“Take me down the Shenandoah
to the joining of the streams.
Take me back to Harpers Ferry,
let me revel in my dreams,
Where the beauty of the mountains and the struggle to be free
Flow into one mighty river
to the sea of history.”
– Song written by Greg Artzner and Terry Leonino
A song featuring the line “Take me back to Harpers Ferry” is familiar to visitors who ride the park’s shuttle buses from the visitors center to Lower Town.
On a recent afternoon, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park’s Autumn Cook started her 75-day
countdown to the June 29 kickoff of a weekend-long celebration marking the 75th anniversary of the park’s founding.
The park’s story began June 30, 1944. Originally called Harpers Ferry National Monument, the park had 1,500 acres of donated land. It’s been Harpers Ferry National Historical Park since May 29, 1963, and now covers 4,000 acres.
Cook, the park’s public information officer, is coordinating the milestone celebration along with Catherine Baldau, executive director of the Harpers Ferry Park Association, the nonprofit that supports the park.
The celebration will culminate with special events on the weekend through July 3, including a block party, special guided hikes, musical performances and presentations on the park’s human and natural history.
Smaller anniversary events also are on the lineup starting with a presentation Saturday showing visitors bread being baked in a beehive oven from 1 to 5 p.m. at White Hall Tavern in Lower Town.
There’s a park ranger-led hike to Split Rock on Loudoun Heights beginning at 9:30 a.m. on Monday.
On April 27, park visitors have the chance to see the birds on Virginius Island on a hike led by Deb Hale, a Potomac Valley Audubon Society volunteer.
Starting at 10 a.m., hikers will see some of the 170 bird species that pass through the Harpers Ferry area along with ruins of flour, cotton and saw mills that once occupied the island. “This time of year the island is awash in bluebells,” Hale said.
Also on April 27, Paul Shackel, former Harpers Ferry National Historical Park archeologist, will deliver a lecture, “The Machine in the Garden.”
The talk starts at 2 p.m. in the Stephen J. Mather Training Center. Shackel will explain the “drastic differences between the past and present of Virginius Island and how a 1990s study improved the understanding of the island’s industrial and social history.”
Park Ranger David Fox will lead a two-hour hike through sites of significance to African-American and Civil War history at 1 p.m. on April 28 starting from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Visitor Center at 799 Washington St. The hike ends at the John Brown Fort in Lower Town.
Cook said Dennis Frye, who spent 20 years as the Harpers Ferry park’s chief historian until he retired in June, has written a book about his career.
He wrote “Confluence: Harpers Ferry as Destiny,” with Catherine Magi, a publications specialist for the Harpers Ferry Park Association. The association is publishing the book.
Frye said he prepared to write through “45 years of studying Harpers Ferry plus a vast collection of notes.”
The book, Frye’s 11th, will be published June to coincide with the park’s weekend anniversary celebration. “I wanted to write it as a personal gift to the 75th anniversary to give back to a place that gave me so much,” Frye said.
Twenty-five years ago as the park marked its 50th anniversary, Donald W. Campbell – who’d begun his long tenure as park superintendent in 1979 – led off a welcome address that day in 1994, memorably telling his audience:
“Walk along the rivers in Lower Town and you quickly sense Harpers Ferry is a magical place. Its enchanted beauty and sacred heritage beckons you. Few towns have suffered more than Harpers Ferry from the repeated ravages of natural and human history, forces that forged the town’s character. Intertwined over time, natural beauty and human history have woven a mysterious fabric where the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers are one.”