currents National Park Service
Virginius Island
Introduction
Historic Overview
Existing Conditions
Assessment & Analysis
Preservation Philosophy
Implementation & Management
Outreach & Education
Summary
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Condition of island during the 1920s. NPS Photo

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Picturesque Island

In 1924 another flood ravaged the lower Shenandoah, shutting down the pulp mill, carrying off logs and damaging its dam, raceway, and floodgates. The flood wreckage forced more residents to permanently leave the island. By the end of the 1920s, only two families remained. Sometime between 1924 and 1930, the National Electric Power Company, the corporate owner of the old Savery enterprises, ordered the demolition of the remaining rowhouses. In 1935, the company closed the Shenandoah Pulp Mill, thus finalizing years of irrevocable economic decline. However, the floods that followed in 1936 and 1942 marked the real end of the historic Virginius Island. During the subsequent decades, when the island was uninhabited and overgrown, the solitary rumble of a freight train passing along the old W&P rail line was the only reminder of the old industrial activity that had formerly characterized life on Virginius Island.

 
Deteriorated state of head gates, 1977. NPS Photo

 

 

Congress included Virginius Island among the properties for acquisition when they enacted the legislation to create Harpers Ferry National Monument (now Harpers Ferry National Historical Park) in 1944. Since that time, the National Park Service (NPS) has focused the majority of its efforts on the preservation, restoration and rehabilitation of the Lower Town area of Harpers Ferry. Because these efforts initially concentrated on the events of the 1859 John Brown raid and the Civil War, little attention was directed toward Virginius Island, where cultural resources mostly lay underground. The NPS treated this naturalized island habitat as a wooded archeological preserve, consisting of mill ruins, remnants of historic waterways, and the foundations of old residential structures. Once archeological testing and investigation on the island began in the late 1960s, the public began to express a heighten appreciation for the hidden historical resources. This renewed interest coincided with preservation projects, such as the construction by the NPS of a pedestrian bridge (1974) across the Shenandoah Canal. Discussions on this and subsequent preservation projects are outlined in the sections of the Current that follow.

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