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Harpers Ferry National Historical Park commemorates important events and issues related to John Brown, the Civil War, and Storer College, the only institution of higher education available to Black people in West Virginia prior to 1891. Efforts to establish the park began in 1936 when Storer President Henry McDonald met with Congressman Jennings Randolph following a flood that devastated the lower town area. At Randolph’s recommendation, the National Park Service conducted a survey in 1937.

In 1944, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the bill establishing Harpers Ferry National Monument, including the authorization to accept 1,500 acres of donated land, effective June 30. The West Virginia legislature appropriated $350,000 to acquire 514 acres of land for the national monument in 1951, and 400 acres were added in 1953. John T. Willett became the first permanent commissioner of the park in 1954.

A major archeological and restoration effort followed, as well as modifications designed to facilitate parking and interpretation. As a result, the National Park Service demolished many historical buildings within the park boundaries that had been built after 1865. The campus of Storer College was added to the park in 1960, followed by additional land on Maryland Heights in 1963. At that time the park’s name was changed to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. In 1974, Senators Randolph and Robert C. Byrd initiated legislation that expanded the park’s boundary to 2,000 acres. By 1990, a 1,000-vehicle parking lot and visitor complex had been built two miles west of the lower town, with shuttle buses to the park.

The boundaries have increased over the years most notably to protect portions of the 1862 Harpers Ferry Civil War campaign and battlefield from modern development. The thematic emphasis has also expanded to include Black history, industry, transportation, natural heritage, and social life.

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park receives more than 300,000 visitors per year, making it West Virginia’s most visited historic site. Harpers Ferry National Historical Park was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

Read the National Register nomination.

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park website

This Article was written by William D. Theriault

Last Revised on July 14, 2023


Shackel, Paul A.. Archaeology and Created Memory: Public History in a National Park. New York: Kluwer/Plenum, 2000.

Frye, Dennis E. Harpers Ferry Park. Harpers Ferry National Historic Park 50th Anniversary Commemorative Program. Washington: National Park Service, 1994.

Cite This Article

Theriault, William D. "Harpers Ferry National Historical Park." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 14 July 2023. Web. 24 May 2024.


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