Camp Hill: From War-Torn Landscape to Land of Opportunity

This hilltop at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park in West Virginia transformed from a barren Civil War landscape to the home of an African American institution of higher education.

Troops stationed at the armory superintendent's house in 1862, showing a bare and compacted earth.
This 1862 photograph of the 22nd New York State Militia at the armory superintendent's house shows the bare, compacted condition of the Camp Hill landscape during the 1860s.

NPS, Courtesy Harpers Ferry National Historical Park Archives (in 2009 Camp Hill Cultural Landscape Report)

Camp Hill boasts a scenic view over the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers. In the 1840s, the first quarters and garden plots were built on the stony, open hilltop for U.S. Armory officials, and woodland covered the cliffs. During the Civil War, Harpers Ferry became a battleground that changed hands eight times between Confederate and Union forces, leaving the town in ruins. Soldiers camped, built earthworks, and were buried on Camp Hill, compacting the earth and stripping it of plant life.

An influential African American institution rose out of the dust during Reconstruction. In 1865, Freewill Baptists started a primary school for African American freedpeople in the former Armory paymaster’s house on Camp Hill, now known as the Lockwood House. In 1867, this school grew into Storer College, a school founded to train African American teachers that was open to all regardless of race, religion, or sex.
A tinted postcard shows a group of students and instructors, many African American, in front of the large stone Lincoln Hall at Storer College
In addition to dirt paths and limited trees surrounding the New Lincoln Hall, a structure of metals marks the boundaries of the tennis courts in this ca. 1910 postcard. The tennis courts were between the new academic building and Anthony Memorial Hall.

NPS, Courtesy Harpers Ferry National Historical Park Archives (in 2009 Camp Hill Cultural Landscape Report)

The college took ownership of former armory buildings in the late 1860s, and it expanded over the years to include over 40 acres of picturesque grounds. The armory buildings were modified into dormitories and educational buildings, and additional buildings were added to meet the needs of the college. In 1909, Storer College purchased the John Brown’s Fort building and moved the fort from a local farm to the campus for the 50th Anniversary of the famed 1859 raid on the United States Armory.
An engraving shows three buildings on the crest of a hill, with a lawn dotted with deciduous trees.
This circa 1889 engraving shows Lincoln Hall, Anthony Hall, and Myrtle Hall on the crest of Camp Hill. The lawn is dotted with deciduous trees aligned in rows and clusters.

NPS, Courtesy Harpers Ferry National Historical Park Archives (in Camp Hill Cultural Landscape Report)

A tree lined drive and walkway lead to the fort, where it became a museum and monument on the campus. Woodland grew again over the southern and western edges of the hillside, and lines and clusters of trees planted on the open and cultivated hilltop added lushness to views of the campus core. As a result of the 1954 Supreme Court case Brown v. The Board of Education ruling that segregation of schools was unconstitutional, Storer College on Camp Hill, a premier Black educational institution, closed its doors in 1955.
Contemporary view of the Long Walk at Storer College
The existing Long Walk is relatively wide and paved in brick, replacing the former concrete sidewalk and gravel drive.

NPS, Courtesy Heritage Landscapes (in Camp Hill Cultural Landscape Report)

Now that the students have departed, the National Park Service preserves Camp Hill’s sense of history by maintaining the historic features and character of the cultural landscape. In 2017, the National Park Service is celebrating the 150th anniversary of Storer College’s founding with a year of programs that connect visitors with history through landscapes and sensory experiences.

On May 27, 2017, the exhibit “A Landscape Through Time: The Historical Development at Camp Hill” opens at the Lower Town Information Center. To learn more, see the event schedule.

Last updated: October 27, 2017