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The Curio House at Harpers Ferry

By Christopher Craig

Postcard of Laurel Lodge 1922
Laurel Lodge in Harpers Ferry, also known as the Curio House, was begun in 1910. This postcard view dates from 1922.


A stately stone bungalow stands in Harpers Ferry, overlooking the Potomac River from its site atop Camp Hill. Dubbed Laurel Lodge by its builder nearly 100 years ago, it stands at the opposite end of Ridge Street from the historic Hilltop House Hotel and is the oldest of several grand old homes that line the river side of that road. In later years, it was known as The Curio House.

At first glance, Laurel Lodge impresses viewers with its native-stone masonry, expansive wraparound porch, abundance of windows, and classic Craftsman design. A closer inspection, however, reveals a number of curiosities. The porch railings are rustic aged cedar wood, except in the front, where thick iron chains hang. A covered sleeping porch extends from the back porch, elevated on cedar pillars and providing an overlook of the river. Above the windows, imbedded in the masonry, are bayonets, bullets, and the impressions of rifles. Inscribed in the walkways are dates, names and, curious sayings like, “Hell will freeze over when you get there.” Old gears, tools, bottles, and dolls are built into the porch pillars in back. All these curiosities hint at the personality of the house’s builder and original owner, Eugene Shugart.

Born in 1867, Eugene was a native of nearby Charles Town. His father, Rezin Shugart, was a saddle and harness maker who served on the jury for one of John Brown’s co conspirators. Eugene married Margaret “Maggie” Trussell and moved to Harpers Ferry in 1891. He built a large frame house on the corner of Jackson and Washington streets, where the couple lived with their three eldest children: Frank Eugene, Margaret, and Eliza.

Although he was not independently wealthy, Eugene apparently never owned a business or worked for a private employer. Instead, he was a public servant who was involved in various affairs of his adopted town. He served at different times as magistrate, constable, justice of the peace, postmaster, and notary public. He was the volunteer bandmaster, a vestryman for St. John’s Episcopal Church, and a prominent booster of Harpers Ferry High School.

Eugene was elected mayor of Harpers Ferry in 1902 and served six successive one year terms. After his 1906 win, the Charles Town newspaper Spirit of Jefferson commented on his re election and service: “This being Mayor Shugart’s fifth successive term proves his popularity with the people, and that the city government has never been in more capable hands is also shown by the published statements of the town affairs. Mr. Shugart is also the efficient Deputy Sheriff of Harpers Ferry district, and in such capacity has served his constituents honorably and faithfully.”

Besides these involvements, Eugene was also known as an ardent collector. His collections of Civil War relics were massive, and items from them are frequently seen today in relics auctions and sales. His fondness for artifacts from fires and other disasters was strong enough that he wrote Mayor Timonus of Baltimore after that city’s great fire of 1904, asking for a “souvenir” of the event.

It’s uncertain what prompted Eugene to buy land and start building the foundation of Laurel Lodge in 1910. Perhaps it was his desire for a display of some of his curios; or the growth of his family after the birth of his two youngest children, Jarvis and Eugenia; or a thought that his prominence in town demanded a grander setting. After the foundation was dug and a barn and several other outbuildings were built, there was a long pause before the house was constructed in 1914 and 1915.

Although Eugene’s descendants do not know of any architect’s involvement, the house had a decidedly modern look amid Harpers Ferry’s old Federal style homes.

You can read the rest of this article in this issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.