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Tourists flock to re-created soldier's city

July 10, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION

HARPERS FERRY, W.VA.

The natural beauty and rich history associated with Harpers Ferry might be nothing new to local residents, but a string of weekend events at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park show how the town continues to be a tourist draw.

On Saturday and Sunday, hundreds of visitors flowed into the park for "A Soldier's City: Harpers Ferry 1864," a historical interpretation program about the tough conditions in Harpers Ferry during the last year of the Civil War.

The town was important because of its gun manufacturing industry, and control of Harpers Ferry switched at least eight times during the war, according to historians leading the programs.

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In 1864, Union Gen. Philip Sheridan controlled the town as he prepared his army for fighting in the Shenandoah Valley. The year brought many hardships, as Harpers Ferry found itself caught between the north and the south, according to historians.

Tourists flocked to town this weekend to join historical tours about the gun manufacturing trade that drove the town's economy and other aspects of the war.

During the tours, men portraying Union soldiers discharged flintlock rifles like the ones manufactured in Harpers Ferry. The sounds from the blasts echoed between the buildings in town, conjuring an image of war-torn days there.

Larry Black, who visited Harpers Ferry during a bicycle ride on the C&O Canal, stopped to listen to the story Sunday.

Black said it was his first visit to the park, and he was mostly attracted by the tunnels and other characteristics that make up the area's railroading industry.

"Amazing," Black said when asked what he thought of his visit to the park. "I love it. I'm like a kid in a candy store."

Black, of Erie, Pa., said he and another bike enthusiast rode to Harpers Ferry from Point of Rocks, Md., and will be in the area until Friday.

Ken Rowe, in the same group as Black, said it also was his first visit to Harpers Ferry.

The Pasco, Wash., resident was in the area on business and decided to stop by the park during some free time. Rowe said he was impressed by the town's beauty and historical significance.

"It's not something you get to see all the time," Rowe said.

Although attendance figures for the weekend's activities were not available, crowds were good, park ranger John Powell said.

There were four shooting demonstrations as part of the activities and Powell said roughly 200 to 300 people attended each of them.

The park's peak visitation period is typically in October during the fall foliage season, Powell said.

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