Find Your Park
We continue the Find Your Park in our backyard series this month, featuring the Harpers Ferry National Historic Park. The historic town of Harpers Ferry is located at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers in West Virginia. Each year nearly 500,000 visitors come to experience the cultural and recreational attractions of Harpers Ferry.
Around 1750, Robert Harper, an early settler to the area was given a patent on 125 acres at the present location of the town. By 1761 he had established a ferry across the Potomac, which made the town a starting point for the flocks of settlers coming into the Shenandoah Valley and points west. In 1763, the Virginia General Assembly would establish the town of “Shenandoah Falls at Mr. Harper’s Ferry”. Robert Harper’s original house is the oldest remaining structure in the lower part of the park. The town grew as new Americans moved west, and in 1783 Thomas Jefferson visited Harpers Ferry. When he climbed to the heights overlooking the town he stood on a rock, which bears his name today, and was so impressed he wrote that, “this scene is worth a voyage across the Atlantic.
As a new nation looked to the West, the the power of the rivers came under the view of George Washington who choose Harpers Ferry as the site for a US Armory. With the construction of the US Armory and Arsenal the town quickly became an industrial center. In 1803 Meriwether Lewis traveled to Harpers Ferry to procure the weapons and equipment he would need for his transcontinental expedition. By the 1830’s both the C&O Canal and the B&O Railroad had reached Harpers Ferry, connecting it with Washington D.C. and the growing cities to the west. Today visitors can explore the old US Armory site, see the remains of the Industrial Revolution along the Virginius and Halls Island trail and tour the Industry Museum.
As the nation grew so did the divide over slavery. In October 1859, abolitionist John Brown attempted to initiate an armed slave revolt by capturing the armory. Although Brown’s raid failed, the issue of slavery was brought to the forefront and would propel the country toward civil war. Due to its strategic location, Harpers Ferry would change hands several times between the North and the South during the war and it would play a significant role during the Maryland Campaign.
After the Civil War, Harpers Ferry would be in the front line of the civil rights movement. Storer College was founded on Camp Hill, as part of the Freedman’s Bureau, to help educate the thousands of freed African Americans. In 1906, Storer College would host a conference of the Niagara Movement, an effort to eliminate discrimination based on color. The Niagara Movement would lead to the foundation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) which continued the fight against discrimination and segregation. In 1955, Storer College would close its doors after the 1954 US Supreme Court decision in the Brown v. Board of Education case which ended public school segregation. Today the campus is used as a training center by the National Park Service, named in honor of its first director – Stephen Mather.
With over 20 miles of trails, Harpers Ferry is one of the best walking parks in America. Trails will take you through the restored town, along the scenic Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, and through the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. From Harpers Ferry you can hop on the the C&O Canal Towpath to bike or just stroll along the river. Hikers can also pick up the Appalachian Trail for a day hike. The Lower Town offers a number of museums, exhibits and historic sites for visitors to see with great shopping and restaurants nearby.
Now get out and Find Your Park – Visit Harpers Ferry!
Find Your Park
This month we continue our Find Your Park in our backyard series, featuring the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park. The C & O Canal is a pathway that spans 184.5 miles along the north bank of the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. to Cumberland, Maryland. Each year over five million hikers, campers, bicyclists and history enthusiasts visit the C & O Canal NHP to discover its historical, natural and recreational treasures.
The idea for a canal along the Potomac River was first realized by none other than George Washington in the mid-1700’s as a young surveyor. He dreamed of connecting the tidewater of the Chesapeake with the Ohio Valley. However, Washington would have to wait until after the Revolutionary War to promote his idea which led to the creation of the Potowmack Canal Company and the building of skirting canals around the major falls on the river. This made the river navigable downstream, and in good conditions, but a more effective way was needed to navigate the Potomac.
In the 1820’s the Potowmack Canal Company transferred the rights to the new Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company. Construction on the canal began July 4, 1828 when President John Quincy Adams turned the first spadeful of earth during ceremonies at Little Falls, Maryland. Over the next twenty-two years the construction of the C&O Canal would include 74 lift locks, 165 culverts, 11 aqueducts, 7 dams, and a canal tunnel. Financial difficulties, right-of-way disputes, floods, epidemics, and disputes among the workers delayed the construction of the canal. The canal was finally completed and opened on October 10, 1850 at Cumberland, Maryland. The total costs for the canal was more than 11 million dollars.
The canal was in operation from 1850 to 1924. Hundreds of canal boats, just 92 foot-long by 14 1/2 foot wide and pulled by teams of mules along the canal towpath, transported thousands of tons of coal, grain, and lumber. The average trip on the canal typically took about seven days. The fastest known time from Georgetown to Cumberland for a light boat was 62 hours, set by Raleigh Bender from Sharpsburg, MD. Today, Captain Bender’s Tavern, named in his honor, serves as the perfect meeting spot for locals, C & O Canal and Antietam Battlefield visitors
Construction of the C & O Canal reached the Sharpsburg area around 1836 and provided additional employment opportunities for the townspeople and the already flourishing commercial community. Many local families worked a boat on the canal and it required everyone to pitch in together to get the job done. Augustus and Minnie Hebb were one of those families. Augustus, better known as Gus, was the boat captain. Since his family was wasn’t big enough, Gus hired his brother Ira as part of the crew to help. The Hebb children were responsible for tending to the mules and cleaning the boat. They usually went to school only in the winter, when the boats weren’t operating. Years later, after the end of World War II, one of the Hebb children, Theodore (on the far right of the picture below) would purchase a house in Sharpsburg, which would later become the Jacob Rohrbach Inn.
Unfortunately, at the same time construction of the canal began, so to did work on America’s first railroad, the Baltimore and Ohio. Competition from the B&O Railroad and destructive floods eventually put the canal out of business.
In 1938 the entire canal was sold to the U.S. Government, which placed it under the supervision of the National Park Service. The Park Service did some restoration under the emergency work programs of the 1930s, but projects were halted when the United States entered the Second World War.
After the war there was talk of turning the canal into a vehicular parkway to ‘see’ the beauty and recreational opportunities of the Potomac River Valley. However, U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, an avid outdoorsman, opposed this idea. He felt that the long-neglected canal, like the river, was rich in beauty, history, wildlife, and recreational opportunities and needed to be protected. Through his actions, Justice Douglas and other concerned citizens helped save the C&O Canal. In 1961 President Eisenhower proclaimed the canal a national monument and in 1971 Congress established the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park.
Guests at the Inn can access the canal at five nearby points:
- Taylor’s Landing at Mile 80.9
- Snyder’s Landing at Mile 76.8
- Shepherdstown / Lock #38 at Mile 72.8
- Millers Sawmill at Mile 70.7
- Antietam Campground & Aqueduct at Mile 69.4
Our two closest visitor centers at Williamsport and Ferry Hill Plantation are excellent wayside stops to see support structures of the canal’s operation and the small communities that once thrived alongside the canal.
Come join the millions of hikers, campers, bicyclists, and others that visit the C&O Canal to experience the rich history, wildlife, and geology of the Potomac Valley. From Georgetown to Cumberland, you can examine how the locks work, take rides in canal boats pulled by mules, and bike and walk along much of the canal’s 185 mile route.
Now get out and Find your Park – Visit the C & O Canal.
Welcome Cyclists and Hikers, The Jacob Rohrbach Inn is located just off the C&O Canal Towpath, and is the ideal base-camp while exploring Maryland.
Eastbound we are 1.5 miles from Snyder’s Landing – mile 76.6 Westbound we are 3 miles from Antietam Aqueduct – mile 69.4 Just a short ride into town via quiet country roads or call for pickup! Check current towpath information and closures here.
Traveling along the canal, a highlight of your journey is the Antietam area near the halfway mark. The Antietam Battlefield preserves the hallowed ground at Sharpsburg, a tribute to our nation and an appropriate way to honor those who fought here on September 17, 1862 when over 23,000 men fell in battle, the bloodiest day in American history.
In the 1830’s the C&O canal was completed from Georgetown to Sharpsburg, and many Sharpsburg residents went to work for the canal company or operated canal boats. Snyders Landing at Sharpsburg had a warehouse and a tie-up where cargo was loaded and boats were wintered. On the towpath just downstream from Snyders Landing are several caves in the cliffs lining the river. In 1862 some Sharpsburg residents took shelter in Killiansburg Cave during the battle.
Captain Augustus Hebb and his family operated a canal boat from Sharpsburg for many years. In 1944, one of his children purchased the home now known as the Jacob Rohrbach Inn. In 1992, Ted Hebb, recalled his boyhood experiences growing up on the canal in a National Park Service interview. Today the canal towpath, where mule skinners once coaxed the boats along, is a 184 mile hiking/biking trail from Washington, DC to Cumberland, Maryland. A new trail, the Great Allegheny Passage, now allows continued travel through the Allegheny Mountains from Cumberland to Pittsburgh. For other accommodations along your route see BBBiking.com, a guide to bike-friendly bed & breakfast inns.
At Antietam’s Jacob Rohrbach Inn you will find:
- A warm welcome for the weary
- Complimentary beverages and homemade cookies
- Hearty full breakfasts included each day
- Beautiful quiet accommodations
- An area to clean and service your bikes
- Your bikes securely locked in our garage
- Restaurants, taverns, deli, ice cream parlor, bakery and convenience store within a few blocks
- Available laundry service
- Pick up/drop off service for Canal points between Williamsport and Harpers Ferry