Sunday, December 2, 2012

Harpers Ferry, Antietam Battlefield and history come to life

This week we've taken the opportunity to explore the area of West Virginia and Maryland where we've found ourselves for two weeks. The area is rich with American history, namely American Civil War history. I am an unashamed history lover. For as long as I can recall, I have adored history, simply because history tells the story of people. People from recent years and people from long ago. I love to hear people's stories, and history is a perfect outlet to get my fill of stories. I've yet to run out of new stories to hear, or old stories told anew, and there is always more history to uncover.

On Monday, my cousin Tiona and her family came down from the Hagerstown, MD area to join us for a walk through Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. Besides myself, Tiona, her husband Carvey and nephew Trent, we also had our collective 9 children ranging in age from age 7 to 3 weeks with us on our outing. We totally looked like a preschool field trip, only without the rope for the kids to hold onto! As chaotic as it sounds, we all had a great time and really enjoyed getting the cousins all together for the evening.

Mid-week, I loaded up our four kids into the van that I rented for a few days and we ventured north about 20 minutes to Antietam National Battlefield. I allowed only 3 hours for our visit, expecting that to be more than enough time for the kids to have their fill of Civil War battlefield excitement. I underestimated these kids who not only sat through the 27-minute preview film depicting the bloodiest one-day battle in American history, they were on the edge of their seats and pulled me along through every exhibit in the Visitor Center museum. They talked to a park ranger and we found out about the Junior Ranger Program that the National Park System has, where kids fill out workbooks and answer questions about the national park that they are visiting, and once completed they return it to be checked by a ranger and the kids can earn a Junior Ranger certificate, badge, and special surprise. In this case, after visiting each of the stops on the driving tour of the Antietam Battlefield, the kids were gifted a set of Civil War trading cards with photos and facts about key aspects of the Battle of Antietam. Let's just say that we've had a lot of play surrounding battles around our home the past few days!

The next day the kids and I traveled to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Center in Harpers Ferry, WV to learn about the Appalachian Trail and what it is like for hikers who undertake the journey along the trail. This is at almost the mid-point of the 2,179 mile trail that runs from Maine to Georgia. We even looked up and found a photo of some college friends of mine and Jason's who hiked the A.T. from end to end a few years back. The kids loved seeing that we knew a couple of famous people whose photographs were in a museum! We then proceeded to walk 1/4 of the stretch of the Appalachian Trail that runs through West Virginia. It was pretty cool, but no need to be too impressed. The full length of the A.T. that runs through West Virginia is about 4 miles.

Finally, today Jason and I returned to Harpers Ferry to explore the town more thoroughly. The National Parks Service was also hosting a Yuletide Celebration within the park this weekend, so we had the opportunity to share in some of the mid-19th century holiday traditions such as strolling carolers and seeing the town decorated for Christmas with natural, historically accurate decorations. In the blacksmith shop, one of the blacksmiths struck a pair of iron leaves for our kids, which we are planning to add to our home decor to remember this stop on our journey. Stay tuned for photos as they find their place in our home.

One of my favorite spots in this entire area is in Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, along the Appalachian Trail, where the Shenandoah River meets the Potomac. Granted, this unique place, geographically, lended itself to being the site of the Federal Armory that was the target of John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry, which was a spark that helped ignite the American Civil War. (I warned you that I'm a history nerd!) However, it's a beautiful convergence of these two rivers that continues east as the Potomac River toward Washington, D.C.

"The Point"
Where the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers converge along the Appalachian Trail in Harpers Ferry, WV.

Tomorrow, we'll be following the Potomac River into our nation's capital. With Washington, D.C. being just over an hour away, we simply could not leave the region without a taste of this city that I love. We cannot wait to share in the beauty, the history and the wonder of Washington together as a family.

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