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The West Virginia. Cyclopedia


Harpers Ferry Arsenal

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The arsenal's fire engine house, known as John Brown's Fort

In the year 1794, Congress passed an act establishing an arsenal and gun manufactory at Harpers Ferry. The same year the Virginia Assembly granted to the National Government the right to purchase a tract of land not to exceed six hundred and forty acres, upon which to erect the necessary buildings, and for other purposes. In 1798, the work was begun.

In 1799, it seemed that war would break out between the United States and France, and the former in anticipation of such an event, organized a military force which it held ready for service. The 10th Regiment of the United States Infantry, commanded by General Alexander Hamilton, was sent to Harpers Ferry and there spent the winter. The high land on which it encamped has ever since been known as "Camp Hill."

By the later 1840's, the armory normally kept 80,000 to 90,000 stand of arms on hand. The arsenal manufactured about 9,000 small arms per year, and employed about 250 workers.

On October 16, 1859, Abolishist John Brown and his followers made an unsuccessful attempted to capture the arsenal at Harpers Ferry. After taking refuge in the arsenal's fire engine house, the group surrendering to Colonel Robert E. Lee and a company of one hundred U. S. Marines the following day.

The Armory was destroyed during the Civil War and was not reactivated after the war.