Last of the “old Guard” (an introduction)

499849118_f07f495fb4_zPerched on the bluff overlooking the town of Harpers Ferry sits the old Hilltop House Hotel, or simply “the hilltop” as the residents call it.

This once grand dame of the old hotels has memories imbedded deep into those plaster covered walls. Since its opening in 1888, untold numbers of people have visited the hotel and slept beneath her venerated timbers. Luminaries such as Mark Twain (yes THAT Mark Twain), Carl Sandberg, Pearl Buck, and Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Bill Clinton have even walked across the red carpet that once regally covered the lobby floor. Countless guests have laughed, cried, celebrated and mourned within its walls. The dining room has seen multitudes of family gatherings, wedding receptions and holiday galas. the sound of life used to echo within the long corridors and bounce down the carpeted stairways. The lights could be seen across the river from the small gas station the locals call “between the bridges”, and was a welcome signal of rest, respite and a good meal for weary travelers on Route 340. But now, the old girl sits empty, decaying and in disrepair.

And I’m still here…

My name is James Clayton and Harpers Ferry is my home. I was raised on its narrow little streets. I learned to swim in the Shenandoah river and have been tubing on the Potomac more times than I can count. I’ve been around, but I always find my way back to the tiny mountain side town I’m proud to call my home. And the Hilltop has been my second home since I can recall. I grew up there, my mother worked there for nearly 3 decades and the hotel has been the backdrop for most of the fondest memories, and some bad ones too, of my entire life. I have worked there for three owners and seen it change before my eyes. My roots run deep in the old floor boards when many feet have walked. There’s enough of my blood, sweat and tears soaked into the foundations for me to call it “family”. Today I take care of the grounds for the current owners until the construction on the new building can begin. I walk the old paths and sidewalks that I skipped down in my youth. I look into the broken tower window into the room where my sister got ready for her wedding while I fight the encroaching vines and kudzu that has overtaken the gardens. I’m still watching over the place…I’m the last of the old guard.

This blog, this public guestbook is to preserve those memories. Not just mine. I know that there are a million stories out there. People, daily, tell me when they stop to the overlook of memories they have of the place. I have heard so many stories from visitors who just wanted another moment in the Hilltop, and I felt they needed to be told, shared, preserved.

The old hotel is family….and this is my tribute to a place that I will now and forever hold very dear to my heart.

please email your memories to me at


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