Above: The author (far left) poses with daughter Helen (third from left) and River Riders guides (from left to right) Emily Daniel, Alyssa Plourde, Henry
Jones, and Kelsey Smith. Tower six of River Riders’ zip line tour sits above the canopy and provides spectacular views of the Potomac River.
Below: John Brown used this fire house for protection following his unsuccessful raid on the U.S. Armory in Harpers Ferry in 1859. A September 8,
1996, flood—the second of that year—inundated Lower Town in Harpers Ferry with a high water mark of 29. 8 feet.
10 minutes south of town. The spectacular
setting on 120 beautiful acres of farm and
vineyard heightened our anticipation of a
great meal. The dining room is simple, but
elegant, and the food—Chesapeake crab
cakes with purple fingerling potatoes and
veggies—lived up to the surroundings. At
the end of our meal, we were presented with
two tiny brown boxes containing the most
delicious homemade truffles.
Back at the Stonehouse, we chatted with
Chris’ fiance Leisel who was up studying
by the fire and petted Cane before heading
upstairs for the night.
In the morning, we enjoyed Chris’ oatmeal
and fresh fruit with a couple from New
Jersey who had done some ambitious hiking during their stay. The trails surrounding and passing through Harpers Ferry are
a huge draw for visitors. The Appalachian
Trail, covering the diverse terrain of the
Appalachian Mountains from Maine to
Georgia, cuts right through Lower Town in
Harpers Ferry. It’s not unusual to see hikers
passing through loaded down with gear.
After breakfast, Helen and I checked out of
the Stonehouse and did a half-block downhill
hike to meet Jeff Driscoll, a ranger for Harpers
Ferry National Historical Park, who led us
through the park.
Park property also includes most of Lower
Town and over 3,500 acres of the surrounding areas in Maryland, Virginia, and West
Virginia. Nearly half a million people visit the
park each year, but our Monday morning in
early spring was pleasantly quiet.
Several building in the downtown area are set
up as living museums. One of our first stops
was outside the hardware store where a tall
vertical plank mounted on the outside of the
building shows the high water marks for historical floods.
Businesses and residents of the town had
been driven away again and again by flooding in 1852, 1870, 1877, 1889, 1896,
1924, and 1936. After the 1936 flood,
Lower Town never fully recovered and was
largely left untouched until the 1960s
when the National Park Service took control and began to rebuild.
We continued our tour with Jeff visiting the
The Point, the old armory site, and John
After we parted ways, Helen and I spent some
time in the John Brown Museum learning
about John Brown’s attempted raid on the
armory and his trial and execution—all of
which focused attention on the issue of slavery and helped push the country toward civil
war. We stopped again at the fort, imagining
John Brown and his small army holed up
there against the U.S. Marines who would
take control the following morning.
It’s the rivers that have control of Harpers
Ferry and we were curious how the park prepared for flooding. So, before heading home,
Helen and I met with the park’s Director of
Resource Management Mia Parsons. She
recalled that saving the museum’s valuable
artifacts and exhibits during two huge floods
in 1996 was an “all-hands-on-deck” effort,
trucking park treasures to higher ground.
With the threat of climate change and an
older, smaller workforce, Mia is looking at
updating the park’s response plan and awaiting the power of two converging rivers.
Loren Anne Barnett—CBF’s
Director of Creative Services
and Editor of Save the Bay
magazine—grew up on
Maryland’s Severn River.