Virginius Island, located in the Shenandoah River adjacent to Harpers Ferry, was a thriving industrial area in the decades before the Civil War. Island industry suffered devastation during the war, including the destruction and dismantling of machinery, bombardment, fire, and repeated military occupation. Over the years since then, floods and vegetation have reclaimed the structures that once dominated Virginius Island. The ruins are now preserved by the National Park Service as part of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.
Historically an island or group of islands, Virginius was once separated from the mainland of Harpers Ferry by a natural river channel. By the 1850s, a canal had replaced the channel. Now Virginius Island is joined to the mainland. By the mid-19th century, Virginius Island was the site of a number of private industries, including a sawmill, granary, flour mill, pulp mill, tannery, iron foundry, blacksmith shop, machine shop, and cotton mills. In addition to the multi-story industrial buildings, there were 28 dwellings on the island.
James Stubblefield, the superintendent of the federal armory at Harpers Ferry, first acquired the property in 1823. It measured 13 acres, and was known then as ‘‘Stubblefield’s Island.’’ Soon afterward, in 1827 the Virginia General Assembly established the town of Virginius. The island was absorbed into the corporate boundaries of Harpers Ferry in 1851, a year before the first major flood came in 1852. The flood of 1870 proved to be even more destructive to most of Virginius Island’s industrial establishments, and island industry was never able to recover.
This Article was written by Walton Danforth Stowell Jr.
Last Revised on November 05, 2010
Gilbert, Dave. Where Industry Failed: Water-Powered Mills at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Charleston: Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, 1984.
Gilbert, David. A Walker's Guide to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Charleston: Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, 1983, Reprint, Harpers Ferry Historical Society, 1995.