Streetscape Improves Safety, Adds Charm in Historic Harpers Ferry

With a strategic location at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, the small West Virginia town of Harpers Ferry played a major role in the shaping of our nation since it was founded in 1763. Today, the 0.6 square miles that make up the historic town play host to the nearly half-million visitors that come to experience Civil War-era life at Harpers Ferry National Historic Park, one of the most visited heritage tourism destinations in the region. Working with the mayor, the National Park Service and a local steering committee, KCI developed a series of improvements to address aesthetics, safety concerns, and drainage problems along one of the town’s main thoroughfares, Potomac Street.

Historic Harpers Ferry Potomac Street Pre-Construction
The combination of on-street parking and narrow streets and sidewalks along Potomac Street had created unsafe conditions for both motorists and pedestrians.

Narrow sidewalks and roadways, coupled with on-street parking, were creating hazardous conditions for tourists and townspeople. “It’s just chaos really. It’s like a city street in the middle of a big box store parking lot,” said John W. Rudmann, PE, RLA, LEED AP, KCI’s project manager. “You’ve got cars all over the place, people walking in the street. We’re here not only to beautify within a historic context but organize the pedestrian and vehicle movements.”

Harpers Ferry Potomac Street Plan Map
In addition to safety and drainage improvements, the much needed renovations and historic restoration also includes undergrounding of aerial utility lines, additional parking and picnic spaces, period lighting, and repaving.

Storm events frequently deluged the roadway, which was functioning as a conduit from a perennial stream and 23.5-acre watershed that directs flow down the street toward the lower town area. To store the water under the roadway, engineers designed a series of pipes along with a 175,000-gallon cistern. “The town has a history with the use of them, so that was an intriguing approach to keep that element alive there,” said Rudmann. “Altogether, the stormwater system can completely contain the 25-year storm event.” Water is conveyed underground to a controlled release point into a roadside gutter.

Construction for the $1.3 million project is scheduled to begin next spring. When complete, residents and visitors will enjoy a safer, dryer and even more charming stroll through town, whether on their way to the historic park, the train station, or simply to grab a bite to eat.

Harpers Ferry Park and Ride
KCI’s selection for the Potomac Street improvements was directly related to the firm’s work for the National Park Service on the town’s historic train station. KCI provided electrical, site/civil and structural engineering services for the renovation of the Victorian-style rail stop, which dates back to 1889.