Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Loving West Virginia

For the past several years, I have been sharing my West Virginia stories in “Two-Lane Livin’” magazine. Most of my stories have been about interesting places to see or exciting things to do in our state (with a few historical stories thrown in for good measure). Some of you might have wondered where I got my interest in traveling around West Virginia.

I come from a long family line of West Virginians. I’m proud to have a few ancestors who joined newly formed West Virginia volunteer units of the Union Army during the Civil War. In a sense, they were helping to fight for our independence from Virginia (because if the Confederacy had won the Civil War, there is no doubt that the fledgling new state of West Virginia would have been reabsorbed into the Old Dominion). Even with the South’s defeat, the Virginia government still challenged the legality of our statehood (as well as questioning some of the counties that were included within our borders) in a case they brought before the U.S. Supreme Court. Fortunately, in that case of Virginia v. West Virginia, the Supreme Court ruled against Virginia.

Most of my ancestors settled along the Ohio River, from Pleasants County to Mason County. Although my father’s family moved to Akron to work in the defense factories during World War II (my grandmother was a “Rosie the Riveter” building Corsair fighter planes), they moved back home to West Virginia after the war. I’m very thankful they did, so that my parents could eventually meet and I could grow up as a West Virginian.

My family was always interested in and proud of our state. North Bend was our nearest state park, and it served as a frequent destination for family picnics and other activities. Over time, I came to know the place quite well. [Not surprisingly, North Bend State Park was the subject of my very first column in “Two-Lane Livin’” magazine.]

Later in my childhood, my family acquired a small camping trailer, and spent many weekends over the years exploring other state parks and attractions around West Virginia. I have many fond memories of those visits to other parts of our beautiful state. My memories are not just of the state parks themselves, but also of the small towns and rural scenes we would pass by as we traversed the two-lane highways to get to our destination. These trips gave me a good sense of our state.

The enjoyment I got as a youngster exploring my native state never has left me. It is my state, and it always will be my state. I’m grateful that my parents passed along their love of West Virginia to me. I trust that I have helped to instill that same home state pride in my daughter (and perhaps even with some of my readers). I hope that many of you reading this story will cultivate a love for West Virginia with anyone you might influence. Indeed, West Virginia is a state worth loving.

Fireworks over the West Virginia State Capitol during the Sesquicentennial Celebration in 2013 (taken from the riverbank at my beloved alma mater, the University of Charleston).
[This story appears in the June 2015 issue of "Two-Lane Livin'" magazine.]

Friday, May 1, 2015

Contentment along Route 60

When I was a child (prior to the interstate era), our summer vacations often involved traveling east on U.S. Route 60 to visit relatives. Following the Kanawha River upstream, between the large hillsides on each side of the river, we passed through many small communities, such as Cedar Grove, Glasgow, Boomer, Smithers, Alloy, etc.

The real excitement began once Kanawha Falls came into view (a small portion is shown above). The wide expanse of whitewater tumbling over the rocky cataract signaled the beginning of the ride out of the river bottom. First, we would pass the historic Glen Ferris Inn, sitting by the riverside as it had since the stagecoach days. Then we’d cross the Gauley River Bridge, while glancing over to the old bus situated on a large rock island at the confluence of the New and Gauley Rivers. After bouncing across the railroad tracks, we’d gaze quickly at the beautiful Cathedral Falls (pictured below), and then begin the climb up Gauley Mountain.

The goal was to avoid becoming carsick as Dad weaved his way up the twists and turns, always hoping to catch the slow moving tractor-trailers at one of the few designated passing zones. Although it was best to try to focus out the front window to avoid carsickness, there were opportunities for incredible views overlooking the steep hillside into the canyon below—if you dared to look out the side windows.

Eventually, we’d reach the plateau at the top of the mountain, which was first signaled by the iconic “Mystery Hole” (a West Virginia landmark which has to be visited to be fully understood), followed soon by Hawks Nest State Park. Finally, we’d enter Ansted, the first small town along the highlands of Route 60.

Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to spend time at each of the aforementioned places along this scenic stretch of highway. This past summer, I added Ansted’s “Contentment Historical Complex” to my list. When I was young, this was just an old white house with a long front porch overlooking Rt. 60 on the western edge of Ansted. Built in 1830, the house was purchased by former Confederate Colonel George Imboden in 1872. His wife named it “Contentment” because of all the happy times they enjoyed there.

Today, it serves as the Fayette County Historical Society’s museum. During the summer months, docents provide tours of the home, refurbished with household items from the 1800s. In the backyard, they have relocated a former one-room schoolhouse and filled it with ink-well desks, a pot-belly stove, etc. Another building was added in the backyard that houses lots of old antiques and memorabilia from Fayette County. For example, there are old pictures, tools, and other items related to coal mining and railroading in Fayette County.

The day we visited the complex, our tour guide provided a fascinating explanation of the historic keepsakes at Contentment. The Fayette County Historical Society has done a wonderful job of preserving these important possessions and sharing them with visitors. If you are ever in this area during the summer months, add the Contentment Historical Complex (pictured below) to your list of sites to see along Route 60.

[This story was featured in the May issue of "Two-Lane Livin'" magazine.]