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School House Ridge North

Landscape History


The story of School House Ridge North, an historic National Park Service site just outside Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, follows a circuitous journey that embodies the spirit of the American dream.  First-generation Scottish immigrant Adam Moler was granted this farm by Lord Fairfax in 1784.  For generations afterwards, his descendants lived and farmed on this land.  Just before the Civil War, these well-tended acres included 70,000 fence rails and yielded large quantities of hay, straw, oats and corn.  Including ten fields and sixty acres of woods for timbering, the farm was run with the help of both family and slaves.  Like the lapping of waves, soldiers and fighting repeatedly took their toll on the Moler's property throughout the Civil War.  A total of 21,000 Confederate soldiers under General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson's command spent several days camping here in May of 1862, and thousands descended on the area again for a period of intense fighting in September of that year, in the Battle of Harpers Ferry.  Jackson's September, 1862 victory at Harpers Ferry marked the largest capture of Union troops in the Civil War, totalling over 12,500 men, and remained the biggest American military capture until World War II.  School House Ridge was instrumental in the attack, as it served as a key geographical component in the Confederate attack strategy.

The farm passed out of the Moler family shortly after the Civil War, but much of the property has continued under cultivation ever since.  In 1882, caverns were discovered on School House Ridge.  The property's capitalizing new owner took this opportunity to create a cave company and launch a full-scale tourist operation.  Although this initial "resort" failed, the caves were later developed into the Harpers Ferry Caverns (complete with gift shop!), even as the nearby farm flourished as a successful dairy and beef operation.  Yet another dream was launched here in 1973, when construction began on a Yogi Bear's Jellystone Camp Resort immediately adjacent to the caverns.  The new campground featured a central lodge and bath house, 300 campsites, two pools, tennis courts and a miniature golf course.  It enjoyed a short but brilliant heyday that was apparently supported by little more than hope and hot air.  Financial disagreement between Harpers Ferry Caverns, Inc. and Jellystone Campground, Ltd. led to a 1978 Civil Action lawsuit that forced Jellystone to auction off their property on School House Ridge.  This area of the site was subsequently abandoned, and fell into disrepair.  In 1988, the giant Yogi Bear statue that once beckoned visitors to the campground took a brief jaunt downtown when a group of local teenagers set him up near the high school auditorium.   
Today School House Ridge North stands quietly outside Harpers Ferry, a nearly forgotten landscape whose past has been muted by time.  The National Park Service has acquired the property in pieces since 2004, and hopes to improve its interpretive value for the public.  One of the barns associated with the old dairy farm on the historic farm, the Ott Barn, burned down on November 17, 2010.  Originally built as a modern Jamesway Barn in 1926, it was the first of its kind in the Eastern Panhandle and West Virginia.  
Its loss is keenly felt, but the beautiful landscape around it remains unchanged.  Scenic Virginia worm fencing marks the open fields, and interpretive trails help visitors to understand how the farm was used during Civil War engagements.  The farm is particularly nice in the fall, when cooler temperatures accentuate the greens, oranges and browns of the grasses and grain still harvested here.  A few miles west of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, School House Ridge North can be reached by car via U.S. Route 340 and Route 27, also known as the Warrenton Turnpike.