About the Ride
Recap of John Brown's Attack
Where do Motorcyclists Fit In
Motorcycle Around the Sesquicentennial
This route completes a circuit, so it doesn’t matter where along the way you join in, but for this narrative I will start at the parking lot of the Harpers Ferry National Park visitor center just off of Rt. 340 on the bluff above the Shenandoah River by Harpers Ferry.
The entrance fee to the visitor center is $3.00 and includes a shuttle bus to and from the historic section of Harpers Ferry. It’s a challenge to find a place to park in town, so you may want to use this option to both walk around the town and read up on the history of the area. There is also parking down by the Rt. 340 & Shenandoah River bridge — be sure to place your entrance fee in the envelope and drop it in the self-serve deposit box there.
As you exit the parking lot at the stop at the light with Rt. 340 you will turn left and head into Charles Town. Rt. 340 eventually becomes East Washington Street, which will take you to the center of town at the intersection of George St. and Washington St. (George & Washington). There on the N/E corner rests the Jefferson County Court House. Park your bike around here so you can visit the famous courthouse where John Brown was tried for treason in 1859. The place is indeed a working courthouse, not a museum. Across from the Court House on George Street is the Visitor Center. Get a walking tour map of the town while there. Feel free to stroll up to 515 South Samuel Street. This location (complete with a Victorian home built in 1892) was the site of John Brown’s execution. On December 2, 1859, the wagon carrying Brown and the procession that followed moved down George Street to the gallows in a field on the then Rebecca Hunter Farm. (The gallows stood at a spot just north of this house).
While at the court house you may notice the brick US Post Office just diagonal across the street. A marker there notes the Post Office Department first experimented with the idea of rural mail delivery on October 1, 1891. The first routes to receive RFD during its experimental phase were here in Jefferson County. The site of the Post Office was where the jail stood that held John Brown during his trial.
The wealth of sites in Charles Town to the Washington Family and American History can fill up pages. Do your homework and plan your trip should you be interested to fully roam the sidewalks of the historic town.
For now, mount and fire up your bike and head east on George Street (Rt. 115/9) 2.5 miles to turn right onto Kabletown Road. Between the road and the Blue Ridge Mountains on your left lies the Shenandoah River. The road follows the rolling landscape and is rural in nature. This is the only county in West Virginia where you have both the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Shenandoah River... which may bring to mind some famous song from days gone by in the 1970s.
In about 3.6 miles you will roll through the small village of Kabletown. As you cross the short bridge in the village keep an eye out for a Civil War Marker on the right in the yard of a home. This marks the activity that took place in August of 1864. That’s when General Johnson (CSA) and his cavalry brigade and infantry encountered a large force of infantry of the enemy. A severe engagement followed including a charge by Johnson. This resulted in Union troops being driven down the Shenandoah River, with significant numbers killed and wounded.
In about 0.8 mile from this marker you will come to the crossroads at Myerstown. Make a right onto Myerstown Road. At this crossroads is a somewhat hidden Civil War Marker which recognizes action that took place in the fall of 1864. The Union had formed a group of men whose purpose was to eliminate the threat of Mosby’s Rangers. Mosby and his men were a quick strike Calvary and were a thorn in the side of any Union troops. This special corps was headed by Union Capt. Richard Blazer. He led his company of scouts to the vicinity of Kabletown. Confederate Lt. Richards led a band of 100 Mosby’s Rangers to track Blazer down and on November 18th, Richards found Blazer camped near Kabletown. The fight that ensued resulted in the decimation of Blazer’s troops.
Follow the twists and turns of Myersville Road 2.6 miles to the stop with Rt. 340. Turn right onto 340 for a short 0.2 mile then turn left onto Withers-Lame Road. Here in the Rippon area another Civil War engagement took place on October 18, 1863.
Confederate Gen. Imboden attacked Charles Town on orders from Gen. Lee, where Union troops garrisoned. While on the Berryville Turnpike, Imboden was attacked by a Union force under Brig. Gen. Jeremiah Cutler Sullivan that had come from Harpers Ferry. Imboden formed a line of defense just north of Rippon and succeeded in holding his position.
Withers-Larue Road carries you along the gently rolling flat-lands of Jefferson County. Every now and then you’ll dive towards a stream corridor and emerge again finding a few curves to greet you. After about 2.8 mile, turn right at the stop onto Leetown Road. Follow Leetown Road 10.8 miles to Leetown Pike in Leetown WV. Along the way the bike will carry you through some scenic farmland and provide you with more than a couple of near 90 degree turns and challenging curves.
Note that in Middleway another Civil War Marker can be found at Leetown Road and Old Middleway Pike. This marker serves double duty to commemorate two events that happened here in Smithfield (the name of Middleway during the Civil War).
In August 1862, 30 Confederate troopers attacked the Winchester & Potomac Railroad between Summit Point and Cameron’s Depot. The raid captured eight Union soldiers, cash, and food. Then in February 1863, scouting parties of 2l Union troopers were on the road to Smithfield. In town, Confederates ran into the rear of the party killing four Union troopers, wounding others and capturing seven men and their horses without suffering a loss themselves.
In Leetown turn right onto Leetown Pike. There was additional Confederate action that took place in this area on August 25, 1864. Gen. Jubal Early and his men while moving along the road to Leetown encountered two divisions of Union cavalry. Early’s troops pushed the Union cavalry back towards Kearneysville. Eventually they were pushed back towards Shepherdstown where some crossed the Potomac at Pack Horse Ford while the others ended up in Harpers Ferry.
As you follow Leetown Pike on your left you will pass the Jefferson County Fairgrounds At 2.5 miles turn left onto Wiltshire Road. The short 3 miles to the stoplight with Old State Route 9 is fun with a few good curves and dips tossed in to make the travel interesting to experience. At the stop light head straight and onto Luther Jones Road. At the stop with Ridge Road travel straight onto Duffields Road.
In 2.3 miles at the stop with Flowing Springs Road, turn right then quickly left turn onto Melvin Road. At this turn is downtown Duffields. Due to the train running by here for years it is a popular commuter parking area and historic location for Jefferson County.
Here on June 29, 1864, Mosby and a force of men attacked a company of Union infantry stationed at Duffields. Mosby’s troops cut the telegraph lines and destroyed the Union quarters, capturing about 50 prisoners and a large amount of provisions. They successfully eluded the Union forces sent to intercept them.
Melvin Road runs along the train track for a while and lets you experience how it might have been years ago when the horse and buggy envied the speed and power of the nearby locomotive and train cars. Now, all you have to do to get similar power is twist your wrist slightly.
At the next stop with Rt. 230 (Shepherdstown Pike) keep straight onto Kidwell Road. After about 1.1 mile be sure to roll onto Best Road, which takes you to a stop. Turn left on Bakerton Road and enjoy the “Sleepy Hollow” feel of the pavement and scenery.
During different seasons you’ll be able to see less or more of the Potomac River to your right, and be sure to enjoy the dives the road makes into the lower elevations along your 4.2 mile way towards Moler Crossroads. As you approach the stop at the crossroads envision elements of the Confederate army under the command of Stonewall Jackson marching their way en-route to Sharpsburg for what would end up being the Battle of Antietam in September of 1862.
After the stop do a straight “zig-zag” path of travel to head onto Engle Molers Road heading north-east. As you roll along gaze off to your right — in the distance is Shepherdstown, the Potomac River then Maryland. After Antietam, General Lee retreated south to Virginia during the night. The army crossed the Potomac River at Pack Horse Ford just downriver from Shepherdstown without incident. The General posted guards on the cliffs overlooking the river to protect his men as he continued the withdrawal. During this time around September 19, Union troops attempted to reach the retreating divisions. Confederate General A. P Hill (was stationed nearby) successfully held the Union advance to the point where the Union troops returned to the Maryland side of the Potomac River.
At the stop turn right onto WV Route 230 and follow it into Shepherdstown. In 1734, Thomas Shepherd was granted about 200 acres on the south side of the Potomac River. From that tract, he selected fifty acres and laid out a town. He named his town Mecklenburg and petitioned the Virginia Assembly for a charter, which was issued in 1762.
As you roll through town, feel free to stop and walk around what is said to be the oldest town in West Virginia. Enjoy and experience many of the town’s historical buildings on German Street. There you can find unique shops and tasty cafés. The town also has a healthy nightlife that includes movies, fine dinning and live music.
At the 4-way stop in town with the intersection of 230 and 480, turn right and exit West Virginia and enter Maryland. On the Maryland side of the Potomac, 480 becomes MD 34. From the 4-way stop in Shepherdstown travel north-east on 480/34 for 4 miles until you turn right onto Burnside Bridge Road in Sharpsburg — the town closest to the Battle of Antietam.
Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s and Union General George B. McClellan’s armies met in the Battle—the single bloodiest day of the American Civil War and all of American military history, with nearly 23,000 casualties. This truly is sacred ground.
Feel free to take any diversions or side trips to the battlefield, but return to Burnside Bride Road to finish the loop.
Burnside Bridge Road escorts you through parts of the Antietam Battlefield, and permits you to see many preserved and conserved structures that were here during that part of our American history. You even get to cross over the famous Antietam Creek, where at times in the summer you can see people floating on inner tubes down the creek.
Ride this serpentine segment of road for 4.6 miles to the stop with Mt. Briar Road. Turn right then in 0.3 mile turn right again onto Chestnut Grove Road.
Travel on this cool, green and shady rural valley road about 4.5 miles until you see the sign for the Kennedy Farm House. This is the site where John Brown and his followers trained and launched their attack on Harpers Ferry.
It was here in early July of 1859 that the “wanted man” and abolitionist John Brown and his sons and one follower arrived posing as Issac Smith & Sons, cattlemen from New York. They said they wanted a small farm to serve as a feeding lot for cattle when in fact they were searching for a "staging area" for their intended raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia.
Today, the old farmhouse has been completely restored and is a welcomed stop along any quest to learn more about the history of John Brown and his raid on Harpers Ferry. The Federal Government has designated this place a National Historic Landmark because of the significant role it played in the history of the United States.
Continue another 0.8 mile to the stop with Harpers Ferry Road. Turn left and follow the road for 5.6 miles to Keep Tryst Road. As you enjoy this scenic part of Harpers Ferry Road note the many historic landmarks along the way. Off across the Potomac lies Harpers Ferry itself. It is a beautiful sight — a view that might have been observed by John Brown as he exited the train here at Sandy Hook prior to moving into the farm house.
Between you and the river lays the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, complete with the remaining locks and lockmasters house. Also, you’ll see the tracks and tunnel for the railroad — once the Baltimore & Ohio property. Both the C&O and the B&O were locked into a race to open up the west for transport. Both tied their routes to the natural path of the Potomac River but only one victor lived to claim the prize. And as we know that even turned into a short-lived victory — for where today do you see any B&O trains.
At Keep Tryst Road turn left and left again at the stop/flashing light at Rt. 340. Follow 340 for about 2.6 miles then turn right onto Shenandoah Street. You may recognize this tree lined avenue if you did the shuttle bus tour of the town before you ‘hit the road” at the visitor center. You will recognize the ruins of Virginius Island, and see part of the old canal system. Once in town your tires will hum as they roll over the cobblestone pavement. Just prior to John Brown’s Fort turn left onto High Street / Washington Street. As you climb the hill glance over towards the Potomac. There where the train station and parking area was once the Armory works of the town.
About 2 miles from John Brown’s Fort turn right and head up Whitman Avenue. A short distance up at the intersection of Prospect Avenue is a great place to park the bike and enjoy the view. It is a parking area for a hiking trail and historical markers. One marker notes the Battle of Harpers Ferry. It reads: “Invasion rocked the United States during the second year of the American Civil War. In September 1862 Confederate General Robert E. Lee launched his army into Maryland - the North. Lee’s first target became Harpers Ferry. He ordered “Stonewall” Jackson to make the attack.”
It was here that Jackson overcame great obstacles, defeating the Union during a three-day battle and forcing the largest surrender of U.S. troops during the Civil War. His victory at Harpers Ferry enabled Lee to make his stand at nearby Antietam.”
According to Lieutenant James H. Clark of the 115th New York Infantry “At first their missiles of death fell far short of our camp; but each succeeding shell came nearer and nearer, until the earth was plowed up at our feet, and our tents torn to tatters.”
If you feel like stretching your legs for a bit to reflect upon the ride, and enjoy some departing scenic sights of Harpers Ferry and Jefferson County take a stroll on the Bolivar Heights Trail. It takes you over wooded terrain on the very site of Jackson’s triumphal Civil War battle here. It’s an easy trail and is a leisurely walk that lets your mind digest all that you’ve seen and experienced on this route.
From John Brown and John Wilkes Booth to Mosby and Stonewall and more — this region is prime to commemorate the sesquicentennial anniversary of not only abolitionist John Brown’s raid on the arsenal at Harpers Ferry, but of the whole of the Civil War.
Story and pictures submitted by Dan Bard