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Harpers Ferry Travel Guide

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Harpers Ferry © West Virginia Division of Tourism

The historic town of Harpers Ferry is the most visited tourist town in West Virginia, seeing thousands of visitors each year. Located at the junction of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, the town is named after the ferry that landowner Robert Harper established across the Potomac Rover in 1761, just 11 years after receiving a patent on 125 acres (51ha) of land at the present location of the town. The ferry became the marker of the starting point for settlers traversing the Shenandoah Valley and western United States, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Historically though, Harpers Ferry is best known for abolitionist John Brown's raid on the Armory in 1859, when he started a liberation movement among enslaved African Americans, at a time when assisting fugitive slaves was illegal. He was eventually tried for treason against the state of Virginia, as well as the murder of five proslavery Southerners, and was hanged.

During the early 1900s Harpers Ferry was a fashionable weekend getaway destination for high society people who came by train from Washington DC and Baltimore. Socialites would enjoy lazy days bowling, picnicking and relaxing in the scenic countryside town, while lovers frequently eloped here to be married at the Ferry by the toll-taker, who happened to be a retired parson. Newlyweds traditionally enjoyed their first few days of matrimony in the Hilltop House Hotel, where guests such as Mark Twain, Carl Sandburg and Alexander Graham Bell stayed. But after the depression, the tourist trade in Harpers Ferry faded and by 1944 most of the town became part of the National Park Service.

An outdoor enthusiast's paradise, Harpers Ferry is famed for its national park, which makes up the southern portion of the town, and many visitors in the town are just starting out or ending their leg of the Appalachian Trail, one of the most famous hiking trails in the world. Enjoy the breathtaking beauty and scenery while whitewater rafting, canoeing or inner-tubing along the rivers in the Harpers Ferry National Park; hook a Smallmouth Bass on a fly on the Potomac or Shenandoah River, or even a trout while fishing in the streams of the nearby George Washington National Forest; or sample some of West Virginia's finest wines in the nearby vineyards.

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