Harpers Ferry Museum: The Power of Place

Harpers Ferry Museum ...
Harpers Ferry Museum ... Pictured above is a scaled model of the Harpers Ferry Museum proposed for construction by the Harpers Ferry Area Heritage Society. Submitted photo.

A small river town is once again coming together to preserve its local history. The Harpers Ferry Area Heritage Society is raising $800,000 to build a new, 9,000-square-foot museum highlighting the community’s rich past. The effort builds on the Heritage Society’s previous work, which resulted in the historic Oil Springs School restoration and relocation.

“Harpers Ferry is one of the oldest communities in Allamakee County,” says Jane Hasek, one of the project’s leaders. “Its heritage is really unique.”

The city was founded by David Harper, who opened a hotel and launched a ferry that carried livestock, grain and more to Prairie du Chien, WI. Residents today feel a powerful connection to the community and its history and are excited to showcase their town in a new way.

The museum is the latest in a line of projects stemming from a community visioning process facilitated by the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque in 2015. Hasek, a Harpers Ferry resident, is an emeritus member of the Community Foundation board. She and her husband, Wayne, have been donors of time, talent and treasure for many community projects and Foundation efforts, including kicking off the giving for the museum with a generous pledge that inspired other local leaders.

The visioning process galvanized the community around a shared love of Harpers Ferry and the desire to see the town prosper. Four themes emerged, and the community subsequently addressed them: A splash pad was developed to attract young families; a housing survey was completed; a community-wide brochure was created to market Harpers Ferry and its businesses in surrounding communities; and the Oil Springs school restoration was an early historic preservation effort.

Civic groups - including the Fire Department and Rescue Squad, American Legion, Legion Auxiliary, churches, city government and boosters club - are partnering to make the museum a reality. Each will take responsibility for telling the story of their group history.

Leaders are working with representatives from Effigy Mounds to tell the story of the region’s Indigenous history, as well as with representatives of Yellow River State Forest and Allamakee County Conservation to share Harpers Ferry-specific history. The museum will feature historical collections and interactive exhibits to highlight the region’s people and natural surroundings, and development of the area, including stories of the exploration and settlement of various cultures, changes in the river and bluffs, and commerce, farming, recreation, tourism and business.

The group is about a quarter of the way toward its fundraising goal, thanks to support from local banks, small grants and individual gifts. To make a gift or learn more about the project, visit www.harpersferryheritage.org or call Jane Hasek at 319-240-2460. Checks can be mailed to P.O. Box 224, Harpers Ferry, IA 52146.

The Allamakee County Community Foundation was formed in 2005 as an affiliate of the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque. The founding members of the organization had a vision to ensure that local communities’ charitable programs were supported - now, and in the future. The Foundation works with many individuals, families, businesses and organizations to establish endowment funds that will provide grant awards for years to come. To learn more, visit dbqfoundation.org/accf.