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Chapter 2 -- Description and Current Conditions

The modern US Route 250 from the Virginia / West Virginia border to Beverly generally follows the routing of the original Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike, and is designated as the eastern section of the Byway.   Because it is most accessible and visible to visitors, it demonstrates the long-term value of the original routing of the turnpike.   The middle and western sections follow US 33 and WV 47 to Parkersburg.  

The contemporary condition of the original turnpike route varies widely over its course.   The best integrity is found on those sections that have been bypassed by modern highways yet remain in public use as secondary “county” gravel roads.   All are under the jurisdiction of the West Virginia Division of Highways.   The narrow gravel back road sections within Pocahontas County are from the Top of Allegheny to Bartow (Camp Allegheny Backway), a short section over Cheat Bridge (Cheat Summit Backway), and in Randolph County over Rich Mountain (part of Rich Mountain Backway).   Other sections, such as Back Mountain Road west of Durbin (Back Mountain Backway), and west of Beverly to Rich Mountain and from Mabie to the Upshur County line, are blacktop but not major highways (Rich Mountain Backway).   The western half has no designated Backways.   In Ritchie County the original road followed the north bank of the river, but this segment has been partially abandoned and has only limited maintenance, making it nearly impassable.  

Backways, especially those sections still unpaved, offer the best opportunity for interpretation of the original turnpike. These scenic, little developed roadways have excellent integrity to the early appearance of the turnpike and strong Civil War associations. They offer a unique experience for the tourist looking for something genuine and unusual.

In some places previous routings of the road can be seen either as small loops off of the modern road, or as alternative routes. Additional research will be needed to identify all of the variations of the roadway from the Turnpike era through today.

In some cases, the original route has been bypassed or abandoned altogether, most notably through Bartow and Durbin, from Cheat Summit Fort to Red Run, and the Oxbow Loop Road. Some of these sections have potential for hiking trails associated with the Byway.


2-1) Byway and Backway Descriptions

The 43-mile eastern section of the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike designated as a West Virginia Scenic Byway follows U. S. Route 250 from the top of Allegheny Mountain in Pocahontas County, at the West Virginia/Virginia border, to Beverly in Randolph County. The associated Backways are sections of the original turnpike route that are different from the modern Route 250.     

The Route 250 roadway is a two-lane paved highway. This portion of the road is a continuation of US 250 from Staunton, Virginia, the terminus of the original road. The “Top of Allegheny” constitutes the main eastern gateway in West Virginia.

The exact beginning of the Turnpike in West Virginia is actually located about ¼ mile east of the mountain peak, where a section of the old route diverges from the modern highway and is in West Virginia on the south side of the highway. Before it merges with the Backway, this short section consists of a narrow one-lane track that may be more suitable for a foot or bike trail than vehicles. The corner where this section diverges from Rt 250 provides a potential attractive location for a wayside or interpretive hub connecting the Virginia and West Virginia sections on the Turnpike.

Camp Allegheny Backway follows the access road from the state line at the top of Allegheny along the ridgetop south. Joining the original turnpike route in about 1/4 mile, it continues along the ridge to the Camp Allegheny site, bisecting that site, then winding down the mountain spur to Bartow. This 9-mile improved dirt roadway offers a backcountry experience reminiscent of the original turnpike, passing through remote woods and fields and with impressive scenic views of the surrounding countryside. It rejoins the Byway at Bartow, at the site of the Civil War Camp Bartow and the original turnpike inn of Traveller’s Repose, now a private home.

Route 92 from the north intersects US 250 just east of Bartow and provides a trailhead and connecting route to Spruce Knob and Seneca Rocks. Route 92 turns south at Bartow towards Green Bank, and is significant as the connecting route to many of the other related attractions in Pocahontas County such as the Green Bank Observatory and Cass Scenic Railroad.

Through the communities of Bartow, Frank, and Durbin, the Byway follows the highway route. The original turnpike routing diverges from the highway in a number of places where the original grade can be seen, wandering through fields at the base of the mountain past the Burner house, along a back road and railroad grade near the tannery site in Frank, and through the streets and yards of Durbin.

Back Mountain Backway crosses the Greenbrier River at the west end of Bartow, following the paved Back Mountain Road with a switchback up the mountain. This route was the original roadway paved in the 1920s, and served as Route 250 until the modern section was built more directly up the mountain in the 1950s.

The Byway winds up the eastern slope of Cheat Mountain, then across the nearly flat plateau at the top. Much of this land is undeveloped forestland that is part of the Monongahela National Forest.

Just east of the Shaver's Fork River, the old turnpike route, designated here as Cheat Summit Backway, diverges south and crosses the river on an old iron bridge at the site of the original Cheat Bridge. It continues up the mountainside with several intersections with other back roads, until it merges with the current access road to Cheat Summit Fort that leads more directly from the highway. The Backway then continues on an improved gravel road up the hill to the Cheat Summit Fort site. The roadway ends there, but the original turnpike route, now abandoned and impassable, continues about a mile further until it rejoins the Byway at Red Run. The Cheat Summit Fort to Red Run section is a potential hiking trail.

Winding down the west face of Cheat, with some short turnout sections of the older route still occasionally visible, the Byway continues alongside Riffle Run to the Tygart Valley River.

At Huttonsville, the Byway intersects with U.S. 219, which follows the route south of the Huttonsville - Huntersville Turnpike, a historic connecting turnpike with the Staunton-Parkersburg Pike. A number of closely related Civil War sites are located south along US 219, including Camp Elkwater, the John Augustine Washington monument, Mingo Flats, and Valley Mountain.

Continuing north on what is now a combined US Route 250/219, the Byway winds up the Tygart Valley to Beverly. The modern highway closely follows the original route. This heavily traveled section contains a mix of residential, commercial, and occasional industrial development along the roadside. Between the towns are mixed woods and open agricultural landscapes, with long-range views of the surrounding mountains. There are a number of historically significant homes along the route as it travels through the old settlements of Huttonsville and Beverly, the lumber-era boomtown of Mill Creek, and the New Deal Homestead communities of Dailey, East Dailey, and Valley Bend.

The Town of Beverly, the original county seat of Randolph County, contains the most remaining pre-Civil War buildings in one location along the Byway. Beverly is a major hub for the eastern section, with a Turnpike Visitor Interpretive Center located here.

At Beverly, the original turnpike turns west on Rich Mountain Road, which has been designated as Rich Mountain Backway. This road is blacktop through the valley, turning to improved gravel where it climbs up and over Rich Mountain, passing through the Rich Mountain Battlefield Civil War site to the community of Mabie. An alternative access to the Backway then turns north past Coalton and Norton, to US Route 33.

The designated Byway route follows the historic Beverly-Fairmont Pike route north of Beverly (now Country Club Road), until it merges back with Rt 250 south of Elkins. Soon joining US 33, the Byway follows the old US33 route through town (now in some places designated only as WV92) and rejoins the new four-lane Rt 33 west of Elkins for a few miles. The Byway designation then turns off the four-lane south and west along State Route 151 (the former Route 33) to Buckhannon. The Rich Mountain Backway route along the original turnpike joins the Byway on WV 151 near Pumkintown.

Crossing into Upshur County at Burnt Bridge, the Byway continues on the older route through downtown Buckhannon.   The Byway stays on the old road that now serves as an access road for the four-lane US Rt 33 to Lorentz, near the Lewis County border. Here it merges with the four-lane to travel down Buckhannon mountain. The Byway again moves onto the older route at Horner, paralleling the four-lane, continuing until the road dead ends near I-79. Returning to US 33 the Byway continues through Weston to the Gilmer County line where it becomes WV 47.   It retains this designation through Gilmer, Richie, Wirt, and Wood counties where it joins US 50 (originally the Northwestern Turnpike) in Parkersburg. Official Byway designation currently ends at this intersection, but the original S-P Turnpike continued along with the Northwestern Turnpike through downtown Parkersburg to the Ohio River.  

The Corridor Boundaries of interest for the Byway extend beyond the roadway itself. Defining these boundaries in specifics is difficult however, both because of the variety of types of landscapes, and because of differing needs and benefits affecting the Corridor. The traditional definition of Corridor Boundaries is often considered to be the viewshed along the roadway -- but in the case of this Byway, the viewshed can vary from just a few feet either side of a densely wooded roadway, to many miles visible from a scenic overlook.

For the purposes of Byway regulations, signage, and controlling intrusions, the corridor is here defined as the property immediately adjacent to the Byway and Backways, and extending back as far as is obviously noticeable from a vehicle on the Byway.

For purposes of the visitor experience and of protecting, developing, and promoting the intrinsic quality resources, the corridor can be defined much more widely, encompassing the wide variety of related attractions and services that can be accessible from the Byway.


2-2)   Cultural Landscapes   

Cultural landscapes are the result of how natural and man-made factors influenced each other and produced the landscape we see today.   Vernacular cultural landscapes are those that evolved over time through the interaction of people with their environment. There are three major types of cultural landscapes within the Byway area – the mostly wooded mountain ridges, narrow rural valleys with alternating small farms and woods, and the more densely settled broader river valleys where most of the towns and development are located. Each particular example of a cultural landscape constitutes a separate character area.

The long range of the Allegheny Mountains separates the eastern seaboard from the rest of the country. For early Virginia, the mountains also separated the mainstream settled sections of the state from the frontier. The historic landscape, shaped by the past with visible changes of more recent periods, tells the ongoing story of movement through and settlement among and beyond these mountains.

Thus the mountains are the primary determining features of this area. Long, high ridges running basically north to south define the topography of the region where the eastern section of the Byway is located. High mountain streams run between the ridges, eventually becoming major rivers.

Farther west are the hills of the Appalachian Plateau, characterized by gentle folding and moderate elevations. Rivers here have a more irregular pattern, with the tributaries subdividing like the limbs of a tree. Valleys tend to be narrower, yet the ridgetops can offer striking panoramas.

In looking at these cultural landscapes the key factor is access. The history of man’s adaptation to mountains is largely a story of transportation -- the difficulties of crossing, or moving into, the mountain areas and the isolation of the settlements due to the difficulties of traversing the mountains. The Staunton - Parkersburg Turnpike can be used to tell much of the story of the region: early settlements creating the need for the road, the political and engineering difficulties in building the road, the Civil War campaign fought for control of the road, changes in economic patterns as transportation access improves, and the resource development boom coming only when more practical transportation, the railroads, finally reached into its territory.

Broad river valleys between the mountain ridges were the natural sites of early settlements. The upper Greenbrier Valley, the upper Tygarts River Valley, and to a lesser extent the Roaring Creek Valley were the predominant settlement areas along the eastern turnpike, while the Buckhannon River, Stone Coal Creek, Polk Creek, Leading Creek, Grassy Run, Hughes River, the Little Kanawha River, and the Ohio River were central to settlement in the western section. These cultural landscapes of relatively flat valley land bisected by a river, surrounded by steep wooded mountainsides, settled mostly by scattered farm families, were typical of those found throughout the highland region. The town of Beverly, as the county seat and major crossroads in the fertile Tygarts Valley, grew into a small market center. With improved transportation and the building of the turnpike, the density of farms increased, with the mountain ridge tops and high benches also being settled. But many of these valleys remained mostly farms, or had only small informal communities, through most of the 19th century.

It should be noted that there are numerous similar landscapes throughout these highlands counties that can be studied and interpreted as a part of this context of mountain settlement and adaptation. Indeed, many of the smaller valleys, with less accessible transportation, retain better early farming landscape integrity. There are also numerous late 19th century - early 20th century industrial sites that can be linked for study and interpretation. The heritage of this mountain region can and should be interpreted and presented for residents and tourists as an integrated whole, with minimal distraction from such artificial lines as state and county boundaries. The Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike can provide an entry and focus for much of this interpretation, but should not become a limiting factor.


2-3) Jurisdictions and regulations

The eastern section of the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike Byway as originally designated, as well as its four associated Backways, are all within Randolph and Pocahontas Counties of West Virginia. The roadways themselves are under the jurisdiction of and maintained by the WV Division of Highways, District 8 with offices in Elkins.   The central counties Upshur, Lewis, and Gilmer are in District 7 with an office in Weston, while the western counties Ritchie, Wirt, and Wood are in District 3 with an office in Parkersburg.   

     The rural properties, and those within unincorporated townships, are under the jurisdiction of the corresponding county governments, under authority of the County Commissions. Although some counties have county planning commissions, none have regulatory authority, and none have implemented zoning regulations for the rural areas.

     The incorporated towns along the Byway are Durbin, Beverly, Mill Creek, Huttonsville, Coalton, Buckhannon, Weston, and Parkersburg. Some of them have rudimentary zoning in place within their town limits, mostly differentiating residential from commercial areas. Authority is vested in each Town Council and Mayor.

     There are five Historic Landmarks Commissions currently active with jurisdiction on part of the Byway. Pocahontas County Historic Landmarks Commission applies to the whole of Pocahontas County including those sections of the Byway. Beverly Historic Landmarks Commission works with the Beverly Historic District. Both the Buckhannon Historic Landmarks Commission, and the Weston Historic Landmarks Commission apply to their respective towns.   The Gilmer County Landmarks Commission applies to the entire county, as does the Wood County Landmarks Commission. As Certified Local Governments, the Landmark Commissions can apply for certain categories of preservation and education grants, and often undertake projects of historic surveys, national register nomination, planning, education and interpretation. Such a grant, for instance, has funded interpretive signs in Beverly. None of these Commissions currently have Design Review authority, though that could be a potential avenue for protection of resources if the corresponding parent governments approved. The remainder of Randolph County could potentially be covered by a Randolph County Historic Landmarks Commission, which does exist in county law, but has not been active. Activation of this Commission, and its subsequent qualification as a CLG, could open opportunities for significant project funding in the future.

     Major sections of the land along the Byway, particularly in the Allegheny and Cheat Mountain areas, are Federal property of the Monongahela National Forest. The Forest Service priorities of protection and appropriate use of natural resources and of encouraging visitor access to its resources are completely in harmony with the purposes of the Byway. The Forest Service is a major cooperative partner in the Byway coalition. Several Wildlife Management Areas of the WV Division of Natural Resources are located very near the Byway.