National Historic Park
Harpers Ferry was built at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rovers. During the town’s heyday, it was an important intersection of river, railroad, and canal transportation routes. A major goal of the park is to preserve the state of the town around the time of the Civil War, including preserving the historic buildings in the town and the landscape around it. The geology encompasses the town itself and is reflected in the building stone, carved steps, and walkway, and historic industries. Hand-carved steps are within the Harpers Ferry Formation. Robert Harper’s house and St. John’s Episcopal Church were built of Harpers Phyllite. Nearby, the St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church was constructed using Weverton Quartzite. Similar to surrounding areas, such as Antietam National Battlefield and Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park, continuous geologic processes of erosion, deposition, land sliding, rock fall, flooding, and chemical weathering present serious challenges to the preservation of this snapshot in time.
Rock units underneath the town provide the foundation for many of the structures at Harpers Ferry. Above ground, rock layers of shale, phyllite, sandstone, greenstone, limestone, and dolomite form precipitous slopes. Shale is predominant on the eastern side of the park while limestone is mainly present on the west side. Numerous trails run along the sides of the hills above the town showcasing the Paleozoic and Precambrian rock units of the Blue Ridge physiographic province.
Another feature within the park is John Brown Cave. John Brown was famous at Harpers Ferry for the uprising he instigated in 1859, attempting to steal weapons from the Federal armory. A cave in the park now bears his name. The cave is approximately 4,000 feet long and formed in the carbonate unit of the Tomstown Formation. Here the unit is highly deformed as part of the eastern limb of a large syncline centered in the overlying Waynesboro Formation to the west.
The General park map handed out at the visitor center is available on the park's map webpage.For information about topographic maps, geologic maps, and geologic data sets, please see the geologic maps page.
A geology photo album for this park can be found here.For information on other photo collections featuring National Park geology, please see the Image Sources page.
Currently, we do not have a listing for a park-specific geoscience book. The park's geology may be described in regional or state geology texts.
Parks and Plates: The Geology of Our National Parks, Monuments & Seashores.
Lillie, Robert J., 2005.
W.W. Norton and Company.
9" x 10.75", paperback, 550 pages, full color throughout
The spectacular geology in our national parks provides the answers to many questions about the Earth. The answers can be appreciated through plate tectonics, an exciting way to understand the ongoing natural processes that sculpt our landscape. Parks and Plates is a visual and scientific voyage of discovery!
Ordering from your National Park Cooperative Associations' bookstores helps to support programs in the parks. Please visit the bookstore locator for park books and much more.
For information about permits that are required for conducting geologic research activities in National Parks, see the Permits Information page.
The NPS maintains a searchable data base of research needs that have been identified by parks.
A bibliography of geologic references is being prepared for each park through the Geologic Resources Evaluation Program (GRE). Please see the GRE website for more information and contacts.
NPS Geology and Soils PartnersAssociation of American State Geologists
Geological Society of America
Natural Resource Conservation Service - Soils
U.S. Geological Survey
General information about the park's education and intrepretive programs is available on the park's education webpage.For resources and information on teaching geology using National Park examples, see the Students & Teachers pages.