Our 50th State: West Virginia
May 10th, 2021
We crossed the Ohio River into West Virginia today – our 50th state! Somehow we’d never made it here but to be honest, we didn’t see the draw. However, now they have a national park and as you know, we want to hit them all. Now we had a reason to come explore.
We stopped in Charleston for the night parking at a Cracker Barrel restaurant; they always seem to have RV parking and allow overnighting.
We are in COAL country:
Next morning we made our way southeast to the New River Gorge National Park (formerly national river) and stopped near Fayetteville to see the famous steel arch bridge and get some info about where to camp.
The New River Gorge is known for the expansive views and variety of activities. It is home to a rich history including explorers and travelers, but one of the most noticeable icons is the bridge and the attention it attracts. Without this bridge, crossing between the two sides of the river is a time consuming and frustrating process; but it serves many other uses to the local area including festivals, photo opportunities, and by becoming a tourist attraction in its own right.
-The New River Gorge Bridge took close to three years to finish, and ended up costing nearly $37 million from 1974-1977.
-The bridge is 876 feet tall and spans over 3,000 feet in length. This makes it the largest single span steel arch bridge in the Western Hemisphere.
-In 2005, the bridge was chosen to be the feature used on their state quarter.
-In 1980, the first annual Bridge Day was held and included a total of 7 jumpers and parachuters (this number has grown immensely since then). This is the ONLY time of year where jumping off the bridge is permitted.
-The New River begins in North Carolina. It travels through Virginia, into West Virginia, and eventually feeds into the Kanawha River. It is approximately 320 miles long from end to end of which 53 miles is within the park.
-It is one of the oldest rivers in the world, with some estimates being as high as 360 million years old.
-Similar to the Nile, the New River flows from South to North (most North American rivers flow in the opposite direction).
-Whitewater rafting began commercially in 1968 and has expanded to one of the biggest attractions of the region.
-The New River has had a number of different names over its lifespan, including Cohnaway, Wood and even by some tribes that lived in the area, “The River of Death”.
After figuring out where to camp (all of the campgrounds are small and few have RV spots and if they do, often only one), we made our way to Army Campground near Prince, WV and unhitched the trailer to explore the park and the town of Beckley without it.
The campground has only 11 sites and all were empty so we got our choice of spots and we picked the one that was easiest to back into and had the most sunlight for our panels.
We then made our way into Beckley to the Exhibition Coal Mine for a tour. We took the Underground Tour. This tour we had to ourselves and was lead by a retired coal miner who took us through on a small train.
It was very informative and entertaining. Back in the day, these miners were paid $1 a ton and expected to do mine two tons a day. They lived in company housing, bought food and clothing from the company store and more often than not, by month’s end had nothing to show for all their hard work.
After the tour we strolled around the “Coal Camp”:
Next stop was back in the park to the Grandview overlook where we did a short hike to a view scenic overlooks.
See pic at top of this post
Then it was further south to Sandstone Falls overlook – the falls were visible but far away.
So now we can confidently say we have visited 58 of America’s 63 national parks! We’re getting there.
We returned to Army Campground where we found we now had company; a couple of paddlers were pitching tents for the night. We grabbed our chairs and a couple of Corona’s and went to sit on the beach.
That night about four other vehicles arrived to spend the night here. The only amenities at this park are pit toilets, picnic tables and fire rings.
Next morning, we hitched the trailer back up, shut down and left the Park heading north east towards the small city of Weston.
First stop was the American Glass museum where we kept an eye on the time as the tour at our next stop began in about 30 minutes. This was more interesting than expected. The Museum also houses the National Marble hall of fame.
Then it was on to the the Trans Allegany Asylum. They offer a variety of tours and after taking our temperature, buying our tickets and putting on our masks, a tour guide dressed as a nurse took us and another couple around the grounds and the first floor.
Trans Allegany Asylum, subsequently the Weston State Hospital, was a Kirkbride psychiatric hospital that was operated from 1864 until 1994 by the government of the WV, in the city of Weston. Weston State Hospital got its name in 1913 which was used while patients occupied it, but was changed back to its originally commissioned, unused name, the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, after being reopened as a tourist attraction.
Designed in Gothic Revival and Tudor Revival styles, it was constructed from 1858 to 1881. (The Civil War interrupted construction.) Work was initially conducted by prison labourers; a local newspaper in November of that year noted “seven convict negroes” as the first arrivals for work on the project. Skilled stonemasons were later brought in from both Germany and Ireland.
Originally designed to hold 250 people, the hospital held 717 patients by 1880; 1,661 in 1938; over 1,800 in 1949; at its peak, 2,600 in the 1950s in overcrowded conditions. A 1938 report by a survey committee organized by a group of North American medical organizations found that the hospital housed “epileptics, alcoholics, drug addicts, and non-educable mental defectives” among its population. A series of reports by The Charleston Gazette in 1949 found poor sanitation and insufficient furniture, lighting, and heating in much of the complex, while one wing, which had been rebuilt using WPA funds following a 1935 fire started by a patient, was comparatively luxurious.
It was forcibly closed in 1994 due to changes in patient treatment. The hospital was auctioned by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources in 2007. Joe Jordan, an asbestos demolition contractor from Morgantown, was the high bidder and paid $1.5 million for the 242,000-square-foot (22,500 m2) building. In October 2007, a Fall Fest was held at the Weston State Hospital. Guided historic and paranormal daytime tours were offered as well as evening ghost hunts and paranormal tours and other events to raise money for its restoration.
The hospital’s main building is claimed to be one of the largest hand-cut stone masonary buildings in the United States, and the second largest hand-cut sandstone building in the world, with the only bigger one being in the Kremlin in Moscow. As Weston Hospital Main Building, it was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1990.
The Weston State Hospital found itself to be the home for the West Virginia Lobotomy Project in the early 1950s. This was an effort by the state of West Virginia and Walter Freeman to use lobotomies to reduce the number of patients in asylums because there was severe overcrowding.
The tour was ¾ of an hour long and very interesting, sad, and gory. There are a few museums rooms to wander through afterwards and we passed on the video of an actual lobotomy!
After the tour we returned to the glass museum to finish up. The latter was free.
We decided to push northward a bit further and made our way to the city of Morgantown, near the border with Pennsylvania, got parked at a Cracker Barrel once more and Doug went for a run while Fran went for a walk. THis city is the birthplace of Don Knotts so we just had to find his statue:
There are a ton more photos in the galleries and from them, YOU can decide for yourself, if West Virginia is ALMOST HEAVEN!