My husband and I went to Washington DC for a few days last month for his high school reunion. While there we did the whole tourist thing on the DC Mall, looking at the monuments and visiting the museums. It was fun and fascinating. The thing that surprised me the most was that I felt such a connection with the other visitors to the Mall — past, present and future.
But we took one day out of our Malling to drive to the Shenandoah Valley in West Virginia then to Shenandoah National Park and take Skyline Drive down.
Our first stop was Harpers Ferry, a beautiful town in a beautiful location, just at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. These are real rivers, not the enlarge creeks we are used in the West.
With water power, wood and iron in the area, Harpers Ferry became a major industrial center in the mid 1700s until the Civil War, including one of two Federal armories. In fact, it was a Harpers Ferry that Capt. Hall developed the idea for interchangeable parts for manufactured goods. Before this, every piece had to be hand crafted to fit together. Interchangeable parts allowed for mass production, not to mention being able to easily and quickly change a part that had broken.
But Harpers Ferry is much better known for John Brown’s raid here in 1859 that was the final event in the lead up to the Civil War. John Brown was a militant abolitionist who wanted to start a slave revolt. To do that, he needed lots of weapons. So he decided to raid the Federal Armory at Harper’s Ferry, in the fall of 1859.
Things went wrong almost immediately, principal among them that no nearby slaves revolted. After killing several townspeople, Brown and his men were forced to take refuge in the Fire House.
The nearest troops were Marines, the nearest officer to lead them, Lt. Col. Robert E. Lee, on leave at his plantation nearby. After two days of negotiations failed, Lee and his Marines stormed the Fire House and took most of Browns men into custody. They were later hung. Brown’s Raid was the point of no return on the road to the Civil War. Afterwards, neither side believed peace was possible.
This was the turning point for Harpers Ferry, too. During the Civil War, it changed hands eight times. The enormous factories in the town were destroyed early to prevent them from falling into Confederate hands. Much of the rest of the town suffered in the later fighting.
From Harpers Ferry, my husband and I drove up the Shenandoah Valley to Shenandoah National Park, in the Blue Ridge Mountains. From there, my husband took me along Skyline Drive, the beautiful heart of Shenandoah National Park.
Along the way, we saw so many plant that I didn’t know that I wanted to stay and study for months. I did recognize Queen Anne’s lace, otherwise known as wild carrot, and a
beautiful grass called Timothy. The purple of the seed head are the pollen-producing anthers.
Finally, I’m a sucker for Krumholz trees like this one. It’s been shaped by the constant wind rushing up the face of the mountains.
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