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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Harpers Ferry Historic Town Foundation, Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

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Harpers Ferry is an area visited by founders and presidents including George Washington who surveyed the area at the age of 17, and Thomas Jefferson who also visited. Lewis and Clarke started their expedition from this spot. This was also site of the first crossing of the Potomac by railroad on the first structural steel bridge in the world. This was also the site of the John Brown raid which precipitated the civil war.

The Harpers Ferry Historic Town Foundation is a non-profit leading preservation and beautification efforts in Harpers Ferry. The Foundation works with local government, the National Park Service, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and businesses and individuals. This volunteer-led organization has taken on responsibility for preservation of historic structures, streetscape beautification, support to business, and education and promotion of Harpers Ferry. In many respects the Foundation operates as a Main Street program, albeit with an executive director or by formally endorsing the four point approach.

In the last 990 available for fiscal year 2008 ending December 31, 2008, the Foundation reported total revenue of $42,691 and total expenses of $33,649. In the statement of program service accomplishments the following activities were reported: "State guide for visitors to Harpers Ferry was produce and tourist kiosks bought", "Tour of historic harpers ferry houses with programs", and "Brochures and rack cards of historic Harpers Ferry" (were produced). Total program service expenses were reported as $14,907.

The Walking Guide to Upper Town Harpers Ferry is an excellent publication for other communities to follow. The guide is published by the Harpers Ferry Historic Town Foundation with financial assistance from The West Virginia Humanities Council, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The Walking Guide documents ten buildings dating from the 1830s to present. The heritage of the communities is divided into an "Industry" period from 1800-1861. This period was when Harper's Ferry was centered around the U.S. Armory, mills, and factories in Lower Town, while Upper Town was built to house workers and their families. Armory dwellings and boarding houses were the primary housing stock until the 1850's when private homes started to be built.

The Civil War marked a period of great displacement for Harper's Ferry. Nearly every structure in Upper Town was destroyed as this are continuously was reoccupied by the North and the South. Some houses were confiscated for headquarters, and the military used many Camp Hill homes, churches, and businesses as hospitals. Other houses were destroyed for firewood.

The last 35 years of the 19th century was a time of reconstruction and gradual growth for the town. In 1865 Storer Normal School was established on Camp Hill to teach former slaves, and grew to become Storer College. New Victorian houses were constructed in Upper Town, some as summer houses. From this time forward people sought out Harpers Ferry for entertainment, recreation, and Civil War history.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed legislation forming Harpers Ferry National Monument on June 29, 1944. This was established to commemorated significant historical events occurring here prior to, during and shortly following the Civil War. This is accomplished through on-site exhibits, museums, ranger-led interpretive programs and self-guided tours. The historic lower town represents a 19th century commercial district developed around water powered industry. Numerous other neighborhoods and geographic areas are recognized for their historic, natural, and scenic qualities.

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