Harpers Ferry National Historical Park commemorates important events and issues of the Civil War era. Efforts to establish the park began in 1936 when Storer College President Henry McDonald met with Congressman Jennings Randolph. At Randolph’s recommendation, the Park Service conducted a survey of the West Virginia site 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. 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 the 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.
As the boundaries have increased, the thematic emphasis has also expanded to include John Brown, the Civil War, African-American history, industry, transportation, and natural heritage. Harpers Ferry National Historical Park receives 500,000 visitors per year, making it West Virginia’s most visited historic site. Harpers Ferry National Historical Park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Read the National Register nomination.
Harpers Ferry National Historical Park website
Written by William D. Theriault
Frye, Dennis E. Harpers Ferry Park. Harpers Ferry National Historic Park 50th Anniversary Commemorative Program. Washington: National Park Service, 1994.