As Spring gradually came to DC, R and I got the chance to explore more of North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. First there was a conference in Asheville I just had to go to, and this time it was R to tag along. I wrote about this road trip, and the craft beer, at the time: Conference in Asheville? Roadtrip!
Then in April we finally made it to Great Falls Park, which is so close to DC that I don’t know why we didn’t go sooner.
We walked along the Virginia side of the Potomac. The Billy Goat trail on the Maryland side is apparently the better hike, but from where we were standing it looked rather like a long, stationary queue of people, so we were pleased with our choice.
Apart from the breath-taking scenery, there’s also a lot of interesting history in the park. It was the site of one of Washington’s pet projects – a canal to bypass the falls and make the Potomac navigable all the way to the Ohio River Valley, which began construction in 1785. The remains of a lockkeeper’s cottage and various earthworks can still be seen.
The Park is also home to an abandoned village, which was part of the reason I wanted to visit. I’d read an article on ghost towns in the US (there’s an idea for a road trip!) and discovered that were some close to home in Virginia (see http://www.onlyinyourstate.com/virginia/va-ghost-towns/ for a list). There’s not much left of this town, which declined in 1828 after the company building the canal went out of business. But the remains – foundations here, a hearthstone and chimney remnants there – as they appear in the undergrowth take you back to another time.
We also made it to Harpers Ferry in West Virginia – another town that was significant in Washington’s plan to use the Potomac to improve transport and trade with the more western parts of America (it was also connected to DC by the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal in 1833). We marvelled at the awesome natural beauty of this confluence of the Potomac and the Shenandoah river, which had in turn inspired Harper, Washington and Jefferson.
This was also the place that Lewis and Clark kitted themselves out for their mission to map the United States; they bought weapons and had a collapsible iron boat constructed at the US Armory and Arsenal. And as if that wasn’t enough history for one little town, this was also the place that John Brown, the radical abolitionist, was captured and executed after his raid on the arsenal. The John Brown museum trod a careful line, posing the question, was John Brown a terrorist, but never really condemning him as such. There was also some interesting treatment of his daughter who accompanied him to Harpers Ferry and looked after him and his men as he planned his attack.
Our visits in April were made even easier as it was National Parks Week, which meant that both weekends we benefited from free entry. So if you’re planning a trip to the States this year, you might like to aim for the weekends of 15-16 and 22-23 April.
Related posts: Asheville roadtrip