Harpers Ferry Campground History

1734 to the Present

Learn about Israel Friend

In 1734 Israel Friend, one of the first white men to settle west of the Shenandoah River, settled the area, becoming known as Friend’s Ore Bank, with the intention of mining iron ore.

In 1763 a portion of the property was purchased by John Semple who owned the property until dying in debtors prison in 1773. Keep Tryst Furnace on Elk Run was erected by Semple in 1763 and first used in 1764. "Keep Tryst" (Trust) is the Semple family motto. The blast furnace was used to process raw iron ore into workable metal. The furnace is said to have cast cannons for the American Revolution.

On August 7, 1785, George Washington visited Keep Tryst while examining rapids of the Potomac River with regard to a skirting canal.

From August 7-8, 1785 George Washington and company twice descended the "Needles" down to Brunswick to determine the navigability of the rapids then known as Shanandoah Falls. George Washington's Patowmack Company built skirting canals for the next several years, completing them in 1792.

In 1788 Richard Lee purchases Keep Tryst at auction and conveys title to Henry Lee, an early American patriot who served as the ninth Governor of Virginia and as the Virginia Representative to the United States Congress. During the American Revolution, Lee served as a cavalry officer in the Continental Army and earned the name Light Horse Harry. He was also the father of Confederate general Robert E. Lee.

In 1800 at George Washington's urging, the US buys Keep Tryst to support the federal armory. On September 21, 1819 by act of the 15th US Congress, the Secretary of War, John Calhoun sold the Keep Tryst Furnace and the Furnace Farm totaling 221 acres to John Peacher for $15,000.

The site became known as Peacher's Mill. John produced 196 lb barrels of flour at the mill for $5.25 a barrel or $5.80 delivered to Georgetown. John Peacher's river warehouse and wharf was located a short distance up river from the mouth of Elk Branch.

Boatmen would build rafts or long boats, then pole a cargo load of barreled flour and distillery products down the Potomac to Georgetown or Alexandria where the flour would then be graded and the boats sold for their wood. Boatmen charged $1.25 a barrel to boat flour from Harpers Ferry to Georgetown.

The B&O Railroad was built through the property in 1839. The underpass was constructed in 1891 to eliminate the dangerous railroad crossing. During John Brown’s raid on October 17, 1859, all trains from the north were stopped on the site to prevent reinforcement.

On September 15, 1861 the property suffered substantial damage from a battle between the Pennsylvania Infantry and 400-500 Confederate troops resulting in 20 casualties. During the most prominent battle of the Civil war occurring in Harpers Ferry, a battery of the Virginia Artillery set up a firing line on Peacher’s Farm.

On September 15, 1862, Confederate General Stonewall Jackson captured Harpers Ferry. At almost 13,000 troops, it was the largest surrender of Union Troops of the entire Civil War. John Peacher died on September 1, 1864, passing the property to his daughter.

After a drawn out period of dispute, Peacher's estate was settled in 1891 and the property was sold to various parties including Daniel Baker (who Bakerton was named after) and DB Lucas and the West Virginia Summer Resort Company. The property becomes known as "Rattling Springs" because of the continuously flowing natural springs that run to this day. A portion of the original property was purchased by the Cherry Run and Potomac Valley (later B&O railroad) in 1903 to build a spur line to Shepherdstown. The line was never built.

In 1924 Peacher's Mill (Keep Tryst) is torn down to provide stone for the Gilbert Perry home on Camp Hill in Harpers Ferry. In 1978 the now 32 acre property was purchased by Rattling Springs Associates, whose primaries developed Tysons Corner, to build a hotel. Several attempts over 30 years were made to develop the site with the final rejection of the Planning Commission in 2008.

In 2009, the property was purchased for use by River Riders and the Harpers Ferry Campground. In 2011 the Harpers Ferry Zip Line Canopy Tour was erected by Beanstalk Journeys from North Carolina and opened for public enjoyment.


Geology

Westward of the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers is Harpers Shale in the Needles and the Staircase. Maryland Heights and Loudon Heights are Weverton Quartzite. The two types of rock meet at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers just a few feet west of the train bridge.

Ruins by the river Find remains on a hike or nike ride