As champion and first president of the Patowmack Company – formed to complete river improvements on the Potomac and its major tributaries – George Washington traveled to Harpers Ferry during the summer of 1785. For two days, Washington's party carefully inspected the river here to determine the need for bypass canals and sluices.
Here we breakfasted [at Harpers Ferry]; after which we set out to explore the Falls below; & having but one Canoe, Colo. Gilpin, Mr. Rumsay (who joined us according to appointment last Night) and Myself, embarked in it, with intention to pass thro' what is called the Spout (less than half a mile below the ferry) but when we came to it, the Company on the shore on acct. of the smallness, and low sides of the Vessel, dissuaded us from the attempt, least the roughness of the Water, occasioned by the rocky bottom, should fill, & involve us in danger. To avoid the danger therefore we passed through a narrow channel on the left, near the MarylandShore and continued in the Canoe to the lower end of Pains falls distant, according to estimation 3 Miles. (From the Diaries of George Washington, August 7th, 1785).
Nine years later, in 1794, Washington used his familiarity with Harpers Ferry to champion the site for a new federal armory and arsenal.