In 1747, Robert
Harper, an architect and millwright from Philadelphia, crossed the
Potomac River at the place where it is joined by the beautiful
Shenandoah. Known then as "The Hole," this point of land was
then under the control of a squatter, Peter Stephens, who was
operating a ferry from land belonging to Lord Fairfax.
So impressed with the wild
beauty of the area and the potential water power the rivers promised,
Harper purchased the Ferry and Stephen's squatter rights. Harper later
received a 125 acre plat from Fairfax.
Arriving at this untamed
wilderness from Philadelphia sometime later, Rachael Harper was said
to have cried for days and begged her husband to return to
civilization and abandon "The Hole" he chose for their new
home. Instead, Harper built a Mill, and improved the Ferry service
across the rivers.
After losing their cabin
along the Shenandoah to flood, the Harpers later built a new and
grander home high above the flood plain. The Harper House stands today
as the oldest surviving structure in Harpers Ferry.
During the revolution
laborers were hard to find and the aging Harper was forced to do much
of the work himself with the result that his health began to fail, and
fearing the roaming bands of renegades and plunderers, Harper
instructed Rachael to bury all of their gold and tell no living soul
of its whereabouts.
Wartime construction was
slowed and Harper Died before the house was completed. Trying to
finish the building herself, Mrs. Harper, Falling from a ladder, was
killed instantly - carrying the secret of the buried gold to her
During the 1800's it was
widely believed that this building was haunted and was greatly feared
by many local residents.
It is not uncommon today
that visitors to Harpers Ferry claim that when passing under the walls
of this old building, they have seen an old woman dressed in 18th
century fashions, peering from an upper-most window. Her gaze seems
fixed on the old Harper Garden.
It is reasonable to believe
that the Harper Treasure was discovered long ago by some enterprising
town resident, but Rachael Harper, ever true to her trust, seems to be
guarding the gold steadfastly.
Peters Catholic Church
High above the town at the top of the old stone steps stands St Peters
Catholic Church. This Church is the most impressive structure in
Harpers Ferry. Built in Neo-Gothic style with native stone, it
features tiffany stained glass windows, and a beautifully carved
Marble alter. The church was built in the early 1830's on land earlier
donated by Robert Harper. It was restored and enlarged in 1889. Since
the restoration, it has been in continuous service.
St Peters was the only
church in Harpers Ferry to survive the Civil War intact. Father
Costello remained behind to attend his church and he would raise the
British flag from the steeple whenever the armies would shell the town
from Maryland Heights. Both sides fearing an international incident
with England, would fire on another target.
At one time the church was
used as a hospital and Father Costello himself care for the wounded.
This story is about one of
the wounded soldiers carried to the church. He was a young Catholic
boy that took great comfort in the fact that he was to receive aid in
the church of his faith. Since his wounds were not as severe as the
others, he remained in the yard until later in the evening. As he lie
there, his life's blood seeping away, he still had faith that help
would soon come. He became weaker and weaker. At last, his turn came
and as they carried him over the threshold of the church, he was heard
to whisper in a weak voice, "Thank God, I'm Saved", and
passed away. People say that some nights they will see a golden glow
on the threshold of the church and hear a weak voice whispering,
"Thank God I'm Saved".
We can understand why our
soldier boy still seeks help, but something else happens that leaves
us perplexed. Many visitors tell us that late in the evenings, on
their way to Jefferson Rock, as they pass the church they meet and old
Priest coming from the rectory wearing a black Friars hat.
Since his appearance is so
quaint they stop to speak but father never returns their greetings.
The visitors will stop to watch this odd-looking priest only to stare
in disbelief as he turns and walks right through the doorless wall
into the church. Why he returns to us, no one knows, but he is seen to
frequently for any to deny his visits.
The railroad reached Harpers Ferry in 1833, linking the town with the
east, and part of the track passed through the Armory Yard. Years
before, in the building of the Armory, storage sheds were built along
the river bank. Upon completion of the armory, when the sheds were no
longer needed, they were neglected and finally abandoned. Now some of
the less fortunate people in town occupied these teetering shacks,
making them their homes. Jenny was one of the sad but lucky people
living there through steamy summers and cruel winters.
One chilly night, Jenny got
so close to her fireplace, her ragged dress caught fire. In panic, she
fled from her shack, ran down the railroad tracks, and was struck and
killed by the night train.
Today, engineers from
nearby towns tell us they do not like coming through Harpers Ferry on
misty nights. They often see a ball of fire careening wildly down the
tracks emitting unearthly screams. They try to stop their diesels, but
never in time. There is a bump, and when they finally get their train
stopped, they investigate, but find nothing. The railroaders know
Jenny has made another trip down the tracks desperately seeking help.
Watch and listen as the
trains pass this point in the old armory yard. You will be able to
tell which engineers have met screaming Jenny by the slack speed they
guide their trains over this section of track.
Sometimes in the night, you
will hear some train conductors, wildly blowing their whistle. You'll
know then that Jenny has once again returned.
One of the John Brown Raiders killed was a black man named Dangerfield
Newby. He was freed by his white father, but his wife and seven
children were still enslaved near Warrenton, VA. His Wife's master
told Dangerfield that for the sum of $1500.00 he would sell him his
wife and youngest child who was just learning to walk. When Newby
raised the sum to purchase them, the master raised the price.
Disillusioned and desperate he then joined John Brown, hoping to free
his wife and children.
The citizens armed
themselves against the raiders in the early hours of the 17th. There
were a lot of guns in town since they were manufactured here, but
there was very little ammunition, and the townspeople were firing
anything that would fit into a gun barrel. One man was shooting six
inch spikes. It was one of these that hit Dangerfield Newby in the
throat, killing him instantly. He became the first Raider to die. The
then narrow minds of the townspeople remembered the Nat Turner Slave
Rebellion of thirty years before in South Hampton and they became so
enraged that they took their fear ignorance and frustration out on
Newby's body. It was mutilated and dragged to a nearby alley where it
was left to the hogs.
To this day that alley
bears the name of "Hog Alley". Some night as you walk the
streets of Harpers Ferry, should you happen to meet a black man about
45 years old, wearing baggy pants, and old slouch hat, and bearing a
terrible scar across his throat, you will know that you have met
Dangerfield Newby, still trying to free his wife and children.
One Hundred Day Men
Mysterious fires are frequently seen on Maryland Heights, but when
investigated, there are no signs of fire. Those that know the story
shake their heads - knowing that the One Hundred Day Men are again
fixing their dinner.
At the outset of the Civil
War, it was commonly believed that the conflict would be brief and
fairly bloodless, and it was not unusual for recruits to enlist for
short periods of time.
Unfortunately, these brief
enlistments did not allow sufficient time to train these green
recruits in the basic skills of combat and many a poor soldier soon
found himself on the battlefield poorly trained, ill equipped, and
facing the enemy down the long barrel of a gun he did not fully know
how to use.
During July of 1861, a
force of One Hundred Day Men from Ohio were stationed on Maryland
Heights. It had been raining hard all day and when dinner time came,
they looked around for some dry place to build their fire. Not finding
any, they procured several large ammunition shells and heaping their
meager supply of sticks and whatever dry tinder they could find upon
these heavy artillery shells, they were soon cozily hunched around
their blazing fire cooking their rations.
Suddenly a terrible
explosion shook the whole mountain, sending nearly every One Hundred
Day Man to his heavenly reward in a brief but brilliant flash of
The light from that faraway
campfire still continues to glow from time to time, even though one
hundred and twenty years have passed since those poor young recruits
tried to fix what turned out to be their last meal on earth.
In 1798, our
new nation was in danger of war with France and troops were sent to
Harpers Ferry under General Pinkney. They camped on the ridge around
the bend on High St., a place now called Camp Hill. Since the war did
not develop and there was little for the soldiers to do, each evening
they treated the townspeople to a parade. They would march down the
hill playing their fifes keeping time with the steady beat of drums.
Victims of a cholera outbreak, many of those men never left Harpers
Ferry and now lie buried on the west bank of Camp Hill, but their
spirits remain fretful. It is hard to find a resident of the town that
at one time or another has not rushed to their window expecting to
watch a parade go by. Instead they hear only the eerie notes of the
fifes and the steady beat of the drums. The Marchers come closer and
pass on, the sounds receding into the evening shadows. We hear, but
cannot see the Phantom Army parading down the street.