Harpers Ferry Arsenal and Armory

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Harpers Ferry Arsenal and Armory (1795-1862) - First established in 1795 by the order of President George Washington, at Harpers Ferry in Jefferson County, West Virginia. Destroyed and abandoned in 1862 during the U.S. Civil War. Also known as the United States Armory and Arsenal at Harpers Ferry.

Harpers Ferry Arsenal Building Foundation
Harpers Ferry Armory circa 1862
Harpers Ferry Arsenal Burning 10 PM 18 April 1861

Harpers Ferry Arsenal and Armory History

The Firehouse that was John Brown's Fort
A replica of the Master Armorer's House

The Federal Harpers Ferry facility contained both a Harpers Ferry Armory and a Harpers Ferry Arsenal. The armory manufactured and stored small arms while the arsenal stored and issued small and large caliber weapons to the armed forces.

The arsenal portion of the facility was contained in two brick buildings at the entrance to the armory. The armory was a whole series of manufacturing buildings lining the Armory Canal. The Armory Canal provided the water power needed to power the small arms manufacturing machinery. The Harpers Ferry Armory was a early adopter of machines that manufactured interchangeable parts and that significantly sped up the production of finished guns. John Hall developed the process at Harpers Ferry in 1819 and boasted that "one boy by the aid of these machines can perform more work than ten men."

Meriwether Lewis visited the armory on 16 Mar 1803 to get arms for the Journey of Discovery across America and to investigate the possibility of constructing an iron framed collapsible boat for the journey. The boat was built but failed when they tried to put it into use on the trip.

In the run-up to the U.S. Civil War the first attack on Harpers Ferry came from the abolitionist John Brown and his followers on 16 Oct 1859. Brown made a stand in the armory fire house now referred to as John Brown's Fort. He was captured by U.S. Marines and convicted of murder, treason and rebellion and hung on 2 Dec 1859.

Harpers Ferry was in a vulnerable position at the start of the U.S. Civil War because it was situated between Virginia and Maryland and it was a valuable facility with significant numbers of arms and machinery for producing them. The Virginia Militia attacked Harpers Ferry on 18 Apr 1861 and the outnumbered Federal garrison burned the arsenal and evacuated the town. The two arsenal buildings were burned and 15,000 guns were destroyed. The manufacturing machinery was captured and shipped to southern arsenals including the Richmond Arsenal. The Virginia Militia departed Harpers Ferry two weeks later. Harpers Ferry changed hands seven times during the U.S. Civil War but was never rebuilt as an arsenal or armory. At the end of the war the only remaining building was the firehouse that was John Brown's Fort.


Current Status

Part of the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, Harpers Ferry, Jefferson County, West Virginia.


USGS Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) Database Entry:

  • Name: United States Armory and Arsenal at Harpers Ferry Type: Historical Class: Military ID: 1727799
  • Location: Jefferson County, West Virginia, US, FIPS Code: 54037
  • Latitude: 39.3238889, Longitude: -77.7305556, Elevation: 285 Map: Harpers Ferry
  • As Of: 26 Mar 2009
Source: U.S. Board on Geographic Names

Location: Harpers Ferry, Jefferson County, West Virginia.

Maps & Images

Lat: 39.3241893 Long: -77.7306104

Sources:

Links:

Visited: 5 Aug 2010

Harpers Ferry Arsenal and Armory Picture Gallery

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