Harpers Ferry was a key staging area for pioneers heading into the western frontier in colonial days -- Lewis and Clark actually began their cross-continental trek here. George Washington established a federal armory at Harpers Ferry during his presidency. The armory later attracted industrial development. A canal and railroad line made the area a transportation hub. The town came to national attention in 1859, when the federal armory was raided by abolitionist firebrand John Brown in his effort to end slavery by arming slaves.
Today the town is a National Historical Park, and it still looks as it did during the Civil War. Its mixture of historic events and recreational activities draws about one million visitors annually. A number of older homes in Harpers Ferry have been converted to quaint shops, restaurants, and art galleries. Many of its historic buildings have exhibits and interpretive displays that bring the town's history to life. Walking and hiking trails wind throughout the area, and the Shenandoah River is a preferred spot for tubing and kayaking. The town is surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains, where rock climbing and rappelling are popular activities.