Sunday, November 6: After another wonderful breakfast at the Historic Morris Harvey House in Fayetteville, we check out and begin our long drive home, planning to make several stops along the way. We’re doing a loop, so we’ll cover new territory on the way back. Not far from US 60, we see Cathedral Falls in a blur as we zoom past; Mike turns around so we can have a look at this waterfall that drops 60 feet down rock walls in a narrow grotto.
We reach the town of Gauley Bridge, a small town in Fayette Country, West Virginia, where the New River meets the Gauley River and forms the Kanawha River. We can see the church steeple in the town through the bridge over the Gauley River.
The New River widens where it meets the Gauley. Across the way, we see a little building on a small rocky peninsula. I’m not sure what it is, but it seems to bask in a pretty and sunny spot.
In the town of Gauley Bridge, we find a mural of a railroad crossing with a train barreling through. It seems railroads played a big part in the coal-mining history of these West Virginia towns.
We drive 2 miles southwest of Gauley Bridge to the town of Glen Ferris. Here, we get out of the car to admire Kanawha Falls, which stretch across the 100-yard wide river.
We continue on Route 39, where we stop at a small overlook in the Gauley Bridge National Recreation Area.
It’s quite an uneventful drive for a long while. Though it’s about 10:30 when we leave the overlook, we don’t arrive at Blackwater Falls State Park, near the town of Davis, until 2:30, four hours later.
For centuries, this pristine wilderness stood virtually undisturbed by man. Native American foraging parties most likely confined their use of this area to the summer months due to harsh area winters. Accounts of non-natives being in this area go back as far as 1736. It isn’t known who the first non-natives were to see Blackwater Falls. However, it was David Hunter Strother, going under the name of “Porte Crayon,” who, beginning in 1853, wrote a series of articles for Harper’s New Monthly Magazine about his adventures into the Blackwater Region.
Blackwater Falls State Park, established in 1937, takes its name from the Blackwater River. The falls plunge five stories, then tumble through an eight-mile long gorge. The “black” water is a result of tannic acid from fallen hemlock and red spruce needles.
The lighting here isn’t great for pictures this afternoon. It is a pleasant walk to the falls anyway. Apparently, early visitors to the area scrambled down the boulder-strewn path and climbed over fallen trees to view the falls. Luckily, our way is made easy by the boardwalks that include over 200 steps.
The first boardwalk was built in 1961 and then replaced 25 years later in 1986. Construction of the current walkway began in August 2004 and was completed in December of the same year.
The boardwalk follows the natural contours of the slope down to the waterfall; the wood in the walkway blends nicely with the natural surroundings, as if it grew there. Famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright referred to this process as organic design (according to a sign at the park).
After looking at Blackwater Falls from every overlook and every possible angle, we take the short walk to the 20-foot Elakala Falls.
The Elakala Falls tumble into a canyon bordered by moss-covered rocks and rhododendron thickets.
We walk through the large Blackwater Lodge and Conference Center, and then stroll out back for a view over the gorge.
We still have quite a drive ahead of us to get home, so we get in the car for our long haul home, stopping at the Whole Foods Seafood Bar near our house for a delicious dinner and a glass of wine to top off our day. Our 28th anniversary weekend has come to an end. 🙂
Saturday, November 5: Before it gets dark, we’re determined to hike the 2.4 mile moderately difficult Endless Wall Trail along the New River. The trail passes through forest, crosses Fern Creek, then zigzags along the cliff edge.
It takes a while to walk through the forest to reach the cliff edge, where we have great vistas of the New River Gorge.
This trail has been voted #1 National Park Trail in the U.S. by USA Today readers.
The overlook at Diamond Point provides a great panorama of the gorge and a good turnaround spot.
Besides the fantastic views, the trail offers access to some of the best rock climbing in the eastern United States.
Looking into the distance, we can see the “endless” cliff walls following the curve of the 1000-foot deep gorge.
If you look closely in the picture below, you might catch a glimpse of some hardy souls climbing the sheer cliffs.
We make our way back through the forest to the road, where we have to walk along the two-lane highway for about a half mile to reach our car. It’s a little dangerous along this road, with pick-up trucks speeding along at breakneck speed. It would be nice if the National Park Service built a path along this road.
Back in Fayetteville, we find an interesting wall mural showing white water rafters, the marquee for the Fayetteville Theatre and a sign for Fayetteville Physical Therapy (cropped out in this photo).
We head back to the Historic Morris Harvey House, where we walk around the impressive gardens and then relax in the sitting room with a glass of wine.
The Historic Morris Harvey House
gardens at The Historic Morris Harvey House
gardens at The Historic Morris Harvey House
In the evening, we head out to dinner at the almost-empty Gumbo’s Cajun Restaurant. We’re told we can’t order drinks because the restaurant has lost its liquor license. I’m of a mind to leave, but we sit through a mediocre dinner, wondering why we didn’t just return to the lively Pies and Pints, where we ate a delicious dinner last night. As a matter of fact, after our very unsatisfactory meal, we return to Pies and Pints, which is as crowded as it was last night, and order wine and dessert. It’s a fabulous top-off to a busy day.
Tomorrow, we’ll have to return home to Virginia, but we plan to make a few stops along the way.
Saturday, November 5: After lunch we head to the east side of the New River to visit Babcock State Park. The visitor center is closed for the season, but we can still walk around the Glade Creek Grist Mill and the paths leading to the rental cabins.
The light is such that it’s difficult to get decent shots of the Grist Mill, so of course I’m disappointed. The Glade Creek Grist Mill is a new fully operable mill built in 1976 as a re-creation of Copper’s Mill, which ground grain on Glade Creek long before Babcock became a state park, according to West Virginia’s official site for Babcock State Park.
Today’s mill was created by salvaging and combining pieces from three mills which once dotted the state: the basic structure from Stoney Creek Grist Mill near Campbelltown in Pocahontas County, dating back to 1890; the overshot water wheel from Spring Run Grist Mill near Petersburg, Grant County; and pieces from the Onego Grist Mill near Seneca Rocks in Pendleton County.
The Glade Creek Grist Mill produces freshly ground cornmeal when it’s operational, available for purchase. Today, the season is over, so the mill isn’t operating.
We walk along a paved path behind the mill and find a lot of cozy-looking cabins, hunkered down in the midst of moss-covered boulders. Firewood is piled up in preparation for the cold months ahead.
Nuttallburg was one of fifty towns that sprang up along the New River to meet the nation’s growing need for coal.
John Nuttall arrived here in 1870, and anticipating that a railroad would be built to run along the river here, built two mines and a town to serve the miners and their families.
Born in England in 1817, John Nuttall worked in mines — starting at age 11 — for most of two decades. When he came to America in 1849, he worked in a silk mill for seven years, saving enough money to open his own coal mines.
The large metal structure in the picture below is Nuttallburg’s tipple, where coal was sorted, stored, loaded into rail cars, or transferred to the site’s coke ovens. The name tipple comes from the practice in some mines of tipping ore cars to unload them.
The mine evolved over its 85 years of operation, with management changing hands along the way. At one point, the mine was owned by Henry Ford of Ford Motor Company fame.
In 1873, the C&O Railroad was built and Nuttall began to ship coal. He prospered until he died in 1897 and passed the company along to his heirs. They operated it until 1920, when the Fordson Coal company leased the mine and modernized the facility. This led to a steep increase in productivity.
In 1928, Maryland New River Mining Company took over, renaming it Dubree No. 4. In 1954, the Margie Coal Company acquired the mine but quickly sold it to Garnet Coal Company. Garnet operated it for four years but closed it permanently in 1958. The mine sat vacant until the Nuttall estate transferred ownership to the National Park Service in 1998. In 2005, Nuttallburg was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The railroad track in this picture is the C&O Railway’s main line. Without the railroad, there would have been no Nuttallburg. By carrying coal to market, the railroad made coal mining in the New River Gorge possible.
The large structures seen here today, the tipple and the conveyor, were built during Henry Ford’s ownership in the 1920s. He was attempting vertical integration, a practice whereby an industry controls all aspects of production, from raw materials to finished product. Ford needed coal to power his automobile factories. By purchasing coal mines, including Nuttallburg, he hoped to control his coal supply.
Ford’s plan didn’t quite work as planned because he didn’t control the railroads. He sold his Nuttallburg rights in 1928. During the eight years he ran the mine, he sunk hundreds of thousands of dollars into upgrades, including the tipple and the conveyor. Because of these upgrades, Nuttallburg is recognized today as a nationally significant National Historic District.
New River coal was highly desirable because it had a high carbon content and contained little waste. The railroad carried it from here to many destinations. Nuttallburg coal heated homes and fueled iron furnaces, train engines, and factories throughout the East. Because New River coal emitted little smoke, the U.S. Navy valued it as ship fuel, since enemy submarines were less likely to spot ships with little smoke (from a placard at the park).
The large structure that climbs the slope was a 1,385 foot-long conveyor, one of the longest such conveyors ever built. An innovative and expensive device, it carried coal from the mine entrance high up the gorge wall to the tipple. The tipple was the operation’s centerpiece.
Completed in 1926 under Henry Ford’s ownership, and his son Edsel Ford’s management, the conveyor employed a state-of-the-art “button and rope” technology that replaced an obsolete, more dangerous, labor-intensive system. The conveyor minimized breakage; New River coal was very “friable,” or breakable, which increased operation costs.
The long, low masonry structure shown below is a bank of 80 coke ovens and is the only structure that survives from Nuttallburg’s earliest days. Workers used these ovens to convert coal into a hot-burning fuel called coke. Coke is made by baking coal under a regulated flow of air. Raw coal is loaded through the top of the oven, the oven is sealed and allowed to burn for several days, then the coke is pulled from the bottom. Impurities (volatiles) have burned away, leaving only high-carbon coke, which burns hotter than coal.
Used extensively by iron furnaces, coke was highly marketable, and added value to the coal mining operation.
Workers produced coke here for nearly 50 years, but changing markets and new technology made coke ovens obsolete. Historians believe these coke ovens have been idle since about 1920.
After leaving Nuttallburg, we drive back up the long winding road to the main highway, passing some mountain streams along the way.
We’re heading for the Endless Wall Trail, a 2.4 mile loop which is supposed to offer great views of the New River Gorge.
Saturday, November 5: During our fantastic communal breakfast prepared by Bernie at The Historic Morris Harvey House, we meet several couples who are either traveling through or staying in West Virginia for the weekend. We keep our conversation light and carefully avoid discussing the upcoming election, which is sure to cause disagreement. West Virginia is definitely Republican territory, and we’ve seen many signs for Trump-Pence in people’s yards.
We have a lot planned for today, and though the weather forecast calls for sunshine and temperatures in the low 60s, it is quite foggy this morning. I’m never happy about fog, but I guess it does lend an appropriately eerie atmosphere to our first destination, the almost-deserted town of Thurmond.
We enter the town on the one lane bridge adjoining the railroad bridge, which crosses the New River. The town, nearly deserted now, is preserved by the National Park Service, but in its day it boasted opera houses, two banks, two hotels, saloons, restaurants, clothing stores, a jewelry store, a movie theater, several dry-goods stores, business offices, and over 400 residents. As of the 2010 census, only five people lived in the town.
According to the National Park Service website: During the first two decades of the 1900s, Thurmond was a classic boomtown. With the huge amounts of coal brought in from area mines, it had the largest revenue on the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway. Having many coal barons among its patrons, Thurmond’s banks were the richest in the state. Fifteen passenger trains a day came through town — its depot serving as many as 95,000 passengers a year. The town’s stores and saloons did a remarkable business, and its hotels and boarding houses were constantly overflowing.
The 1987 movie Matewan was filed here, depicting miners’ struggles in the early 1900s.
The two-story Thurmond Depot was built in 1904 after the original station was destroyed by fire. The upper level housed the signal tower and the offices of the dispatcher, train master, and conductor. The lower level served travelers coming and going from Thurmond. The ticket agent’s office, baggage room, waiting rooms, restrooms and a snack/news room were at track level.
In 1995, the building was restored by the National Park Service for use as a visitor center. Sadly, it isn’t open this morning, making the place really feel like a ghost town.
We walk along the railroad tracks despite the warning in the Park Service brochure to “use extra caution when crossing the road and the railroad line” and to “Cross only at the designated railroad crossing and do not walk on the track line.” The track is still a CSX mainline, with over a dozen trains passing through Thurmond daily. We’re lucky enough to have one come through while we’re here, but we’re not on the track at that time!
We come first to the U.S. Post Office building. In its prior life, it was a commissary built by Fitzgerald & Company to provide supplies to the hundreds of railroad workers in Thurmond in 1929. When fire destroyed the Lafayette Hotel and the town post office, this building became the Post Office. In the late 1900s, it housed the last business in Thurmond — Thurmond Supply.
There isn’t much happening in the town this morning, but we do see festive signs of Halloween in front of the post office.
We approach the Mankin-Cox Building, which marks the southern end of the commercial district. Built in 1904, this building is the oldest in the district. The Mankin Drug Company was on the right side and the New River Banking & Trust Co. was on the left.
There are hundreds of engraved paving stones in the walkway that commemorate the happenings in Thurmond. You can see a few of them below. Click on any of the photos for a full-sized slide show.
History in Thurmond
We see a wooden house set on a hillside above the commercial district. I’m not sure if it’s inhabited today.
We continue our short walk past the commercial district and find the tall coaling tower. Tracks ran underneath the coaling station to allow as much as 500 tons of coal to drop via chutes into the coal tenders of the engines. The tower was abandoned by CSX in 1960.
While we’re at the far end of the town, we feel the earth reverberate under our feet and hear a rumble in the distance. Before long, a CSX train roars through the town, reminding us of the lost spirit of the town.
We come upon the Fatty Lipscomb House, built around 1900 and used as a boarding house. For a number of years the Littlepage family lived on the first floor and rented the second. At least through 1984, it was used as a guesthouse for whitewater rafters.
The James Humphrey Jr. house was built around 1920 and was said to have been the train master’s house, according to a U.S. Department of the Interior National Register of Historic Places.
abandoned house in Thurmond
We make our way back to the Depot, getting a view from across the tracks, climbing to the second level, and then checking it out from the railroad bridge.
With the Great Depression, several businesses in Thurmond closed, including the National Bank of Thurmond. The town’s economic vitality waned after two large fires wiped out several major businesses. In addition, roads improved and Americans began to favor automobile travel. The C&O Railway changed from steam to diesel locomotives in the 1940s, leaving many of the rail yard structures and jobs obsolete. The town is still incorporated and hosts a reunion for former residents each year, according to a National Park Service pamphlet, “Thurmond: Heart of the New River Gorge.”
We make our way down Route 25 for 7 miles, where we catch glimpses of a stream feeding the New River, along with a pretty series of waterfalls.
We return to the town of Glen Jean, scattered with a few stately buildings.
For thirty years, from 1909-1939, the Bank of Glen Jean provided financial power for the mines, towns and people along Dunloup Creek. The McKell family provided the land on which the bank stands and William McKell served as the bank’s president for its entire existence. When William McKell died, the bank closed. During the next 50 years, the building changed hands ten times. In 1986, The Nature Conservancy purchased the bank and donated it to the New River Gorge National River to be preserved as a visitor center and park offices.
Our next destination is Babcock State Park on the east side of the New River. Since we’re on the west side of the river and have to pass through Fayetteville to cross the New River Gorge Bridge, we stop for lunch at the Secret Sandwich Society. Here, we share a Truman sandwich: Turkey, peach jam, blue cheese spread, and crispy onions on a toasted baguette. We order a side of pimento cheese fries.
Now the sun has broken through the fog, and we’re on our way to Babcock State Park.
Friday, November 4: It takes us a good long while to get to the New River in West Virginia after leaving the Skyline Drive. We finally arrive at 4:00, just in time to get a glimpse of the river and the New River Gorge Bridge and to take a long winding drive down to the river bed and then climb back up on the other side. It’s a good thing daylight savings time doesn’t begin until Sunday morning. Otherwise it would be dark by 5:00.
The New River is about 360 mi (515 km) long. The river flows through the U.S. states of North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia before joining with the Gauley River to form the Kanawha River at the town of Gauley Bridge, WV. We’ll plan to visit the point where these two rivers meet when we drive back home on Sunday.
Despite its name, the New River is considered by some geologists to be one of the oldest rivers in the world (Wikipedia: New River (Kanawha River)), even older than the Appalachian mountains through which it flows. Local legend claims only the Nile is older.
As it flows through West Virginia, most of the New River is designated as the New River Gorge National River. It is one of our country’s American Heritage Rivers, designated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to receive special attention in furthering three objectives: natural resource and environmental protection, economic revitalization, and historic and cultural preservation (Wikipedia: American Heritage Rivers).
The New River Gorge Bridge, completed in October of 1977, reduced a 40-minute drive down narrow mountain roads and across one of North America’s oldest rivers to less than a minute. According to the U.S. Park Service website, it is “the longest steel span in the western hemisphere and the third highest in the United States.” A sign at the overlook says it is “the world’s longest single-arch steel span bridge. At 876 feet above the river, it is America’s 2nd-highest bridge.” I think the sign’s information is outdated.
Though the tree-covered slopes look the same from top to bottom, they actually vary with slope, moisture and soil type. The river bottom, a water habitat, nourishes water-loving plants and animals. The gorge’s slopes, steep and well-drained, support a mixed deciduous (leaf-dropping) forest. Secluded shaded side-drainages harbor patches of hemlock-rhododendron. Evergreens eke out a living from the dry rocky soil on the ridge-tops. On the flat plateau, a deciduous oak-hickory forest thrives on stable soil.
The steel used in the bridge is Cor-ten steel, which rusts slightly on the surface. This surface-rust inhibits deeper rust, protecting the steel and eliminating the need to paint. It also provides the color which darkens with time.
On the third Saturday of October, the Fayette County Chamber of Commerce hosts “Bridge Day.” On this one day a year, the famous bridge is open to pedestrians. Thousands of people are drawn to participate in a wide variety of activities, including food and crafts vendors, BASE jumping, rappelling, and music. Bridge Day is West Virginia’s largest one-day festival, and it is the largest extreme sports event in the world.
We follow a one-way winding road from the visitor center down to the river bottom, where we cross over a small bridge. Mike has fun being Mike. We get a good view of the big bridge from the little bridge, and then we head up the other side of the gorge.
a small bridge over the New River
a small bridge over the New River
a small bridge over the New River
Mike being Mike
view of the New River Gorge Bridge from the small bridge below
The New River is odd in that it flows north; this doesn’t usually happen in the American east.
The New River’s shape and form are also odd. It has great bends that cut deeply into the earth, unusual in eastern North America where meandering rivers are normally broad and flat. Here, the New River slices through ten million years of rock layers.
The New River Gorge Bridge
The New River Gorge Bridge
The New River Gorge Bridge
As we climb up the road into Fayetteville, we pass a stream with some small waterfalls.
Finally, we arrive at The Historic Morris Harvey House Bed & Breakfast, our home for the next two nights. The house was completed in 1902 for Morris and Rosa Harvey. This 3-story, 14-room Queen Anne-style house has five guest areas, seven fireplaces and two antique bathrooms with clawfoot tubs.
After the death of Morris Harvey, the house stayed in the Harvey family until 1931. From 1931 to 1953, it served as the parsonage for Methodist ministers. For the next 40 years, there were various owners.
In 1993, the owners Elizabeth Bush and her husband George Soros renovated the house extensively, including replacing the seven original oak fireplaces with Italian tile. Since 1994, the house has served as a bed and breakfast inn. The inn is currently owned by Bernie J. Kania Jr. and his family.
The Morris Harvey House has been placed on the Register of Historic Places by the Department of Interior and has appeared in numerous newspaper and magazine articles, including the book “Historic Inns of West Virginia,” according to the B&B’s website.
I’m not sure if the character on the front porch is a prisoner or an elf.
The gardens are quite beautiful.
And a little frog welcomes us into the house.
The Harvey Room, where we stay, has a toilet but no bath; we have to share the bath with one other room. It seems to have a peacock motif. I love the Italian tiles on the fireplace.
The Harvey Room
peacock in the Harvey Room
Fireplace in the Harvey Room
We take a bottle of wine down to the sitting room and enjoy our wine with some crackers and cheese that Mike thought to bring along. Again, I love the tiles on the fireplace, along with the chess board.
Beveled glass door
chess board and fireplace
I play around with the camera awhile, trying to get a decent picture of the chess pieces.
We find this interesting little book on the coffee table.
I like the thoughts in this little book, many of which I can apply to specific situations in my life now.
From Strange Dreams
From Strange Dreams
From Strange Dreams
After we drink our wine, we head out to have dinner at Pies and Pints. Though there are other restaurants in town, it’s clear this is the only game in town. It’s packed. We choose to sit at the bar rather than wait 20-30 minutes for a table. We order a Spinach Salad (Spinach, red onions, Gorgonzola, red grapes & sunflower seeds, tossed in-house vinaigrette or creamy Gorgonzola) and a Mushroom Garlic Specialty Pie (Roasted mushrooms, feta, roasted & fresh garlic, caramelized onions, olive oil & fresh herbs). I have a Blue Moon and Mike an Ayinger Beer.
As we sit at the bar, we strike up a conversation with an Arapaho guy, Jeremiah, around 40, who works with the National Park Service and is from New Mexico. His family is in Standing Rock and he wishes he could be there with them. He is also of Two Spirits, as Native Americans recognize seven genders. What an amazing guy and I’m so happy to have met him.
Here it is, the weekend before our election, and all I can think is that I love America’s diversity and can’t understand why people want to destroy what makes America great!