Seventy years ago today, June 30, 1944, Harpers Ferry National Park was approved by Congress and signed into law by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
But like most legislation of the times, the national site was not funded. It took efforts by Park Superintendent Dr. Henry McDonald and Congressman Jennings Randolph to get legislation passed through the state legislature of West Virginia to purchase 400 acres including Bolivar Heights, Loudoun Heights and Shenandoah Streets.
Congressional legislation tacked on as a rider of another bill by Senator Robert Byrd in 1960 added Storer College to the park, assuring the national park that it would finally get possession of the infamous fire engine house where John Brown the abolitionist was captured in his raid of October 16, 1859. Many believe that event started the Civil War. The building had been moved several times, including to the Worlds Exposition in Chicago, IL in the 1890s, back to the Murphy Farm in Harpers Ferry and finally to the campus of Storer College.
The park got the highest designation in 1963 when legislation was signed by President John F. Kennedy to declare that Harpers Ferry was now a National Historical park. It was one of the last pieces of legislation JFK signed before his assassination that fall in Dallas, TX.
It wasn’t until March of 1968 that the John Brown engine house was moved again, from the college campus to the lower town of Harpers Ferry where it stands today. The plan is to eventually put the engine house back where it was originally, which is across the street from its current location. An embankment built originally by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad will have to be removed to accomplish the final move of the historical building.
Happy Birthday Harper Ferry National Historical Park.
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