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Who doesn’t have time for a quickie day trip? If you’re near the East Coast area, particularly DMV area, then West Virginia is a completely feasible day trip, and one definitely worth making. I know what you’re thinking– West Virginia? What on earth is there to see? And I freely admit my own ignorance prior to my trip out there for business. All I knew about West Virginia was that it was where one of my college friends grew up. I soon discovered so much more about it as with my job we took our scholars to visit Harpers Ferry, WV, site of John Brown’s raid.

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Above, a scenic view of where the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers meet. Below, a view of lower town.

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For those of you who know about how much I did before going (hint: nil), John Brown was an abolitionist who finally got fed up and led a raid against Harpers Ferry. Harpers Ferry was significant because it was the site of a federal armory. John Brown thought that the slaves in the area would rise up and join him, and he would provide them with arms to secure their freedom. However, that’s not exactly how it turned out, unfortunately for the main character of our story. No one came to aid John Brown and the few followers that entered Harpers Ferry with him, and their raid was a colossal failure. He was executed shortly thereafter. It was one of the significant events leading up to the Civil War, so I was pretty surprised that I didn’t remember learning anything about it in school (though, I admit, it’s been a while since I’ve studied American History).

Going as a part of an educational group was so fascinating. I gave my students a brief overview of John Brown and the raid, and we played some Civil War true-false (fun fact: West Virginia wasn’t a separate state until Virginia seceded from the Union) and then from there the park rangers, who in all three instances I visited were AMAZING and FABULOUS, I can’t say enough nice things about them, pretty much took over and ran the day. In the morning the kids got to go around to the different areas of the park and learn more about the raid, participate in a debate about joining John Brown, etc, and then in the afternoon they got to do a Civil War reenactment run by the rangers (I think they do this for many different educational groups).

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The history is fascinating and the scenery is stunning. Harpers Ferry is located in the middle of the Appalachian Trail, and many hikers use it as a drop point for supplies. I definitely recommend checking it out– and see about hearing from the park rangers if you get a chance, because their knowledge is really priceless!

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