Our tour of the United States of America arrives in West Virginia today. It’s called the last northern state by those in the north and the last southern state by those in the south. For reasons which will become clear, The Greatest Road Trip lists West Virginia in the north.
The ninth smallest state in land mass, West Virginia has the 12th smallest population of the 50 states. That makes it a balanced state in the equation.
West Virginia became a state after the Wheeling Conventions of 1861. That’s where delegates from Unionist counties of Virginia broke off during the Civil War. In spite of this Union mandate, there were some West Virginia counties that seceded.
West Virginia is bordered by Virginia to the southeast, Kentucky to the southwest, Ohio to the northwest, Pennsylvania to the north, and Maryland to the northeast. The highest point is found atop 4,863 foot Spruce Knob, in eastern West Virginia. The lowest point is found 240 feet above sea level at the Potomac River bordering Virginia. The geographic center of West Virginia is in Brooke County, about two miles southwest of Palmer.
Charleston is the capital of West Virginia. It is also the state’s largest city with just 51,400 residents.
From a climate and weather standpoint the state is more northern than southern. Quite significant snowfall, particularly in the mountains, and long cool winters dominate the state’s weather patterns. West Virginia is, interestingly enough, listed as the cloudiest state in the Lower 48.
While the southern states are tied to agriculture, West Virginia is one of the first states on our trip to the Lower 48 so far to specialize in other than agrarian concerns. Coal is the name of the game in West Virginia. Mining is still the occupation most held by West Virginians, for now. The societal change toward renewable energy may change that soon. Logging is also present here, but not nearly to the volume of coal.
The question facing West Virginians now, and even more in the future, is what to do about coal and coal miners. In spite of protestations to the contrary, coal will never be “clean” and coal mining is neither safe nor healthy. Right now, there are more questions than answers, but American ingenuity will find the elusive answers.
Major Airports in West Virginia:
Greenbrier Valley serves almost 11,000 flyers in and around Lewisburg. The only scheduled destination is Charlotte, NC.
Tri-State, near Huntington, enplanes about 100,000 passengers a year. The favorite destination is Charlotte.
Yeager serves the Charleston area’s quarter million passengers. Many of them are headed for Atlanta.
Top Movies Filmed in West Virginia:
Silent Hill (2006)
Tucker and Dane Versus Evil (2010)
Wrong Turn (2003)
The X Files: I Want to Believe (2008)
Famous West Virginians:
Military/Politics: Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, Chuck Yeager, and Cyrus Vance.
Actors: Joanne Dru, Elizabeth McLaughlin, John Corbett, Bria White, Charlie Barnett, Ryan Dorsey, Joyce Dewitt, Bobby Campo, Don Knotts, Brad Dourif, Peter Marshall, Josh Stewart, and Chris Sarandon.
Entertainers: Kathy Mattea, Steve Harvey, Brad Paisley, Phyllis Curtin, Eleanor Steber, Jimmy Dickens, Morgan Spurlock, Bill Withers, and Michael W. Smith.
Athletes: George Brett, Jamie Noble, Mary Lou Retton, Deron Williams, Randy Moss, Heath Slater, Jerry West, O.J. Mayo, and Steve Yeager.
Authors: Pearl Buck, Cynthia Rylant, Noor Tagouri, and Walter Dean Myers.
Weird and Wonderful Facts about West Virginia:
The first major land battle fought between Union and Confederate soldiers in the Civil War was the Battle of Philippi on June 3, 1861.
The first newspaper dedicated to the interests of women was published in West Virginia. Called “The Ladies’ Garland” its first issue was Valentine’s Day 1824.
The Christian Church, Church of Christ, and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) all trace their origins to Alexander Campbell’s congregation in Bethany.
The first electric railroad in the world was constructed to run between Huntington and Guyandotte.
The first rural free mail delivery began in Charles Town Oct. 6, 1896.
Mother’s Day was first observed at Andrews Church in Grafton on May 10, 1908.
The stone that forms the Washington Monument was quarried and donated by West Virginia.
Let’s Take a Trip through West Virginia:
We’re going to switch things up a bit as we move into the northern tier of states. Today, we take our trip through West Virginia from south to north. On our way, we will skip the urban centers of the state, instead focusing on the natural and outdoorsy beauty found here.
Near Fayetteville in the southwestern sector of the state, we find the New River Gorge. Famous for whitewater rafting, rock climbing, and scenic wilderness, the New River Gorge is home to the state’s biggest tourist attraction. Each October the New River Gorge hosts “Bridge Day.” Exhibitions of climbing, rappelling (no thanks), base-jumping (really, no thanks), and other daredevil pursuits are on display. The bridge itself is an impressive span. It includes a walking path complete with tour guides. We will stay at the Quality Inn New River. Rooms from $59.
About an hour and a half east from New River Gorge finds us at The Greenbrier. This stately old hotel has hosted many a summit meeting in its day. Robert E. Lee, Ulysses Grant, and more than one President of the United States have been here. They have held court around the sulfur springs which come through the ground near the entrance. If we can afford to stay at The Greenbrier, we’ll be welcome in the private casino. Coats for the gentlemen and dresses for ladies after 7 p.m, please. It is a touch of the Old World to be sure. Unfortunately, a night at The Greenbrier will set us back about $300. Therefore, we must recommend Rock Ridge Rental Cottage for $99 a night. Tours of The Greenbrier are available and something we will definitely do before we leave.
The next morning we will get up and visit the Blue Bend Recreation Area. It consists of beautiful wooded areas, rivers, lakes, ponds, brooks, meadows, flora, and wildlife. We call it simply a magnificent wonderland of nature. We will take an hour, or maybe two, to appreciate the beauty.
Northbound 60 miles finds us at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory at Green Bank. The Green Bank Science Center is open year-round and serves 40,000 visitors annually, offering hands-on activities and informative StarLab planetarium sessions. We’ll take a guided bus tour of the telescopes. The tour takes us to the centerpiece of the experience, the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope.
Observatories need many miles of darkness to work properly, and it stands to reason that hotel lights defeat the purpose. We will drive 35 miles to Elkins and spend the night. We’re staying at the Isaac Jackson Hotel for $112/night.
The next morning we leave Elkins and travel through some of the least traveled roads in America, enjoying fully the Mount Porte Crayon Preserve. It takes us through the Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area. Eventually, our meandering journey winds up in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. Two choices here. We can stroll, enjoying the small town ambiance, shop, and have some homemade ice cream. Or, we can spend some time on the Appalachian Trail. The path from Harper’s Ferry will take us into Maryland on some of the most scenic parts of the Trail. On our last night in West Virginia, we will stay at the Quality Inn in Shepherdstown, about eight miles from Harper’s Ferry.
There are cities in West Virginia, but a trip through this state calls for a getaway from urban life. We hope you enjoyed a different kind of vacation in The Mountain State.