Park officials begin farm preservation

April 19, 2007|by DAVE McMILLION

HARPERS FERRY, W.VA. - When Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson orchestrated the capture of 12,500 troops near Harpers Ferry during the Civil War, a house stood alone on a hill in the School House Ridge area where the movement played out.

When a bombardment associated with the capture began, it is presumed people in the stately two-story stone fled the property.

About 6,000 Confederate troops moved through fields around the house although it is believed the house was probably not used as a military headquarters because it would have been an obvious target for the enemy and their artillery shells, said Dennis Frye, chief historian for Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

"There were a lot of them flying there," Frye said.

Jackson's capture of 12,500 troops was the largest during the Civil War, and it remained the largest military capture until World War II, Civil War experts say.

The Alstadt farm and its cluster of outbuildings became part of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park when the park was expanded by 1,240 acres in 2004.


National Park Service officials are beginning to document ruins of the farm as part of a process to preserve what is left of it.

The farm is along Millville Road near the intersection with U.S. 340 between Charles Town and Harpers Ferry.

The farmhouse caught fire in 1983 and parts of the home have collapsed toward its interior. The house will not be rebuilt, but its remains will be stabilized, Frye said. Park officials plan to start construction of a system of walking trails around the old farm so visitors can get a feel for how the area was when the events unfolded in 1862, Frye said.

Construction of the trails is expected to begin in the next few weeks, and they could be opened to the public sometime in the summer, Frye said.

Park officials will explain the architecture of the house and how the farm operated and as part of their story of the property, Frye said.

The Alstadt family was involved in agriculture and was wealthy, Frye said. The family ran an "ordinary" in the area, which is a roadside inn and tavern, and they also ran a toll booth on the Harpers Ferry and Charles Town Turnpike that ran through the area, Frye said.

The house had a large entryway and was constructed of cut limestone, said Paul Dolinsky, chief of the Historic American Landscapes Survey office of the National Park Service.

"It was probably quarried right across the street there," said Dolinsky, referring to an old quarry which used to operate across from the farm.

The farm is near hundreds of acres including the former Old Standard Quarry site that was recently proposed to be annexed into the city of Charles Town. Many people opposed the annexation, which included a proposed $200 million office space and hotel project, and Charles Town City Council eventually turned down the annexation request.

The farmhouse was a classic German style home with high ceilings and elegant woodwork, according to Frye and Dolinsky. Dolinsky called it a "beautiful, beautiful site" and said there are several huge hardwood trees surrounding the house that are more than 100 years old.

Park officials call such trees "witness trees" because they were on the property when the 1862 battle ensued, Dolinsky said.

The first step in the preservation of the farm began Wednesday when Dolinsky and photographer Jet Lowe began photographing the remains of the farmhouse to document its current state, park officials said.

Dolinsky and Lowe were photographing the interior of the house Wednesday afternoon and they planned to take more than a dozen photographs.

Lowe was taking photographs with a large-format camera that produces negatives which are 5 inches by 7 inches.

The negatives are used to make photographs that have great detail, Lowe said.

The photographs will be added to a national collection of photographs of significant structures in the U.S., Dolinsky said.

On the Web:

Photographs that are being taken of the Aldstadt farmhouse will be added to a national collection of photographs of significant structures in the United States.

The photographs can be seen at:

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