & Arsenal]. The first Harpers Ferry citizen killed during the Civil War was Frederick Roeder. To learn more about him, click here.
Federal forces re-occupied Harpers Ferry in 1862. During the Confederacy's first invasion of the North, on September 15, 1862, Maj. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson surrounded and captured the 12,500-man Union garrison stationed here. When the Federals returned to Harpers Ferry after the Battle of Antietam, they began transforming the surrounding heights into fortified encampments to protect both the town and the railroad. In 1864, Union Gen. Philip H. Sheridan used Harpers Ferry as his base of operations against Confederate troops in the Shenandoah Valley. [Learn more about the 1862 Battle of Harpers Ferry].
During the Civil War, Harpers Ferry became one of many Union garrison towns where runaway slaves, or "contraband," sought refuge. Following the Civil War, New England Freewill Baptist missionaries acquired several vacant Armory buildings on Camp Hill and, in 1867, started Storer College, an integrated school designed primarily to educate former slaves but open to students of all races and both genders. Frederick Douglass served as a trustee of the college, and delivered a memorable oration on the subject of John Brown here in 1881. [Learn more about Storer College].
By the end of the 19th century, the promise of freedom and equality for blacks had been buried by Jim Crow laws and legal segregation. To combat these injustices, Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois and other leading African-Americans created the Niagara Movement, which held its second conference on the campus of Storer College in 1906. The Niagara Movement was a forerunner to the NAACP. [Learn more about the Niagara Movement]
In 1954, legal segregation was finally ended by the landmark school desegregation decision handed down by the Supreme Court in Brown v. The Board of Education. A year later Storer College closed its doors. Today the National Park Service continues the college's educational mission by using part of the old campus as a training facility.
Today, wetlands fill abandoned canals and plants and animals use old ruins as homes. Throughout years of human alteration and natural reclamation, the picturesque landscape has remained a constant - inspiring writers, artists, and millions of visitors. Thomas Jefferson, for instance, described the scene here as "worth a voyage across the Atlantic" in his Notes on the State of Virginia. [Read Jefferson's description of Harpers Ferry].
Library & Research Room
Did You Know?
Virginius Island was a thriving 19th-century industrial town along the Shenandoah River. By 1859, there were about three dozen buildings there.