The Shrinking of Distance
ONE HUNDRED YEARS AGO present West Virginia was crossed in easterly and westerly directions by four turnpikes: the Cumberland, or National, connecting Cumberland, Maryland, and Wheeling by way of Washington, Pennsylvania; the James River and Kanawha connecting Lewisburg and Guyandotte by way of "Mouth of Gauley" and Charleston; the "Old Northwestern" connecting Romney and Parkersburg via Grafton, Clarksburg, and West Union; and the Staunton and Parkersburg via Beverly, Buckhannon, and Weston. The Virginia turnpikes were built under the initial direction of Colonel Claudius Crozet, a French artillery officer who had served with Napoleon, and were masterpieces of engineering.1 They were connected by a network of turnpikes and dirt roads which, like the main thoroughfares, spanned rivers and creeks by the use of "S-bridges" and "covered bridges." Where these were impracticable, crossings were by ferries, the sites of which grew into towns and cities. The main thoroughfares were generally macadamed, thus making them usable the year round and permitting the substitution of the stagecoach for the heavier and more cumbersome Conestoga wagon.
Trans-Allegheny Virginia was then in the stagecoach state of its transportation history. But the area served by the first roads was not destitute economically, socially, and politically. In due course, hunters' cabins and farmhouses were converted into hostelries, inns, taverns and health resorts where statesmen, scientists, authors, and travelers of both low and high estate were entertained after a fashion befitting their respective stations. Here polite greetings were exchanged, politics were discussed, the past was retold, and nuptial matches were made. The best hostelries made a____________________