How Thomas Jefferson’s rave review put Harper’s Ferry on the map

Posted by | May 18, 2011

Please welcome guest author Bob O’Connor, whose article ‘How Thomas Jefferson’s Rave Review put Harper’s Ferry on the Map’ ran in the just published premiere issue of Panhandle magazine. “West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle — home to an amazing mix of natural beauty, history and growth — deserves a top-notch publication,” says publisher Christine Miller Ford. “With this spring’s launch of Panhandle, we now have a world-class quarterly magazine that puts in the spotlight all that’s best about the Eastern Panhandle.”

Think of Harper’s Ferry, and three names come to mind: Robert Harper, a builder and millwright for whom the town is named; George Washington, who placed the federal arsenal there in his second term as president; and abolitionist John Brown, whose 1859 raid often is credited for bringing about the Civil War.

But it is Thomas Jefferson who has a rock and a view down the river named after him thanks to his famous visit on Oct. 25, 1783. In his Notes on the State of Virginia, published in 1786, Jefferson eloquently describes the area and the view:

Jefferson's Rock, adjacent to the Appalachian Trail.

Jefferson's Rock, adjacent to the Appalachian Trail.

“The passage of the Patowmac through the Blue Ridge is perhaps one of the most stupendous scenes in Nature. You stand on a very high point of land. On your right comes up the Shenandoah, having ranged along the foot of the mountain a hundred miles to seek a vent.

On your left approaches the Patowmac in quest of a passage also. In the moment of their junction they rush together against the mountain, rend it asunder and pass off to the sea. The first glanceof this scene hurries our senses into the opinion that this earth has been created in time, that the mountains were formed first, that the rivers began to flow afterwards, that in this place particularly they have been so dammed up by the Blue Ridge of mountains as to have formed an ocean which filled the whole valley; that, continuing to rise, they have at last broken over at this spot and have torn the mountain down from its summit to its base.

The piles of rock on each hand, but particularly on the Shenandoah, the evident marks of their disruptions and avulsions from their beds by the most powerful agents in nature, corroborate the impression.

Complete article available via print issue, on sale here

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