currents National Park Service
Virginius Island
Historic Overview
Existing Conditions
Assessment & Analysis
Preservation Philosophy
Implementation & Management
Outreach & Education

View from Loudoun Heights to island, Spring 1992. NPS Photo

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historical overview
From the cliffs and the hills of the Heights above, the outline of Virginius Island is difficult to discern. Concealed by tall sycamores, woody vines and other understory vegetation, the island appears to be part of the mainland peninsula, created by the joining of the Potomac and the Shenandoah rivers. The physical history of Virginius is better revealed from below, along the Shenandoah shoreline. Here, brick and stone foundations of a mid-nineteenth-century industrial community, concealed by dense tree canopy and undergrowth, lie close to the rocky surface of the river. Yet these ruins fall short of telling the complete history of Virginius. The stone and brick remnants reveal little of the remarkable development and growth that occurred on the island within a few decades of its transformation into a center for milling and other industries.

Virginius is the most important valuable island in the Shenandoah River, being near the junction of the river with the Potomac, consequently in the immediate vicinity of Harper's Ferry, and the great thoroughfares, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, the Baltimore and Ohio Rail-Road, the Winchester and Potomac Rail-Road, the latter passing through the centre of the Island. The immediate neighborhood is mountainous, bold and picturesque, and few places present a stronger attraction to the tourist or to the manufactures than this place. Beyond the mountains and hills are found long tracts of fertile land in a height state of cultivation, and here begins the celebrated valley of the Shenandoah, which send down past this island, its immense annual productions to find a market in the Atlantic cities. - James M. Brown, Surveyor of Jefferson County, Virginia, 1844.

Since the early decades of the nineteenth century farmers, millers, craftsmen, manufacturers and entrepreneurs have manipulated, shaped and adapted this landform of only thirteen acres to meet their needs. The value of the waterpower from the Shenandoah, the abundant supply of resources from the nearby hills and valleys, and the proximity to the federal armory installation at Harpers Ferry were the main reason these individuals developed Virginius Island into an elaborate complex of industrial workshops, factories and waterways. In many instances, the evolution of the island mirrors the history of other nineteenth-century American industrial communities; in significant ways, it differs.

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