harpers ferry, west virginia

Friday, January 13: On a beautiful Friday in January, just before I was to begin teaching a 7-week session at VIU, I decided to drive to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park in West Virginia for a morning outing.  Before this job dropped into my lap, I had made a schedule for myself that included taking a photo outing every Friday.  Despite getting the job at the last-minute and having to prepare two syllabuses and lesson plans, I went out anyway, determined that I wouldn’t allow this job to ruin my personal goals.  In the end, the outing caused me a great deal of stress over the weekend.  It turned out I would never have time for another Friday outing during the entire 7-week session.

I was glad I went even though it took me longer to drive there than the 1 hr 9 min estimated by MapQuest.

At the Visitor’s Center, I was told there was a 2 1/2 mile hike to the river bluff or a shuttle into the town of Harpers Ferry, where I could get some lunch.  I only had time for one or the other, and I was hungry, so I opted for the town.  The town is supposedly closed off to cars, so I was required to take the shuttle despite having my car.  Later, as I walked through the town, I saw cars driving through, so it was obviously NOT “closed off to cars!”

I was dropped by the shuttle on Shenandoah Street, from which I could see St. Peter’s Catholic Church on the hill overlooking the town.

St. Peter’s Catholic Church

I walked down the quiet street, looking at the preserved shops from the 1800s.

Shenandoah Street
Shenandoah Street
Philip Frankel & Co.

At the end of Shenandoah Street, I got a glimpse of the John Brown Museum.  I didn’t go inside because I didn’t want to take that much time.

The story is this:  In October 1859, determined to arm enslaved people and spark rebellion, John Brown and his followers seized the armory and several other strategic points.  The raid failed, with most men killed or captured.  Brown’s trial and execution focused attention on the issue of slavery and propelled the nation toward civil war. (National Park Service pamphlet)

John Brown Museum

I walked up High Street, which has shops and restaurants.  As it was lunchtime and I was hungry, I searched for a place to grab a bite.

High Street

I stopped by the train station to watch some of the trains barrel past.

I ducked into Hannah’s New Orleans Seafood & Southern BBQ for some lunch. It was bright and cheery, and the Bubba Gump Louisiana shrimp fried in Cajun cornmeal was delicious. 🙂

A lunch stop
Tenfold fair trade collection

After lunch, I walked back down High Street.

High Street

I took the path up to Jefferson Rock.   First I came face-to-face with St. Peter’s Catholic Church.

Irish laborers flooded into the Harpers Ferry area during the 1830s to build the Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Canal and the Baltimore & Ohio (B&O) Railroad.  St. Peter’s Catholic Church symbolizes America’s melting pot tradition and the customs, habits, and religion of the early Irish immigrants.

St. Peter’s Catholic Church

During the Civil War, to protect the church from Union and Confederate shells, Father Costello flew the British Union Jack flag as a symbol of the church’s neutrality.  St. Peter’s escaped the war relatively unscathed. The church was remodeled in 1896 and Mass is offered here every Sunday.

St. Peter’s Catholic Church

Further up the path, I found the ruins of St. John’s Episcopal Church, one of Harpers Ferry’s five earliest churches.  Built in 1852 with money provided by church fairs, St. John’s served as a hospital and barracks during the Civil War and suffered considerable damage.  It was rebuilt afterward, but was abandoned in 1895 when a new Episcopal church was built in the upper town.

Ruins of St. John’s Episcopal Church
Ruins of St. John’s Episcopal Church

Above the ruins sat a pretty house with a grand view.

a fancy house on the path to Jefferson Rock

This is how Thomas Jefferson described the view from Jefferson Rock during a visit to Harpers Ferry in 1783:

“On your right comes up the Shenandoah, having ranged along the foot of the mountain a hundred miles to seek a vent.  On your left approaches the Patowmac [Potomac], in quest of a passage also.  In the moment of their junction they rush together against the mountain, rend it asunder, and pass off to the sea … This scene is worth a voyage across the Atlantic.”

Looking from the hill to St. Peter’s and the Potomac River

Around 1860, the U.S. armory superintendent ordered red sandstone supports places under “Jefferson Rock” because it was “endangering the lives and properties of the villagers below.”

Jefferson Rock

Going back down the hill, I passed the ruins again.

The ruins again
Looking down at St. Peter’s and the Potomac
St. Peter’s Catholic Church
The John Brown Museum below

At this juncture of the Potomac and the Shenandoah rivers, George Washington envisioned military strength and chose Harpers Ferry as the site for a U.S. Armory.   By the early 1800s, the rivers powered the armory complex and commercial mills.  The revolutionary method of manufacturing with interchangeable parts was perfected at the Halls Island rifle factory.

Below is Arsenal Square and the John Brown Museum.

The John Brown Museum
The John Brown Museum and St. Peter’s

I followed part of the Appalachian Trail from the end of Shenandoah Street across the footbridge to the C&O Canal and Maryland Heights.

Potomac River at Harpers Ferry
Potomac River at Harpers Ferry
bridge across the Potomac River at Harper’s Ferry
Walking bridge across the Potomac River
Where the Potomac River merges with the Shenandoah

There is a lot of train activity at this juncture of the rivers.

Rail transportation in the United States began in Baltimore, Maryland on July 4, 1828, when Charles Carroll, the only living signer of the Declaration of Independence, laid the cornerstone of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.

On the same day, President John Quincy Adams turned the first spade of earth along the Potomac River for the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.

The race was underway as the progressive railroad and the traditional canal struggled to become the first to connect the Ohio Valley with the east coast.  Harpers Ferry was one of the first milestones of that race.

Trainspotting

Work on the railroad and canal progressed slowly at first, but by 1834 both companies had completed construction to a point opposite Harpers Ferry. The canal had won the race to this point, and it continued up the Maryland side to the Potomac.

The B&O Railroad, plagued by land disputes with the canal, crossed the Potomac at Harpers Ferry in 1837 and rapidly pushed on.  By 1842, it reached Cumberland, Maryland, and a decade later, the railroad was open to Wheeling on the Ohio River.

the bridge

Business boomed at Harpers Ferry with the arrival of the railroad.  Refrigerated cars brought oysters and other luxuries to the town.  Thousands of travelers visited Harpers Ferry as it became a gateway to the Ohio Valley.

The Civil War shattered Harpers Ferry’s prosperity.  Much of the town was destroyed, and Confederate raiders constantly sabotaged the railroad.  Despite the war, the railroad escaped permanent damage, and the B&O survives today as a main artery of transportation in the United States.

bridge shots

On the other side of the footbridge, I saw the path along the C&O Canal, but I didn’t have time to explore it further.

The C&O Canal was burdened by a lack of building supplies and a scarcity of skilled labor and thus encountered serious financial problems.  It did not reach Cumberland, Maryland until 1850 — eight years after the railroad reached that point.  Plans to continue further westward were abandoned.

Made obsolete by the faster and less expensive railroad, the C&O Canal never attained any great measure of economic success, but it did transport coal, flour, grain, and lumber to Washington for nearly 90 years.  Canal operations ceased in 1924 when a flood devastated the Potomac Valley, leaving the canal in ruins.

the path continues
steps to the other side
playing with color

Today’s view of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers passing through the water gap in the Blue Ridge Mountains has changed little from Meriwether Lewis’ view in 1803.  Lewis hoped to find a similar, accessible trade route on rivers passing through the Rocky Mountains.

The first mode of travel consisted of a primitive ferry established in 1733 by Peter Stephens.  Stephens sold his business to Robert Harper in 1747, and Harper and others carried settlers and supplied across the waters until 1824 when a bridge constructed across the Potomac made ferryboat operations unnecessary.

In less than a decade after the bridge was completed, the iron horse and the mule brought the transportation revolution to Harpers Ferry.

Potomac River at Harper’s Ferry

In 1848, the building now known as John Brown Fort was built as a fire-engine house for the U.S. Armory.  On October 16, 1859, it served as a stronghold for John Brown and his raiders, as they were penned into the building by the local militia.  U.S. Marines stormed the building at dawn on October 18th and captured Brown.  Convicted of murder, treason, and inciting slaves to rebellion, he was hanged in nearby Charles Town on December 2, 1859.

John Brown

The Fort escaped destruction during the Civil War, but from 1861-1865, it was vandalized by souvenir-hunting Union and Confederate soldier and later travelers.  In 1891, it was dismantled and transported to the Chicago Exposition, and in 1895, it was rescued from conversion to a stable and brought back to Harpers Ferry to be exhibited on a farm.  Then in 1909, it was purchased by Storer College and moved to campus.  Finally, in 1968, it was moved by the National Park Service to within 150 feet of its original location.

John Brown Fort
Philip Frankel & Co. with St. Peter’s on the hill behind
Looking up at Jefferson Rock
St. Peter’s Catholic Church

After my fun excursion, it was sadly time to return home and get to work on preparing for my classes.  I could have explored a lot more.  Sadly, it would have to wait for another day.

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the january cocktail hour – boy, do i ever need a drink!

Welcome to our January happy hour! Come right in, make yourself comfortable and I’ll mix you up a drink. I don’t know about you, but January has been a rough month, so I really need a drink (or two or three!).  Today I’m serving up a new concoction I discovered at Lolita in Philadelphia: a jalapeno-cucumber margarita.  I’m not a big fan of sweet drinks, so this is perfect and refreshing.  Of course there will always be the old standbys of wine and beer.  I can also offer soda or seltzer water with lime if you prefer a non-alcoholic beverage.  Cheers!

I’m happy to see you.  We can mingle or we can sit, whatever is to your liking.  How are you surviving since the election?  Have you taken a stand in politics or are you sitting on the sidelines waiting for things to shake out? How are your resolutions coming along?  What kind of music are you listening to?  Have you indulged in any daydreams? Have you changed jobs or gone into retirement?  Have you seen any good movies or read any page-turners? Have you tried out any new restaurants or cooked anything wonderful at home?  Have you had any special family gatherings?

Some of you may remember my ambitious plans for 2017: here’s looking at you, twenty-seventeen

Well.  Let’s just say, at least for now, my plans have been slightly waylaid.

downtown Harper's Ferry
downtown Harper’s Ferry

“Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.” ~ Allen Saunders

The day after I signed up for three writing classes at the Bethesda Writer’s Center and one class through Fairfax County Adult Ed on starting a new business, I got a call from Virginia International University, a small private university not far from my house, to have a phone interview.  This was a shock as I had applied and been rejected for a job with them last August.  The phone interview was followed by a request to do a 20-minute teaching demo, which I also did.  They hired me as an adjunct to teach two intensive ESL classes, Mon-Thur (9:00-2:40).  I didn’t have much time to prepare as the classes started on Monday, January 16, on Martin Luther King Day, so I was pretty stressed out.

the town of Harper's Ferry
the town of Harper’s Ferry

When I teach, though I only have 20 contact hours/week, I end up working almost double that amount.  So, now and for the duration of the 7-week session, my time is not my own. Not only do I have to prepare for and mark papers for two classes, but I also am taking one writing class every Saturday for 6 weeks, and I have two more one-day classes I’ve signed up for, one this Thursday and one on a Saturday in March.  The writing teacher gives us writing assignments; we’re supposed to submit a piece for work-shopping every Saturday.  On Thursday night, I finished the two-night entrepreneurship course. In the last class, a speaker discussed franchising for most of the class, which I have no interest in!  It was mostly a waste of time and money.

Luckily the semesters are very short at 7 weeks, and I only have five more to go.  Also, as I’m an adjunct, VIU can either offer me a position next session or not, and I can choose to teach classes or not.  After seeing how much of my time is consumed, I’ve decided to either teach only one class, or none at all, in the next session.  It’s hardly worth it when I divide what I make per contact hour over the hours I actually work, plus take taxes off the top.  I’d rather focus on my personal goals.

That being said, the students are enjoyable.  I do love being in the classroom and interacting with my students, but I don’t enjoy the time I have to spend outside class hours to prepare.  As I am often a perfectionist, I can let the preparations get out of hand, and I never seem to know when to stop.

The Terrace Garage - Harper's Ferry
The Terrace Garage – Harper’s Ferry

On top of this, I applied back in December for The English Language Fellow Program, which sends experienced U.S. TESOL professionals on paid teaching assignments at universities and other academic institutions around the world.  It was quite an extensive application process; I had to write numerous essays about various aspects of teaching.  They don’t even look at an application until all references are turned in, and I knew my Chinese reference would hold me up.  Finally, in early January, after much prodding from a friend on the ground in China, my former supervisors submitted their references and I was contacted to have a Skype interview, which I did. The next day, I was informed that I’m now in the applicant pool and will be considered for programs worldwide.  Though there is no guarantee that I’ll get a fellowship, at least I’m happy I made it into the pool.  This would be for the 2017-2018 academic year.

So, this is why you haven’t seen much of me in the blogosphere. My classes end March 2, so I should have more time after that.

Wax Museum and Scoops
Wax Museum and Scoops

As for other random stuff in January, I’ve been to see three movies: Hidden Figures, Julieta, and La La Land.  I enjoyed them all, but I especially loved Hidden Figures because I grew up in southern Virginia near Langley during the early years of the NASA space program, and the fathers of many of my friends worked at NASA.  I also enjoyed the light-hearted romance and music in La La Land, as it gave me a welcome escape from the dark times our country is facing since January 20.

view above St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church in Harper's Ferry, West Virginia
view above St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia

By the way, I made up a January playlist on Spotify that you might enjoy.  I call it: of true detectives and highway vagabonds:

  • “Far From Any Road” – From the HBO Series True Detective / Soundtrack
  • “Highway Vagabond” – Miranda Lambert – the weight of these wings
  • “The Angry River” – True Detective (From the HBO Series)
  • “Inside Out” – Spoon – They Want My Soul
  • “Do You” – Spoon – They Want My Soul
  • “You Know I’m No Good” – Amy Winehouse – Back to Black
  • “Hold On” – Alabama Shakes – Boys & Girls
  • “Gocce di memoria” – Giorgia – Spirito Libero
  • “Somebody’s Love” – Passenger – Somebody’s Love
  • “What I Am” – Edie Brickell & New Bohemians – Shooting Rubber Bands at the Stars
  • “Love of the Loveless” – Eels – Meet the Eels: Essential Eels Vol. 1
  • “Tighten Up” – The Black Keys – Brothers
  • “City of Stars – Ryan Gosling – From “La La Land” Soundtrack
  • “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” – Emma Stone – From “La La Land” Soundtrack

I haven’t had time for much else of interest, but I did go on Friday, January 13 to Harper’s Ferry in West Virginia for a bit of an outing.  It was before my first week of teaching and I was determined to do an outing each week on Friday (since I’m off); I’ve been trying hard not to let the job run me!  However, the following Friday was the inauguration and I didn’t want to go out in the traffic (and I certainly had no desire to attend the inauguration) and last Friday (the 27th), I had a mandatory teacher meeting (which I don’t get paid for, by the way).  So, it seems the job is running me after all.  The pictures scattered through this post are from Harper’s Ferry; I’ll write a blog post about it later.

The Small Arsenal - remains of a weapons storehouse in Harper's Ferry
The Small Arsenal – remains of a weapons storehouse in Harper’s Ferry
tree along the Potomac River
tree along the Potomac River

I finished reading several books this month.  My favorite was Nabokov’s Lolita, which is shocking by way of subject matter, but wonderful in terms of prose.  I listened to the audio book, and I felt thrilled with so many of Nabokov’s passages, just for his amazing use of language, that I had to go out and buy the book so I could reread many of the passages I listened to.  I plan to write about this in a separate post.  I also enjoyed City of Veils, by Zoë Ferraris.  It takes place in Saudi Arabia and is a murder story, not my usual cup of tea, but I love it because it portrays the nuances of Saudi culture.  I also listened to the audiobook Wanderlust: A Love Affair with Five Continents by Elisabeth Eaves, which I enjoyed because she traveled to places like Egypt and Yemen, echoing some of my own travels.  And everyone knows from my recent posts about visiting museums, that I also enjoyed the small book: How to Visit a Museum, by David Finn.

As for the aftermath of our election, I don’t want to ruin our cocktail hour, so I’ll write a separate post about it.  All I can say is I’m extremely proud of all the women who marched in the Women’s March on January 21, and I’m proud of the protestors at airports and at the White House who are protesting the Muslim Ban.  You can count me as part of the Resistance!!  We will NOT stand down.

St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church in Harper's Ferry, West Virginia
St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia

I hope you’ll share what’s been going on with you.  As always, I wish wonderful things for all of you. 🙂