The Ohio River forms the western boundary of West Virginia from Huntington north to the top of the northern panhandle. It is a mighty river being the largest tributary of the Mississippi River by volume and is historically significant as a major trade route. I like being near the water and while the Ohio isn't necessarily what I would call a beautiful river, it is pleasant enough and has some wonderful places to visit along the route. When I entered the state, the nice people at the Visitor Center didn't have a lot of advice about this part of the state telling my it was nice enough but I would have to seek out my own adventures here. I sure am glad I did as this is a wonderful if often overlooked side of the state and has some great things to offer visitors. From the beautifully redone Keith Albee Theater in Huntington to the surprising Palace of Gold near Moundsville, I was constantly inspired as I made my way north along the Ohio.
I started my journey up the Ohio River in Huntington. Huntington was a real surprise as I went there with no real expectations. The downtown area was immaculate, had one of the best Visitor Centers in the state with an attached craft market, and was pleasantly walkable. Old Central City had some cool antique stores and a wonderful cooperative Farmers Market. Jim’s Steak and Spaghetti House served up some great spaghetti and I staged my own West Virginia Hot Dog Battle between the Frostop and Stewart’s with the prize going to Frostop. I enjoyed a few beers at tiny Hank’s and the Huntington Ale House and stopped by the open mic night at the V Club. The highlight of my visit was seeing A Charlie Brown Christmas at the old Keith Albee Theatre, a true West Virginia treasure which is sadly only open about once a month. I really wish they would consider selling their tickets on Ticketfly though. With such rare performances there is no need for the big fees of Ticketmaster (my fees were almost as much as my ticket). Despite this, I really enjoyed my time in Huntington.
Just up the road in Lesage is Hillbilly Hot Dogs, home to my favorite West Virginia Hot Dog in the state and definitely worth a stop for lunch.
Heading north up the river I came into tiny Point Pleasant. This town packs a lot in a little package. The murals along the floodwall were incredible, an attraction in and of themselves. Tiny Tu-Endie-Wei State Park commemorates the Battle of Point Pleasant fought between the Virginia militia and the British allied Shawnee under Chief Cornstalk. This battle is considered by some to have been the first battle of the American Revolution. The highlight of the town though goes to the supernatural Mothman museum and statue. One of West Virginia’s most widely known legends is that of Mothman, who legend tells terrorized this small town from 1966-1967. After the mysterious collapse of the Silver Bridge he was never seen again. The statue is simply beautiful for what it is. The museum is full of newspaper clippings, stories and first-hand accounts, shows some of the investigative TV shows made about Mothman and has a great collection of mementos from the 2002 Richard Gere movie The Mothman Prophecies. It really is a great museum and is probably the biggest tourist draw in town. Point Pleasant has a Mothman Festival every September. As you’ll hear me say over and over, you must use what you have and Point Pleasant is really applying that principal here.
Parkersburg seemed nice enough when I drove through, but didn’t really have anything to keep me there long. If I were there in the summer I would have loved to visit Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park and learn more about Aaron Burr’s attempt to start his own country. It was closed for the season, so I just passed through and spent the night at the wonderful lodge in nearby North Bend State Park.
St. Mary’s and Sistersville were nice to drive through on my way up to Moundsville. Moundsville had some pretty great sites to see. The namesake “mound” is the Grave Creek Mound, one of the largest conical burial mounds in the country dating back as far as 250BC. Across the street is the old State Penitentiary which was active from when it was completed in 1876 until it closed in 1995. The tour is really interesting and I even got to push the buttons to open and close the cells.
Not far from Moundsville is the Palace of Gold at New Vrindaban. The Palace of Gold is certainly one of the most interesting and beautiful sites in the state. It was originally intended to be a home for Srila Prabhuapada, founder of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, but he passed away before the building was completed. Undeterred, his followers worked even harder to leave this as an enduring memorial to their founder. Often called America’s Taj Mahal, it certainly is something that has to be seen to be believed. It is not what you would expect driving down the back roads of West Virginia. The temple which is down the hill is also impressive, and they offer lodging and a restaurant in season. This is definitely one of West Virginia’s must-see attractions.
And finally my trip up the Ohio River ended in wonderful Wheeling. I don’t know what it is about Wheeling, but I really like it. Maybe it’s the faded glory of an industrial giant or the small-town big city feel of it, but I’ve always liked Wheeling. West Virginia’s Independence Hall is wonderful and really well run. It tells the story of West Virginia’s independence during the Civil War and the debates that took place in the building. I talked with the curator for a long time and was happy to hear she used the building for many things from school groups to musical performances to actual West Virginia Supreme Court hearings. Wheeling’s market area is really nice as is the Artisan Center across the street from the informative Visitors Center. I was lucky enough to be visiting during the Oglebay Festival of Lights which was a drive-through Christmas lighting display at a golf course outside of town. The Wheeling Suspension Bridge, once the world’s largest is always really cool to walk out on. As always, I loved photographing the Mail Pouch signs, but this time they were on the factory itself! And I topped off my visit by driving just outside of town to eat at the venerable Ye Old Alpha pub, an interesting spot for a good burger and a local beer. There are more animal heads on the wall than people heads in the building, but everyone I talked to pointed me here and it was worth a visit. I’m glad I made it back to Wheeling, it had been a few years. I only wish the Wheeling Nailers had been in town for some good minor league hockey action.
My trip up this side of West Virginia was a success all around. It was easy to navigate, full of things to do and see and felt open and safe most of the time. It definitely created some wonderful memories I will remember for a long time.