Generations of Memories
Heart of the Blue Ridge
By Susan M. Thigpen © 1995
Issue: Winter, 1995
This BACKROADS tour will take you through the southeast tip of West Virginia and offer some wonderful scenic vistas as well as great recreational opportunities. You will find out why the state slogan is "Welcome to Wild, Wonderful West Virginia." It's an area we know you will want to visit again and again.
Our BACKROADS tour covers a total of 76.4 miles and plan to spend at least four hours taking it. Be sure to bring a camera and lots of film, because there are magnificent natural scenes waiting to be captured.
BACKROADS tours always make a complete loop back to the point where we started. The underlined numbers at the beginning of each paragraph indicate the total number of miles we've traveled from our point of beginning. The numbers in parenthesis ( ) indicate the distance from the last point of interest that we passed.
0.0 (0.0) We will begin our BACKROADS tour at the exit ramp off Interstate 77 at exit 9, toward Princeton, West Virginia. At the end of the exit ramp, we will turn right onto Highway 460 at the stop light, which is a four lane, divided highway.
0.5 (0.5) We will turn right into the parking lot of the West Virginia State Welcome Center. This is a beautiful, modern structure of rock and glass-domed skylights. Our tour will end here also, so you will want to plan a stop either at the start or end of your tour.
The Welcome Center has a room full of brochures and maps and very friendly, informative service personnel to help you with any questions you may ask. It also has very clean rest rooms, a snack room with machines that hold a wide variety of snacks and soft drinks and juices and an outside picnic area with covered tables.
Our favorite part of the Welcome Center, though, is the extensive gift shop which only carries items made in West Virginia. They have everything from herbs to the blown glass that West Virginia is famous for. Some of the other items are: books, West Virginia T-shirts and caps, quilts, toys, furniture, art, candy, sculpture, and more! You'll have a wonderful time browsing their two story gift shop.
0.6 (0.1) As we leave the parking lot we will turn left heading back to 460.
0.7 (0.1) At the stop sign we will turn left onto 460 towards Princeton, West Virginia. Position yourself in the right hand lane and continue straight through the next two stop lights.
1.4 (0.7) Turn right on the second road after the second light towards Pipestem. This is the junction of 104. The sign says to State Route 20 and West 104.
Immediately there will be a stop sign that says three way stop. Here we will turn left. This is still to 20 and W104. We will be going by McDonalds and a KMart on our right.
2.5 (1.1) Here we will position ourselves in the right hand turn lane. We will be turning right towards Athens, West Virginia on State Route 20.
3.4 (0.9) On our left is the Crafters Mall. A collection of over 70 separate shops under one roof. You may want to stop if you are here when they are open.
4.3 (0.9) We are now going under a bridge that carries Interstate 77.
7.5 (3.2) If we look to our right down in the valley we can see a bend in the Bluestone River.
(0.2) On the left there is a marker that says Athens, West Virginia. Athens is the home of Concord College which was established in 1872. 7.7
8.0 (0.3) We are now in downtown beautiful Athens. The Fire Department is on our right.
8.3 (0.3) There is some interesting architecture in the houses on the right of the street. We are coming into what looks like the oldest section of the little town of Athens. The brand new Athens High School is on our right.
8.5 (0.2) Here we come to a stop light in the business center of Athens. To our right, across the intersection, is the Old Athens Movie Theater. The front of the building is brick, but the back of the building is tin and looks like a Quonset hut. We will go straight through this intersection and proceed on North 20 towards Pipestem State Park.
8.6 (0.1) Here the road forks, but we will follow North 20 to the right.
11.0 (2.4) We are now in what is mostly countryside. It still has houses that are fairly close together, but you can see mountains gently rising behind them.
12.5 (1.5) On our right is the Harvester. It has arts and crafts and it looks like green houses behind it. Beyond the Harvester is the Pipestem Drive-in on the right. It is closed until April. There are not many drive-ins left in operation these days.
13.4 (0.9) On our left is the Sun Valley School. On the right past the school is a beautiful new log house on the hill.
14.5 (1.1) On the right is a little sign that says we are in the community of Lerona.
(0.8) On our left is Bit Of Country West Virginia Crafts. 15.3
15.5 (0.2) Here we leave Mercer County and enter Summers County.
16.0 (0.5) We will turn left into Pipestem State Park at the big stone monument. We will go up into the park for a short distance. This is a beautifully maintained park. Pipestem Resort State Park (set on 4,023 acres) has many accommodations and recreational facilities. The name of the resort comes from the native stickwood bush whose hollow, woody stems were used by nine different Indian Tribes in the making of pipes.
16.6 (0.6) On our right is the parking lot for the lookout tower. The lookout tower affords views of the Bluestone Gorge as well as Peters and East River Mountain to the south and Great Flat Top Mountain to the north. The trail going up to the look out tower is a little steep, but well maintained.
17.1 (0.5) On our left is the entrance to the campground area. Here they offer an 82 site campground ranging from those with no hook-ups to 50 deluxe sites with water, sewage and electricity. There is also a playground here. Camping reservation season is from the Friday before Memorial Day through Labor Day.
17.3 (0.2) On our left is the entrance to the stables. You can rent horses for the many riding trails and the corral.
17.6 (0.3) On our left is the entrance to the Nature Center.
17.7 (0.1) On the right is a little overlook with a wonderful view of the mountains. There is a brass plaque on a big rock here that is in memory of Troy Lee Gatrell, the first superintendent of Pipestem State Park. He served from the opening of the Park until his death in 1972.
18.1 (0.4) On our left is the entrance to the Recreation Center. Here they have a par 3 golf course, miniature golf, outdoor swimming pool, and the Honey Bear Lodge Child Care Center which offers safe, secure and entertaining environment for children 2 to 12 years of age.
(0.2) Here the road splits. One mile ahead to the right is Pipestem's main lodge (open year round) that sits on the lip of the Bluestone River Gorge and for a family style vacation there are 25 fully equipped, deluxe cottages (open from the Friday before Memorial Day through Labor Day). These include electric heat, modern baths, balconies or decks, television and wood burning fireplaces. Towards the right there is also an 18 hole golf course and swimming pool. Here we will go left towards the amphitheater, park offices, Canyon Rim Center, Canyon Rim Tramway and Mountain Creek Lodge (open from the Friday before Memorial Day through Labor Day). 18.3
Immediately after turning left there is a sign on the left for the amphitheater. In the summer the amphitheater near the gorge hosts weekend evening entertainment such as musicals, plays, choral groups and other performers. The amphitheater seats 524 with an overflow capacity for an additional 1,000 on the surrounding hillside. Alcohol is prohibited at performances.
18.5 (0.2) There is a small graveyard sitting on the hill to the left. We are also arriving at the Canyon Rim Center. On the day we did this tour there were four wild deer standing right in the middle of the circle. Slowly munching away on the grass, unaware that anyone was watching them. There were two full grown does and two smaller deer which must have been this year's babies. They looked up to acknowledge they saw us, but didn't run. They continued grazing calmly and were still there, only a few feet away from the spot where we first saw them, when we left.
We got out of the car and looked around at the Canyon Rim Center. There is an observation deck that looks out over the canyon and you can watch the tram lift from there. The tram cars are enclosed and rides to the bottom and back are $3.00 adults and $2.00 children , without receipts from the Mountain Lodge Restaurant. With receipts, the rides are free. The tram operates from the Friday before Memorial Day through Labor Day. They are closed Tuesday and Thursday afternoons from 1-4 pm for maintenance on trams. The observation deck has a telescopic viewer that is coin operated. There are two large craft and gift shops at this location.
We will now leave the Canyon Rim Center and go back out of Pipestem State Resort Park, the same way we came in.
21.3 (2.8) We are now back out to highway 20, at a stop sign, leaving Pipestem State Park. We will turn left onto highway 20 North, toward Hinton, West Virginia.
21.5 (0.2) There is an historical road marker on the left here that reads: “Mercer Salt Works. The Mercer Salt Works at the junction of New River and Lick Creek supplied salt to southern West Virginia until destroyed August 10, 1862 by the cavalry of Col. Rutherford B. Hayes 23rd Ohio Regiment, encamped at Green Meadows.”
22.1 (0.6) We are now in the unincorporated community of Pipestem, West Virginia.
22.7 (0.6) On the left is a KOA Kampground. On the right is a beautiful old brick two-story house with white columns.
23.8 (1.1) On the left is another historical marker. It reads: “Jordan's Chapel. First frame church in the area, located .8 mi. northwest. Built 1852 in the Greek Revival Style. Prominent local brothers, Gordon and Thomas Jordan gave lumber. Used by the Methodists many years.”
26.0 (2.2) On the right is a display of yard art that is truly worth notice. It is a miniature railroad!
26.8 (0.8) There is an old house on the right side of the road that has the biggest boxwood bushes in front of it we had ever seen. Boxwoods grow slowly, so those are probably at least over a hundred years old. All through this area, there is a pretty little creek paralleling the road on our right. The creek has huge rocks in it and the mountainside slopes gently up from it, covered in tall trees.
28.7 (1.9) We are coming into the community of Bluestone.
29.3 (0.6) On the right is a road leading to the Bluestone Marina. On the left of the road, there is beginning a large wall of rock that was cut to build this road. The rock is a bright rusty-red and is composed of a porous crumbly rock.
29.9 (0.6) We are now traveling over a big steel bridge over Blue Stone Lake. The views of the lake are beautiful. This is the Lilly Bridge.
30.2 (0.3) Immediately after crossing the bridge, on the left, is the entrance to Bluestone State Park. Bluestone State Park (set on 2,155 acres) has 4 trails of various lengths and difficulties, but all have sensational views. Riverview Trail is 1.6 miles, takes 1 1/2 hours to walk, and is moderate to easy with a steep 0.5 mile ascent. Rhododendron Trail is 0.8 miles, takes 1 hour to walk, and is moderate to easy, traveling downhill. Big Pine Trail is 1.7 miles, takes 2 1/2 hours walking time, and is mostly moderate with several steep ascents and descents. Boundary Trail is 2.0 miles, takes 3 hours to walk, and is mostly moderate with several steep ascents and descents. Bluestone has 5 two person cabins, 14 four person cabins, and 6 six person cabins. There are also 87 tent and trailer campsites, 30 with electricity and bath houses. Bluestone also has a swimming pool, picnicking, playground, game courts, fishing, water skiing, boat launch and boat rentals. For further information or reservations call or write BLUESTONE STATE PARK - Box 3, Athens Star Rt., Hinton, WV 25951. (304) 466-1922.
Bluestone lake is on our right and those huge rock walls that must be 20 or 30 feet tall are on our left.
30.3 (0.1) On our right at a little pull over, overlooking the lake, there is a historical marker. This marker says – “Lilly - The historic village of Lilly was located at the confluence of the Little Bluestone and Bluestone Rivers three miles Northwest of this point. It was settled by Robert and Fanny Lilly who migrated here in the late 1700's from the Dublin-Pulaski area of then Botetourt County, Virginia. The village was razed with the construction of Bluestone Dam in 1949. Remains from 149 graves were exhumed from Lilly Cemetery with most reinterred in Crews Cemetery on Sand Knob. Robert and Fanny Lilly were reintered at the Lilly Reunion Grounds at Flat Top.”
The rock cliffs on the left here must be 50 to 60 feet high.
The overlook on the right side of the road is lined with big rocks that were most probably taken from the rock walls on the left side of the road while it was being constructed.
30.5 (0.2) On our right is a sign that says Bluestone lake, picnicking, fishing (in international symbols). This little road turns hard back to the right and goes downhill steeply.
32.5 (2.0) On our right we can see the dam on Bluestone Lake. It is a huge concrete dam. Bluestone Dam tames the joining waters of the New River and Bluestone River into 2,100 acre Bluestone lake. The second largest body of water in West Virginia.
32.8 (0.3) On our right is a parking lot for visitors to stop and look at the Bluestone Dam. There is a little railroad caboose at this stop also. There are a couple of benches at this point so that you can relax and enjoy the view.
33.0 (0.2) On our right is the entrance to the lower dam which you could see from above. Here they have picnic tables and rest rooms. You can also fish in this area.
We are now on the outskirts of Hinton, West Virginia.
33.4 (0.4) We will turn right on East State Route 3 and cross over the New River. If you would like to explore the city of Hinton, take time out of your tour to go straight, and rejoin the tour at this point.
33.6 (0.2) At this stop sign we will bear to the right on State Route 3. There is a small shopping district after we turn.
33.8 (0.2) On our right at this point is the entrance to the Bluestone Dam Offices. The Bluestone Dam Interpretive Center contains displays of Indian artifacts, a model of the dam and construction photos.
33.9 (0.1) On our right is a historical marker in the yard of a big old house that says – “Fort Culbertson - South on New River at Crump's Bottom, Fort Culbertson was built, 1774, at outbreak of Dunmores War by Captain James Robertson on order of William Preston, Lt-Col. of Fincastle County. This fort was garrisoned by troops.”
At this point the Greenbrier River is on our left.
36.1 (2.2) We are now leaving Hinton, West Virginia.
36.7 (0.6) On our right is the National Guard Armory.
37.8 (1.1) On our left across the river is one of the biggest rocks we have ever seen sitting on the edge of the river. This one single rock is bigger than a house.
Along the Greenbrier River all through this area are what appears to be summer homes, although a few look like they are lived in year round. Many of them look old as if they were built circa the 1920's and some of them look brand new.
38.5 (0.7) On the left across the water is the Willowwood Golf Course.
38.9 (0.4) There is a steel bridge painted blue on State Route 3 that turns to the left. We will continue straight on State Route 12 South. If you were to turn left here, it would take you to Talcott, where a statue honoring John Henry is located.
40.5 (1.6) On our left is the Summers County State Highway Department building.
41.3 (0.8) There is an old chimney on our left. It is all that remains of an old house on the banks of the Greenbrier River, which is still paralleling the road on the left.
42.2 (0.9) We are now crossing over a small bridge on Little Wolf Creek.
43.0 (0.8) To our left is a sign indicating public stream access for fishing on the road that turns to the left here, but we will continue straight on State Route 12.
44.1 (1.1) On our right is an old two story log house with upstairs and downstairs porches.
46.1 (2.0) We are now entering the community of Forest Hill. On our right there is an entrance that says Bluestone Conference Center 7 miles.
46.3 (0.2) On our left is Wakerobin Gallery. Their main medium is pottery. Their hours are Mon., Tue., Thu., Fri. & Sat. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. For more information call (304) 466-2053.
47.0 (0.7) On our right is the entrance to Bluestone Wildlife Management Area.
48.4 (1.4) We are now leaving Summers County, West Virginia and entering Monroe County, West Virginia. In the book, "A History of Monroe County, West Virginia," published in 1916 by Oren F. Morton, it states that Monroe County saw little action in the Revolutionary War except for Indian conflicts which was the result of British emissaries. A petition of August, 1786 said that people on Bluestone had suffered so much that the settlements had weakened and prompt aid had become very necessary. There were several frontier forts in Monroe two are Woods' and Cook's Forts at Greenville. Another, Byrnside Fort at Union is still standing as part of a house. Men of Monroe, however, from Woods' Fort, were present at the Battle of Point Pleasant. Wood's Fort, which was located about four miles above Peterstown, was built in 1773 by Captain Matthew Woods. Because the War practically stopped commerce, and there was a lack of good money and good roads, the people in this area saw great hardships during the Revolution. Continental paper money was worth so little that a claim of James Hadley against Christopher Bryan of the Monroe Sinks was scaled down from 10,000 pounds to exactly two-thirds of one percent of the face value. Butter, deerskins, hemp, and ginseng were leading articles of barter at this time.
Immediately after we top the hill we will see beautiful panoramic views to our left and in front of us.
50.2 (1.8) On our left is a picturesque little white country church down in the valley with a white painted picket fence in front of it.
50.4 (0.2) We are now going over a little bridge and entering the little community of Red Sulpher Springs, unincorporated.
50.6 (0.2) On our left is a big old beautiful three story house with porches on the top two levels. This house was built around the turn of the century by a Dr. Campbell and was named Wild Rose Hill. The road that goes in front of Wild Rose Hill and back to the little church is the old Red Sulpher Turn Pike.
There used to be a historical marker here that read - Red Sulpher Springs - Site of a popular resort hotel built in 1832. Water from the springs was reputed to have curative value. Hotel was used as a military hospital during the Civil War. Last owner was Levi P. Morton - vice-president under Benjamin Harrison.
50.9 (0.3) On our left is a pull over spot at the site of the Red Sulpher Springs. There is a little octagonal gazebo, a picnic shelter, outhouse, and a spring pump and stream. This used to be a Ruritan Park. While it is listed on the West Virginia State Road Map with a red triangle (meaning rest area), it is now private property.
Directly across the road on the right is the location of the old Red Sulpher Springs Resort. All that is left of it now is round circular stones with a shed in the middle of them. This was the Springs Pavilion. "The History of Monroe County, West Virginia" book states that the waters, which have a temperature of 54 degrees, derive their name from a peculiar sulphur compound which is held on solution. It is separated in the form of a jelly by atmospheric air and also by acids. (See article in the Winter 1995 edition entitled “Old Time Resorts and Health Spas of Monroe County, West Virginia.”)
51.2 (0.3) We are now crossing over a bridge on Fitz Run.
53.4 (2.2) We are now entering the community of Ballard. On our right is the Ballard Food Center in a beautiful old two story building. The building was built circa 1870-1890 and has always contained a store in the lower part and a residence in the upper part of the building.
54.1 (0.7) On our right is the Ballard Volunteer Fire Department.
55.2 (1.1) Look back to your left and you can see a beautiful old house. This house was built by Judge William Campbell around the turn of the century. Judge Campbell was the brother of Dr. Campbell who built Wild Rose Hill.
55.4 (0.2) We are now entering the community of Cashmere.
56.9 (1.5) On the left is a beautiful old two story farm house, complete with gingerbread trim and a big barn in the back.
59.1 (2.2) We are entering the city limits of Peterstown, West Virginia. Peterstown began its official existence when in 1803, Christian Peters petitioned the state for township. Christian Peters had lived on Trigger Run, two miles away, but moved into town after it was started.
The public library in Peterstown has a reference section of articles of historical value on the area. One is a pamphlet printed in 1926 by the Extension Agency on the History of Peterstown. They will make a copy of it for you, if you stop by the library and request it. The Library's phone number is (304) 753-9568.
59.7 (0.6) At this stop sign we are coming to the junction of Highway 219. We will turn to the right at the stop sign on south Highway 219 in the middle of downtown Peterstown.
59.8 (0.1) As we go over this bridge we are now entering Giles County, Virginia and leaving Peterstown, Monroe County, West Virginia. Giles County was formed in 1806 from Montgomery, Tazewell and Monroe Counties, and named for William B. Giles, United States Senator and Governor of Virginia from 1827-30. Mountain Lake is in this county.
61.4 (1.6) At this stop sign we will turn to the right towards West Highway 460. Immediately afterwards, we will turn left and cross a bridge to West 460.
61.5 (0.1) At this stop sign we will turn right onto West Highway 460 towards Bluefield. This is a four lane divided highway.
There are beautiful views on Highway 460 of mountains and valleys, with very few houses. This is a scenic road even though it is a four lane highway. The New River is on our left, following the road, and there are railroad tracks on the other side of the river. On the day we did this tour there was a coal train with at least 200 cars in it traveling on the track. We couldn't see either end, it was so long.
64.2 (2.7) We are crossing a bridge over the New River. On our left is the Glen Lyn plant for Appalachian Power. This is a huge electric plant.
64.8 (0.6) We are now leaving Giles County, Virginia and crossing back into Mercer County, West Virginia.
66.3 (1.5) Straight ahead, you can see how steep the grade of the four lane highway is going up the mountain in Mercer County, West Virginia. We can see a small valley to our left and mountains rising on both sides.
75.4 (9.1) At this point we will position ourselves in the left lane of 460 and we will be back at the Welcome Center, which is on the left, where we began our tour.
76.0 (0.6) We are back at the Welcome Center.
76.1 (0.1) At this stop light we will position ourselves in the left lane and go straight through this light.
76.4 (0.3) We will position ourselves in the left turn lane at this stop light to get on the entrance ramp to Interstate 77, going towards Bluefield.
This is the end of our BACKROADS tour. We hope you have enjoyed it as much as we have.