Harpers Ferry National Historic Park

Lower Town, Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

Most of us probably learned about John Brown’s raid on the United States Armory in a history class. After visiting Harpers Ferry we are confident that what we read in our history text books only scratched the surface in regard to John Brown’s personal history and also to the significance of the town itself.

Shenandoah Street
Confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers

Harpers Ferry was an important town long before John Brown’s raid. Robert Harper purchased the land from Lord Fairfax. He knew that the property would be valuable for transportation purposes because of the confluence of the two rivers and the natural passage that the Potomac cut through the Blue Ridge. Additionally, the two rivers would provide considerable hydropower for manufacturing.

CSX Freight Train

Today, almost 200 years after the first trains traveled through the “hole”, the CSX Railroad is operating the freight line with 40-50 trains per day carrying coal and other commodities from West Virginia to market. Additionally, Amtrak utilizes this line for the thrice weekly Cardinal train which makes a leisurely and scenic 28 hour journey from New York City to Chicago.

George Washington was familiar with the Harpers Ferry area and chose this location as the site for the United States Armory (circa 1799) which would later become the target of Brown’s raid. By the time of Brown’s raid in 1859, Harpers Ferry was a thriving industrial center utilizing the river’s power to manufacture rifles, muskets and pistols for the United States Army. Harpers Ferry was one of only two such facilities in the country – the other being located in Springfield, Massachusetts.

John Brown’s Fort

John Brown was born in Torrington, Connecticut in 1800. His family moved soon afterwards and he spent most of his childhood in Ohio where his father had established a tannery.

Brown’s father, Owen, was an extremely strict Calvinist and was very overt in his oppostion to slavery – slavery being a “sin against God”. Owen Brown provided a safe house for Underground Railroad fugitives at their home in Hudson, Ohio. Not surprisingly, Brown was imbued deeply with his father’s belief that slavery was a sin against God.

John Brown was married twice and fathered 21 children. Brown owned several different businesses including a tannery but the financial crisis of 1839 precipitated a string of unsuccessful efforts to get out of debt. As a result, he and his family moved frequently in pursuit of business opportunities – none of which were particularly successful.

While always vehemently opposed to slavery, the murder of Presbyterian minister E.P. Lovejoy by a pro-slavery mob became the catlyst that moved him from abolitionist to guerilla fighter.

Brown and five of his sons left their home and traveled to Kansas to join the fight against slavery. “Free Soilers” and “Slavers” were engaged in a violent conflict over whether Kansas would be admitted to the Union as a free or slave state. This “civil war “ raged on from 1854 to 1860 as was known as Bleeding Kansas. https://ohiohistorycentral.org/w/Bleeding_Kansas

Brown was a well-known and feared figure in this war after he and a group of abolitionists (including two of his sons) murdered five pro-slavery settlers by hacking them to death with swords. This event became known as the Pottawatomie Massacre.

By 1859, John Brown was convinced that the only way slavery would be abolished was through a large scale rebellion. Brown hoped the raid of the armoury at Harpers Ferry would convince escaped slaves to join his small force and that they would become the Army of Emancipation.

Unfortunately for Brown and his group it did not play out in that manner. Brown and his band of 21 men fought fiercely for nearly two days against the local militia until they were overpowered by Colonel Robert E. Lee and a force of Marines. About half of Brown’s men (including two of his sons) were killed. Brown was wounded.

Virginia moved quickly to to try Brown – he was convicted of murder, treason and inciting slave insurrection – and hanged immediately thereafter.

Today, Harpers Ferry is part town (Pop. 281) and part National Historic Park. We found the history of the town quite fascinating. In addition to John Brown’s raid, the town was a major chess piece for the Union and Cofederate forces during the ensuing Civil War. The town changed hands 14 times between 1861 and 1865. https://www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/10-facts-harpers-ferry

Saint Peter’s Catholic Church

We definitely recommend Harpers Ferry for anyone interested in American history. Additionally, there are a significant number of hiking trails in and around Harpers Ferry which provide wonderful views of the town and the confluence of the rivers. Lastly, there are several cozy inns and restaurants in town.

Be seeing you!

P.S. Don’t forget you can travel to Harpers Ferry via the Amtrak Cardinal train.

Books:

John Brown: A Biography by W.E.B Du Bois

Harpers Ferry: Images of America, West Virginia, West Virginia by Dolly Nasby

Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War by Tony Horwitz

Street Art Tourist: Street Art from the Road: Richmond

Artist: ARYZ, Spain

We made two passes through Richmond as we criss-crossed Virginia. So while we were there just a couple of days, the sheer number of works clustered in various neighborhoods allowed us to take in an amazing sample of great murals (although we have hardly scratched the surface).

Artist: ARYZ, Spain

One of the driving forces behind all of the fantastic street art in town is the Richmond Mural Project. The RMP is an annual event which brings internationally recognized artists to Richmond with the goal of having 100 murals created over five years. Richmond is comprised of 11 primary neighborhoods and murals are planned for all of them.

Artist: Pixel Pancho, Italy

Additionally, the non-profit organization, RVA Street Art Festival, sponsored its fifth three day festival in 2020. The RVA focuses on painting in a different area of the city at each event. The festival provides opportunities for local artists and students to work together to create art and add color to the city. The Festival donates proceeds to local charities including the Richmond Public School system arts program.

Between these two organizations and a number of privately commissioned murals it seems as if around every corner in every neighborhood there is another terrific mural to behold.

Artist, Ed Trask, Virginia

Right: Artists: ASVP, New York City and Switzerland

Artist: Onur Dinc, Switzerland

Bottom Left: Artists: INKTEN + CLOGTWO, Singapore

Richmond also has a robust specialty coffee and tea culture, and we are confident that when pandemic conditions improve we will return to Richmond to explore many more of the neighborhoods in search of great street art and cafes.

Be seeing you!

Cape Hatteras National Seashore (CHNS)

After completing the Virginia Capital Bike Trail and with a week of excellent weather ahead we decided to head south to the Outer Banks of North Carolina to enjoy some time at the shore. CHNS has almost 70 miles of pristine beach open for many recreational opportunities. We were able to camp south of Nags Head at Oregon Inlet Campground which was just a five minute walk through the dunes to the beach.

One of the many fun things do to at CHNS is driving on the beach. You do, of course, need a 4WD vehicle and you must also purchase an Off Road Vehicle (ORV) Permit. Once you air down your tires you are good to go. At certain times of the year some portions of the beach may be closed to vehicles due to turtle and water fowl migration.

Driving the Beach at Oregon Inlet, Cape Hatteras National Seashore
Scallop Boat Ocean Pursuit, Came Aground March, 2020

In addition to driving on the beach we were able to bike on the beach when the tide was out far enough to ride on the wet packed sand. When the tide is out you can bike from Corolla all the way to the Virginia border! We did not have the tide timing in our favor but we were able to ride several miles before the beach became impassable on our bikes.

Biking on Wildhorse Beach, Corolla, North Carolina

Biking on Roanoke Island

We really enjoyed our four days at CHNS. In addition to the beautiful beach, starry night sky and recreational activities there is also a significant amount of early American history here to be explored if you are so inclined (Roanoke Island was the first English settlement in North America -1585).

From here we are heading to Virginia (again) to bicycle the Washington & Old Dominion Trail.

Be seeing you!

Rails to Trails: West Virginia

We spent several weeks in West Virginia hiking and biking as well as driving a number of backways. In this post we are primarily focusing on our Rails to Trails rides. In an upcoming post we will share our experience of spending several days deep in coal country – which is not the West Virginia that you see in the tourism marketing materials.

Also, just a clarification for the record – chronologically we visited West Virginia before Virginia so the trail rides we are highlighting in this post occured prior to the Virginia rides.

Mon river trail

The Mon (Monongahela River) River Trail was our first Rails to Trails ride of this journey. As you may recall from an earlier post OTR 5.2 got off to an inauspicious start ultimately requiring a 1200 mile round trip detour to Indiana for repairs to the Beast.

As a result our first round of planned rides in Pennsylvania and Maryland were postponed. If the weather co-operates we may have an opportunity to ride some of the trails as we return to Connecticut.

The Mon River trail is a 48 mile trail that sits on the right of way of the former Fairmont, Morgantown and Pittsburgh Railway. This railway began operations in 1886 and was a bulk carrier of coal, limestone, coke and sand which were and still are major sources of trade in West Virginia. The rail line was abandoned by CSX in the 1990s after a rock slide caused significant damage and CSX opted to shift coal traffic to a different route.

The trail provides a beautiful setting for biking and walking. The trail hugs the river for its full length providing great views and vistas as you follow the many curves of this meandering river.

The Mon River runs 130 miles northeasterly towards Pittsburgh where it meets the Allegheny River. The entire length of the Mon River is navigable due to a series of nine locks and dams. This engineering feat has made the river commercially viable for transporting coal by barge.

While riding we saw many coal barges being pushed up and down the river and being loaded and unloaded. The coal fired electric plant pictured above is the Fort Martin Station which is located on the west side of the river north of Morgantown. This power plant burns 2.8 million tons per year – hence the steady traffic of coal barges.

Interestingly, this plant is not a major source of air or water pollution. The scrubber systems at this plant remove over 98% of the sulpher-dioxide emissions. The river itself is very polluted – the culprits being steel and iron mills located in Pennsylvania

We stayed in Morgantown while riding the trail. Morgantown is home to West Virginia University with the campus being just up the hill from the downtown area. While the students were back on campus we did not see many college age folks in town which was surprising (perhaps Covid-19 related).

So, while Morgantown was not very lively, the trail itself warrants a couple of days in the area. Also, absent Covid-19 restrictions, WVU provides a number of attractions including a recognized art museum and a first rate arboretum.

The Beautiful, Loyal and Fierce Cardinal, West Virginia’s State Bird

North Bend trail

Tunnel #2, Brandy Gap Tunnel

After completing the Mon Trail we traveled south to Clarksburg to ride the North Bend Trail. The trail is a 72 miler running west from Clarksburg to the Ohio River at Parkersburg. This trail is one of the segments of the American Discovery Trail. The ADT runs from Delaware to California creating a 6000 mile non-motorized trail.

We began our ride at the eastern trail head in Clarksburg to bike west to Parkersburg. What we did not know at the time was that the eastern end of the trail has not been completed (not mentioned in any of the literature). In fact it took us a while to realize we were at the trail head because there was just a sign and a grass path. Nonetheless, we pushed off to the west assuming the trail would become a more developed trail as we went along. We were wrong!

As we realized the eastern portion of the trail was still a work in progress we made a decision to ride to Tunnel #2 at Brandy Gap. This tunnel is 1086 feet long! The tunnel is dark, wet and cold. At a certain point in the tunnel you can’t actually see light at the other end which was disorienting.

Having said all that – riding through the tunnel was a hoot! So we went through the tunnel pedaled on for a while (until we had another crash) and then turned around and rode back through the tunnel for a second time.

At some point we will return to this trail and having learned our lesson will start at the west end. The full trail ride takes you over 36 trestles and 10 tunnels including a tunnel twice the length of Tunnel #2.

While we have been heavily focused on bicycling the Rails to Trails bike paths we have been making sure to take some days off from cycling – and hiking instead. The views above are from Raven Rock in the Coopers Rock State Forest looking to the northwest at the Cheat River Canyon.

Greenbrier river Trail (GRT)

Greenbrier River

The Greenbrier River Trail was our final rail trail ride in West Virginia. This trail runs 77 miles along the 173 mile long river. The GRT is the longest trail in West Virginia and is one of fifty Millennium Legacy Trails ( http://www.millenniumtrails.org ) in the United States. The Greenbrier River Valley is a beautiful valley tucked in the shadow of the western approaches to the Allegheny Mountains. The river is the longest untamed river (no dams or locks) in the eastern United States and is only utilized for recreational purposes (fishing, boating, rafting).

The trail was originally a freight and passenger branch line of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad. The primary freight hauled in this part of West Virginia was timber. This line was abandoned during the Great Depression and never used as a railway again. The trail is currently operated and maintained by the state as a linear state park.

We started our ride at the southern trail head in Lewisburg. Lewisburg is a great town to utilize as a base for riding this trail. It is a picturesque, small town with a number of fine dining restaurants as well as art and historic homes.

We had a great day riding north under the colorful autumnal canopy before retracing our ride back to Lewisburg. This trail also provides many opportunities to camp along the trail in the adjacent Jefferson and Washington National Forest as well as several state forests.

We would be remiss if we did not mention our three favorite coffee cafes in West Virginia: Mea Cuppa Coffee Lounge in Charleston, Range Finder Coffee in Fayetteville and Koin Coffee in Bridgeport.

Next stop: Virginia as we cross over the Allegheny Mountains and the Blue Ridge Trail to begin our next set of adventures.

Be seeing you!