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John Brown's Fort: The Last Standing Building of the Harpers Ferry Armory

If you are looking for a place to learn about the history and culture of West Virginia, you might want to visit John Brown’s Fort. This building is the only surviving structure of the Harpers Ferry Armory, a federal arsenal that produced firearms and ammunition for the U.S. Army. The armory was also the site of a famous raid by the abolitionist John Brown and his followers in 1859, who hoped to spark a slave rebellion and end slavery in America. On this web page, you will find out more about the history of John Brown’s Fort, what you can see and do there, and some interesting facts and tips for visitors.

Image of John Browns Fort

The History of John Brown's Fort

John Brown’s Fort was originally built in 1848 as a fire engine and guard house for the Harpers Ferry Armory. It was a one-story brick building with a slate roof and copper gutters and downspouts. It measured 35.5 by 24 feet and had three doors and several windows. 

The building became famous in 1859, when John Brown, a radical abolitionist who believed that violence was necessary to end slavery, led a group of 21 men (16 white and 5 black) to raid the armory and seize its weapons. Brown planned to use the armory as a base to arm and free enslaved people in the nearby plantations and start a guerrilla war against slavery. However, his plan failed when he was surrounded by local militia, armed townspeople, and federal troops led by Colonel Robert E. Lee. Brown and his men barricaded themselves in the fire engine house, where they held several hostages. After a 36-hour standoff, the Marines stormed the building and captured or killed most of the raiders, including Brown, who was wounded and later hanged for treason.

The Culture around John Brown's Fort

John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry was one of the most controversial events in American history. It polarized the nation over the issue of slavery and contributed to the outbreak of the Civil War two years later. Some people saw Brown as a hero and a martyr who sacrificed his life for a noble cause. Others saw him as a fanatic and a terrorist who tried to incite a bloody insurrection. His actions inspired many abolitionists, such as Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and Henry David Thoreau, who praised his courage and conviction. His name also became a rallying cry for Union soldiers during the war, who sang songs like “John Brown’s Body” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”. 

On the other hand, many Southerners despised Brown and feared that his raid would encourage more slave revolts. They viewed him as a criminal and a traitor who deserved to die. They also blamed the Northern abolitionists for supporting him and accused them of trying to destroy their way of life. Some Confederate soldiers also used his name as a taunt or a curse during the war, such as “Remember John Brown” or “Hang John Brown”. 

Today, John Brown’s Fort still symbolizes the struggle for freedom and justice in America. It attracts visitors from different backgrounds and perspectives, who come to learn about its history and reflect on its meaning. Some people admire Brown’s courage and dedication to his cause, while others question his methods and motives. Some people see him as a visionary who foresaw the end of slavery, while others see him as a delusional who provoked more violence. Some people consider him a hero, while others consider him a villain. The fort invites people to form opinions and engage in dialogue with others.

What can you find in John Brown's Fort?

John Brown’s Fort is located in Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, which preserves the historic town of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, where the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers meet. The park offers many attractions and activities for visitors, such as museums, exhibits, trails, workshops, festivals, and guided tours.

John Brown’s Fort is one of the most popular destinations in the park. It is open to the public during park hours and is accessible by walking along Shenandoah Street from the Lower Town shuttle bus stop. The fort is near its original site, where an obelisk stands to mark its location.

Inside the fort, you can see what it looked like during the raid in 1859. You can see the holes in the doors where Brown’s men fired their guns, the ladder that the Marines used to break in, and the bloodstains on the floor. You can also see some artifacts and exhibits related to the raid, such as weapons, documents, photographs, and maps. You can also listen to an audio program that tells the story of the raid from different perspectives.

Outside the fort, you can see a plaque listing the raiders’ names and fates. You can also see a sign that shows the different locations where the fort has been moved over the years. The fort has a complex history including four locations in Harpers Ferry and one in Chicago. It was sold, dismantled, transported, displayed, closed, abandoned, restored, and relocated several times. It was also used as a prison, a powder magazine, and a quartermaster supply house during the Civil War. It was the only armory building to escape destruction during the war.

Interesting Facts

  • John Brown’s Fort is featured in West Virginia’s America the Beautiful quarter, issued in 2016. The quarter shows the fort with the inscription “John Brown’s Fort Harpers Ferry”. 
  • John Brown’s Fort is sometimes called “the most historic building in America” because of its role in American history and culture. It has been visited by many famous people, such as Mark Twain, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Martin Luther King Jr. 
  • John Brown’s Fort is also called “the most traveled historic building in America” because of its many moves. It has traveled more than 4,000 miles by rail, barge, and truck. It has been reassembled and disassembled more than 20 times. It has been moved more times than any other National Park Service system building.

Advice for Visitors

When is it open?

John Brown’s Fort is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., except on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. The park hours may vary depending on the season and weather conditions. You can check the park website or call (304) 535-6029 for more information.

What to wear?

You should wear comfortable clothes and shoes that are suitable for walking and exploring. You should also bring a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, and water to protect yourself from the sun and stay hydrated. You should also dress appropriately for the weather and temperature.

Is it family-friendly?

Yes, John Brown’s Fort is a family-friendly attraction that welcomes visitors of all ages. Children can learn about the fort’s history and the raid through interactive exhibits and activities. They can also participate in the Junior Ranger program, which offers fun and educational activities for kids ages 5 to 12.

When is it best to visit?

You can visit John Brown’s Fort anytime of the year, but some seasons may offer different experiences and events. For example:

  • Spring: You can enjoy the blooming flowers and trees in the park and see some wildlife.
  • Summer: You can attend some special events and programs in the park, such as living history demonstrations, music concerts, and cultural festivals.
  • Fall: You can admire the changing colors of the leaves and feel the crisp air.
  • Winter: You can see some snow-covered landscapes and experience some winter activities.

A Trip Through West Virginia Landmarks to Castle Floor Coatings

Via I-64 W and I-64 W/I-77 N

The Greenbrier

101 W Main St, White Sulphur Springs, WV 24986, United States

  1. Get on I-64 W from US-60 W/Midland Trail E
    1. Head southeast toward Greenbrier Dr/Springhouse Ln
    2. Continue onto Greenbrier Dr/Springhouse Ln
    3. Continue to follow Springhouse Ln
    4. Turn right onto US-60 W/Midland Trail E
    5. Turn left onto Harts Run Rd
  2. Turn right to merge onto I-64 W toward Beckley
    1. Merge onto I-64 W
    2. Use the right 2 lanes to merge onto I-64 W/I-77 N toward Charleston
    3. Take exit 79 toward Sharon/Cabin Creek Rd
  3. Turn left onto Access/Sharon Hollow Rd/Sharon Hollow Rd Access
    1. Turn left at the 2nd cross street onto Cabin Creek Rd
    2. Destination will be on the right

Eksdale, West Virginia, C&O Coal Tower

220 Back St, Eskdale, WV 25075, United States

  1. Head north on Cabin Creek Rd
  2. Turn right onto Access/Sharon Hollow Rd/Sharon Hollow Rd Access
  3. Turn left onto the 64 W/77 N ramp
  4. Merge onto I-64 W/I-77 N
  5. Take exit 97 for US-60 W/Kanawha Blvd toward Midland Trl
  6. Continue onto US-60 W/Kanawha Blvd E
  7. Destination will be on the right

West Virginia State Capitol

1900 Kanawha Blvd E, Charleston, WV 25305, United States

  1. Follow I-79 N and US-19 S to Birch River. Take the WV-82 exit from US-19 S
    1. Head west on US-60 W toward WV-114 N
    2. Turn right onto US-60 W/WV-114 N/Greenbrier St
    3. Continue to follow WV-114 N/Greenbrier St
    4. Turn left to merge onto I-64 W/I-77 N toward I-79
    5. Use the right 2 lanes to take the I-77 N exit toward I-79/Parkersburg
    6. Continue onto I-77 N
    7. Keep right at the fork to continue on I-79 N, follow signs for Clarksburg
    8. Take exit 57 toward Beckley
    9. Merge onto US-19 S
  2. Take the WV-82 exit toward Birch River/Cowen
    1. Turn left onto WV-82 E/Birch River Rd
    2. Continue straight onto Howard Farm
    3. Continue onto Old Birch River Rd
    4. Turn right onto 1st St W/Erbacon Rd
    5. Continue to follow Erbacon Rd
    6. Turn left onto WV-20 N/Webster Rd
    7. Continue to follow WV-20 N
    8. Turn right onto Co Rte 15/4
    9. Turn right onto WV-15 E/Point Mountain Rd
    10. Continue to follow WV-15 E
  3. Turn right onto US-219 S/Seneca Trail
    1. Turn left onto WV-66 E
    2. Turn left to stay on WV-66 E

Cass Scenic Railroad State Park

12363 Cass Rd, Cass, WV 24927, United States

  1. Head southwest on WV-66 W toward Deer Creek Rd
  2. Turn right onto US-219 N/Seneca Trail
    1. Turn left onto US-219 N/US-250 N/Seneca Trail
    2. Continue straight onto WV-92 N
    3. Slight left onto US-250 N/US-33 W/US-48
    4. Turn right onto US-250 N
  3. Turn right onto WV-92 N/Morgantown Pke
  4. Continue to follow WV-92 N
  5. Turn left onto US-50 W
  6. Turn right onto WV-92 N
    1. Turn left onto Gladesville Rd
    2. Turn right to stay on Gladesville Rd
  7. Turn right onto US-119 N/Grafton Rd
    1. Turn left onto the ramp to I-79/Fairmont
    2. Merge onto I-68 W
    3. Use the right 2 lanes to merge onto I-79 N toward Washington
    4. Keep left to stay on I-79 N
    5. Use the right 2 lanes to merge onto I-70 W/I-79 N toward Washington
    6. Continue to follow I-70 W
    7. Keep right at the fork to stay on I-70 W
    8. Keep left to stay on I-70 W
    9. Take exit 225 for OH-7 toward Bridgeport
    10. Turn left onto Marion St
    11. Turn left to merge onto I-70 E toward Wheeling

Wheeling Suspension Bridge

Wheeling, WV 26003, United States

  1. Head east on I-70 E
  2. Take exit 1A for US-40 E/WV-2 N/Main St toward Downtown
  3. Merge onto US-40 E/WV-2 S/Main St
  4. Continue to follow WV-2 S/Main St
  5. Turn left onto 16th St/Greater Wheeling Trail
  6. Continue to follow 16th St
  7. Turn left onto Market St
  8. Destination will be on the right

West Virginia Independence Hall

1528 Market St, Wheeling, WV 26003, United States

  1. Get on I-70 E
    1. Head north on Market St toward 15th Pl
    2. Keep left to continue on Lane 38
    3. Merge onto I-70 E via the ramp to Washington
  2. Merge onto I-70 E
    1. Take the exit onto PA-43 S
    2. Use the right 2 lanes to merge onto US-119 S toward PA-43 S/Morgantown
    3. Keep left to continue on US-119 S/US-40 E
    4. Use the left 2 lanes to take the US-40 E exit toward Hopwood
  3. Get on I-68 E/US-40 E in Garrett County
    1. Continue onto US-40 E
    2. Turn right to stay on US-40 E
    3. Use the right lane to merge onto I-68 E/US-40 E via the ramp to US-219 N/Cumberland
  4. Merge onto I-68 E/US-40 E
    1. Continue onto Exit 82C (signs for I-70 W/US-522 N/Breezewood)
    2. Use the right lane to keep right at the fork and continue on Exit 82B
  5. Keep right to continue on Exit 82A, follow signs for US-522 S/Hancock/Winchester, and merge onto US-522 S
    1. Merge onto US-522 S
    2. Turn right onto Fairfax St
    3. Fairfax St turns left and becomes Cornelius Ave
    4. Destination will be on the left

Museum of the Berkeley Springs

2 Fairfax St, Berkeley Springs, WV 25411, United States

  1. Take Fairfax St to S Washington St
    1. Head northeast on Cornelius Ave toward Fairfax St
    2. Cornelius Ave turns right and becomes Fairfax St
  2. Turn right onto S Washington St
  3. Get on I-81 S in Berkeley County
    1. Turn left onto WV-9 E/Martinsburg Rd
    2. Continue to follow WV-9 E
    3. Use the right lane to take the ramp to Winchester
  4. Merge onto I-81 S
    1. Take exit 12 for WV-45 E toward WV-9 E/Winchester Ave/Charles Town
    2. Use the left 2 lanes to turn left onto WV-45 E
    3. Continue onto WV-9 E
    4. Use the right lane to take the US-340 N/WV-51 W ramp to Charles Town/Harpers Ferry
    5. Turn left onto US-340 N/William L Wilson Fwy
  5. Drive to Shenandoah St
    1. Turn left onto Shenandoah St
    2. Continue straight to stay on Shenandoah St
    3. Destination will be on the right

John Brown’s Fort

814 Shenandoah St, Harpers Ferry, WV 25425, United States

  1. Head southwest on Shenandoah St toward Potomac St
  2. Turn left onto US-340 E/William L Wilson Fwy
  3. Continue to follow US-340 E
    1. Take exit 10 for interstate 70 E toward I-270/Baltimore/Washington
    2. Merge onto I-70 E
    3. Use the right 2 lanes to take exit 53 to merge onto I-270 S toward Washington
    4. Take exit 31B for MD-85 S toward Buckeystown
  4. Continue onto MD-85 S/Buckeystown Pike
    1. Pass by McDonald’s (on the right in 0.4 mi)
    2. Turn right onto Executive Way
    3. Turn right onto Macon St
    4. Turn left onto Proclamation Pl
    5. Destination will be on the right

Castle Floor Coatings – Garage Coatings & Concrete driveway sealers

7180 Proclamation Pl, Frederick, MD 21703, United States