West Virginia has been calling my name for some time, so I finally packed up my saddle and drove the 1.5 hours from the Washington DC metro area to see where these country roads would take me. I was initially intrigued to visit West Virginia from the show and novel The Good Lord Bird which is a dramatic historical interpretation of John Brown’s Raid that occurred in West Virginia and Maryland. So you know I had to highlight the significant landmarks associated with this act of bravery throughout this travel guide. From my excursions you will see that I visited the cities of Harpers Ferry, Charles Town and Martinsburg. In order to see all the establishments in this guide it took me two visits to cover everything. The intention of the creation of this travel guide is to give you a base of how to craft your own excursion to the state they call “Almost Heaven”. Let’s get ready to learn, see and do in West Virginia.
- Lost History’s Hike of Harper’s Ferry & Frederick Douglass Tour: As a subscriber to John Muller’s events, I was notified of this tour and immediately bought my ticket. I was immediately enthralled by all the Black History that was prevalent in West Virginia. During the tour we visited the historic Hill Top Hotel that was owned by the hotelier family, the Lovetts’. The Lovett’s were a prominent African American family that operated a catering and hospitality enterprise in the area. The Hill Top Hotel hosted everyone from Storer College (Historic Black College/University) campus visitors to the U.S. Presidents like Bill Clinton. Currently, you can only view the outside of the hotel due to it being renovated to look like it did back in its heyday. The two hour tour took us deeper into Harpers Ferry where we visited Storer College which is famously known for Frederick Douglass being on the board of trustees. One of the most significant historical accomplishments that occurred on the campus grounds was the Niagara Movement of 1906. During this meeting W.E.B Dubois and a group of scholarly African American men came together to discuss the progression of the civil rights movement. This meeting spearheaded the creation of the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Overall, there were so many historical gems on this tour that I might have to take the tour again to soak in all the knowledge that was uncovered. The price of this tour is only $20 which I found to be very reasonable. We ended up going over the allotted two hours, which is a testament to the quality of John Muller’s tours.
Munch Tip: John Muller rarely offers these tours, so make sure to follow him on Eventbrite.
- Jefferson County Museum: This small but mighty museum provides a glimpse into the expansion of Jefferson County throughout the years. The museum’s curators have done an excellent job by being more inclusive of the county’s history by incorporating the African American experience into the exhibits that are on display. Their contributions are clearly identified through the businesses, educational accomplishments and military service relics within the four walls of the museum. I was blown away by a vintage marriage certificate of a young African American couple that was married in 1882 that showed their pictures and was genuinely a piece of art. This was my first time seeing a marriage certificate and I would definitely classify this as a true hidden gem in West Virginia. The museum curator noticed my enthusiasm and so kindly brought out the original document, so I could see the marriage certificate up close. This was truly a remarkable experience that I will never forget. Gems like this can only be seen at local museums such as this one. For only $4 this is definitely a must see if you are into genealogy and history.
Munch Tip: This museum houses the wagon that transported John Brown to his death and upon his death, took him away in his coffin. Though morbid, it’s an important piece of history that must be seen and remembered.
- Harpers Ferry National Historical Park: This mountain town is best known for John Brown’s raid. Don’t know about John Brown? He was an abolitionist from New York and a colleague of Frederick Douglass. Brown was a religious man that believed that God tasked him to stage a revolt to end slavery in the United States. After several years of planning, Brown executed his plan in October 1859. His actions were a catalyst to the start of the Civil War. In the National Park you can see the armory that John Brown and his army of runaway enslaved and freemen took over for several days to create an uproar and entice other abolitionist and enslaved people to join in on the fight. Though the outcome of the raid was tragic, all those who participated are recognized as martyrs to the cause. The original location of the armory was located a few feet from the current location. When I was speaking to a National Park Service volunteer they informed me that the armory was sent to the World’s Fair in 1893 and was disassembled brick by brick. Some of the bricks were even sold as souvenirs during the fair before finding it’s permanent home back in Harpers Ferry.
Munch Tip: There are two ways to enter Harpers Ferry. The first is to pay for parking at the Visitors Center for $20 and take the shuttle bus into the park. This parking pass is valid for three days. The second option is to park in the neighborhoods that surround the park and pay $10 for the walking pass.
Storer College & Niagara Movement Museum in Harpers Ferry
- John Brown’s Museum: This museum is a part of the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park that gives you a synopsis of John Brown’s life all the way to the raid that was spearheaded by the abolitionist. The relics in the museum give you an idea of who the people were and their position on the issue of slavery. It’s free to view the museum since it is part of the entrance fee you paid to enter the park.
Munch Tip: During my visit several of the interactive displays were not working. So get prepared to do a lot of reading.
- John Brown’s Hanging Site: Continuing my exploratory tour of John Brown, I wanted to see the location of where he lost his life. The hanging site is located 20 minutes from Harpers Ferry in Charles Town, West Virginia. You wouldn’t have known that this was the hanging location because it is located in a neighborhood that is lined with Victorian era homes. I spoke to a local that told me the reason why this location was chosen was because it was an open field with no trees or buildings for miles. This allowed for the military and militia that guarded John Brown to thwart any rescue attempts. There are no fees associated with seeing this landmark. Just remember to be respectful when viewing the site because it is located in someone’s private residence.
Munch Tip: Head down to the main street of Charles Town to see the court house where John Brown was jailed and convicted. Outside of the building is a placard that further explains the trial.
- John Brown’s Farm Raid Headquarters: On the Maryland side of the Potomac river is the Kennedy Farm where Brown planned his raid on Harpers Ferry. The winding road that leads up to the farm allows you to imagine what an endeavor this would have been to trek all the way to West Virginia and not have his plans exposed. John Brown spent several months at this location, planning and preparing for the day he would take over Harpers Ferry’s armory.
Munch Tip: The farmhouse is currently closed due to renovations. However, you can walk the grounds to view the perimeter of the house.
- Cedar Hill Black Cemetery: Cedar Hill is the cemetery where Harpers Ferry’s African American community laid their loved ones to rest. Within the burial grounds you can find markers for the Lovett family, who I highlighted previously in this travel guide as the owners of the Hill Top Hotel. There is no designated parking in this area, so if you decide to visit, you will have to park in the neighborhood across the street from the cemetery.
Munch Tip: If you’re interested in giving back by preserving this cemetery, the organization is accepting donations to help with the maintenance and upkeep of the cemetery. Interested parties can contact the organization at 304-535-2765.
- Cocina Plantasaurus: When visiting any city, I am always looking for a BIPOC restaurant where I can try something unique and flavorful. Cocina Plantasaurus is a Puerto Rican vegetarian restaurant that brings all the traditional fare of the Carribean island to West Virginia. I ordered the vegetarian mofongo that was packed with cauliflower, broccoli and Goya flavoring. The portion size was huge and I had to take the rest home for dinner. It was definitely worth the $15 price I paid for the meal. To wash it down, I added the notjito ($8) drink to my meal which is made with coconut milk and topped with a maraschino cherry. Refreshing and delicious and in hindsight, I should have ordered one to go.
Munch Tip: There is free two hour parking on main street. Just park in front of the restaurant, walk in and enjoy your meal.
- Black Draft Distillery: This family run farm and distillery is located in Martinsburg. Easily visible from the main road. Speaking to the employees they informed me that this location was just opened at the beginning of December. The whiskey, bourbon and vodka are all brewed on site and made with West Virginia’s local spring water. The distillery offers free tastings of 5 liquors that are offered. I thoroughly enjoyed the Rise & Shine that is made with coffee and moonshine. A shot of this would be perfect to add to your morning coffee. The vodka was so smooth with no after punch that can easily be paired with any juice of your choice. The distillery provided samples of the vodka mixed with cranberry juice and you could not tell there was a drop of vodka in the drink.
Munch Tip: The liquors at the distillery are well priced ranging from $17-$65. So if you find something you like, don’t think twice about purchasing a few bottles, because they go fast.
The Munch Travelogue Quick Sheet
- Lost History’s Hike of Harpers Ferry & Frederick Douglass Tour
2. Jefferson County Museum
Address: 200 E. Washington Street Charleston, WV 25414
Hours of Operation: Closed December 15, 2021 to March 15, 2022
- Harpers Ferry National Historical Park
Address: 171 Shoreline Drive Harpers Ferry, WV 25425
Hours of Operation: Monday to Friday = 9 AM to 6 PM
2. John Brown’s Museum
Address: 171 Shoreline Drive Harpers Ferry, WV 25425
Hours of Operation: Monday to Friday = 9 AM to 6 PM
Price: Included in the price of admission to the National Park
3. John Brown’s Hanging Site
Address: South Samuel Street Charles Town, WV 25414
Hours of Operation: Open 24/7
4. John Brown’s Farm Raid Headquarters
Address: 2406 Chestnut Grove Road Sharpsburg, MD 21782
Hours of Operation: House currently closed for renovations
5. Cedar Hill Black Cemetery
- Cocina Plantasaurus
Address: 216 W Washington Street Charles Town, WV 25414
Hours of Operation: Wednesday-Thursday = 11:30 AM to 6:50 PM
Friday = 11:30 Am to 7:50 PM
Saturday = 12 PM to 5:50 PM
2. Black Draft Farm & Distillery
Address: 2878 Dry Run Road Martinsburg, WV 25403
Hours of Operation: Friday-Saturday = 11 AM to 6 PM
The Munch Travelogue by Shenise Foster reviews Lost History Hike of Harpers Ferry & Frederick Douglass; excerpt | Frederick Douglass in Washington, D.C.: The Lion of Anacostia
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