|The Point: Discover It All Here|
keep going, stop before the river
At "The Point," you can view "The Confluence" of the mighty Potomac and lazy Shenandoah Rivers. At this location, the Potomac cuts its way through the Blue Ridge Mountains and three states meet — West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland. If you look in every direction from this vantage point, you can pretty much see and experience all of the 250-year history of Harpers Ferry.
Ferries, Railroads, and Turnpikes
Peter Stephens' and Robert Harper's ferries were located here. The gap through the Blue Ridge provided a passageway from places north and west to those east and south. Robert Harper took this shortcut coming from Philadelphia en route to Winchester. It turned out to be a real “long cut,” since he ended up staying here the rest of his life.
Two railroad lines — the Baltimore & Ohio and the Winchester & Potomac — came through here because of The Gap. For the same reason, three turnpikes (now highways) passed through here: the Harpers Ferry – Frederick Turnpike, the Harpers Ferry – Hillsboro Turnpike, and the Harpers Ferry – Charles Town – Smithfield Turnpike.
Highways of Commerce
The C&O Canal, a 184.5-mile long alternative to railroads, was part of a route moving products to market down the Potomac Valley from the Ohio Valley to the Chesapeake Bay. Today it is still a route, but one for hikers and bikers rather than for mules and boats.
The Shenandoah River, a “highway of commerce,” moved products from the Shenandoah Valley down the river on barges (called gundalows), off-loading them at Harpers Ferry and then sending them elsewhere either via rail or the C&O Canal.
The Point itself was the site of a commercial center in Harpers Ferry until it was burned several times between September 1861 and February 1862 by Union Col. Geary to eliminate places for Confederate sharpshooters to hide out.
Artillery on the Heights
When you're at The Point, look up and to your left to see Maryland Heights where heavy artillery pounded the hapless Union soldiers from the Heights during the 1862 Battle of Harpers Ferry.
Up and to your right and is Loudoun Heights — also the site of heavy artillery. Confederate troops at this position used four 30-pounder Parrot Rifles and two 10-pounder Ordnance Rifles to attack the Union troops at Bolivar Heights two miles away. Imagine the agony of watching a 30-pound shell coming at you as it spent about 8 long seconds in the air traveling from the batteries on Loudoun Heights to your position on Bolivar Heights in an open field. Six artillery pieces capable of about two rounds per minute meant that one round could be launched every 6 seconds — two seconds before one shell was about to hit, you see yet another being launched. One infantry officer described it as ”We were as helpless as rats in a cage.”
Railroad Bridges and Trails
To your left you can see the railroad bridge over the Potomac, which was burned and destroyed by floods many, many times.
Next to the railroad bridge is the footbridge over the Potomac River to Maryland, which is part of the Appalachian Trail. Also on the other side is the C&O Canal Towpath.
Tourist Attractions and the Capitol Limited
Up on Magazine Hill, you may be able to catch of glimpse of the once magnificent Hilltop House and other buildings on Camp Hill in the Town of Harpers Ferry.
Strain your head further and look upstream on the Potomac and you may be able to see Bryne's Island, the site of an amusement park around the Turn of the Century.
Much closer, you can see the historic Harpers Ferry train station, which is still used today by Amtrak and the MARC commuter line.
Lower down, along the river, you may be able to see the Potomac Power Plant. At this site, waterpower was used for industry and manufacturing (and later generating electricity) for 170 years: first the Armory Rolling Mill, then the Potomac Pulp Mill, and lastly the Potomac Power Plant (which shut down in 1991).
Armory and Arsenal
Also to your left on the other side of the railroad embankment is the site of the Armory buildings referred to as the U.S. Musket Factory.
Behind you is the John Brown Fort.
Next to that is the site of the Small and Large Arsenals.
Behind you are many buildings along Potomac and Shenandoah Streets that make up Lower Town.
High up the stone steps is St. Peter's Catholic Church which survived the war, unlike a number of other churches in town.
If you walk to one side of The Point, you can make out the Hamilton Street area behind the railroad tracks and along the Shenandoah River, which was a thriving community until it was completely destroyed in the 1936 flood.
In the distance along the river, you may be able to see part of Virginius Island — once a thriving industrial complex with factories and mills.
From a practical perspective, the only major part of Harpers Ferry's rich history that you cannot fully see from The Point is the Storer College Campus on Camp Hill. However, if you walk back down to Shenandoah and High Streets, you can visit museums that explore African-American history.
The Point – http://home.nps.gov/hafe/historyculture/the-point.htm
Potomac St Harpers Ferry, WV 25425