CHARLES TOWN – Hundreds of thousands of visitors trek to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park each year and starting this weekend, Charles Town has a new way to entice them to spend time here, too.
“People come to Harpers Ferry for its John Brown history and what we have in Charles Town is the rest of the story,” explains Mayor Peggy Smith.
Thanks to a new partnership forged by the city, the park service and others, park rangers will be¬gin providing expert hour-long tours of the Jef¬ferson County Courthouse, site of Brown’s 1859 treason trial, and other history-rich sites in down¬town Charles Town.
Dennis Frye, the chief historian at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park and one of the key players behind the new collaboration, will lead the initial tour starting at 11 a.m. Saturday at the courthouse.
The free tours will be offered at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. this holiday weekend and then daily from June 1 to Aug. 17, Smith said. From late summer through Nov. 2, the tours will continue only on weekends.
Smith expects the new offering to pay dividends for Charles Town’s businesses. “Timing these to happen before and after lunch, we think people will want to get something to eat, maybe have an ice cream at Skipper’s before or after,” she said. Visi¬tors also may linger for some shopping or visit the Jefferson County Museum where the wooden wag¬on that took Brown to the gallows is on display.
“There are so many possibilities to this – so many good things we see happening,” the mayor said. “Just seeing the park rangers in downtown Charles Town is an attention-getter.”
Setting up the new program comes with a cost, including paying baliffs to staff the courthouse this weekend and at other times when it normally is closed. “Because it’s a working courthouse, if the doors are open, a baliff must be there,” Smith
Smith said she is grateful to Amer¬ican Public University System for providing a sponsorship that covers those costs and others. The Harpers Ferry Historical Association, the Jef¬ferson County Convention and Visi¬tors Bureau, the Jefferson County Museum, the Jefferson County Com¬mission and the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department are other for¬mal partners in the effort.
To get out the word about the new program, Smith said 10,000 rack cards outlining what’s now available and will be distributed at rest stops along Interstate 81, at Gettysburg, Pa., and other places where Civ¬il War enthusiasts are likely to see them. Already, the effort has been written up in multiple Washington publications.
Visitors to downtown are encour¬aged to place the rack card on the dashboard of their cars to park on the street at no cost.
Nine rangers will rotate giving the tour and each will offer differ¬ent information about the history here, Smith said. “Everyone focuses on what’s most interesting to them,” she said. “It’s going to be something different every time.”
Frye, who serves along with the mayor on the Convention and Vis¬itors Bureau, is a nationally known author and historian who specializes in the Civil War. He’s appeared on history programs created for PBS, The History Channel, The Discov¬ery Channel and A&E. He’s also worked on award-winning televi¬sion segments on the Battle of Anti¬etam and abolitionist John Brown.
The co-founder of both the Save Historic Antietam Foundation and the Civil War Preservation Trust, his services as a tour guide are in de¬mand. He’s led tours for organiza¬tions such as the Smithsonian, Na¬tional Geographic and numerous colleges and universities.
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