November 29, 2016 — We were driving through the battlefields of Harper’s Ferry National Park in West Virginia on our way to Charles Town to see the execution site of abolitionist John Brown, when we saw something in the distance.
It was adjacent to the Bolivar Heights battlefield where Stonewall Jackson took Harper’s Ferry and won the Confederacy’s biggest victory in the Civil War. A row of cannons memorializes the event today. Had it been any other season, we probably would have missed the thing. It was situated on a hill in the middle of a large copse of trees, their limbs already denuded for winter and revealing what they usually sheltered.
But a few hundred feet after we passed it, we saw a hiking trail that seemed to lead right to the place. Was it an historic house?
We decided to park and head up the rise. It was cold, the good kind of cold, the kind stuck halfway between Fall and Winter. According to the gate at the foot of the path, we were embarking on the School House Ridge South trail, but as we got to the top of the hill, the trail veered away from the house as if actively avoiding it.
Maybe it wasn’t abandoned. Just awkwardly situated. We decided to leave the path and head toward it anyway, the thick carpet of dead leaves crunching loudly beneath our boots a good enough warning of our benign intentions in case somebody was there.
Later I would try to look it up, but could only find one site listing it with the bare minimum of information: O’Brien House, circa 1850. If that’s true, it was 12 years before the battle at Bolivar Heights.
In my head, I see those 160-odd years sped up. From its careful original construction to the smoke of cannons enwreathing it to the families who lived there and wallpapered it to make it homey to the eventual abandonment and decay and then Lindsey and I tiptoeing delicately around its carcass.
It was just an old abandoned house, but we connected with it. Gained perspective from it. Instagram’d it.
An old battlefield, a ruin, and a pre-winter ambiance. That’s a pretty good Black Friday.
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