Hilltop House Hotel (Harpers Ferry)

Hilltop House (Closed 2008)

Hilltop House (Closed 2008)

During past thru-rides on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal towpath, sighting a large, white building high up on the ridge above Harpers Ferry signaled Candee and I that we were near the end of the second day of our trek from Cumberland to Georgetown.  I had a rough idea that the building was the Hilltop House Hotel, but I never really gave it much thought.  Yesterday brought a heavy storm to our area, so we opted for a drive instead of a hike.  Eventually we wound up on the back streets of Harpers Ferry looking for the hotel, and when we tracked it down, we also found an interesting story.

Another view

Another view.  Candee had to reach over the fence for this one.

Other than seeing the building from the towpath, my first knowledge of the hotel came from watching John Urman’s On the Canal, a popular 30 minute documentary chronicling his three day bike trip from Georgetown to Cumberland (we went the other way!).  After the first day of the trip, Urman spent the night at the hotel, and he speaks of being properly fueled to start the second day of his journey after a huge breakfast there.  The video was made in 2006,  just two years before the hotel was closed for being declared structurally unsound.

Another building on the site with additional rooms. It is also in a state of disrepair.

Another building on the site with additional rooms. It is also in a state of disrepair.

In 2008, the hotel was purchased by SWaN for $10 million.  This investment group planned on building a much larger facility on the site for $75 million, and a 2009 survey estimated that 200 jobs would be created and over $800,000 would eventually be pumped into the locality on an annual basis.  However, the sagging economy and resistance from some local residents have stalled the project for a number of years.

A closer look.

A closer look. Notice the crumbling on the white portion.

The hotel does look kind of spooky, so there are obviously a few corresponding ghost stories.  Theresa’s Haunted History of the Tri-State relates that the original hotel was built in 1888 by Thomas S. Lovett.  He was a local African-American man who dreamed of building a hotel overlooking the scene of John Brown’s exploits.  Lovett was also a community benefactor and employed students at nearby Storer College as a means of developing their future work resumes. The hotel burned down in 1912 and again in1917, and one story is that a “crying boy” in Room 66 is believed to have been a victim of the 1917 fire.  Also, a phantom Civil War regiment has been seen passing through the area on several occasions.  Such tales are difficult to confirm, but they do seem to fit with the present condition of the hotel.

Flag and distant mountain

Flag and distant mountain

The future of the Hilltop Hotel is very much in doubt, and the high fence surrounding it keeps sightseers, vandals, and even ghost hunters at bay.  Nevertheless, the view of the Potomac River, Maryland Heights, and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal is as spectacular as ever, and people still stop by in fairly large numbers to take a peek at the scenery both down below and across the way.  I can’t say if a larger hotel should be built on the spot, or even one of a similar size to the present Hilltop ruins, but not doing something positive with this spectacular piece of ground would be a terrible waste.  Time will tell.

A final view from the hilltop

A final view from the hilltop–looking downstream at the distant Potomac River

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6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Jamie on September 2, 2014 at 12:56 pm

    Interesting and informative post — and I really like that last picture looking down the Potomac valley. Harpers Ferry has always been a fascinating place to me. The town has the dual benefits of it’s scenic location and being touched significantly by history, That’s a winning combination for tourism.

    Reply

  2. Posted by LevelWalker on September 2, 2014 at 7:31 pm

    Jamie,

    True on all accounts. I didn’t realize until recently that the park is much larger than just the downtown area. A person could explore Bolivar, Maryland Heights, etc. Then there’s biking, kayaking, the AT… The possibilities are there for something new and interesting that would require a visit of several days. It is an amazing place. I think a lot of us locals kind of take it for granted.

    Reply

  3. Posted by Kato on September 4, 2014 at 7:45 pm

    The Hilltop House Hotel is most definitely haunted! I’ve done a few EVP’s sessions in there and we have recorded many voices, banging noises, and even footsteps in there.

    Reply

    • Posted by LevelWalker on September 4, 2014 at 8:16 pm

      Kato,

      Thanks for the great comment! The hotel sure has the haunted look in its present state. I don’t doubt what you’re saying. To be perfectly honest, I have had–perhaps–a half dozen experiences in my life that I cannot explain. Groups such as yours with modern equipment may find the answer. Once again, great comment!

      Reply

  4. Posted by Stuart V. Perry on June 30, 2016 at 8:06 am

    Had the pleasure of staying at the Hill Top nearly thirty years ago- and thoroughly enjoyed it. The lodging was quaint, comfortable- and only minutes from the Charlestown race track. The panoramic view was spectacular during the day, while definitely on the eerie side at night. The current state of disrepair is a shame. It should definitely be restored; maintaining the historic facade- while modernizing the interior.

    Reply

    • Posted by LevelWalker on July 2, 2016 at 8:55 am

      Stewart,

      I agree with all of your statements. Not doing anything would be a waste of an amazing piece of property. Due to the historical significance of the site (link to Storer College, etc.), maintaining the facade would be very nice indeed. For now, we wait.

      Reply

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