The depot is part of the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, which explores the rich history of this community located at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers.
Annual Station Ridership (FY 2023): 6,032
- Facility Ownership: National Park Service
- Parking Lot Ownership: National Park Service
- Platform Ownership: CSX Transportation
- Track Ownership: CSX Transportation
The Amtrak station in Harpers Ferry consists of a platform with shelter adjacent to the historic wood-frame depot, which was designed in 1894 by architect E. Francis Baldwin for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad (B&O). Baldwin, a Baltimore resident, built 136 train stations and more than 500 other buildings during a 50-year career. He also designed the former B&O station in Rockville, Md., which no longer serves passengers but sits adjacent to the current rail station there.
The station is part of the Harpers Ferry National Historic Park, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places on October 14, 1979. Throughout the years, the depot has been altered many times and moved from its original location overlooking the scenic confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers in 1931, as a part of a series of railroad improvements, and now sits on part of the old Armory foundations. Designed in an age when it was deemed appropriate to shield women from the male population, the original station had two waiting rooms: the women’s with the fireplace and the men’s on the other side of the ticket office.
Today, the station is opened primarily for MARC commuter passengers. National Park personnel open and close the waiting area for touring daily, and the structure also contains two accessible bathrooms, a MARC ticket office, meeting room and an exhibit room in the former women’s waiting room.
While passenger rail traffic declined in the middle of the 20th century, the station remained in service. However, the structure fell into disrepair and was named to the Top 10 Most Endangered Stations in America list in 1999. Following four decades of on-again, off-again negotiation, the station and grounds of the U. S. Armory were transferred to the National Park Service in 2001 and restoration of the station began.
Finally, on April 30, 2007, town mayor James Addy rededicated the station following its $2.2 million renovation. The late Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia had secured $1.89 million in federal funding as state funding to bring the project to fruition. Lumus Construction of Woburn, Mass., was the main contractor for the restoration project.
Robert Harper, a millwright, purchased 125 acres of land from Lord Thomas Fairfax in 1751, sited in the Blue Ridge Mountains at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers. Along with erecting a water-powered sawmill on the Shenandoah, Harper also operated a ferry across the Potomac River. “Potomac” is a European spelling of an Algonquian name for a tribe subject to the Powhatan confederacy, which inhabited the upper reaches of the Northern Neck in the vicinity of Fredericksburg, Virginia. Over the centuries it has been simplified from “Patawomeke” to become, officially, “Potomac” in 1931.
George Washington visited the spot in 1785 and was much impressed with the water-power of the rivers. When he became president, Washington established one of the two U.S. Armories at Harpers Ferry in 1799. Between 1801 and the outbreak of the Civil War, the Armory produced more than 600,000 muskets, rifles, and pistols; and employed at times 400 or more workers. Before the Civil War, adjacent Virginius Island held a number of private industries that also fueled the local economy. The island in the Shenandoah River, separated from the town by the Shenandoah Canal, held a sawmill, flour mill, machine shop, two cotton mills, a tannery and an iron foundry. Today, only ruins remain of its industrial heyday, and it is part of the national park.
John Hall, a New England gunmaker, came to Harpers Ferry to execute a commission for 1,000 breech-loading rifles in 1819, which he had designed in 1811. The fruits of his twenty years in the town significantly impacted America’s factory system, as he perfected precision machinery for producing rifles with interchangeable parts, and his versatile milling machines became a critical component in the manufacture of precision parts. Hall’s machines allowed ordinary machinists to do, faster, what had previously only been produced by skilled gunsmiths. The extent of his mechanization of the process was a first, and significantly impacted American industrial development thereafter. The small island on which Hall’s famous Rifle Works was located came to be known as Lower Hall Island.
The Civil War proved profoundly disastrous for Harper’s Ferry, beginning with John Brown’s infamous raid on the Arsenal on October 16, 1859, which focused a nation’s attention on the issue of slavery. The war itself destroyed much of the town and its economy: On April 18, 1861, Federal forces set fire to the Armory less than 24 hours after Virginia—of which the town was then a part—seceded from the Union, to keep the Arsenal and Amory out of Confederate hands. When Confederate forces abandoned the town two months later, they burned most of the factory buildings and blew up the railroad bridge. The town changed hands several times during the war, notably when Confederate General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson surrounded and captured the 12,500-man Union garrison stationed there in 1862. In 1865, Union General Philip H. Sheridan used Harpers Ferry as his base of operations against Confederate troops in the Shenandoah Valley.
The U.S. Government did not rebuild the Armory and Arsenal in Harpers Ferry, but maintained its Armory in Springfield, Mass., and disposed of the property in Harpers Ferry by means of public sale. The town saw a short renaissance post-war, and became something of a resort town, partly due to its proximity to Charles Town’s race tracks, attracting wealthy and distinguished visitors such as Mark Twain, Alexander Graham Bell and Woodrow Wilson, who all stayed at the Hilltop House Hotel, which still stands. A series of devastating floods in the late 19th century ended this period of prosperity.
In 1906, William E. B. Du Bois, a Harvard-educated African-American, called the first meeting of the Niagara Movement on the campus of Storer College in Harpers Ferry. The location of this meeting, so significant to the progress of the American civil rights movement, was chosen because of its association with John Brown’s abolitionist actions in 1859.
The town remained impoverished and ghostly until President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed legislation creating the Harpers Ferry National Monument on June 29, 1944. Ironically, its lack of prosperity preserved many of the 19th-century buildings intact.
Since much of the town today lies within the National Monument and historic district, this scene of many dramatic events formative to our national character can be visited and appreciated through the National Park Service’s (NPS) interpretive exhibits. Possibly less well known is that the NPS maintains an important national center for the creation of interpretive media at Harpers Ferry, opened March 2, 1970, in addition to the Mather Center for interpretive training.
- ATM not available
- No elevator
- No payphones
- No Quik-Trak kiosks
- No Restrooms
- Unaccompanied child travel not allowed
- No vending machines
- No WiFi
- Arrive at least minutes prior to departure
- Amtrak Express shipping not available
- No checked baggage service
- No checked baggage storage
- Bike boxes not available
- No baggage carts
- Ski bags not available
- No bag storage
- Shipping boxes not available
- No baggage assistance
- No payphones
- No accessible restrooms
- No accessible ticket office
- No accessible waiting room
- No accessible water fountain
- No high platform
- No wheelchair
- No wheelchair lift