School House Ridge North

Along with other landscapes in and around Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, the School House Ridge North property is important for its role in the Battle of Harpers Ferry in September of 1862. Unlike some of the other historic farms in the region, this landscape has been spared from the development of the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan region and still has integrity as a rural landscape, lending to its historic association with agricultural development of the region.

"The great circle of artillery” of Jackson's forces fired “to a common center, while the clouds of smoke, rolling up from the tops of the various mountains, and the thunder of the guns reverberating among them, gave the idea of so many volcanoes." Words of an artillery gunner, from "Stonewall Jackson: The Man, the Soldier, the Legend" (James Robertson, 1997)

The School House Ridge North cultural landscape is associated with agricultural development in the Shenandoah Valley between 1784 and 1868. It is also notable for its role in the Civil War Battle of Harpers Ferry. Historically, the landscape was agrarian pastures, croplands, and occasional orchards, interspersed with woodlands. 
Split rail wooden fencing along the edge of a gently rolling, open field
The split rail fence was reportedly made from timber that was extracted from woodland on the property, which was apparently entirely deforested by the Army in 1862. Today, reconstructed fences stand along the historic fence line to help interpret the battle history and setting.

NPS

Arrows, words, and markers are used to annotate an aerial photo of the farm landscape
The Cultural Landscape Inventory includes a diagram showing the primary features of School House Ridge North landscape, using an aerial photograph from 2005.

NPS/Harpers Ferry National Historical Park archives

The School House Ridge North cultural landscape is located approximately two miles west of Harpers Ferry and five miles northeast of Charles Town, in Jefferson County, West Virginia. The 304-acre property was acquired by the National Park Service in 2004 through a partnership with the Trust for Public Land and the Civil War Preservation Trust, representing a portion of the property added to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park in that year. The additions expanded the total area of the Park from 2,505 to 3,645 acres. 

Just as the river confluence had drawn Native American traders to its banks, the site soon became a destination for a new wave of settlers. European newcomers began locating to the Shenandoah Valley in the 1730s. Many arrived from the north, seeking relatively free and available properties for settlement and farming.

The properties contained within the current School House Ridge North boundary were previously known as the Moler, Rau, Fritts and Ott Farms, while a wooded area in the northwest corner is the former site of a Jellystone Campground. Part of the landscape comprises the western half of the former Prospect Hill Farm, owned by the Moler family in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. 

These historic properties define School House Ridge North, which is divided into three tracts. Tract 102-34 encompasses the Ott Farm and was acquired by the National Park Service from Blanche and Elmer Ott in 2005. This portion was formerly known as the Fritts Farm, named for the enterprising farmer John Fritts. In addition to modernizing features of the farm, he kept livestock on the areas of his poperty that were too steep to cultivate and rented out agricultural services like mowing and baling to neighboring farmers.

Tract 102-31 comprises a portion of the old Prospect Hill Farm once owned by the Moler family. George Adam Moler came to America from Scotland with his Swiss-born father in 1730. He moved to Virginia from Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 1758 and recieved the land grant to this property in 1784. The tract was acquired from the Civil War Preservation Trust in 2003.

Tract 102-33 includes the old Jellystone Campground, which operated from 1974  to 1978.
 

Historic photo of tent camp, with rolling rural landscape dotted with houses beyond.
View of Civil War tents on Camp Hill looking west toward Bolivar Heights, in 1862. Note the open landscape and lack of woodlands.

NPS/Harpers Ferry National Historical Park archives

While it might seem peaceful today, the property is significant for its military history (1861-1865), specifically the role it played during the Battle of Harpers Ferry. This confrontation, which occurred between September 13 and 15, 1862, resulted in the largest surrender of federal troops recorded during the entire Civil War. The School House Ridge Battlefield is the location of the Union's final surrender to Major General Jackson during the Battle of Harpers Ferry on the morning of September 15th. 

School House Ridge North is also significant for its agricultural history (1780-1868). Much of the historic agrarian landscape that was established in the region by early European settlers is still evident today, consisting of cleared and regularly used farmland much as it did in the past.

Strong tree trunk and low-hanging branches of an osage orange tree at the edge of a field
Osage orange tree in one of the fence lines on School House Ridge North, looking north.

NPS Photo, May 2008

The Fritts Barn was constructed in 1926, which excludes it from contributing to the School House Ridge North cultural landscape. However, the barn is an important, unique structure with a regionally significant architectural style. It was the first James Way barn to be constructed in West Virginia. This barn style was innovative in its approach to sanitation and animal control. 

Harpers Ferry National Monument was established in 1944, and in 1963 it was re-designated as Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. 

Quick Facts

  • Cultural Landscape Type: Historic Site / Vernacular
  • National Register Significance Level: National
  • National Register Significance Criteria: A
  • Period of Significance: 1784-1868

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Last updated: November 3, 2017