Moundsville, WV – July 2017 – West Virginia State Prison

When West Virginia split from Virginia during the Civil War it instantly found itself needing many institutional venues that were previously served by those now located in Virginia.

One of those venues was a prison, so in the late 1860s they started building a prison in Moundsville, just south of what was then the state capital of Wheeling.

The Moundsville Prison was generally regarded as one of the most violent prisons in America, with numerous murders and other acts of aggression regularly occurring. Eventually in the 1990s it was closed, and now serves as a tourist spot and training facility.

 

Visitation Area

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Gallows  – There were over 90 executions at the prison, initially by hanging. It is thought this was the first location for the gallows, they were later moved to the ‘Death House’, which is no longer standing.

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A cell block.

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The exterior wall.

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New Vrinabad, WV – July 2017 – Palace of Gold

In the extremely unlikely locale of the West Virginia Northern Panhandle is the Prabhupada’s Palace of Gold. Built in the 1970s it is a magnificently ornate building that is showing it’s age, with a multi year restoration effort ongoing.

Despite this, it continues to attract thousands of tourists a year to seek it out (my navigation system took me down a dirt road that wanted me to cross a creek with 2′ of water running through it.)

Once we did arrive we were fascinated with the thought of a Hare Krishna temple just up the hill from numerous fracking wells and their associated tanker trucks, and the oil workers and their giant 4 wheel drive pickups.

While not something I want to do often, it was worth the adventure of finding it and spending an hour or two.

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Washington, DC – Late Fall 2016 Road Trip – Day 2

Our morning in Cumberland started out a crisp 34oF. The day would find us eventually in Washington, DC, but with a few stops on the way, starting with a drive along the Potomac River south from Cumberland, until we reached the Paw Paw Tunnel. This  3,118-foot long canal tunnel is located on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal located near Paw Paw, West Virginia.

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The tunnel was built to bypass the Paw Paw Bends, a 6-mile stretch of the Potomac River containing five horseshoe-shaped bends. The town, the bends, and the tunnel take their name from the pawpaw trees that grow abundantly along nearby ridges.

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Building the tunnel was underestimated as to the difficulty of the job by the construction company.  The tunnel project created financial problems and nearly bankrupted the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company. The lengthy construction and high cost forced the company to end canal construction at Cumberland, Maryland, in 1850, rather than continue to Pittsburgh as originally planned.

The tunnel was used by canal boats until the C&O closed in 1924.  The tunnel was badly deteriorated until the National Park Service made major repairs to the tunnel, including replacing fallen bricks, filling cavities along the towpath, stabilizing rock slides, and repairing the facade.  Today the Paw Paw Tunnel is part of the C & O Towpath which is part of a major bike trail connecting Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C.

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We hiked the half-mile path from the parking lot through the woods to reach the tunnel sheathed in fog.  The colorful autumn leaves brightened the surroundings as we entered into the tunnel feeling a cool breeze within it.   As we walked on the bumpy dirt towpath where mules once pulled canal boats on this trail, the tunnel turned darker the farther we hiked.  Our flashlights and the railing helped to guide our way to the other end of the tunnel.

After reaching the end, we turned around to walk back through the tunnel again.  We did not climb the steep and strenuous looking two-mile long Tunnel Hill Trail over top the mountain to see where the tunnel builders lived during construction but I enjoyed our short trek into the tunnel to see a bit of history and engineering marvel.

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The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (NASM)’s annex at Washington Dulles International Airport.  The 760,000-square-foot facility was made possible by a $65 million gift to the Smithsonian Institution by Steven F. Udvar-Házy, an immigrant from Hungary and co-founder of an aircraft leasing corporation.  The main building, located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C, had always contained more artifacts than could be displayed, and most of the collection had been stored, unavailable to visitors.

The exhibition areas at the Udvar-Hazy facility have two large hangars, the Boeing Aviation Hangar and the James S. McDonnell Space Hangar.  The museum is connected by a taxiway to the Washington Dulles International Airport.  The observation tower at the museum provided a view of landing operations at the airport for us to see some large jets land while we were there.

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Entering the lobby of the museum offers a visitor a direct view of the space shuttle at center stage.  It was like walking through a timeline with so many historic aircrafts in one building.

In addition to the space shuttle, other crafts on display were: The Enola Gay, the B-29 that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima; the Gemini VII space capsule; the SR-71 Blackbird Reconnaissance aircraft; the Air France Concorde; the Gossamer Albatross, which was the first man-powered aircraft to fly across the English Channel; the special-effects miniature of the “Mothership” used in the filming of Close Encounters of the Third Kind; the Virgin Atlantic Global Flyer piloted by Steve Fossett for the first solo nonstop and nonrefueled circumnavigation of Earth; and a piece of fabric from the Hindenburg disaster.

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We also saw gliders, satellites, military and commercial planes, flying platforms, missiles, boat planes, and farm duster crop planes.  A mobile NASA quarantine facility for the astronauts return was there.

The catwalk elevated us to a perch overlooking the planes and crafts on the floor and a view at eye-level of the aircrafts hovering from the ceiling.  We were able to peer inside the small suspended crafts to see the controls and sometimes personal items of the pilots in the congested airspace of the hangar.  There was a plethora of aircraft and spacecrafts to see but clearly the surprise of the initial look into the hangar to see the space shuttle and the close up of its tiles and many components is most impressive.

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Gravelly Point Park near National Airport was our next stop.  The park at the edge of the airport runway was filled with people enjoying the nice weather.  A maintenance crew was replacing bulbs in the landing lights as we looked on.  We stood at the edge beyond the landing lights while jets flew a hundred feet directly above us roaring noisily. The park also provided a good spot for us to photograph the D.C. buildings from across the river.

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We made our way to the Embassy Suites downtown, receiving an upgrade to the top floor.  It was a nice walk from the hotel to the National Building Museum.  The museum is all about building and construction obviously and so showcased different aspects of this theme.

The museum had paper models of famous castles and other famous buildings and homes.  There was a display of dollhouses.  Another room presented a technique of building tall structures and high rises from wood instead of steel.  The technique is a new trend of incorporating renewable resources in modern construction.  Stumps of wood and panels of engineered wood filled the room for us to learn how wood could be as strong as steel, lessens the impact on the environment, and reduces waste.   Miniature wooden models of multi-leveled structures were displayed for us to see examples of the early projects.

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The National Building Museum itself was very interesting with colossal 75-foot Corinthian columns reaching to the vaulted arches above in the great hall.  Outside a frieze depicting a parade of Civil War military units 3 feet high wrapped the building.  President Grover Cleveland hosted his inaugural ball in this building in 1885; since then this building has been the grand space for Washington’s social and political functions.

The design of the building was inspired by two Roman palaces, the Palazzo Farnese, and the church of the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs in Rome built by Michelangelo in the mid-sixteenth century.  Arched windows and arched niches reached fifteen stories high from floor to ceiling with a row of 234 white busts of men representing the building trades held in niches in the center court.

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Our view from the second story looking down into the great hall offered a geometric pattern similar to the Spirograph art that I made when I was a kid.  The table arrangement below was for an event and resembled colorful gears with cogs from high above.  The tables dressed in bright blue tablecloths and blue chairs against a terra cotta floor with stemware, silverware, and napkins had such an interesting look that I sent the photo out as the picture of the day asking his followers to guess what the photo was other than the blue shaped pattern.  The view from our elevated position did not easily reveal its true image.

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From the National Building Museum, we walked to the National Mall to see the Washington Monument, the midpoint between the Lincoln Memorial and the U.S. Capitol.  I was so stunned to see the unsightly overabundance of food trucks catering to the tourist that lined the street perimeter of the National Mall.  We opted to go to SEI Restaurant with a modern Asian cuisine and sushi bar.  The menu featured small plates for us to try California rolls, kimchi fried egg rice bowl, Kobe beef roll and short ribs.

We resumed our walk to the Smithsonian American Art Museum for a quick tour before the hockey game we planned to attend.  The art was inspiring to see objects made of bottle caps, buttons, mixed media and other uncommon materials.

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The Verizon Center is the home of the Washington Capitals, a rival of the Pittsburgh Penguins, although on this day they were playing the Florida Panthers . We sat in the upper level among loud drunks to watch the hockey game, obnoxious enough you would’ve thought we were in Philadelphia. We left after the end of the second period and ambled in to a sports bar on 8th street for a bite to eat, and watch the Ohio State football game. Ohio State destroyed Nebraska 62-3, completing a really good day.

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Cumberland, Maryland – Late Fall 2016 Road Trip – Day 1

With the veterans day holiday I figured out I had enough vacation time for a week long road trip, deciding to take a road trip visiting Washington, D.C., the Eastern Shore, the Outer Banks, and back through North Carolina, Tennessee and eastern Kentucky.  We were able to leave home mid afternoon, making it to Cumberland, Maryland by 7 PM. As we were checking in the Fairfield Inn we asked the desk clerk for a restaurant recommend; his was the Ristorante Ottavianni on Center Street

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After a nice walk along the canal trail to the restaurant we enjoyed scallop pesto linguine with the best scallops ever, along with a chicken parm meal. After dinner we returned along the canal trail seeing an old canal boat docked behind our hotel.

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Historically, Cumberland was known as the “Queen City,” as it was once the second largest city in the state.  Due to its strategic location on what became known as the Cumberland Road through the Appalachians, it served as a staging point for westward migrations after the American Revolution into the settlement of Ohio Country.

For us it meant it was a good place to stop for the night just a couple of hours from DC.

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Green Bank, WV – July 2015 – Listening to Outer Space

Monday morning, as we were headed to our next destination we found ourselves at the birthplace and childhood home of Pearl S Buck. This small house is a picturesque valley with the fog rising in the background was memorable.

Further along we had a noteworthy drive along the Highlands Scenic Highway, a National Forest Scenic Byway, is the highest major roadway in West Virginia and extends 43 miles with rises from an elevation of 2,300 feet to over 4,500 feet.

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Four scenic overlooks located along the Parkway portion of the Highway provide spectacular views of the Allegheny Highlands. It was a beautiful drive, interrupted only by a brief stop in a high country bog for a hike across the boardwalk.

Our destination that morning was the town of Green Bank, and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. NRAO is the operator of the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope, the Robert C. Byrd (of course) Green Bank Telescope, The observatory contains several other telescopes, among them the 140-foot telescope that utilizes an equatorial mount uncommon for radio telescopes, three 85-foot telescopes forming the Green Bank Interferometer and others.

Green Bank is in the United States National Radio Quiet Zone, which is coordinated by NRAO for protection of the Green Bank. The zone consists of a 13,000-square-mile piece of land where fixed transmitters must coordinate their emissions before a license is granted. The land was set aside by the FCC in 1958.

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After visiting the onsite museum, we went on a tour of the telescopes. Because of the sensitivity of the telescopes to radio signals, and all digital cameras put off RF, they were prohibited. You were however allowed to talk film cameras, but of course, nobody has those. The Byrd telescope is amazing in its complexity and size. To think something the size of a football field can pivot like it does is a great engineering feat.

Our tour consisted of a man and his college age daughter, as well as about 20 elderly people who were members of a RV club. These people asked some of the dumbest questions imaginable. For example, when the docent explained they had leased out time on one of the telescopes to someone from Russia, someone asked ‘is it because them Russians are too dumb to make their own’. The tour, which should’ve taken 45 minutes, took an hour and a half

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After our tour was completed we started for home, with a stop in Helvetia, a very small town back in the mountains that was settled by Swiss in the late 1800s. Since some of my ancestors settled there when arriving from Switzerland, I always like to pay a visit when I am anywhere remotely close.

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Today there are a few business and other buildings that retain the Swiss feel, primarily for the tourist trade. Since this trip was on a weekday, the local general store/post office was open. The two ladies working there were great to talk to, and they had a display of the Fastnacht masks. Fastnacht is the one day they let loose, drink beer, hide behind the mask, be someone else, and forget about the consequences; party and dance until late into the night, before the Lent observances begin.

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Lunch at the Hutte Restaurant provided some more good Swiss/German food, and set us up for our long drive home.

New River Gorge, WV – July 2015 – Dizzying Heights

Our day started out with a brief stop at a Roadside America spot, the vacant diner when Hank Williams ate his last meal, then we made our way to the New River Gorge Bridge, a steel arch bridge 3,030 feet long over the New River Gorge near Fayetteville, West Virginia.

With an arch 1,700 feet long, the New River Gorge Bridge was for many years the world’s longest single-span arch bridge;it is now the third longest, as well as one of the highest vehicular bridges in the world, 876 feet above the New River.

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To say this bridge is impressive is an understatement. While we have seen higher (Royal Gorge), and longer the sight of this bridge from below is stunning. They offer guided tours where you cross a 2′ wide beam underneath the bridge deck attached to cables, but my height phobia prohibited me from trying that.

The New River Gorge National River is a unit of the National Park Service. Established in 1978 the NPS protected area covers over 50 miles of the river.

One of the places we visited within the park was the town of Thurmond. During the heybay of coal mining in the New River Gorge, Thurmond was a prosperous town with a number of business and facilities in town – ironically they don’t have a main street, rather the C & O tracks served as ‘Main Street’. The town was the filming location for the movie Matewan since it still looked like a 1920s coal town. The C & O passenger depot was renovated and serves as the Park Service Visitor Center. The entire town is a designated historic district on the National Register of Historic Places.

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Robert Byrd was a U.S Senator from West Virginia, having served longer than anyone else in the history of the United States. Byrd’s seniority and leadership of the Appropriations Committee enabled him to steer a great deal of federal money toward projects in West Virginia.Critics derided his efforts as pork barrel spending, while Byrd argued that the many federal projects he worked to bring to West Virginia represented progress for the people of his state. As a result, there are 4 lane highways in the middle of nowhere, vast amounts of federal lands and buildings, and an Amtrak stop in the little town of Thurmond, because Byrd wouldn’t fund it unless they routed a train through West Virginia. This stop is the least used Amtrak station on the entire network.

Another historic site in the park is the Nuttallburg Coal Mining Complex and Town Historic District, built around the railroad line at the bottom of the gorge, with an array of coke ovens and mining structures, as well as a bridge across the New River to South Nuttall.

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At one time Henry Ford bought the mines as “captive mines” to supply coal to Ford’s River Rouge plant in Dearborn, Michigan. Ford updated many of the mines’ facilities at that time. However, Fordson sold the mine to the New River Coal Corporation in 1928, possibly because railroad regulations made coal transport to Michigan too difficult.

The road to Nuttalburg is a narrow, barely more than a lane mostly gravel road down the side of a mountain. Clearly my car wasn’t designed for such a road, but we did indeed make it down and back. Once you are there it feels very remote.

As we were leaving the area we stopped at Babcock State Park, located adjacent to the National Park. Located near the park headquarters, the Glade Creek Grist Mill is among the most photographed tourist sites in the state. Complete in 1976 by combining parts of three other West Virginia mills, it is a replica of the original Cooper’s Mill that was located nearby, as a living, working monument to the more than 500 mills that used to be located throughout the state.

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We continued on to White Sulphur Springs, a resort town in far southern West Virginia, near the Virginia border. White Sulphur Springs is the home of the Greenbrier Resort.

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A spring of sulphur water is at the center of the resort property, contained in a large white columned springhouse that has been the symbol of the Greenbrier for years. Legend says that the Native followed the tradition of ‘taking the waters’ for pain relief. Numerous famous people, including 26 presidents, have stayed here.

In 1858, a hotel was built on the property. After the second World War the C&O bought the property from the government and reopened the resort, now redecorated by Dorothy Draper. While this is supposed to be something special to me it is the most hideously decorated hotel I have ever seen, and I have stayed in hundreds of hotels. To think people pay an average of $600 a night for this ‘honor’. We stayed at a nearby Courtyard.

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To be fair the exterior of the hotel and the grounds are beautiful. We spent an hour walking around, admiring the landscaping and buildings, including the Presidential Cottage, the numerous shops and the golf course clubhouse. The main entrance to the hotel is very dramatic

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In the late 1950s, the U.S created a secret emergency relocation center at the Greenbrier to house Congress in the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust. Although the bunker was kept stocked with supplies for 30 years, it was never actually used as an emergency location. The bunker’s existence was not acknowledged until 1992. It is featured as an attraction in which visitors can tour the now declassified facilities, known as The Bunker. Because it was near closing time when we arrived we were only able to see the entrance doors to the bunker.

Opting for something outside of the pretentious resort for dinner, we made our way to a small café in town, the 50 East. Their food was excellent, and the atmosphere great. The only confusing thing was everyone had New Orleans Saints attire on, which we later found out was due to the fact the Saints train at the Greenbrier.

 

Huntington, WV – July 2015 – Hot Dog Batman!

The following weekend found us in Huntington, West Virginia on a Saturday morning for the 11th annual West Virginia Hot Dog Festival. This is a charity event benefiting Huntington’s Children’s Hospital, and featured a 10K Run, entertainment from local artists throughout the day, Hot Dog Eating Contest, and Root Beer Chugging Contests. The best events however were the Pooch Parade, Dog Costume Contest, and especially Dachshund Dash.

Huntington had once been a center of locomotive construction, and their history is much celebrated throughout the city. Much like the cows in Chicago, guitars in Cleveland, and Brutus the Buckeyes in Columbus, Huntington has a number of decorated fiberglass locomotives throughout the downtown area. The most impressive one was dedicated in the memory of the Marshall University football team that died in a plane crash in the 1970.

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There was also a custom car show being held during the festival, the highlight being a Batmobile, complete with Batman and his female companion in bat shoes

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Eventually thought I got the first of the two things I was there for, a hot dog. My first came from a local legend, Stewarts, which earned me a photo with Stewie the Hot Dog.

After a really cool Pooch Parade, which featured about 100 dogs of all breeds it was time for the main event, the Dachshund Dash. They had 10 heats of 8 dogs each, followed by the championship. These little dogs can really move when motivated, and they are an absolute hoot to watch race.

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But you can only have so much fun, so we headed south to continue our day. Our route took us along the Big Sandy River, eventually leading us to the Tug Fork, running along the border between West Virginia and Kentucky. Coal built this area, and they celebrate it with the Coal House in Williamson, WV is a unique building built of coal. In 1933 the coal was quarried as blocks and dressed as stone using 65 tons of coal from the nearby Winifrede Seam, then varnished for weather-resistance. Located adjacent to the Mingo County Courthouse, it houses the Tug Valley Chamber of Commerce.

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Just south of Williamson is the infamous town of Matewan This towns has two claims to fame, neither particularly endearing. First, it is the center of the Hatfield–McCoy feud involved two families, the Hatfield’s of West Virginia, led by Devil Anse Hatfield, while the McCoys of Kentucky were under the leadership of Randolph McCoy. The feud has entered the American folklore as the most infamous bitterly feuding rival parties.

The area plays it up to the fullest, driving the tourist trade. While we were in Matewan we were walking along the flood wall heading for the very nice restored train station/museum when I asked an elderly man for directions. He gladly gave them to us, then proceeded to proudly less us he was a Hatfield.

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Matewan’s second notoriety comes from the days when local co-workers were trying to unionize to improve their horrid working conditions. In 1920 local miners who were supporting the union were being kicked out of their company owned housing by the mine owners, by hiring private detectives.

When the detectives arrived, Matewan chief of police Sid Hatfield intervened on behalf of the evicted families. After carrying out several evictions, the detectives ate dinner at the Urias Hotel then walked to the depot to catch the five o’clock train back to Bluefield, Virginia. They were intercepted by Hatfield, who claimed to have arrest warrants from the county sheriff. Detective Albert Felts produced a warrant for Hatfield’s arrest. The detectives didn’t know they had been surrounded by armed miners, who watched intently from windows and doorways along Mate Street and, while Felts, Hatfield, and Testerman, faced off, a shot rang out. The ensuing gun battle left 7 detectives and 4 townspeople dead

In 1987 a movie about the incident, called Matewan, was released to critical acclaim, making the small town even more famous. A small museum memorializes the battle, and the plight of the workers. All in all the small town of Matewan does a nice job of telling their history.

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As we reached Beckley we stopped at Tamarac, a tourist destination featuring the best of West Virginia, located above the Beckley service area of the West Virginia Turnpike. It features a red peaked roof and landscaped grounds that draw over 500,000 visitors annually. This large arts and crafts facility is run as an economic development project of the West Virginia Parkways Authority and sells West Virginia craft products, such as wood, glass, textiles, pottery, metal, jewelry, as well as specialty food items, fine art, and West Virginia books and recordings. There are five resident artisan studios and most weekends from Spring through Fall there are also craft demonstrations, including the day we were there.

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After watching a fabric craftsman, we went to the other side of the building where they house the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame. With our long day coming to an end, we finished with that traditional West Virginia food, an Outback Steakhouse.