Harpers Ferry finishing restoration project

June 19, 1997


Staff Writer, Charles Town

HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. - The high buzz of a circular saw is joined by the sound of hammering as Harpers Ferry National Historical Park officials race to finish an eight-year, $5.5 million project.

Museum exhibits are being lined up on walls by contractors while park historians furnish a second-floor bedroom to make it look like a Union officer in the Civil War has just stepped outside.

The buildings will officially open on June 28 with a kick-off ceremony and a speech from U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va. The opening would have occurred last year, but two major floods delayed completion, Starkey said.


Seven buildings have been restored as part of the project and for the first time the upper stories will be used in the buildings, said Marsha Starkey, education specialist for the park.

The ground floors of the buildings have been in use for years by the park service, Starkey said.

However, the upper floors had been empty since the park service took over the buildings in 1944, Starkey said.

The upper floors had fallen into disrepair, with holes in the floorboards and structural problems throughout, Starkey said.

The building which housed the park ranger's station has been converted into a museum on "Harpers Ferry: A Place in Time," about the history of the settlement.

The new museum is expected to be one of the most popular sites at the park and officials already are planning on how to handle the crowds so that the museum does not become so packed with people that they can't enjoy the exhibits.

The museum is located near the park's bus stop and will be one of the first stops for tourists getting off the buses.

The museum will tell the story of Harpers Ferry from use as a hunting ground and settlement by Indians, Starkey said.

Archeologists in recent years have found evidence of post holes and pottery, leading them to believe that Indians had established permanent homes at the site, she said.

The earlier belief was that the Indians had been nomadic and only occasionally stopped at the confluence of the two rivers to hunt game, she said.

The first white settler was Peter Stevens who moved to the area in 1733 and operated a ferry, she said.

The ferry was later taken over by Robert Harper, who also established a grist mill after realizing the potential river power that could be harnessed, she said.

Also in the museum is a section of a Civil War era bridge, which collapsed during the 1936 hurricane. Two towers will hold a water wheel with piped-in water turning it to illustrate the importance of water as a source of energy for early industries, Starkey said.

The new visitor's information center will highlight what else there is to see in Harpers Ferry, Noble said.

Most visitors already know the story of abolitionist John Brown and his pre-Civil War raid, but they may not know how the town was an industrial base, with the establishment of the country's second armory, the businesses that used river power for energy, and the Civil War battles fought for the town, Noble said.

The lower visitor's center helps explain what sites there are to see at the 2,300 acre park spread across three states, Starkey said. Parts of the park are in Maryland and Virginia, she said.

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