Harpers Ferry arsenal being reconstructed

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A former arsenal is being partially reconstructed at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park - one that is part of what many historians call the match that lit a fuse on existing tensions that exploded into the Civil War.

The building is along Shenandoah Street in the park's old town area and it was built in 1806, said Marsha Wassel, a spokeswoman for the National Park Service. The structure served as one of two major arsenals in the area, and it housed thousands of weapons.

The match, of course, was John Brown's failed 1859 raid. Brown hoped to obtain the weapons that were stored in the arsenal, Wassel said.

Within a couple of years, the building again became the site of conflict. Early during the Civil War, Confederate troops made off with machinery that was housed in the buildings, and then burned the structures.

In the years that followed, only the ruins of the buildings remained. A new version of the two-story arsenal's foundation is now being built on the site.

Wassel said Park Service officials decided to partially reconstruct the building to enable visitors to learn more about the area and its history. She said the actual foundation remains nearly two feet below ground level.

However, in this instance the Park Service determined that it in order to keep the original foundation safe, it would be better to build a new foundation on top of the old one.

Weather was not the only challenge that workers faced as they prepared the building's new foundation. Water table stones, which stand at the structure's corners, were chiseled by hand.

Significant work was invested in the project even before construction got under way, officials noted. The building's construction was based on the findings of a 1959 archaeological dig performed at the site, said Mia Parsons, supervisory archaeologist at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

Archives were also combed to determine more details about how the arsenal looked during its heyday, Parsons said.

Rudley said it was important to everyone involved in the project that the building be as accurate as possible.

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