The best-known anecdote relating to the Civil War in Frederick most likely is fictional. Many people are familiar with the poem by John Greenleaf Whittier that lauds the bravery of Barbara Fritchie, a frail 95-year-old Unionist, as Confederate Gen. "Stonewall" Jackson marched his troops through the town in 1862.
Most historians doubt that, as Whittier wrote, she waved the American flag from an upstairs window and uttered the memorable challenge to "Shoot if you must this old gray head, but spare your country's flag." Nevertheless, a replica of the house where this incident did, or did not, occur continues to be a favorite site among visitors.
Whittier's poem also notes that the "clustered spires of Frederick stand green-walled in the hills of Maryland," and those words remain true to this day. The skyline of church steeples that watches over the town continues to attest to the religious diversity for which it became known. Many of the 2,500-plus other historic properties have been meticulously restored, and visitors encounter a streetscape relatively little changed from its early days.
While most closely associated with the quixotic story of the abolitionist John Brown, Harper's Ferry, W.Va., played a starring role in other chapters of the nation's history and development. The town was the site of several Civil War skirmishes, it is a treasure-trove of stories relating to African-American history, and it is associated with little-known but important advances in American manufacturing.
Of course, it's the story of John Brown that most people know. In October 1859, he led 21 men in a raid on the Harper's Ferry arsenal, hoping to use captured weapons to launch a slave uprising throughout the South. Most of the raiders were killed or wounded, and Brown was convicted of treason and hung. But while his short-lived plan failed, it helped to focus attention on the issue of slavery and became a catalyst for the Civil War.
Brown's raid and the Civil War are part of the story of African-Americans in Harper's Ferry history, which began before the Revolution. At one time the town had 150 slaves and an equal number of free blacks, and during the Civil War it provided refuge to runaway slaves from the South.
Equally intriguing is the story of John Hall. He figured out how to manufacture rifles with interchangeable parts, employing machinery to replace workers using hand-held tools. That invention set the stage for transforming the United States from an economy of workshop craftsmen to one of industrialized mass production.
Harper's Ferry also delivers light touches for the entertainment of visitors. For example, a plaque identifying a mid-19th-century tavern near the armory notes that workmen would "raise a glass or two - or three" during breaks. Their supervisors complained that the practice "ruined morals, work ethic, and even threatens Armory production."
A very different aspect of life awaits at Cool Confectionaries, where shopkeeper Susan Benjamin turns out recipes for candy as close as possible to those made some 150 years ago. She enjoys telling visitors which confections on her shelves were included in Civil War military rations. A stop at her shop provides a sweet ending to an interesting day.
WHEN YOU GO
Waterford is about an hour's drive from Washington. For information, visit www.waterfordfoundation.org or call (540) 882-3018.
Frederick also is an hour from Washington. For information visit www.fredericktourism.org or call (800) 999-3613.
Harper's Ferry is about a 75-minute drive from Washington. For information visit www.nps.gov/hafe or call (304) 535-6298.
Victor Block is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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