The Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike Byway was designated on the basis of all six of the intrinsic qualities recognized by the West Virginia Byway program. These intrinsic qualities – historic, archaeological, cultural, natural, scenic, and outdoor recreation – represent the resources that make the Byway special and significant. They also are the attraction – the authentic and special destinations that will make the Byway of interest to visitors. Identifying, protecting, and appropriately developing them for tourism are an essential task of the Byway. No amount of marketing or tourism services will please visitors and keep them coming back if the resources they want to see and experience are disappointing or poorly presented.
This chapter gives a general overview of the intrinsic quality resources available along the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike Byway and associated Backways. The first section contains a brief history of the Turnpike. The following sections summarize the intrinsic quality resources. More detailed description of the historic context is found in Appendix B, and listing of the intrinsic quality resources that have been identified to date are found in Appendix C. Further identification of these resources, especially in the areas of African American and Native American history, will be an ongoing task of the Byway organization.
Gaps in the high Allegheny mountain ridges provided natural passages for travelers. Prehistoric Indians living here for thousands of years found and used the best pathways, as did the game animals they hunted. Continued use created well-worn foot trails, which were then used as horse trails by the European settlers. The earliest roads and 19th century turnpikes followed these same trails.
The early settlers built their homesteads in the river valleys such as the upper Greenbrier Valley, the Tygart River Valley, the Buckhannon River valley, the Hughes River valley, the Little Kanawha River Valley, and the Ohio River valley. The town of Beverly, was established in 1790 as county seat of the new Randolph County, and was a major crossroads and market town for the eastern section. Squatters arrived in Wood County in the 1760s with permanent settlers occupying what would become Parkersburg in 1785. Traveller’s Repose (later Bartow), Huttonsville, Buckhannon, and Weston, were also early communities, but many others were not established as towns until the late-19 th century boom era.
The Staunton - Parkersburg Turnpike was the historic roadway built to provide transportation access across these mountains from the upper Shenandoah Valley of Virginia to the Ohio River. After decades of inaction on the part of the Virginia government in Richmond, the state finally acceded to demands from its western citizens and built this turnpike. The road was authorized in 1826, and planned and laid out by the state engineer of Virginia, Claudius Crozet. It was not built until the 1840’s, with completion of the main roadway in 1845, and work on bridges continuing at least until 1848. This road, traveling over the high mountains near the birthplace of rivers, was an engineering marvel, and opened up large sections of western Virginia to settlement and commerce. A transportation route was now available for products which previously could not be taken to market. The turnpike became an important means of entry into the Shenandoah Valley from the Ohio Valley and the resultant transport of livestock and other agricultural commodities gave rise to numerous inns and taverns along the route. Products which could not be taken to market now had a transportation route. The most important north-south route in western Virginia, the Weston-Gauley Bridge Turnpike would make Weston an important hub and one of the reasons the Trans-Allegheny Asylum for the Insane was located in the town.
The Turnpike was one of several routes that gave rise to the expression “Sold down the River”. As slave breeding became an important industry in more eastern parts of Virginia the route was one of several used for transporting slaves to the developing Cotton South. Many African Americans can trace the forced migration of their ancestors along these routes. Resistance to slavery can also be found in the arson and suicide associated with Burnt House and with various activities of the Underground Railroad located in close proximity to the route, especially in Ritchie and Wood counties.
Controversy over the building of internal improvements in the west, including the Staunton - Parkersburg Turnpike, fueled early threats to separate western Virginia. At the beginning of the Civil War, this major roadway across the Alleghenies became of strategic importance because of the access it provided to the B&O Railroad. Thus one of the earliest campaigns of the Civil War was fought for control of this turnpike. Winning the battle of Rich Mountain gave the Federals control of the turnpike, of the Tygart Valley, and of all of the territory of western Virginia to the north and west, and brought promotion to Union General George McClellan to command the Army of the Potomac. By seizing control of the turnpike for the North, General McClellan ensured Federal control of the trans-Allegheny region and the vital Baltimore & Ohio railroad that connected Maryland with Ohio. It also allowed formation of the Reorganized Government of Virginia, thus leading to the partition of Virginia and the formation of West Virginia in 1863.
The Federals then fortified Cheat Summit, and the Confederates established fortifications at Bartow and Allegheny. There they faced each other over the turnpike through the fall and winter of 1861. General Robert E. Lee’s attempt to attack Cheat Summit Fort, and Federal attempts to attack Camp Bartow and Camp Allegheny, all failed to dislodge the enemy. But the harsh winter in the mountains achieved what armies had failed to do, and in the spring of 1862 both armies moved eastward down the pike to the battle of McDowell, and on to fight what became Stonewall Jackson’s Shenandoah Valley campaign.
Union troops had first crossed the river into western Virginia at Parkersburg in 1861. Union sentiment tended to be stronger in the western counties. In 1863 the Union established Fort Boreman at the confluence of the Little Kanawha and Ohio rivers overlooking the town of Parkersburg to maintain control of the key transportation routes at the western end of the Turnpike. This same year the state of West Virginia was established – this action was only possible because of the Federal control of the region and its transportation routes including the S-P Turnpike. The Western section of the Turnpike was one of the major objectives of the Jones-Imboden raid of 1863. This was the most significant Confederate incursion into West Virginia and resulted in substantial loss, including extreme damage to the oil fields at Burning Springs.
Following the war, control and maintenance of the road was delegated to the counties, and damage to roads and bridges was slowly repaired. Tolls continued to be collected, at least in some areas, until the 1890s. Travel, mail, and stage routes resumed, bringing business to inns new growth and the settlement of numerous towns.
In the 1890 to 1900 period, the railroads, logging, and mining interests brought prosperity, population growth and the establishment of numerous towns. Elkins replaced Beverly as the population center in the Tygart Valley and as county seat of Randolph County. Durbin, Frank, Bartow, and Smithville were established as towns where there had previously been farming settlements.
The turnpike itself declined in importance, but issues surrounding the role of transportation into the mountains remained paramount. The “boom” period, through the 1920’s, established the oil and gas towns in the west, lumber towns in the east, as well as growth of mining activity. Communities grew, with shops, taverns, and hotels in numerous small towns, such as Durbin, Beverly, Buckhannon, and Weston. Elkins as a railroad center, and Parkersburg on the Ohio River, were key commercial and transportation hubs.
In the 1920s and 1930s, highways were paved to provide for automobiles. Modern road building straightened curves, filled lowlands, bridged streams, and cut through mountains, as in the Big Cut in Ritchie County, rather than following the contours around them. Nevertheless, the basic route in many cases remains the same. The route used for thousands of years still proves to be the most advantageous.
Twentieth-century developments such as changes in industry and commerce found their way into these counties and brought change to the historic communities. National events impacted the area such as the establishment of the Monongahela National Forest, and the New Deal homestead founded at Dailey and Valley Bend in response to the depression. More recent developments, both industrial and residential, are centered along the modern highway, which replaced the turnpike, often on the same route. In areas where the modern four-lane has taken a significantly different route (such as the western section where Rt 50 instead of 47 has been four-laned) the communities along the Byway route are largely bypassed by commercial development. For many communities isolation is a determining factor, and with the closing of many traditional industries, such as the Frank tannery in Pocahontas County, the Asphalt Mine in Ritchie County, the glass factories in Lewis County, and the oil and gas fields in Wood and Wirt counties high unemployment is a problem in remote areas.
The mountains which caused the original isolation of the area continue today to attract recreationists and those who value the area’s unique resources, coexisting with resource extraction, commerce, and the economic growth needed by the valley communities.
The primary historic sites on the Byway and Backways, especially those that are more established for visitation, are the Civil War sites. Rich Mountain Battlefield Civil War Site s the pivotal site of the Civil War First Campaign is recognized as nationally significant, with Cheat Summit Fort, Traveller’s Repose/Camp Bartow, Camp Allegheny, Fort Boreman Hill in Parkersburg, and the Beverly Historic District all also listed on the National Register of Historic Places with Civil War significance. The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum (aka Weston State Hospital), and Graceland & Halliehurst Mansions on the Davis & Elkins College Campus are National Historic Landmarks. The early 19 th century See-Ward house in Mill Creek, the late 19 th century Hutton House in Huttonsville, Ward House near Beverly, the H.G. Kump House, in Elkins are just a few of the individually listed homes along the Turnpike. Other Historic Districts include Tygart Valley Homesteads, Downtown Elkins, Downtown Weston, and Julia-Ann Square District in Parkersburg. Eligible districts include downtown Durbin for its lumbering history, the New Deal Tygart’s Valley Homesteads at Dailey and Valley Bend, Mt. Iser Civil War cemetery and entrenchments outside of Beverly, and downtown Buckhannon. A number of other communities, homes and sites along the Byway are also of historic significance and would be valuable additions to the interpretation of the pike. A more detailed listing with information on these sites is found in Appendix C
All of the historic Civil War sites are also archaeologically significant. Archaeological surveys of varying extent have been done at Rich Mountain Battlefield, Cheat Summit Fort, and Camp Allegheny, as well as in selected areas of Beverly. Archaeological studies at Fort Boreman will be useful in establishing age, and cultural affiliation of the previous inhabitants. Work is currently underway at Fort Boreman. A section of the old turnpike near Cheat Summit has also been excavated.
Considerable private collecting has also taken place, particularly before these sites were protected, and continues at the privately owned sites. Encouraging cooperation with private collectors and collecting information on their previous findings is a valuable tactic to salvage the information from these sites. Efforts to discourage private excavation and metal detecting are vital to protect the information, which still remains. For similar reasons, the Native American sites that have been identified in the region of the turnpike have mostly not been publicly identified, in order to protect them from looting. A properly presented archaeological survey or excavation as a part of one of the historic sites could contribute both to the interpretation of the site and the education on the proper role of archaeology in learning about our past.
Many cultural pursuits are inextricably bound with the cultural and natural history of the region. The popularity of traditional music, dance and craft programs at The Augusta Heritage Center in Elkins both help to preserve the area’s rich folklife heritage, and to share that heritage with class and festival participants. An impressive variety of artists and craftsmen make their home in Elkins and the surrounding region – some focusing on traditional crafts and folkways, others using the traditions as inspiration for original work. Community square dances and cake walks are still held in some small communities, as well as regular dances in Elkins. Small town festivals such as ramp feeds, heritage days, and fireman’s festivals are held in almost every small community, along with major festivals such as the Mountain State Forest Festival in Elkins, the Strawberry Festival in Buckhannon, The Central Appalachian Regional Products Festival, the Gold Dollar Days in Weston, the Stonewall Jackson Jubilee at Jackson’s Mill near Weston, and the Crazy About Bluegrass Festival. Local theater is performed by some community high schools and community theater groups, and by the local colleges such as Davis and Elkins College, West Virginia Wesleyan College, or West Virginia University at Parkersburg. The Old Brick Playhouse in Elkins provides a home for contemporary community theater, including a youth program, and also mounts a touring company. Cultural opportunities are highlighted in a bi-monthly Arts Calendar, which lists events throughout a multi-county region traversed by the Turnpike.
Natural and scenic resources are also rich along the pike. Most of the eastern section either borders the Monongahela National Forest, or runs directly through it. Wildlife habitat, wetlands, and sweeping mountain vistas can be contrasted with areas disturbed by coal mining and other extractive industries. The majesty of the region’s high mountain ranges contrast with picturesque rural farming landscapes in the valleys. The Hughes River Wildlife Management Area, Stonewall Jackson Wildlife Management Area, and the Richie Mines Wildlife Management Area provide scenic and recreational opportunities.
The Allegheny highlands are unusual as a division of watersheds. Rivers arise in the region which run four different directions: from the east side of Allegheny Mountain north into the Potomac and south into the James River watersheds, from the west side of Allegheny north into the Monongahela and south into the Kanawha watersheds. This location near the source of the rivers was considered by Claudius Crozet to be an advantage in the building of the turnpike, as the rivers could be bridged while they were still small.
Much of the mountain area crossed by the pike is in forest, including a stand of old-growth native spruce at Gaudineer Knob and Balsam Fir at Blister Run. Wildlife habitat supports a rich variety of species, including the endangered Cheat Mountain Salamander and Northern Flying Squirrel. Wetlands and trout streams, such as the upper Shavers Fork of Cheat, are rebounding habitat recovering slowly from the extremes of logging and mining in the area. These natural areas are contrasted with rural landscapes and farms in the valley areas. Overlooks from the turnpike route on the ridge tops and benches show impressive vistas of surrounding valleys and ridges.
The region traversed by the pike is one of the most popular destinations for outdoor recreation in the East. Mountain biking, hiking, backcountry camping, fishing for a great variety of species in both uplands and lowlands and hunting are already well-established pursuits in the region. The state-managed Wildlife Management Areas are adjacent to or near the Byway offering public hunting and fishing access. The Monongahela National Forest also allows hunting and fishing, both developed and primitive camping, and a vast network of hiking trails. A number of railtrails, such as the Allegheny Highland Trail and the North Bend Rail Trail, can be accessed near the Byway offering opportunities for hiking and biking. These trails offer outstanding opportunities for birdwatching, wildflowers, nature photography, and watchable wildlife.
Excursion train rides are available along some of the historic railroads serving the turnpike area, and can be ridden from Durbin, Cheat Bridge and Elkins, as well as the outstanding historic train at nearby Cass. An innovative outfitter offers train rides to the river to let off campers and river floaters in an area not reached by roads.
Skiing is outstanding at area resorts, and cross-country skiing is available on Turnpike area paths. Horseback riding is also available. There is great potential for additional recreation and entrepreneurial opportunities, such as small group tours, outfitting and guide services, and trail rides.