Learning about Black History in Harpers Ferry

Living in this beautiful and spacious Harpers Ferry home built for William and Inez Saunders ca. 1927 is indeed a privilege. In researching the lives of this African-American couple, we have learned more broadly about the rich depth of black history connected with our town.

We can easily draw a direct line through that history from John Brown to the Civil War to Storer College to William and Inez – who came to Harpers Ferry for its unique educational opportunities. They both left after graduating to expand their horizons and then returned here to work, marry and live out the remainder of their lives among colleagues and friends.

This month, we share a broad overview of Harpers Ferry’s black history as we have learned it so far. We are not the first to write about this history, by any means, but we hope to make this fascinating story more accessible to our visitors, friends and social media followers. We also provide some sources for those who want to learn more.

Pre-American Revolution

The first black man arrived in Harpers Ferry in the mid-18th century as an enslaved person with the town’s founder, Robert Harper.

Pre-Civil War

By 1859, about ten percent of the town’s residents were black. Around 150 were enslaved and another 150 were free blacks (source: Journey Through Hallowed Ground site on African American Heritage. This website also describes briefly the town’s role in the arduous journey of enslaved people heading North or West seeking freedom. )

Continue reading “Learning about Black History in Harpers Ferry”

Christmas in Harpers Ferry

It’s the “Most Wonderful Time of the Year” here at Rockhaven, meaning we are all decked out and ready for Christmas!

Rockhaven, Harpers Ferry, Christmas

 

Over the first two weekends in December, hundreds of visitors will descend on our quaint historic village for the very special experience we call Olde Tyme Christmas. If you aren’t already planning to come, you might want to add it to your holiday calendar.

Tour of Inns and B&Bs

A new and exciting addition to the December schedule includes us! The first annual Tour of Historic Inns of Harpers Ferry and Bolivar will introduce ticket holders to six beautiful lodging establishment  bedecked in their holiday finery. These inns are typically open only to paying guests, so here’s a great chance to peek inside and learn some fascinating history. Most will also offer light refreshments. Continue reading “Christmas in Harpers Ferry”

After Six O’Clock, Then What?

Harpers Ferry is a small town with fewer than 300 residents, and businesses in the Lower Town historic area are highly dependent on tourist traffic – all of which means that many businesses close by 5 or 6 pm (and are not open at all on Mondays), so nightlife is pretty limited within the Town limits.

If you aren’t exhausted by a day of hiking, biking, tubing or exploring our history and want to go out in the evening, here are the closest local options. A few are walkable; some are within a 6-mile drive. Continue reading “After Six O’Clock, Then What?”

Our Guests’ 5 Favorite Things to Do While in Harpers Ferry

We always enjoy hearing about what our guests are up to while they visit here in Harpers Ferry. In case you’re wondering what there is to do,  here is a list of the five things we seem to hear from them most often:

Explore Historic Lower Town

John Brown’s Fort

While the history buffs obviously like perusing the National Park Service museums and reading interpretive signs, just about everyone agrees that Harpers Ferry is 360 degrees photogenic. Not only do you have a quaint 19th-century-shop-lined slope leading to John Brown’s Fort, but there’s the natural beauty presented by the confluence of two rivers cutting through the mountains and traversed by rusty train bridges. Shopping and food only enhance the experience. Learn more here. Continue reading “Our Guests’ 5 Favorite Things to Do While in Harpers Ferry”

Rockhaven’s First Owners

… So now, students, it is necessary to make use of every moment that comes to us; for while the present is great and grand the future to which we are looking will be more great and grand if we have the determination to make it so.

William Saunders in the 1920s. Courtesy of West Virginia Division of Culture and History.

Knowing something of the times in which he wrote, we are amazed and inspired by the optimism of the young Black man who authored these words as he completed his education at Storer College in 1895. He was William Allen Saunders, age 25 at the time, who later became the original owner of our home. We are excited to share with you what we have learned about him and his wife.

Saunders was born on January 15, 1870, the son of Hezekiah and Louisa (Thompson) Saunders, who were almost certainly recently freed slaves. They lived near the historic town of Louisa, Virginia, along today’s U.S. Route 33. Judging from what we have learned of William’s life, they must have instilled in him a thirst for education along with an incredible capacity for hope.

Saunders arrived in Harpers Ferry to finish his secondary education at Storer in the early 1890s. Shaped by his time in this oasis from the harsh world of Jim Crow laws, he was brimming with confidence about his prospects in spring 1895. As a co-editor of the Storer Record, his writing clearly reflected the character and leadership promoted by the school. In his farewell editorial, he encouraged his fellow students, especially those who were worried that their “great hope of being rewarded” for their academic labors might not be realized due to the “present condition of affairs in the country”: Continue reading “Rockhaven’s First Owners”

Old Stuff, New Ways of Using It

We probably are no different from most other middle income couples who remarry in their empty-nester years. Christian and I both owned homes, and we both accumulated way too much stuff during our separate family-raising decades. Some of it is easy to part with, but a lot of our furniture and décor either comes with some kind of emotional attachment or cost us too much to just yard-sale it or give it away.

Thus, deciding to buy the house and move to Harpers Ferry was the easy part. The harder part has been merging Christian’s more traditional style (leaning modern) and my more vintage style (leaning cottage) into a single 1920s craftsman-style house.

Neither of us have ever lived in a home more than 40 years old, and a lot of our stuff in its current state doesn’t fit the the style of this place. Our challenge has been to repurpose – or reinvent – as much of it as possible. The attic guest suite has been our first achievement of this goal. Continue reading “Old Stuff, New Ways of Using It”