West Virginia: History and Wonders to Explore: West Virginia Unfolds for the Traveler like a Vast Treasure Map, with Spectacular Scenery and Spellbinding Stories along Every Trail and a Variety of Riches at Every Destination. (Special Advertising Section)

By Dixon, Susan Hensel | American Heritage, April-May 2002 | Go to article overview
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West Virginia: History and Wonders to Explore: West Virginia Unfolds for the Traveler like a Vast Treasure Map, with Spectacular Scenery and Spellbinding Stories along Every Trail and a Variety of Riches at Every Destination. (Special Advertising Section)


Dixon, Susan Hensel, American Heritage


West Virginia's river cities are full of wonders, and its north central Mountaineer region abounds with living history. The Metro Valley is a cradle of culture and government and famous firsts. Southern West Virginia features fascinating glimpses of the nation's coal industry above and below ground. At its Eastern Gateway are trails George Washington once trod, and in the Mountain Highlands, the rugged terrain meets the sky and captures the imagination.

To invite exploration of the state's heritage and beauty, the West Virginia Division of Tourism has mapped out trail routes that encompass some of the state's most memorable experiences. Along the way, there are museums and historic sites to ponder, arts and crafts to touch and marvel at, Appalachian music to delight the ears, and foods of many cultures to savor.

One route traces the steps of the 1804 Lewis and Clark expedition and offers opportunities to learn about West Virginia's Native American heritage. At the Grave Creek Mound Museum in Moundsville, along the Ohio River, is the largest Adena Indian burial mound in the world.

The Lewis and Clark route also passes Wellsburg, home of one of the expedition's members, Patrick Gass. The Midland Trail starts at Institute, where West Virginia College was founded in 1891. It extends southeast along the Kanawha River, past Charleston. At Malden, visitors can learn about the trail's history at Hale House, now home of the Malden Visitors' Center and Cabin Creek Quilts. Along Route 60 is the reproduction of Booker T. Washington's boyhood cabin near the African Zion Church. Hawks Nest State Park offers awe-inspiring views of the New River, and a jet boat ride on the river provides the perfect vantage point from which to see the New River Gorge and steel arch bridge -- the world's longest at 1,700 feet.

The nation's first president and the country's Civil War history figure prominently along the route of the George Washington Heritage Trail. The warm waters of Berkeley Springs at the route's western tip were known to Washington and his friends. In addition to its luxurious spa, the town has a delightful mix of arts and culture -- so appealing, in fact, that it has been named one of the top 100 best small art towns in the country for three years running. Civil War troops traveled and fought along the route of the trail, and its southern leg was used by Union scouts in 1864. The historic trail also takes in the towns of Martinsburg, Charles Town and Harpers Ferry.

Another route extends between Morgantown and Weston in Mountaineer Country. It includes Pricketts Fort State Park, a living history park with costumed interpreters and a reconstructed late-1700s frontier fort. A more recent chapter in history, Arthurdale is a good place to explore. This small town, founded by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt in the 1930s, was the first of 100 homestead resettlement communities around the nation. Historic Weston's Homer School houses the West Virginia Genealogical and Historical Library and Museum.

The Ohio River city of Parkersburg and surrounding Wood County have traces of Native American inhabitants dating back to 9,000 B.C. The area first became linked to the outside world in 1811, when steamboats began refueling there. Highways and railroads opened the area to further commerce and the state's oil boom. Downtown Parkersburg has two historic districts: the Julia-Ann Square Historic District, with an eclectic mix of architectural styles; and the George Avery Historic District, which encompasses some of the city's African-American history.

Blennerhassett Island Historic State Park in Parkersburg attracts thousands of visitors each summer and fall with tours of the reconstructed mansion, wagon rides around the island and a working stern-wheeler. The city's Oil & Gas Museum traces the story of the oil and gas industry, including the industry's influence on West Virginia's bid for statehood during the Civil War.

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West Virginia: History and Wonders to Explore: West Virginia Unfolds for the Traveler like a Vast Treasure Map, with Spectacular Scenery and Spellbinding Stories along Every Trail and a Variety of Riches at Every Destination. (Special Advertising Section)
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