Excerpt...Country Roads of West Virginia Ordering Information
Chapter 6--The Potomac Highlands
From Charleston, take I-77 south to Route 460 west and the start of the drive on Route 219 north, just across the Virginia state line. This drive can also be started at the other end, at the intersection of Route 219 and Route 250 in Huttonsville.
Highlights: Organ Caverns; Lewisburg; Lost World Caverns; Hillsboro; Elk River Touring Center; Snowshoe Resort. This drive is easily completed in a long weekend, with stops along the way in Lewisburg or the Snowshoe Mountain area. This drive, crossing right through the middle of some of West Virginia's prettiest scenery, actually starts in Virginia. But you're only in the Old Dominion (see Country Roads of Virginia) for a brief period of time before you head back into the hills of West Virginia.
Route 219 begins its curvy ascent through the state with a few small towns and the pretty scenery that just hints at the natural attractions ahead. About 17 miles into the drive, look for the Indian Creek covered bridge on the right, near the Route 122 intersection. Though no longer in use, it has been restored to its original condition.
About ten more miles up the road, the quiet town of Union is well worth a stop and stretch. Union is the county seat and the Monroe County Historical Society Museum on Main Street can provide an interesting walking tour map for exploring the town's architecture and history. Highlights include the Court House and Jail, the cemetery, the Watchman Office and Print Shop, and the Old Rehoboth Church, (two miles east of town).
Back on Route 219, head into Ronceverte and look for the right-hand turn on Route 63 to Organ Cave. Pioneers have explored Organ Cave since 1704. Thomas Jefferson visited Organ Cave in 1791 and, according to legend, discovered the remains of a prehistoric dinosaur that are displayed in Philadelphia.
Organ Cave was a vital source of saltpetre during the Civil War, which was used for making gunpowder. Wooden hoppers were used to leach the saltpetre from cave soil, and 37 of them can still be seen today. Robert E. Lee held religious services for more than 1,100 men in Organ Cave's huge entrance room.
Today's explorers will also discover much history and beauty. Organ Cave is one of the longest known cave systems in the U.S., with more than 40 miles of mapped passageways. Teams of experienced cavers continue exploration of new passages.
Organ Cave was opened commercially in 1835 and has been welcoming visitors to its cool 55-degree environment ever since. Cavern tours are unaffected by weather and the pathways are well-lit for the guided tours. The highlight of a tour is the huge Church Organ, the organ-like calcite formation that gave the cave its name more than a century ago.
Route 219 heads steeply down into the town of Lewisburg, where the road intersects with Route 60 (see Chapter 3). You should plan on a few hours or days in this delightful Greenbrier Valley town.
Originally called Camp Union and Fort Savannah, the town was renamed Lewisburg to honor the pioneering Lewis family. In 1774, General Andrew Lewis assembled a frontier militia and led them to Point Pleasant to defeat the Shawnees in an epic battle with Chief Cornstalk. chartered in 1782 by the Virginia Assembly, the frontier town prospered as a way-station on the James River and Kanawha Turnpike.
The Battle of Lewisburg was fought on May 23, 1862, which was won by the Union forces under George Crook (who later caught Geronimo). Though the North won this battle, Lewisburg was a southern outpost for most of the Civil War.
Thanks to an unusual collection of 18th and 19th century buildings, a large part of town is designated a National Register Historic District. The Lewisburg Visitors Center at 105 Church Street provides an excellent walking tour guide of the town, as well as many other useful pamphlets. Highlights include: Carnegie Hall; the Old Stone Church; North House; the Greenbrier County Library; Andrew Lewis Park (Lewis Springs); the Greenbrier County Courthouse; the Confederate Cemetery; and the former Greenbrier Military School.
Another of the town's highlights is the General Lewis Inn, which you save for a quick visit, a meal, or the night. The east wing of this historic inn was originally the 1834 house of John Withrow. The lobby and west wing were added in 1928. The entire establishment is furnished with locally-collected antiques and every bed is at least 100 years old. The inn's founder, Randloph K. Hock, and his wife, Mary Milton Noel, collected all of these beautiful pieces for their guests' enjoyment.
Guests check in at the front desk, a handbuilt 1760 walnut and pine masterpiece that welcomed Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson when it was used at the old Sweet Chalybeate Springs Hotel nearby. Memory Hall is packed with memorabilia from earlier times in Greenbrier County.
All of the guest rooms are unique and allow a chance to fall asleep amidst history. If you're hungry, the dining room provides old-fashioned cooking from an earlier time. Specialties include fried chicken, mountain trout, country ham, grilled pork chops, and steak, accompanied by hot homemade breads and desserts.
Other accommodations options in Lewisburg include Lynn's Inn B&B, Minnie Manor B&B, or the Budget Host Fort Savannah Inn. Dining options are plentiful and include the General Lewis Inn, the Fort Savannah Inn, the Blue Moon Cafe, and Food & Friends.
If you're into antiques and other shopping, Lewisburg is a gold mine. Old general store fans will love the Old General Store on Washington Street. It is filled with old-fashioned favorites and handmade gifts, including homemade peanut butter, comb honey, maple syrup, buckwheat flour, bulk spices, and much more.
Lewisburg is also an ideal base for exploring the surrounding countryside. The mountains and the Greenbrier River provide many outdoors pleasures and several companies can help you enjoy Mother Nature, West Virginia-style.
Mountain bikes are big business throughout the state and there are two excellent companies to help you enjoy the mountains and the Greenbrier River Trail (see below). Free Spirit Adventures and High Country Bikes both offer rentals, trips, and many other services.
The Greenbrier River Trail is an extraordinary natural resource which no Greenbrier River Valley visitor should miss. The trail was wonderfully converted from an old C&O Railroad bed that once paralleled the Greenbrier River. Today, the level 76-mile trail hosts bikers and hikers instead of trains. The trail starts just outside of Lewisburg, near Caldwell, so Lewisburg is an ideal base for the southern end of the trail (outfitters can help), while Marlinton is a popular stopover midway (Mile Post 56) along the trail.
The Greenbrier River is also a popular recreational asset. If you would like to canoe part of the peaceful river, contact the Greenbrier River Company in nearby Ronceverte. They can help with paddling/accommodations packages, multi-day trips, rentals, shuttles, fishing, biking, and much more. They also have an excellent campground right on the banks of the river.
Lewisburg is also the base for exploring Lost World Caverns, just outside of town on Fairview Road. These popular caverns were discovered by Virginia Polytechnic Institute cavers in 1942, when they descended to the cave's floor through a grapevine-covered opening. The spot was known as Grapevine Cave, until is was renamed Lost World Caverns and then renovated and reopened to the public in 1981.
The formations and caves in Lost World Caverns are big enough to get lost, but the tour guide will keep you in the correct place. Some of the highlights include the Snow Chandelier, Goliath, and Ice Cream Wall. Along with the regular walking tour, special wild cave adventures are also available.
Back on Route 219, the exploration continues. Route 219 runs roughly parallel with the Greenbrier River (and many trail access points) and through rolling farmland. Pocahontas County is at the heart of the Potomac Highlands.
About 25 miles north of Lewisburg, you reach the entrance for Beartown State Park. This interesting park features a boardwalk that leads through a wild array of sandstone rock formations and quiet forests. It's a peaceful diversion from driving.
Just a mile up the road, look for the turnoff to Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park. This now-peaceful park was the site of a bloody Civil War battle that claimed more than 400 lives. Fought on November 6, 1863, Confederate troops were driven out of West Virginia for good after this battle. Highlights include a museum, hiking trails, trenches, and (often) an on-duty park ranger. If you would like to spend the night in this historic and beautiful area, contact the Yew Mountain Lodge, a convenient and tranquil 500-acre retreat.
Route 219 leads immediately into Hillsboro and another interesting Greenbrier Valley town. Hillsboro is best known as the birthplace of Pearl S. Buck, one of America's most distinguished writers. Pearl Buck fans come from afar to visit the restored home where she was born, which is a far cry from Pearl's home in China for 40 years.
Located right on Route 219, the house was built by the Stulting family (Pearl's grandparents), who had emigrated to America from Holland in 1847. On June 26, 1892, Pearl Comfort Sydenstricker was born. Her missionary parents, having lost earlier children in China, had returned to the U.S. for a few months for Pearl's birth.
Writing under the married name of Pearl S. Buck, she won the hearts of Americans with her famous novel, The Good Earth, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1932. For the high quality of her literary work, Pearl won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938. She is the only American woman to receive both awards.
The restored house is a white-columned beauty, with furnishings and artifacts from the period, as well as many articles from Buck's life. A gift shop sells autographed books, First Day Covers of Pearl S. Buck Stamps, and many other souvenirs.
The Pearl S. Buck Museum complex also includes the Sydenstricker House, which was the birthplace of Pearl's father. This pretty farmhouse was dismantled and transported 40 miles to its present location.
The rest of Hillsboro provides for a restful stop. One of the most popular reststops is the Hillsboro General Store, right on Route 219. Established in 1893, this classic general store features everything from antiques to country ham. It's a true step back in time. For more shopping on Route 219, head to Morning Star Folk Arts. Dwight and Elaine Diller feature a wide array of West Virginia Heritage Dolls, 19th century traditional music performed by Dwight on banjo, fiddle, and guitar, and the work of many locals artists and crafters. The Four Winds Cafe nearby provides filling meals in an airy and old-fashioned atmosphere.
If you would like to stay in the Hillsboro area, call Leslee McMarty at The Current to see if she has a room. The pretty 1905 farmhouse, located near the banks of the Greenbrier River, has four spacious rooms, a large deck, and delicious country breakfasts.
Just up the road on Route 219, look for the Route 39/55 turnoff to the left at Mill Point. This diversion is well worth the extra hour or so of driving.
Route 39/55 leads into the pretty Cranberry Mountain area and to one of West Virginia's special roads, the Highland Scenic Highway. This beautiful National Forest Scenic Byway, right through the heart of the Monongahela National Forest, extends 43 miles from Richwood back to Route 219, seven miles south of Marlinton (this makes for a nice loop back to Route 219). The Highway follows Route 39/55 for 21 miles from Richwood to the Cranberry Mountain Visitor Center and then turns onto State Route 150 for the 22 mile Parkway section.
If you have time and you've timed it right, you may want to head into Richwood for a uniquely West Virginia experience. Richwood, known as the Ramp Capital of the World, is home to a huge festival in April that celebrates ramps, a version of wild leeks that have a unique taste and odor. You have to see it to believe it and you can see it by contacting the Richwood Area Chamber of Commerce.
The Highway traverses the mountainous terrain of the Allegheny Highlands and Plateau, rising from 2,325 feet in Richwood to more than 4,500 feet on the Parkway. Four scenic overlooks located on the Parkway portion provide for spectacular views of the surrounding ridges and valleys. Spring blossoms, summer wildflowers, and autumn leaves offer color throughout the seasons.
The Cranberry Glades Botanical Area features the largest area of bogs in the state. Typical of acidic wetlands found in Canada, a half-mile boardwalk allows exploration of this fragile area. The Falls of Hills Creek Scenic Area features three waterfalls that cascade over rock layers of sandstone and shale. The 3/4-mile trail provides access to the falls.
More than 150 miles of trails can be found along the Highway. Three campgrounds are located just a short drive off the route, while the Cranberry Mountain Lodge provides a perfect and private mountain retreat. It's an ideal (and typical) West Virginia country road diversion.
Route 219 leads into Marlinton and a few "big town" attractions. Right before heading into town, be sure to stop at the Pocahontas County Historical Museum on the right. Located in an old 1904 frame house, the museum features the history of the county from the days of Native Americans to the present. Other highlights include the Pearl S. Buck Library, a log cabin, and a local cemetery.
Marlinton is a perfect base for exploring the Greenbrier River Trail (see above), Watoga State Park, and the rest of Pocahontas County. With a wide variety of typical state park activities and amenities, Watoga State Park is a great place to spend the day or night in one of their cabins. Marlinton also offers several excellent B&B options, including The Old Clark Inn and Das Gasthaus.
The next stop in this Potomac Highlands wonderland is Slatyfork. Thanks to the rugged mountains and several successful resorts, the Slatyfork area is a vibrant outdoors community.
To get a sense of this community, stop by Sharp's Country Store right on Route 219. For more than 100 years, the Sharp family has operated a mercantile business in Slatyfork. The present store opened in 1927 and is pretty much like it was back then, with dark oak shelves heavily laden with foodstuffs, beverages, supplies, clothing, antiques, and collectibles. There are numerous displays from periods of the store's history. Linda (granddaughter of founder L.D. Sharp) and her husband, Benny, will be happy to share the store and stories.
Country road drivers will appreciate the opportunity to let someone else do the driving at the Cass Scenic Railroad State Park. A part of West Virginia's excellent state park system, this unique park offers an excursion that transports passengers back to a time when steam-driven locomotives were a part of everyday life. Cass is reached by taking the new 11-mile connector road, Route 66, that runs from Slatyfork and Route 219.
The town of Cass remains relatively unchanged, with restored buildings and the charm of an old railroad town. From the country store and museum to the railroad station, you'll find plenty to do before your departure.
The Cass Scenic Railroad is the same line built in 1902 and used to haul lumber to the mill in Cass. The locomotives are the same ones used, while the passenger cars are old logging flatcars that have been converted into coaches.
The 90-ton locomotive, complete with thick smoke, pulls away from the station, passing the old water tower, where the locomotive's tanks are filled. The train heads up the curve at Leatherback Creek and passes the Cass Shop, where the trains are serviced and repaired and where there is lots of old equipment. The train heads at full steam up two huge switchbacks and into the mountains at an amazing 11 percent grade.
The train stops at Whittaker Station, where you can enjoy spectacular views and a picnic lunch. You can also continue on to Bald Knob, the second highest point in the state. The round-trip excursion to Whittaker Station takes 1 1/2 hours, while the exciting Bald Knob trip takes 4 1/2 hours.
You can also stay right in Cass. The state park features beautiful six-, eight, and ten-person cottages. The Shay Inn, located in what was the park superintendent's house, features B&B-style accommodations, country antiques, and homestyle food.
Back in Slatyfork, look for the Elk River Touring Center on the left-hand side of Route 219. This outdoors mecca is a great source for exploring the Potomac Highlands by many means of transportation. Begun as a cross country skiing center, Elk River has grown into a ski and mountain biking mecca that is a complete outdoors vacation center.
Gil and Mary Willis offer accomodations in a farmhouse and a nearby cabin. They also offer some of the area's most creative dining. Their nordic center features guided backcountry tours, lessons, a nearby lighted beginner's loop, and much more for the cross country skiing enthusiast. It's a perfect spot to try this snow sport or to enjoy some serious West Virginia wilderness in the winter.
For two-wheel travelers, Elk River's mountain biking programs are popular and extensive. They offer a wide variety of daily and multi-day tours, including accommodations, meals, rentals, instruction, and more. There are also many other mountain biking programs available at this amazing establishment.
Just up the road, look for the right-hand turn to Snowshoe Resort. This four-season resort has developed into one of West Virginia's biggest tourism draws. With some of the region's best skiing in the winter and plenty of "off-season" golf, mountain biking, and hiking opportunities, Snowshoe Resort is a perfect Route 219 goal for a stay of several days.
Snowshoe's mountaintop location, more than 180 inches of snow annually, and a wide variety of services and amenities make the resort a Mid-Atlantic skiing mecca. A wide range of accommodations (hotels to houses), varied dining, and many apres-ski possibilities add to the enjoyment.
From spring to fall, Snowshoe switches from skiing to golf, mountain biking, and hiking. The award-winning Gary Player course and lots of trails, have made Snowshoe a popular spot for hackers, bikers, and hikers.
Make plans for at least one memorable meal at The Red Fox, one of the best restaurants in the state. Brian Ball and Margaret Ann Smith welcome Snowshoe Mountain visitors to this haven for fine food and atmosphere.
A typical meal might include Woodland Cobbler, Roast Highland Quail, Forester's Partridge, White Rock Hen, Mountain Trout, Rack of Venison, or a Cassoulet of Field and Fowl. It's a meal you will not soon forget.
Back down on Route 219, the road continues along the edge of the Monongahela National Forest, past the tiny towns of Mace, Mingo, and Elkwater to the drive's end at Huttonsville. This is a great place to continue along Route 250 for more West Virginia country road adventures (see Chapter 2).
In the area:
All telephone numbers are within area code 304.
Monroe County Historical Society Museum (Union): 772-5317
Organ Cave (Ronceverte): 647-5551 or (800) 258-CAVE
Lewisburg Visitors Center: 645-1000 or (800) 833-2068
The General Lewis (Lewisburg): 645-2600 or (800) 628-4454
Lynn's Inn B&B (Lewisburg):645-2003
Minnie Manor B&B (Lewisburg): 647-4096
Budget Host Fort Savannah Inn (Lewisburg): 645-3055 or (800) 678-3055
Blue Moon Cafe (Lewisburg): 645-2089
Food & Friends (Lewisburg): 645-4548
Old General Store (Lewisburg): 647-3950
Free Spirit Adventures (Lewisburg): (800) 877-4749
High Country Bikes (Lewisburg): 645-5200
Greenbrier River Trail, Watoga State Park (Marlinton): 799-4087 or (800) CALL WVA
Greenbrier River Company (Ronceverte): 445-2203 (800) 775-2203
Lost World Caverns (Lewisburg): 645-6677
Pocahontas County Tourism Commission (Marlinton): (800) 336-7009
Beartown State Park (Hillsboro): 653-4254 or (800) CALL WVA
Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park (Hillsboro): 653-4254 or (800) CALL WVA
Yew Mountain Lodge (Hillsboro): 653-4821
Pearl S. Buck Museum (Hillsboro): 653-4430
Hillsboro General Store: 653-4414
Morning Star Folk Arts (Hillsboro): 653-4397
Four Winds Cafe (Hillsboro): 653-4335
The Current (Hillsboro): 653-4722
Highland Scenic Highway (Richwood): 846-2695 or (800) CALL WVA
Cranberry Mountain Visitor Center (Richwood): 653-4826
Richwood Area Chamber of Commerce: 846-6790
Cranberry Mountain Lodge (Richwood): 653-4848
Pocahontas County Historical Museum (Marlinton): (800) 336-7009
Watoga State Park (Marlinton): 799-4087 or (800) CALL WVA
The Old Clark Inn (Marlinton): 799-6377
Das Gasthaus (Marlinton): 799-6711
Sharp's Country Store (Slatyfork): no phone
Cass Scenic Railroad State Park: 456-4300 or (800) CALL WVA
Shay Inn (Cass): 456-4652 or 572-3771
Elk River Touring Center (Slatyfork): 572-3771
Snowshoe Resort: 572-1000
The Red Fox (Snowshoe): 572-1111