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John Brown's Fort


Harpers Ferry
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As the raid on Harpers Ferry began to unravel, John Brown and his men retreated to a small brick building in the armory complex -- the engine house. Once inside, two horse drawn fire engines were wheeled around to block the doors. The building may have provided cover, but it also became a trap. On the morning of October 18, U.S. Marines, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Lee, stormed the building and captured the raiders.

After the war, the fate of the engine house, popularly known as "John Brown's Fort," was uncertain. It had been vandalized by troops and curiosity seekers and fallen into disrepair.

Gradually, it gained in symbolic importance. In the 1880s, Frederick Douglass raised money to place a granite memorial at the site.

In 1892 it was dismantled brick by brick and transported to Chicago to be exhibited at the 1893 World's Fair. Afterwards, however, it fell into disrepair and for several years was used as a stable for a local department store. When it was to be razed, Kate Field, a reporter from Washington, D.C., raised money to send it back to Harpers Ferry.

For almost ten years John Brown's Fort stood in a field three miles outside of town. In 1909, Storer College, a school founded after the Civil War for African Americans, bought the building and moved it to their campus.

An excerpt from a civil rights convention held at the school:

John Brown's Day started early...to make a pilgrimage to the brick-walled fire-engine house...the group marched around the fort single file. Almost as if to keep in step singing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," supplementing it with additional verses from the John Brown song.
-- Benjamin Quarles, from "Allies for Freedom", 1974

The school closed in 1955 and the building was later purchased by the National Park Service. In 1968, John Brown's Fort was moved to its present location, less than 200 feet from its original site.


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    View still images of the John Brown's Fort



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