The junction of Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland is full of history. Where else could your highway choices be Charles Town/Leesburg or Fredericksburg/Gettysburg? It’s as if both the American Revolution and the Civil War selected this scenic area as ground zero just so tourism would be strong in the twentieth century.
This is a truly beautiful part of the country, one of the top two or three in my humble estimation. I spent a lot of time here as a child, so I know the layout pretty well. Twice a year or so, my family would come to Charles Town, WV for the horse races and balance the trip with side trips — always to Harpers Ferry, and sometimes also to Washington, Baltimore, Richmond, or Williamsburg. The Shenendoah Valley was like a second home to me as I was growing up and I was looking forward to a return after fifteen years.
Jefferson County, WV is home to both Charles Town and Harper’s Ferry. The tow are connected in history by abolitionist John Brown’s 1859 raid, held in Harper’s ferry, and his subsequent trial, held in Charles Town. I was happy to see that at least downtown Charles Town hadn’t changed much, although the outskirts have been bludgeoned with the sledgehammer approach of Wal-Mart and related enterprises.
I saw all the sights: the courthouse, Charles Washington Hall (where we used to eat breakfast every morning), the 7-11 where I bought cigarettes when I was 15, the motel where I fell down the stairs at age 7, the hospital I was rushed to afterward, the old and deserted race track as well as the renovated new one…
I was, on the other hand, appalled to find that you now have to pay five bucks to park and take a bus into Harper’s Ferry from a lot two miles away. Having no time for such nonsense, I drove into town and found a two-hour space and told to the National Park Service, in essence, to bite me.
I looked in the old shops. I stared at the absolutely beautiful point where the Shenendoah meets the Potomac. I climbed the mountain. I saw the ruins of the old church. I sat on Jefferson Rock. I made a nice lady from North Carolina take my picture and showed her party where the graveyard was.
And then I left. West Virginia gave way to Virginia and I realized I was damn close to home. It goes without saying that no maps were required from this point on.